Opinion: Debate in classrooms can sting.  But that won’t stop me.

By Caitlin Smith

WANT Political Editor

In the words of political writer Peter Selvin, people who engage in debate and also protest are similarly the “people who feel things really deep.”  Today’s generation, ‘Gen Z’, is prepared to navigate the world differently in politics.  However, often times they are shackled from discussing and debating issues in a school setting– they are taught to remain neutral.

Not only is today’s youth free-minded and educated, but quaintly ironic: emotional and bland, reckless and logical.  The media semi-romanticizes American politics, making many matters overly simple to take in.  It is increasingly accessible to gather information to understand how our world works, or could work.  In other words, it is simpler not to take all sides of an issue into account, but to find the first one I agree with.

Young people are often confined to silence to avoid controversy.  To many, debate may seem like a critical part of a balanced education, but regardless, many educators think differently, unable to glance past their textbooks


Photo Credit: John Liu

and class plans, used endlessly without change.

Teachers want to decorate their classrooms as a neutral space including all who step in–no matter how they were born and what they believe in.  A safe environment for learning.  However, the same teachers also preach maturity and preparation for the ‘real world’.

In our world, many times it is easier to tell people what they want to hear.  That is the issue–my generation has grown up with filtered media: seeing nothing but Bernie Sanders on our Twitter feeds, watching ‘news’ on insta that pleases us–social media feeding us things that give us hope.  In real life, talking to others who disagree with our political standing, both sides holding back–both sides taught that political debate could shake their friendship.  

Personally, debate on school grounds has helped to shape my own personal political standing, and it has rattled what I thought I knew about many things.  This is far from an issue.  Opinions are free to come and go; to develop as teens become adults.  It has taught me how to debate with people in an innocent manner.  People have the same rights to be people as I do, even if they don’t think the way I’m used to.

In my freshman year of high school I took a class called “Advanced Speech and Debate”.  Prestigious as it sounds, we watched The Office on the doc cam and our final was a parli debate concerning Pancakes vs. Waffles.  I know you’re wondering, so I was team waffles (and I won).

Alas, each one of us advanced speakers and debaters wanted something more.  We went into that class looking to discuss the real issues actually impacting us, not our breakfast. 

Drug legalization?”

Reproduction laws!

Climate change.”

My classroom echoed with things we were honestly passionate about.  Things we would care enough to debate someone on.  Yet, that is exactly why we could not debate these things.

“We can’t debate anything people are very passionate about.” said my teacher, slouching into her desk chair.

The question: is this avoided controversy really between the students?  Many teachers veer debate in classrooms as to not have to subject themselves to such complication, from arguing parents, superintendents, and well… that’s it.  The students are ready to debate, appropriately.

I find debating in classrooms as mandatory to my education as any of the textbooks and study hall that teachers consider a mandatory part of learning.  To see and understand different people and points of view is to call upon my future and the future of every other high school student in this country who wishes to build upon its foundation.  I’m a strong believer that I go to school to learn how to learn, not to memorize the lines written across my textbook preserved in lamination from 1998.  In other words, I go to school to form opinions for myself, not to have them carefully, skillfully fed to me.  

We are in times of revolution, and who better to probe, examine and question it than the future?

Photo Credit: naosuke ii


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