The Art of Debate: Developing Students Who Cling to Truth

The Word of God is clear that Christians are to hold ethics in a place of upmost importance. The purpose of debate is to show students that they are called to think eternally, following an avenue that impacts the way they live in 21st-century America. Therefore, the focus is to build the students’ Biblical worldview, through expanding a student’s ability to soundly argue on all grounds. A student who holds the ability to argue on the grounds of any subject is a student who is capable of having sound theological doctrine in his or her own life. So, yes the student will be arguing ethical standpoints all across the board, but they will learn under the pretense of what is really Truth. The student will reach maximum learning capacity when they understand how to argue their opposition, by being their opposition.

Tim Goodwin

Tim Goodwin is an educator at The Geneva School of Manha an, where he teaches third grade and is Director of Speech and Debate. Tim graduated from Dallas Baptist University with a BS in History and Christian Ministry, where he served as president of Pi Alpha Theta (History Honors Society). A er graduation, Tim began his career teaching seventh grade Texas history at San Antonio Christian School. There, Tim coached both middle school and varsity soccer. In December 2014, Tim married his wonderful wife, Sydney, a musical theatre actress. Sydney’s profession prompted their move to New York City in July 2015. Tim is currently enrolled in Southeastern Theological Seminary, where he will earn his Masters of Divinity in May 2018.

Using Argument Maps to Develop Argumentation Skills

Students’ ability to design and understand their arguments can improve by teaching the relatively simple skills of argument mapping. While dozens of software programs such as Rationale and Augumentative make applying this skill relatively easy, teachers and students can apply simple rules with blank pieces of paper and colored pencils to practice the process of mapping and improve the skills of critical reflection while constructing one’s own or analyzing another’s argument. This workshop will give a brief overview of the history and key ideas behind argument mapping, and will be practically oriented to equip teachers with a useful tool for helping their high school—aged students develop critical thinking and argumentation skills. Students working on their senior theses, debate team participants, mock trial participants, and students just trying to write a well-crafted essay will all benefit from practicing with argument maps.

Bryce Carlisle

Bryce Carlisle holds a bachelor of arts in Spanish from the University of Kansas and a master of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. Bryce taught Spanish and Humanities at Trinity Academy of Raleigh, NC, from 2004–2006 and worked at Pulte Homes Inc. prior to coming to Regents School of Austin in 2009. Bryce teaches sophomore and senior Rhetoric, serves as Director of the Senior Thesis program, and is the Dean of the senior class. Bryce and his wife, Lorie, have four lively boys and one more on the way. Former hobbies include playing guitar, home brewing, painting, and traveling.

What Hath Athens to Do with This Cafeteria? Debate, Rhetoric, and Psychagogia

You’re sitting on an uncomfortable plastic bench. You rest “spreading” (speed reading) and technical debate jargon. your arms on an equally uncomfortable plastic table. You The bad habits acquired through participation in these note the marbled linoleum tiles under your feet. Everything events would more likely undo a classroom training in around you is illuminated in a pale greenish-hue from the rhetoric, rather than supplement one. Events of this na- fluorescent lights overhead. Shuffling all around you, like ture and their styles will likely vary from region to region.

Extras in an episode of The Walking Dead, are tired adoles- cents. Some lean with their backs against stainless steel industrial-grade kitchen appliances, faces aglow from the tablet computer screens in front of them. While others stand mere inches from the walls, passionately addressing their stucco audiences. You’re a high school debate coach, and this is a typical speech and debate tournament.

By now you might have guessed that the setting I’m describing is a school cafeteria. The cafeteria, so depicted, is an odd scene to be sure. Even more odd, is that on most weekends, these places are transformed into the proving grounds for a training in classical rhetoric. Now, at first glance, public high schools and rhetoric are two things not often associated. Government funded educational institu- tions seem an unlikely arena for rhetorical training; but I assure you, it is happening all across our nation, on almost any given weekend.

For a little over four years, I’ve coached debate at Geneva School of Boerne, a few miles north of San Antonio. For almost as many years, I’ve also taught a sophomore course in classical rhetoric. In many ways, these two roles are effectively the two sides of the same coin; rhetors can be trained well in both the classroom and the cafeteria. Yet, just as Washington’s profile looks nothing like an eagle, these two types of training are distinct. Participation in a competi- tive debate team, in particular, offers a unique training in rhetoric. A classical and Christian school seeking to provide the best training in rhetoric to her students would be wise to consider doing so through a competitive debate team.

Now, before explaining the benefits, I should warn the reader that not all debate events are created equal. Most modern competitive events emphasize rapid speed and quantity of content over eloquence and analysis. Any school considering participation in competitive debate should avoid events where persuasive delivery takes a backseat to “spreading” (speed reading) and technical debate jargon. the bad habits acquired through participation in these events would more likely undo a classroom training in rhetoric, rather than supplement one. events of this nature and their styles will likely vary from region to region. Prospective coaches would be wise to attend a few local tournaments, observing several different speech and debate events, noting counter formative tendencies.

Public Forum Debate is one event that is a relatively safe bet for classical and Christian schools, regardless of the region. Unlike most competitive debate events, Public Fo- rum Debate is tailored to the persuasion of a non-specialist, citizen judge. Debating on topics of national significance, Public Forum debaters must be prepared to convey compli- cated arguments to a judge, who until that moment might have no prior knowledge of the topic. Students, working in pairs, must be prepared to take up either side in the debate, as determined by the flip of a coin prior to every debate round. Students take turns setting out their cases, refuting opposing cases, summarizing the debate round, providing final appeals, and periodically engaging in questioning, all in the hope of convincing the judge to vote for their team.

Just imagine yourself as one of the student debat- ers. Your judge is an elderly woman, who just set down her needlework. Your task is to convince her that development assistance should be prioritized over humanitarian aid in the Sahel Region of Africa. Or perhaps sitting in front of you is a college student, wearing a T-Shirt that reads, “No, I’m pretty sure guns kill people,” and you have the insurmount- able task of convincing him that Congress should not renew the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. Complicating matters further, is the other team seated next to you. They take up the opposite position, waiting for you to make a mistake so they can use it against you. This isn’t an MLA-formatted es- say on white paper. This isn’t an in-class oral address to an audience of familiar faces. This is real-life discourse to real- life people. It is at this moment that a training in classical rhetoric becomes tangible. Here, rhetoric is alive in the eyes and ears of the audience, in the increased heartbeat and sweat of an anxious adolescent, and in the secret script of the judge’s written verdict. Debate truly offers to the student an embodied training in rhetoric that sets it apart from the classroom.

Because debate provides a real-world application of rhetorical skills, antagonists to challenge and overcome (or learn from!), and raises the stakes for the continued study of rhetoric, students’ rhetorical skills are sharpened. In making this case, I’ll allow the Five Canons of Classical Rhetoric to serve as my guide, those categorized rhetorical principles established by ancient rhetoricians: Invention, Arrange- ment, Style, Memory, and Delivery.

Like many debate events, Public Forum Debate centers around resolutions: declarative statements on a given topic for debaters to affirm or negate. Public Forum Debate resolutions change every month. One month before the start of a new debate topic, the National Speech and Debate Association, the organization that sets the rules
and oversees much of American speech and debate tourna- ments, announces the new resolution. This is when debaters engage in the practice of skills related to the first of the Five Canons: Invention.

There is no more exciting time to coach a debate team than when a new resolution is announced. Debaters chomp at the bit to discover what arguments can be made on any given topic. Indeed, discovery is what the the Canon of Invention is all about. For several weeks following the release of a new topic, the team engages in energetic, but systematic, round-table discussions about available argu- ments. As the team’s Harkness-table heuristic continues, the list of possible arguments grows, and research begins. Each student unearths authoritative support for his claims. These findings are presented, scrutinized, and, finally, debaters draft their cases.

In all the frenzied excitement of topic preparation, it’s easy to lose sight of the rhetorical skills being developed. While these skills are too numerous to list, one of the most important is lexical discernment. Students pay particular attention to the definitions of key terms in the resolution. I recall, for example, a few months ago, when no less than two full debate class periods were devoted to discussion of the definition of the word “ought.” These students rightly recognized that alternative definitions of that word would allow the debater to “frame” the argument in a way that benefited one side of the debate or another. One seemingly insignificant verb in the resolution would prevent or allow access to certain lines of reasoning. Successful debaters rec- ognize the importance of owning a good dictionary. In this, debaters are apprentice wordsmiths; attentive to their own words and the words of their opponents. Given enough practice they become masters of their craft.

Skills related to Invention are honed beyond the initial preparation stage. Once the students find themselves at a competitive tournament, there is much related to the rhetorical situation left to discover. Take our biased, tee- shirt wearing college student from earlier. As a student of rhetoric, a debater will instinctively glean as much informa- tion from his audience prior to the round. In this situation, recognizing potential for bias, judicious debaters might modify their case in response to perceived partisanship. They might choose a different side (assuming they win the coin toss), modify their lexicon, or use different arguments to best appeal to the individual. When rhetors look to the opportunity of the moment, they are practicing kairos, an ancient means of Invention that looks to the role of timing or opportunity in persuasion. Debaters must not only be masters of the words they use, but they must recognize where and when to use (or not use) them. Students who participate in debate develop the ability to assess and re- spond to the rhetorical situation because they are presented with new and varied audiences.

Arrangement, the second Canon of Classical Rhetoric, also has applications before, during, and after a competitive tournament. Once debaters have invented their arguments, they must decide in what order to struc- ture their cases, and how much background information
to provide. Generally the pre-tournament arrangement
of a debate argument is a given by convention. Debaters will typically begin with a short verbal hook to grab their audience’s attention. Then, they will provide background information necessary for the audience to weigh in on the issue. They will then state their claim; that is, whether they are affirming or negating the resolution, and why. Then, for each of their subordinate claims, the reasons why the judge should vote for them, support is provided, and the impact, or importance, of that claim is stated. If time allows, debat- ers will attempt to refute the most commonly used oppos- ing claims. They will end with a brief conclusion, summa- rizing and urging the judge to vote for them. This format might sound familiar to many classical educators, because it is very similar to the Six Part Classical Oration Arrangement taught at many classical schools. Drafting debate argu- ments enables debate students to frequently practice their writing in a way that reinforces what they are taught in the classroom. Unlike a standard classroom essay and oration, however, debaters encounter feedback that is immediate and often harsh. Opponents and angry judges don’t mince words. This, coupled with the next round looming, exhorts the student to revision in a way that the assign-grade-return format of classroom writing can’t match.

It’s not enough to just include the requisite parts of the Classical Arrangement. Students must also consider the appropriate length of each of the parts. Consider again our elderly crocheter. Remembering their own ignorance of the Sahel Region in Africa prior to their research, and the unlike- lihood that their non-specialist citizen judge knows much about it either, the debaters deem it necessary to expand on the background information in their case. They quickly con- fer, deciding to cut some support from their cases to spend more time establishing background information necessary for their judge’s understanding. Judging the appropriate- ness of the length of the arranged parts is yet another skill frequently practiced by debaters.

The third of the Five Canons of Classical Rhetoric is Style. The Canon of Style is concerned with choosing words suitable to a rhetorical occasion. The ticking clock looming over every speech forces debaters to wrestle with word econ- omy. Speeches in Public Forum Debate vary in length from two to four minutes. Faced with this scarcity of time, debat- ers must make use of every second of the speech to inform their audience, refute their opponent’s claims, and expand their own case. Every filler word is a missed opportunity. Whether drafting their case or speaking extemporaneously in round, a debater’s language becomes clear and simple. They instinctively learn to say only what is necessary with as few words as possible.

Memory is the fourth Canon. Memory deals not only with familiarity of a speech, but also having a stock of support available and knowing how to recall it quickly. It is not uncommon for debaters to compile hundreds of pieces of evidence for each resolution. With little time to prepare during a round, debaters must quickly bring to mind a
fact or retrieve a lengthier quote. I’ve seen debate rounds lost because an unorganized debater spent the lion’s share of his speech rifling through unorganized piles of printed evidence. To combat this, debaters develop organizational systems to assist in retrieval. It is not uncommon, however, for the most used facts, figures, and quotes to be memorized verbatim by the end of a month on a specific topic. The memory of a debater is continually exercised.

The more familiar with the speech and its support, the more comfortable the student will be in presenting it. Delivery, the final Canon of Classical Rhetoric, deals with the presentation of the speech. Here is where all those carefully selected and arranged words might fall upon deaf ears. For if debaters speak too quietly, or in a monotone voice, or rattle off their case too rapidly, their words will likely not be heard at all. Debaters learn to speak audibly, at a restrained rate, and with varied intonation. For the work of Invention, Ar- rangement, and Style to matter, a debater must be skillful in vocal delivery.

While debate is certainly a competition of words, it does offer to the participant the exercise of other persuasive skills related to Delivery. Consider, for example, debaters who look down toward their printed speech or computer screen. Debaters recognize the importance of eye contact in a speech. Eye contact signals confidence and holds the attention of the audience. Hand gestures are also important. Debaters use hand gestures to reinforce their vocal deliv- ery. Wild, frenzied gestures detract from their case, while smooth, purposeful gestures provide a visual underscore
to their words. Through practice and feedback, debaters acquire the skills that unite speech and body.

Debate offers to the student of rhetoric a unique opportunity to expand on those skills acquired in the class- room. They learn to discover arguments. They understand, arrange, and use words well and at the right time. They in- crease their capacity for and organization of support. Finally, the debater learns to take those words and present them in an engaging way. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the cafeteria we began in. You note that the linoleum tiles look more like marbled rock. The pale greenish-hue gives way to a warm, yellow glow, like that of the midday Mediterranean sun. The tired adolescents begin to resemble Ancient Athenian citizens. The speeches your students are practicing begin to sound more like the words of the Apostle Paul. You’re atop Mars Hill. For the reason we are at this tournament is for far more than the practical benefits of linguistic development, or the cheap plastic trophies re- ceived in victory, or the bolstering of college transcripts. We are training our students to discern and defend truth and to winsomely persuade others to it. We are training them for a rhetoric that Plato describes as psychagogia (“soul leading”). We are training them in the footsteps of Paul the Apostle, for their own Mars Hill moments. We are preparing them to be psychagogues: leaders of souls by words to the truth found in Christ Jesus. And debate is a fantastic way to do this.

Competitive Speech: The Imperative for Classical Education in Training the Good Man Speaking Well; Establishing & Coaching a Successful Team

In 2010, Veritas Academy won the State TAPPS Championship with a team of only freshmen and sophomores, largely due to successful speakers and performers. Since opening in 2005, Veritas has recognized the imperative of a classical school to nurture a thriving, dynamic and mission-focused Competitive Speech Team. Over 7 years, Veritas students have not only competed in, but have been awarded state titles in Competitive Speech through such organizations as the National Forensics League. In the classical pursuit of “the good man speaking well,” Competitive Speech is paramount in developing confident, eloquent Christian speakers who pursue godly standards of truth, beauty and goodness in their competitive performances. Whether you are looking to revitalize an existing forensics program or establish your first team, this session will give you the tools to start and sustain a successful Competitive Speech team that will grow top speakers who compete for the glory of God.

Erin Keyfitz

Erin Keyfitz has served as Fine Arts Director of Veritas Academy in Austin since 2007. In addition to her administrative role, Erin also directs the high school theater and coaches the competitive speech team, which just claimed the TAPPS 1A State Champion title. As a member of several competitive organizations including National Forensics League, her speech and theater program has consistently received high honors including TAPPS Fine Art Student of the Year. Prior to Veritas, Erin taught at Regents School of Austin and served as Assistant state Director of One Act Plays for PSIA. A former speech competitor and debater herself, Erin brings passion, knowledge and experience in the area of competitive speech.

Debate: Coaching a Classical Christian Team that Wins the War of Words

Geneva School of Boerne stated a competitive high school debate team three  years ago with six students meeting once a week at lunch. Today, competitive debate is a full year class and they compete at the state, national and international levels in two  debate events. They have represented Geneva and classical education at the Texas State Tournament, Harvard, Yale , Princeton, the University of California, Berkeley and the International Public Policy Forum. Team members have received bids to the Tournament of Champions and will be competing at the National Tournament this June. Classical education is a unique foundation for competitive debate which is the only forum allowing our students to compete against every other high school in the US. This seminar will discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of competitive debate and the step-by-step process of building and coaching a team that will let your student take rhetoric as far as they can go. Two members of the Geneva Debate Team will be present.

Leslie Moeller

Leslie Moeller started the debate program for Geneva School of Boerne and is completing her fourth year as Head Debate Coach. She has coached students at the local, state and national levels. This past year, she has had two Public Forum debate teams ranked as high as 5th in the Nation. Both teams plus one Student Congress debater quali ed for the 2013 Tournament of Champions. Mrs. Moeller has a BA from the University of Virginia in English Literature and Economics and a JD from Boston College. In addition to coaching debate, she has taught Middle School Language Arts, Dialectic and currently teaches Senior Thesis. She has also served on the Board of Trustees of Geneva and the SCL Board.

Teaching the Full Force of the Art of Argumentation: A Startling Claim by Apthonius

Aphthonius makes a remarkable and initially puzzling claim that stages five and six, Refutation and Confirmation, of his Prgymnasmata impart the full force of the art of invention (the first canon of classical rhetoric theory). This workshop offers a possible explanation by demonstrating how his curriculum trains the minds of our students to generate ideas or arguments on demand. We suggest that the first six stages of Aphthonius equip students with the Quality of Invention, the full force of the art, which later formal instruction in Rhetoric will enhance with Quality.

James Selby

Jim Selby has a BA from Oral Roberts University in English Literature and New Testament Literature and a M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has taught and administered at Whitefield Academy, a classical Christian school in Kansas City, for the last eleven years. Jim currently teaches Great Books/Humanities, Rhetoric and English Literature as well as Logic in previous years. Founder of Classical Composition he authored a writing curriculum used both in the classroom and in the homeschooling community.

Competitive High School Debate – Why Isn’t Your School Doing It?

Let’s start with full disclosure. I’ve been a debate coach for precisely eight months. My school, like many of yours, teaches debate as part of our middle and upper school curriculum. I started our in-school debate program four years ago. I also have plenty of experience arguing (just ask my husband, he says it’s one of my core competencies). I am an attorney by training and had the privilege of being a member of a successful international moot court team in law school. But in the world of competitive high school debate, I’m a newbie.

Prudence would suggest that I wait a couple years, get a few successes and a lot more experience under my belt before I deign to give advice. In diving into the debate world, however, I’ve discovered that few if any other classical schools are involved. This means that I may have as much or more experience as any other classical debate coach. It also means that as a group of schools that emphasizes logical analysis and persuasive speaking, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. Our students should be setting the bar in debate not avoiding the arena. They need it and more importantly, the forensic world needs us.

Starting with the basics, the National Forensic League or NFL ( sets the national debate rules, selects the topics which all the state organizations use, and hosts the national tournament. One of the great advantages of debate is that it’s one of the few competitive arenas where our students compete against and are competitive with every other high school student. There’s no private school league or small school category. If your students advance to the state or national level, they compete at the state or national tournament.

Each state also has a state forensic league that holds local tournaments, usually several a month. Since the state leagues follow the national rules and topics, all high school students argue the same topics in the same events across the country.

Unlike athletics, however, success at the state level does not feed into the national tournament. Here’s where it gets a bit complicated. Each state has its own point system whereby students earn points through success at local tournaments. The state sets the number of points necessary to qualify for the state tournament. The NFL, on the other hand, has its own point system whereby simple participation in debate events (as opposed to success) earns points. In debate, for example, a student earns three NFL points for a lost round and six points for a win. A student must accumulate 25 points to qualify to compete in a local, district-qualifying tournament. Each region, and there are many regions within each state, will have one district qualifying tournament sometime in the second semester. Depending upon how many teams compete at the district tournament, the top one to four teams at the tournament will qualify to compete at the national tournament, which usually takes place in June.

There are a number of forms of competitive debate. If you’ve been exposed to college level debate then you’re familiar with Policy Debate or CX and its idiotic practice of super-fast speaking (also known as “spreading”). I can’t imagine why anyone would teach a student to do this or why any judge would reward a team that did, but it’s the standard in CX and a good reason to stay away from this debate event. Two other formats have issues as well: Lincoln/Douglass which is highly stylized and folled with debate jargon, and Congressional Debate (or Student Congress) which follows a mock legislative format rather than traditional debate. That leaves one last debate event in which every classical Rhetoric School should compete: Public Forum. This event was added just a few years ago, primarily as a response to the direction taken by CX and L/D debate.

The national Public Forum guide describes Public Forum as follows:

Public Forum Debate is a team event that advocates or rejects a position posed by the monthly resolution topic. The clash of ideas must be communicated in a manner persuasive to the non-specialist or “citizen judge”, i.e. a member of the American jury. The debate should:

  • Display solid logic, lucid reasoning, and depth of analysis

  • Utilize evidence without being driven by it

  • Present a clash of ideas by countering/ refuting arguments of the opposing team (rebuttal)

  • Communicate ideas with clarity, organization, eloquence, and professional decorum

In other words, in this form of debate, students strive to be persuasive to the average citizen and are encouraged to use their speaking skills and logic to do so. The format of the debate is similar to what most of our schools probably use in their in-house programs and is easily found on the NFL website.

Topics for Public Forum change monthly and are announced on the first day of the month preceding the month in which they will be argued. So far this year, my students have argued whether failed states or stable states pose the greatest threat to the U.S., whether or not President Obama’s plan for Afghanistan is in the U.S.’s best interest, and whether organized political lobbying in the U.S. does more harm than good. They are currently researching whether affirmative action to promote equal opportunity is justified. It’s a pretty heady experience to spend a Saturday watching high school students voluntarily engage each other on topics like these. Oh, did I mention the small detail that, in Texas at least, debate tournaments usually start about 4:00 on a Friday a ernoon, run until around 10:00 p.m., start again on Saturday at 8:00 a.m., and continue often until 10:00 Saturday night? Of course, if you’re there that late, your team has done well, and the adrenaline will make up for the lost sleep. Some states, such as Virginia, have single-day mid-week tournaments, so you may get off a little easier than I have.

If you want to start a team, and you should, you need to do three things. First, get on your state website right away (Google “Forensic League” and your state name), and find out if there are
any local tournaments remaining this spring. If there are, go watch one. Be aware that in Public Forum, there are usually three to five preliminary rounds then the top teams “break” based on their win/loss record and their speaker points. Usually the tournament will break to quarter finals, which means the top eight teams will move forward, and from that point it becomes single elimination. Check the schedule, usually posted on a website, and go to the later rounds to see the best debaters. Take some interested students with you if you can. If you want to look like you know what you’re doing, head to the cafeteria of the school where the tournament is being held. That’s where all the students hang out between events (and forensic tournaments have lots of events, not just debate) and it’s also where the room assignments are posted for the next round of each event.

Second, schedule an organizational meeting this spring. Here’s where you can learn from my mistakes. I waited until school started to organize the team. Big mistake. At the start of school, everything is new and exciting and a bit overwhelming. Students have a hard time focusing let alone finding the time to research debate topics. Have your organizational meeting before summer break. Put together your teams, and let them know that they will need to start work in August. Plan at least four working meetings in August, and put them on everyone’s calendar. When the September topic is announced on August 1st, your team will be ready to go. The goal is to have their research done and their arguments written before school starts. That way, they are ready to argue in September.

One of the great advantages of a smaller school is that our students get to have a much wider variety of experiences, but that means my debaters are also basketball players and actors. September is a great month to accumulate debate points before all the other events get going. The good news is that for those who are good at it, debate is addictive.

Third, come to the SCL Summer Conference. I’ll be presenting a seminar on the how’s and why’s of starting a debate program and would be delighted to share more details with you then. We’ll talk about how to match students in a team, the three stages every team goes through in learning to debate, how to research and prepare topics, and some of those other forensic events such as prose, poetry, original oratory and dramatic interpretation. More importantly, we’ll explore why it’s our obligation to get out students out into the world of forensics to influence the debate (literally and figuratively).

We started our team with a single, once- a-week meeting during the lunch/activity hour. We quickly found out that in the big public high schools, including the reigning national champion high school against whom we debate regularly, debate is an elective that meets four or five times a week. We added two Sunday afternoon work sessions when the students were first getting the feel for debate. We also have a vigorous email exchange between meetings. I hope to upgrade our program to a three-day-a-week elective next year, but, even on our meager schedule, two of our teams have qualified for the Texas state tournament. One of our teams will be arguing at our district- qualifying tournament next weekend in a bid to secure a spot at Nationals. Next year, we hope to see you there.


Real-Time Dialectic

During their seventh and eighth grade years, my students engage in a unique and highly popular course. Dialectic incorporates elements of both logic and rhetoric through the study of logical fallacies and practical debate. The disciplines of logic and rhetoric come together as students are challenged to carefully determine both what should be said and how to say it persuasively.

The Art of Argument by Aaron Larsen and Joelle Hodge serves as the textbook throughout the two year course. After being exposed to a fallacy through the text, students are encouraged to apply their newfound knowledge through some form of rhetorical exercise. For example, after learning about emotional appeals, students present a campaign speech or television commercial. Written exams are given over the substance of the text, while the presentations given during the application process are also graded.

Approximately two-thirds of a semester is centered on the text and related rhetorical exercises. The final one-third of the semester is set aside for debate. Students are introduced to a topic and exposed to potential points of view regarding it. After several class periods of group discussion, students are required to write an argument for either the affirmative or negative side of the issue. Although topics may encompass any number of subjects, the proposition debated must present two truly viable sides.

The debates take place during class time and study hall for a number of weeks, the critical goal being to ensure that every student competes in at least two preliminary rounds. After the “prelims,” the top eight teams advance to the “break” round. The top four teams from the quarter final pairings then advance to the semi final round. Finally, the top two teams meet one another in the final round. The final match is scheduled during a school assembly so that all the students in 6th-8th grades can enjoy the most sophisticated presentations of the tournament.

Parents, teachers, and administrators who have an interest and proficiency in the art of argument judge. Ballots are structured such that both content and presentation are considered, with a little more weight being given to substance.

Dialectic provides students with an opportunity to exercise their 12-14-year old natural desire to argue and challenge authority. The structure allows them to do this in a God-honoring environment where they are not allowed to make claims without appropriate decorum and evidentiary support. Better yet, they just might be leaning something.

Classical Writing Instruction for the Modern Classroom

This seminar will examine the success of the Progymnasmata in preparing K-12 students for college level communications, written and oral. We will discuss the most efficient and effective means of taking pre-writers and preparing them for the advanced art of contemporary writing. The scope and sequence of the necessary sub-skill sets are laid out and discussed. This approach has yielded an one hundred percent qualification rate for Whitefield Academy’s seniors on both the ACT and SAT essay portions of their college entrance exams versus a national average of twenty-two percent.

James Selby

Jim Selby has a BA from Oral Roberts University in English Literature and New Testament Literature and a M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has taught and administered at Whitefield Academy, a classical Christian school in Kansas City, for the last eleven years. Jim currently teaches Great Books/Humanities, Rhetoric and English Literature as well as Logic in previous years. Founder of Classical Composition he authored a writing curriculum used both in the classroom and in the homeschooling community.