Monday, 3 October 2016

THIS HOUSE SUPPORTS THE MOTION FOR DEBATE




                                        
                    The benefits of learning to debate extend far beyond confidence building.

THE BOY announced he is joining the school's debating club.

There is mixed reaction to this news at home. As his parents, we already know how good he is at argument. The thought of him learning how to back up future showdowns with fact, examples, persuasive phrases and rebuttal, fills us with a certain trepidation.

Both his parents were on their own school debating teams. Clearly, we've made too much of our minor triumphs.

In which case we'll be forced to resort to "because we're your parents, that's why".

Which is not to say that learning to debate is not an excellent thing. I think of all the stuff he will learn: 


     1. Words are better than fists.
     2. Debates have to be thought through and prepared.
     3. A structured, coherent argument is vital.
     4. Public speaking and learning to rebut in the heat of the moment is confidence building.
     5. Learning both sides of the argument, in order to understand how your opponents will argue, is a life skill.

The last skill, unfortunately, may go against us at home. If the boy understands how we'll argue, he'll be more prepared than ever to win. In which case, we'll be forced to resort to because I said so, or because we're your parents, that's why.

And we already over use both those phrases.

I choose to believe that his interest stems from a lofty ideal.

There is another, obvious reason why teenage boys learning to debate isn't a bad idea. Whether they realise it or not, debating expands their vocabulary. Which is no mean thing in the case of a youngster who goes to bed a reasonably happy, verbal child and wakes up as a grunting adolescent.


His new interest in debating also coincides with his recent interest in the law. As his mother, I choose to believe that this stems from a lofty ideal, rather than how much lawyers earn.

Truth be told, none of this should come as a surprise to me. Debating (read arguing if you prefer), is a normal, natural part of every family. Show me the family that doesn't argue and I'll show you a quiet, peaceful...ahem, I mean a family who doesn't care enough to debate the issues of the day. Or at the very least, those that affect them.

In our house, this usually takes place at dinnertime. It begins when somebody mentions something they read about or saw on the news. It doesn't matter what it is: a politician or a celebrity (is there a difference anymore?), a country in crisis or the fact that loose horses held up traffic on the N4 in Dublin that morning. 

We'd solve the problem with The Pepper Pot Method: Anyone holding the pepper pot could talk.

Every single person around the table has a different opinion. And nobody is inclined to keep it to themselves.


When the offspring were little, we'd solve the problem with The Pepper Pot Method. The rules were simple:
    
     1. Anyone holding the pepper pot could talk.

     2. Nobody else could interrupt.

And sometimes that worked. Until a frustrated younger sibling would try to grab the pepper pot. Then all hell would break loose.

These days, dinnertime discussions...debates...arguments are a lot more civilised. We all happily talk over each other, hotly disagree, try to keep up as somebody goes off on a tangent, then on another tangent.

Most evenings none of us can remember what kick-started the big wordy mess. We are, no doubt, like many other families: a microcosm of a nation of people which loves to talk and argue.

Which brings us back to the idea of learning to properly debate. If all it ever teaches the boy is to always see the other person's side of the argument, then it will be worth it.

There are already far too many people in the world who can never see the other side.

So for the short term, his parents will have to brace themselves.

                                                      *

 


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