Kirstie English

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How can healthy debate and a general interest in important issues around the world be taught to kids?

Everyday I hear people say stuff like "politics is dull" and I used to have a similar view as in school I was never really shown that politics effects us everyday. I also didn't really have any views about the world before I found an issue to be passionate about and now thanks to that I love a good debate and think it is a great way to build a number of skills such as the ability to research efficiently and general capability to communicate with other. I honestly think it would help allot if we could get kids interested in the world around them and encourage some good debate. It doesn't matter if the date is about trivial things such as "what the hell is goofy?" as that could later develop into more important issues. I think this will help kids in a number of ways and also make them more interesting adults. So does anyone have any ideas of how to get kids to debate without it turning into an argument?

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    May 5 2013: Healthy debate is a combination of listening and communicating in positive ways. It's about understanding your agenda is not superior just because it is your agenda.

    Value people because they are people...not because they support your views.

    "Everyone I meet is in some way my superior. In that I learn from them."
    - Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • May 5 2013: Healthy debate can be taught to kids. The most important thing, in my opinion, is to teach how to debate effectively. Research your topic, know your facts, clearly state your opinion, then, and I think this is most important, don't take it personally. If you put your opinion out there, don't take it personally when it comes under attack. They are attacking your opinion, not you. Many people can not separate the two things.

    As for topics, that is easy. There are thousands of good issues to debate in the classroom. Many good teachers do this. They ask their students to take a position then defend it, whether they believe it or not. This makes for good practice and great learning.

    I look forward to seeing how this topic progresses.
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      May 5 2013: What subject do you teach, Everett? I agree that debate has been a part of k12 curriculum for a very long time and also a popular after school activity.
      • May 5 2013: Fritzie, I am currently, and for most of my career have been, a Health and Physical Education teacher. The past several years I also taught science at the middle school level. Both subjects provide for ample opportunities to debate issues, thought science is far better suited to that than health and fitness. I say that from experience teaching, not that it is impossible, just a bit more challenging to debate in HPE. Of course, HPE does provide a wonderful opportunity to learn how to problem solve and address issues with other people in conflict as sports seems to provide many opportunities to deal with conflict.

        My only concern about the after school debate teams, and I do think they are a wonderful outlet for students, is that they are very structured. I think they have a lot to offer kids though and are a powerful tool, especially in light of this discussion. More debate, taught appropriately which is not often the case, in schools would be incredibly beneficial.
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      May 5 2013: I agree Everett with the concept of "healthy debate"..."Research your topic, know your facts, clearly state your opinion, then, and I think this is most important, don't take it personally...... Many people can not separate the two things".

      This reminds me of a person who used to "debate" on TED, who often told us that he was ALWAYS the champion of the debate team in school! Unfortunately, his goal apparently, was to maintain that reputation, by proving himself "right" and the "winner". With that effort, his thoughts, feelings, ideas and opinions, as expressed, were often confused, confusing and contradictory because he kept changing in an effort to "win" regardless of the topic! It was not enjoyable to observe or interact with that person.

      As you say Everett, some teachers or debate coaches "ask their students to take a position then defend it, whether they believe it or not". I agree that it may be "good practice and great learning", IF the individual can move beyond that concept and structure when having conversations in another form:>)
  • May 5 2013: Hi Kirstie,
    I was on the debate team at my International School and loved it. The team was formed in our English class and our debates were always respectful and enjoyable.
    A good debate is:
    1) knowing your facts to prepare yourself for a rebuttal,
    2) the ability to present your side with conviction and integrity,
    3) the ability to listen as well as talk, and
    4) respecting your opponent's arguments as much as your own.

    I concur with a lot being said here. Like Gord mentioned, it starts at home. If kids are taught the importance of respecting each other in a trusted environment like the home, they will more likely be able to engage in healthy debate without it turning into an argument. Listening to others shows respect and the desire to communicate.

    The goal of a debate should be to go away afterwards, knowing than when you came in. Whether or not you agree with the points made is beside the point. It's about respecting viewpoints.
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    Gord G

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    May 5 2013: It begins at home. Family life more often than not functions as a dictatorship. Albeit a compassionate dictatorship, but a dictatorship none the less. Arguments are debates that have digressed to statements of position rather than being open ended enquiries in search of understanding.

    By the time a child reaches school they've assimilated the crisp, no nonsense style of the dictator.

    There's no question reasoning with a two year old is challenging, but I think even at that young age there's a sense of intellectual and emotional autonomy that needs to be respected.
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    May 8 2013: So what I think is that it begins with the education the children get at home because these few years put a permanent mark on the children's future as an adult.
    About debates...I believe the first thing a child should know is how to have faith and trust in himself.I've seen so many cases of kids or teenagers who disrespect themselves and therefore these people could never sustain a point of view.
    Also,another important thing would be that teachers should try and give their pupils (throughout primary school and high school) short speeches( for like 3 minutes let's say ) and present them freely on their next class.
    And what I believe is the "secret ingredient" of a good debate is respect,not only for yourself,but for everyone around you and respect and common sense are,unfortunately,values that seem to diminish step by step.
    Anyway,this is my opinion on this matter and hope I didn't bore you too much:))
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    May 5 2013: Kirstie,
    I'm wondering if you have seen the TED talk in which John Hunter introduces and demonstrates his "World Peace Game"? It seems like a very good way to create interest for kids on important issues, and starts them on a path of healthy negotiation/debate.