A lot of people talk about the crossover benefits of debate. They claim that hard work and success in debate translate to the real world: if you do well enough at debate, you’ll get into a good college, be a good student, and get a good job–not to mention be entertaining, the ideal dinner guest, and land a spouse–all this from educational debate. Although I got into debate later in life (as a sophomore in college), these people claim I found the benefits of debate: trophies, internships, more trophies, graduate school, and a wife. But they are wrong: debate does not translate.
Debate does nothing for you in the real world. It actually harms your ability to excel in academics and career. Debate competitions breed a certain type of person, we’ll call him ‘Nerdly.’ Knowing a lot about a few issues, Nerdly talks really fast and brings little to the audience. Nerdly prefers to argue for the negative side because he knows there are more ways to get the ballot in a muddled round. Nerdly is tough to get along with because he cannot turn the competitor switch off. Put Nerdly into a situation with high stakes, and he will fail. Whether it’s playing nice to get the big sale, or just writing a final exam on a qualitative question. While successful at debate, Nerdly has not been prepared for real world success.
Debaters must learn how to debate productively. This style of debate takes nerds and turns them into cool, effective people. Debating productively is a way of approaching knowledge, communication, and competition. Debaters needs to purposefully inculcate themselves in this mindset, because Nerdly is the natural progression. The first step to finding real world benefits from debate is approaching it with that goal.
Take action: Evaluate your current debate experience. List the Nerdly and the real world attributes you’ve got now. Think about ways to convert the stuff that only works in debate to stuff that you want to take with you. Overcoming your Nerdly starts with acknowledging it.
The next three articles cover three real world skills debate can foster.