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Using Debate in Gifted Education: Past, Presidential, and Future

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Last spring, I discussed the idea of teaching debate to young students as a way to broaden the perspectives of children who tend to only see the negative side of things. Now, in the fall, as we are bombarded with a plethora of Presidential Debates and their aftermaths, I think it is a good idea to use what’s happening in the news regarding the Presidential debates as a springboard for learning more about and using debate as an expansive learning tool. It’s always good authentic practice to employ what is happening in the world to make curriculum relevant and interesting to students. Highly capable students benefit from learning skills that help them make their points with veracity and substantiation, broaden their understanding and empathy regarding difficult issues, and gain confidence thinking on their feet and responding to opposing points of view with evidence to back up their points. Such are the benefits of learning a structured debate process.

In addition to learning the skills of making affirmative and negative arguments, analyzing researched data for its value, and learning how to speech with clarity, poise, and confidence, debate can help us view history in an engaging way. For example, it might be interesting for students to research historical debates, compare how issues and formats have changed and evolved. What were Lincoln and Douglas concerned about in their 1858 debates? How did the introduction of TV impact the 1960 debates between Kennedy and Nixon? How do media, personality, politics, and issues unrelated to governmental issues affect the analysis of debates in today’s world?  Who organizes debates and who sponsors them now and who did in the past? And of course, how might Presidential debates change in the future? How might they be impacted by technology, globalization, and Social Media?

How have you used the tools of debate to bring current issues into the classroom to assist gifted and talented students in their quest for knowledge, justice, or understanding? How have you used it outside the classroom to elicit empathy, diffuse misunderstanding or broaden perceptions? There are many great uses for debate and the skills involved are priceless for highly able minds that can function quickly, broadly, and analytically. Share your successes with debate with others so that we may all benefit.

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
CEO, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)

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