I spent all day Saturday at a middle-school debate tournament. My seventh-grade son Luke loves being on his middle school baseball team, but also on the debate team, and this weekend his school competed with ten others. It was fascinating to watch and fun to be there. The topics of debate included statements such as, "All private citizens should be prohibited from owning a hand gun," and "Social media networks should have a minimum age of 18 or older to be a member." They have previously taken up subjects like "Should the U. S. leave Afghanistan?" "Is torture ever justified?" and "Should the Redskins (our local NFL football team) change their name?" Joy and I thought it was pretty cool that a public middle school would even have a debate team, with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders taking up subjects like that, and it helped draw us to Alice Deal Middle School.
I remember the night before Luke's first debate last year, we were going over some of the topics when he said to me, "Dad, I know how you feel about all these issues and, of course, I agree with your positions, but I have to learn both sides." Got it. So today I listened to Luke oppose a ban on hand guns because of the Constitution and the Second Amendment, in particular, and that we needed to protect the gun industry because of the economy. Ouch! I disagree with both those points, Luke! But, sadly or happily, they won that debate and the handgun ban went down to defeat. The last tournament was better. Luke presented the winning rebuttal on why community service should be required in middle and high school, and his Alice Deal team (a public school) beat the Sidwell Friends team (a private school).
Debate is really terrific for young kids at this age. They learn to research important topics, construct and make arguments, work together as a team, develop their public speaking, and gain confidence. I especially like that Luke is on both the baseball team and the debate team. Much like coaching baseball for kids this age, watching these young people develop their physical, social, and mental skills is always a delight -- and sometimes a hoot.
I had three favorite lines on Saturday from Luke's team. One student debater said to the judge in reference to the opposing arguments, "Judge, this is just ridiculous." Then, when arguing the other side in the next debate with a different judge, he said, "Judge, this is just ridiculous!" I asked him afterwards, "Which side was ridiculous?" He just smiled. Another teammate ended his argument by saying, "Judge, this is mind-blowing!" But my favorite line, by far, was when one of Luke's teammates, with his arguments run out yet time left on the clock, looked a little at a loss for words, but quickly came up with a final plea for the right decision. He looked straight into the judge's eyes and said. "Judge, appeal to your inner self." I asked the judge afterwards if he had done so, and he said in all his years at this, he had never been asked that before! Whether on the ballfields or in the debate classroom, I love watching these kids.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.