Member Rara Avis
I'd just like to see those same skills applied to real opinions and not those foisted upon you by a teacher.
Been there, done that. My first introduction to "persuasive" public speaking was in 1966, 9th grade, and Mrs. Schell allowed us to select our own topics. I argued for hanging all the teachers, borrowing the shoe-pounding-on-the-podium theatrics of Kruschev, and I very modestly admit I managed to persuade most of the classroom. The "D" I received for my efforts suggests I didn't convince Mrs. Schell.
The following year, however, I was introduced to "formal" debate, and Battle Creek Central eventually won the 1967 Nationals in Albuquerque. I argued both sides of a long forgotten resolution, as well as extemporaneous speaking on subjects chosen five minutes before I stood. Did I care about the topics? Not in the least. But I'd like to think that, 35 years later, I still apply much of what I learned to the things that DO matter to me. If nothing else, Debate taught me to keep my mouth shut until the brain has a chance to kick into gear. (Two marriages probably helped reinforce that lesson.)
I think I understand what you're saying, though, Brad, and I don't really disagree with the premise. Debate shouldn't be about winning or losing, but rather about exploring and learning, in which case both sides can't help but win. That rarely happens in formal debate because, as in my case, I really didn't care enough about whether nuclear power should be controlled by the UN or individual countries. But "winning" a formal debate isn't really much different from handing out grades.
You and I have both stood in front of a classroom, and we both know you can't teach "basics" without resorting to contrived circumstances. No matter the subject, we arrange things so we can teach one skill, then the next, building on previous lessons without distractions from future ones. Too much freedom in the classroom introduces too many variables, and too many students become hopelessly confused. We need simplicity to teach anything complicated, and that includes the tenets of formal debate. We need to teach them to walk first, hoping they will someday learn to run.
We can theoretically force a kid, through grades, to learn proper English. But we can't force them to use that knowledge outside the classroom or later in life. I think the thrill of winning a formal debate, like grades, can motivate the learning of equally important skills. But you're right, we can't really force them to use those skills outside the debate arena - where it really counts. In neither case, though, does that make the learning less important or valuable. It just puts a greater onus on the teacher. If there's a weakness in the system, it's not with formal debate and what it can teach people, but rather is a weakness inherent in our educational system.
And that is a thread of a whole different color.