Even if you make no progress in changing anyone else’s mind, you may end up changing your own. Debate is like a stone that sharpens a blade. By forcing you to defend your arguments in a rigorous way, it compels you to think more deeply about them.
Are you among the millions of Americans who, in the year or so since the 2016 presidential election, have found themselves shaking with frustration at the refusal of a friend, family member, or colleague to accept a premise that seems beyond dispute? Have you argued, over Thanksgiving dinner or on social media, until one of you stormed away huffing and red in the face? Do you despair at the seemingly hopeless task of reconciling your own beliefs with those of the other half of the country? Well, I have bad news, good news, and a bit of advice for you.
The bad news is that a logical argumentation is not a particularly effective tool for changing the mind of a person you’re arguing with. I say this as a dedicated debater and teacher of debate. Unfortunately, what we know of human psychology suggests that directly challenging a person’s beliefs can even have the opposite effect, further entrenching those beliefs and making them more resistant to change. People circle the wagons, so to speak, when they feel attacked. They close their minds, and in the process of arguing they often come to hold their original beliefs even more strongly.
By Dr. Gordon Mitchell
Ideal models of argumentation invite us to envision a world populated by arguers who gather evidence, test the strength of the evidence, and then carefully infer warranted conclusions based on that evidence. Of course, no one is perfect, so mistakes can be expected and fallacies are bound to occur in practice. But social psychology research suggests that everyday patterns of argumentation do not just deviate from such ideal norms; they tend to invert them. This inversion occurs when arguers begin with anchored conclusions and then proceed to seek confirmatory evidence in support of those conclusions, often subconsciously ignoring or discounting contrary evidence along the way.
By Gerald Graff
A quarrel has simmered for the past several years over the kind of texts to be used in language arts instruction, according to the new Common Core and other college-directed education standards, but from my point of view as an English teacher this discussion has badly missed the point. The quarrel was touched off when these standards proposed a shift of emphasis in school reading assessment from works of fictional literature to “informational” texts. As The Washington Post and many other sources have reported, ELA teachers reacted with outrage to the shift, charging that, as Sheridan Blau, a professor of education at the Teachers College Columbia University puts it, “The effect of the new standards is to drive literature out of the English classroom.”
By Andrew Brokos
People familiar with my background in debate always assume that election season must be an exciting time of year for me, a rare moment during which debate is front-page news. The truth is just the opposite: I consider all of the grandstanding and empty rhetoric an insult to the activity that I love, and it pains me that these travesties are shaping America’s idea of what a debate should look like.
In November, Les Lynn wrote an excellent piece about the lack of debate in the so-called presidential debates. Sadly, the events that have occurred since have done more to corroborate than to refute that argument.
by Andrew Brokos
I was heavily involved in debate in high school and college, and as an adult I continue to volunteer with debate-related organizations. Professionally, though, I did not pursue a traditional “debater career” in a field such as law or politics. In fact, there’s nothing traditional at all about my career: I’m a professional poker player.
The connection between debating and playing poker is certainly less obvious than between debating and running for office, but the truth is that I credit a lot of my success in poker to the skills that I learned from debating, skills like critical thinking, considering all sides of an argument, and weighing advantages and disadvantages.