A Better Way to Learn in City Schools

In a small classroom, Keoni Scott-Reid provided his opening statement. Scott-Reid had been assigned to argue against mass surveillance programs in an Urban Debate League tournament in Washington, D.C., and standing in the front of the room, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, he spoke in rat-tat-tat bursts like a teenage cattle auctioneer.

Scott-Reid argued that mass surveillance programs operated on a slippery moral slope. He quoted Benjamin Franklin: “It is much easier to suppress a first desire than to satisfy those that follow.” And then laid out several lines of argument, pointing out how surveillance can promote lawlessness. “Aggressive policing,” he said, is “perpetuating the criminality that it’s advocating to stop.”

Scott-Reid’s arguments won over the judge. His logic was tighter. He had better examples, and as the judge pointed out, Scott-Reid had expertly rebutted his opponent. “I know you like to get a rise out of people,” the judge told him.

While arguing is as old as humanity, formal debating has its roots in ancient Greece. The practice has experienced a renaissance in recent years, and over the past decade, the number of students enrolled in urban debate programs has more than doubled to more than 10,000 students with more than 600 participating schools. For experts, the programs give students a way to develop crucial reasoning skills – and provide an effective way to help students learn about social issues.

This piece ran in US News and World Report and was an excerpt from my book. More here.

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