Debate is the activity that brings the art of reading, thinking and speaking together in one place. When medieval scholars set out to establish the curriculum of the world’s first universities, they considered three liberal arts essential for leadership and promotion of the best ideas: grammar, logic, and rhetoric (reading, thinking, speaking). When they sought to test the depth to which these skills had sunk in, medieval faculty demanded students participate not in exams or papers, but in disputations—in other words, debates. Although much has changed in the world since the 19th century, scholars laid out these basic elements of the artium baccalaureus degree. The ability to conceive, articulate, and evaluate arguments remains not only the lifeblood of democracy and society, but essential to the development of an engaged and ethical individual living in contemporary technological democratic society.
In line with that history, here are three foundational reasons we have created anew our debate program:
- Debate skills are essential to public life. When the world’s first universities were established, three skills were considered essential for leadership and promotion of the best ideas: grammar, logic, and rhetoric—what we now know as reading, writing, and speaking. Today in the 21st century, the ability to create, present, and evaluate ideas remains essential to democracy and commerce in modern societies. A debate program fosters these traits.
- Debate programs are transformational experiences for students. In a debate program, students engage voluntarily in a social activity that reaps significant intellectual benefits, and rewards academic skills: quick thinking, sound argument, and confident speaking. There are few college spaces where intellectual and social goals align so well to inform a young citizen. And for those who observe debates, they see citizens reasoning, articulating, listening, responding, and ultimately respecting one another.
- Debate programs create leaders. Leading requires intelligence, vision, empathy, efficiency, and resolve. Participating in and studying debate cultivates these essential leadership skills in young women and men. In a world in which incorrect information and unjustified ideas are abundant, debate creates the sort of confident leaders who can direct public thinking toward moral and prosperous decisions.
Watch Debate Union Director Dr. Michael Souders discuss the UWDU with Department of Communication Chair Dr. David Domke: