When I first joined debate, I remember my coaches were constantly touting the benefits of forensics for real life. They had past debaters come to our club and talk to us about how helpful the experience was for them. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t pay much attention. I wanted to debate because it provided an outlet for my competitiveness, because of the friends I made doing it, and because I truly just loved it. College seemed a long way off at the time, and I was motivated to improve my skills because I wanted to win, not because of how it would benefit me after high school.
Now, as a college student, I can appreciate much of what these former debaters were trying to tell me. Yet before you dismiss me as just another debater preaching the merits of an extracurricular activity, you should know that debate has also caused some me some difficulties. In this blog post, I want to give an honest assessment of two areas where I have seen both the benefits and challenges of being a former debater turned college student.
This is arguably one of the best things debate taught me during high school. I have no problem finding evidence from qualified sources, and in college, such a skill is both necessary and valuable. Whether I’m writing a ten-page research paper, or simply trying to find information on a subject I’m struggling with, the research skills learned through debate have been extremely useful.
Unfortunately, I also developed a bad research habit as a debater. When competing, I would oftentimes create an argument, and then go look for evidence to support it. You can find evidence that says almost anything, so the saying goes, and this method resulted in some excellent negative briefs. Now however, I should be more concerned with finding the truth of a problem or issue instead of simply winning an argument. Instead, it can be tempting to start at a conclusion and then find evidence, rather than using the right method of finding evidence and then coming to a conclusion.
As a debater, I learned to debate multiple sides of an issue, while rarely taking an actual stance on any of them. This taught me to stay open-minded, and enhanced my ability to see different sides of an argument without necessarily landing on one or the other. Now that I’m in college, this has been a great help when holding discussions with people of other viewpoints.
Sometimes however, I find that I can become too detached from the issues. There are times when I need to take a position and actually make a decision about where I stand personally. It can be hard to leave the mindset of debating just for the sake of debating, instead of debating to find the truth and believe it.
Now having said all this, please know that I still love debate, and believe that choosing to do it in high school was one of the best decisions I ever made. Just be cautioned that no activity is perfect, and even a great one like debate can sometimes have mixed results for real life.