The issues could stock a Sunday talk show: body cameras for the police, Ebola panic and more. Yet the points and rebuttals came not in shouts from politicians and pundits, but from pre-teenagers formally debating topics that occasionally hit close to home in their disparate neighborhoods.
This past weekend, about 100 middle school students from 10 schools in the New York City area — members of the New York Debate League — convened at the Hackley School campus in Tarrytown, N.Y., for a monthly tournament. The league, which includes elite private institutions like Hackley and the Dalton School as well as charter schools like the Harlem Success Academies, with a large proportion of poor students, is in its fourth year of teaching children of all backgrounds the fading art of civilized dissent.
“To me, the debate league is kind of an extra kind of education — it’s preparing you to go out into the world,” said Brianna Scott, a seventh grader at Harlem Success Academy West. “Plus,” she added with a smile, “it’s just fun.”...
The reason I roll my eyes almost every time I hear someone calling for a "public conversation" or a "national debate" about anything is that we don't have the slightest idea how to do public conversations anymore, and what passes for "debate" in the public arena makes Jersey Shore seem like the Cambridge Union.
Back in the days of my youth, if a debate team were ever caught making shit up, the consequences for both them and their entire school would be swift and severe.
Today, they'd be offered their own show on Fox.
It it simply not possible to maintain a functional democracy if we cannot argue on the square and then shake hands afterwards. And these days I will take good news wherever I can find it.