The TCPS 7th and 8th grade Research classes have been gearing up for their first debate later this month. In preparation of this task and TCPS’s continued effort to provide a “Classroom without Walls”, research teacher, Ms. Zoric, invited Anthony Schmidt who was a SDSU debate coach to speak with her class, here he shares his thoughts about TCPS students.
Today, after nearly 5 years since teaching and coaching the forensics and debate team at SDSU, I was invited to teach a class on argumentation at TCPS.
To say I was impressed with the students’ abilities is a drastic understatement. I was amazed.
I’m used to interacting with college-level sophomores and juniors. Today, I was using the same course material with TCPS 7th and 8th grade students. They interacted with the content. They asked thoughtful questions, unprovoked by me. They were clearly understanding my leading questions, and answering correctly, with sound critical thinking skills.
Then, we started debating… I knew they would be good (solid critical thinkers always excel at debate). But, I wasn’t sure to what degree. Every student participated, with confidence (no speaker apprehension was noticeable! Amazing!). Granted, we were in small group settings. But, I’m a new person to them, and an expert at debate. Surely they would be a little nervous? Not at all. And, to go along with poised delivery, all students contributed concise, clean arguments, supported with logical and credible evidence. In many cases the supporting evidence cited expert testimony. Within the same time constraints as collegiate debate prep (10 minutes preparing their argument), these 7th and 8th grade students supplied clear arguments and expert evidence. I was blown away. Couldn’t believe it, in fact!! This was always my biggest challenge at the collegiate level, getting students to do good research… to see such young individuals engaging this effectively was an inspiration. I immediately suggested that students who show signs of grasping this should be given info about the forensics and debate teams at high school. I would go as far to argue that if they were passionate about this, they should consider high schools with strong debate programs.
I always kicked myself for not getting into formal debate at a younger age. Today was evidence that, with the right guidance/mentorship, we can learn to be extremely effective at making sound arguments at a very young age. My collegiate students who participated in high school forensics/debate were captains of the SDSU debate team, and were also candidates for substantial scholarship offers. This is only the beginning of what they were capable of, considering their extra practice!
Just like I said in class, our minds are muscles. We need to keep them healthy with good exercise. Debate is exercise. The more they practice, the stronger their minds become, and the more capable they become. Seeing them today was nothing short of proof. Ms. Zoric has been practicing with them. Their arguments were sound on short notice. I can’t imagine how great they will be if they keep it up.
Big thanks to TCPS for inviting me back to teach. It has been far too long. I couldn’t be happier, and more inspired.