It is no secret that America has deep political and economic challenges, despite the decade-long expansion since the end of the Great Recession. Here’s a creative idea for addressing the problem through debate education.
By Robert E. Litan, Brookings
Politically, the country has split into red and blue tribes, but members on both sides are finding it increasingly impossible to talk with each other. Economically, although the economy’s expansion is in its ninth year, the prospects for upward mobility – earning more than your parents, as one measure – have diminished markedly over several decades, due to the widening of income and wealth inequalities not seen since before the Great Depression. The result is anxiety, anger, and incivility that has infected our politics and our lives.
Political leaders, academic and think tank scholars, journalists, and pundits across the political spectrum have offered all sorts of remedies for these political and economic ills.
I have a very different prescription, not only to begin to heal our political and economic rifts, but to improve American education and students’ interest in learning: Require all students in high school, or earlier, to take one semester of debate, and ideally incorporate debate into humanities and possibly some science classes as well.
Healing a divided America with debate
I know it’s unconventional and possibly counterintuitive, what with all the partisan shouting matches we see on cable TV or (if you can bear them) in congressional floor speeches. But those are not the skills taught by competitive debating in school, namely how to: research; think critically and do it on your feet; back up arguments with evidence (not fake news!); work collaboratively with partners; speak persuasively in a civil fashion; and, perhaps most importantly, argue both sides of most any issue or subject.
These are also precisely the skills that all students, not just the less than one percent who participate in competitive debate, should acquire to be good citizens and to be successful in the workforce.