TA News

Teaching Students to Have “Good Arguments” Through Debate

Many people visualize debate as contests between loud, dominating players, pushing their own point of view. I used to visualize this myself. But as Bo Seo, former coach of the Harvard College Debating Union, writes in his book, Good Arguments: “…there has never been a better time to debate. The public square is more diverse, and the public conversation more contested, than ever before,” (2022). In other words, it’s a good time to teach kids how to have good arguments. 

With the launch of a new debate team at TA, we are trying to do just that. Every Thursday during club time, an enthusiastic group of middle and high school students, all new to the highly structured craft of debate, have been learning how to argue well. Working in teams of two, our debaters are learning to spar on topics pulled from the headlines – single-use plastics, federal student loan debt, universal basic income – and to convince a citizen judge of their argument’s merits.

After participating in several local meets, TA’s middle school team wrapped up their season on Saturday with an impressive first-place finish at the Middle School State Tournament at CVU. Congratulations to debaters Maddie Piecuch and Stone Reigler, who successfully argued the “pro” side on the topic of universal basic income against a very tough Lebanon Middle School team. Maddie also earned fourth overall for speaker points.

On March 23, TA’s high school debate team will head to their own state tournament at St. Michael’s College. The team has been hard at work practicing their arguments on the topic “Resolved: In the United States, collegiate student-athletes should be classified as employees of their educational institution.” During the CVU event, it was fun to watch them trying out new contentions and stumping their opponents and judges more than once – it’s looking good for states!

This inaugural year has been a learning experience for all of us – students and teachers alike – and it’s important to recognize that we owe our success in large part to volunteer coach Radha Bhatnagar. Radha, an experienced high school debater, political science major, and lawyer, joined me this year to help launch the program, judge at the tournaments, and get us started. We are so lucky to have her kindness and expertise to guide us along the way. 

In just a short time, we’ve learned so much about debate, about the topics we’re debating, and about ourselves. We’ve learned how to have a good argument – and to have fun doing it. 

This year’s competitors include:

Middle School – Jason Hill, Thomas Martin, Stone Riegler, Maddie Piecuch

High School – Brady Sloop, Hardy Payson, Oliver Yukica, Elijah Renner, Wendell Durham, Daniel Mann, Cynder Malin, Willow Slayton, Finn Liland



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