Fifty-three years ago last month, John Fitzgerald Kennedy made an effective case for expanding high school forensics during his successful campaign for the U.S. presidency:
“I think debating in high school and college is the most valuable training for politics, the law, business or for service on community committees ... I wish we had a good deal more debating in our educational institutions than we do now.”
Kennedy’s argument made sense then, and it makes sense now. The proven benefits for students who participate in high school debate and speech teams go far toward enriching critical learning and interpersonal skills.
That’s why we’re encouraged to see movement toward reviving a long-dormant organized and competitive forensics program within the Youngstown City School District.
To its credit, the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods, better known simply as ACTION, has donated an initial $10,000 to the school district specifically earmarked for the effort.
Carl James of ACTION’s Education Core Team and Atty. Alan Kretzer worked with the Youngstown Foundation to create the Youngstown City School District Speech and Debate Fund.
The ongoing fund will finance the hiring of a speech and debate coach, tournament registration fees and travel expenses for the cash-strapped district. The team will be citywide with members from East and Chaney high schools and the district’s Early College Program.
THE VALUE OF FORENSICS
The passion of former President Kennedy, Atty. Kretzer and James for the multi-pronged value of high school speech teams has been well documented.
Participation in forensics enhances students’ critical thinking abilities. Through extended research, preparation and delivery, students develop sound skills in logic, analysis, synthesis and evaluation, all of which foster knowledge and achievement.
A study by Judith Buton, Robert Horowitz and Hal Abeles found that students with involvement in speech, debate or theatre “scored higher on expression, risk-taking, creativity-imagination and cooperative learning” skills.
Participation in speech and debate teams typically produces greater oral communication capacity, improved reading comprehension and higher grade-point averages, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Public figures as diverse as actor Brad Pitt, former talk-show guru Oprah Winfrey and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor all developed successful speaking and leadership skills through participation in high-school forensics teams.
Youngstown students deserve the same opportunities at success. As such, the community should rally around ACTION’s campaign and contribute to its fund to build a strong and competitive speech and debate team for city schools.