Debate Courses: Adding Debate to the Master Schedule
Competitive Debate is an intensive activity. Committed varsity debaters will do the work of a dissertation every single year they compete. Even beginning students, known as novice, will comb through up to 100 pages of scholarly research a year. Over the school year, debaters will work on, in practice or competition, a range of topics from fun (Hip Hop vs Punk) to serious (Middle East democracy promotion, Environmental Protection, Urban Planning, Domestic Surviellance programs). Debate teaches a variety of 21st century skills: argumentation (providing proof & refutating opposition), public speaking, critical thinking, civics, organization, work in small groups and pairs, advanced literacy, and self-directed research/learning. As you can imagine, that is a significant amount of knowledge to cover in a weekly 90 minute after-school program.
"Debate in the Master Schedule" encourages schools to add debate to their class schedule; consistent attendance to a debate class gets deeper on those skills than could ever be accomplished in a weekly afterschool program. The program promotes the BAUDL “g” elective course; "g" electives are classes approved for credit by UC Doorways. The course, titled "Public Policy, Argumentation, and Debate", focuses on the essential skills necessary to successfully advocate and refute political thought. Beginning with competitive debate concepts, young adults learn the game of debate and then branch out into the politics of their community, state, and national government. Think of all the great speakers in history; they too were once youth with a passion and a vision. Debate in the Master Schedule is a program to give those future leaders a class slot devoted to helping them sharpen those skills and prepare to be the best advocates possible!
Why add debate to the master schedule? The mission of the Bay Area Urban Debate League is to bring debate to every middle and high school in the Bay Area, but we aren't investing in debate for the sake of the competitive game alone. Debate can be a school culture changer. A school who becomes deeply invested in debate is making a commitment to "Making Smart Cool". The debate team can be the largest and most successful activity on campus. Adding debate to the schedule gives institutional validity to the debate program at the same commitment level as private schools like, College Preparatory Academy or The Harker School. By adding debate courses to the schedule, a team, currently impacting 20 students a year, can skyrocket their impact to upwards of 150 students a year. Even students who do not choose competitive debate will get exposure to important 21st century college and employment skills in their "Public Policy, Argumentation, and Debate" class.
Partnerships make the Difference when Adding Debate to the Master Schedule
For public schools, setting aside the FTE (full-time employee) salary for a debate coach is a large ask. Many schools are already struggling with high rates of teacher and administrative turnover and tight operating budgets. Marguerite Roza, in Education Next (2009), studied school districts to determine the cost of a course. In the case of a small western school district (like the schools BAUDL serves), an elective costs roughly $512 per student. When one considers a class average near 30, the calculatedcost of adding a debate course is near $16,000 a year. English courses and math course are substantially less per pupil and are required to courses.
BUT, young thinkers need elective courses. Teachers know it's true; education advocates across the country are moving away from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) and toward STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Math). Why? If the purpose of education is to prepare us for life, then we need preparation in creative expression. Modern skills require so much more than the transfer of information; education should awaken our capacities, "the ability to think clearly and critically, to empathetically experience and understand phenomena in the world" (George Yakman, 2008, p. 14). It is these skills that are necessary if education is to be a training ground for social justice and democracy. Debate is the quintessential course for awakening our capacities and opening our creative thought and expression.
What can I do?
- Sponsor a School. Earmark your significant gift for a program offering a debate course in their master schedule. Earmarking sends a signal that the administrative investment in a debate course is meaningful to you. Skyline, Wallenberg, June Jordan, Madison Park, & Ida B. Wells are all invested in a debate course; throw your lot in with them to ensure the longevity of the program.
- Give the gift of textbooks. For every course added, textbooks for debate need to be supplied. The average cost is $900 for one classroom of 30 textbooks. Debate has unique subject matter so unfortunately the current civics books don't effectively teach the course material.