Importance of Debate in Education

One of the biggest problems we face as a society is a lack of education. I’m not advocating longer school years or more years of schooling. In fact I think students spend far too many wasted years in school. The problem is that our schools teach the wrong things. Schools should teach students how to learn and how to think critically through debate. Instead, our government indoctrination facilities teach students what to think. Most of what was learned is immediately forgotten after the exam. We drown students with a boat load of fish without teaching them how to fish. We make students just another brick in the wall instead of teaching them how to build their own edifices of knowledge.


We have a society in which the majority of people wasted their youth receiving a useless education and are therefore incapable of critical thinking and are trained to accept what they are told and to hate learning. When they receive conflicting information they are unable to sort through it, but instead make emotional decisions on what to believe based on their group identity or trusted authority figures.

dwight double negative

The foundation for education must be debate. True learning takes place only through debate. If you cannot articulate an idea, and defend it rationally, then your mind will always be a slave to someone else or a slave to your own shifting impulses. Classical educators made the Trivium the foundation of education. The Trivium contained the three basic subjects necessary for debate and therefore necessary for all other learning: TriviumImageCLA2Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. Grammar is the study of the thing as it is symbolized. One cannot debate without understanding language, definitions, sentence structure, etc. Logic is the study of the thing as it is known. One cannot debate without understanding how one knows, logic, and logical fallacies. And finally, Rhetoric is the study of the thing as it is communicated – how to speak, how to write, and how to present ideas in a coherent and cogent form.

I am a product of this inadequate public education system that did not teach through debate. I feel handicapped today realizing that my true education has only just begun. I did not begin to learn the trivium or the importance of debate until about nine years ago when free mindI began to debate the issue of creation vs. evolution. At the time, I was a thoroughly convinced young-earth-creationist when I found an internet forum where I attempted to debate and convert the “evil” evolutionists. After a few thousand passionate posts I had learned a few things about debate and logical fallacies and my faith in everything I had once believed I knew was shaken. A person’s foundation of knowledge can only be shaken when it is built through appeals to authority or emotion rather than debate. We have a whole generation of people with no foundation for knowledge and are consequently living in a very unstable and increasingly controlled society. Freedoms are evaporating because people do not have the tools necessary to keep their minds free. Obviously the trivium and debate alone are not enough to cure all of society’s ills. They are just the foundation. What is built on the foundation is another important matter.

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4 Responses to Importance of Debate in Education

  1. ryan59479 says:

    While I’m sure debate has its merits where learning is concerned, I believe it only goes so far. Show me someone who can learn calculus or geometry through rhetoric and debate. There are somethings you just have to be taught, in a lecturer-student setting.

    I do, however, believe that you’re correct about teaching children how to think vs what to think, and that current educational models spend too much time emphasizing things that could be learned outside of a school setting. I recently heard of a school, and unfortunately I can’t remember where it was for the life of me, where there was no set curriculum. Students basically studied what they found interesting or were naturally talented at, whether it be math, science, music, or writing. Furthermore, all age groups were lumped together, with older students mentoring younger students. Under these circumstances, the children flourished. They became excited about learning, because they got to indulge in something that genuinely interested them, instead of being forced to study things that bored them or that they’d never use (most of the “required reading” in English classes is a joke anyway).

    But by and large, you’re very correct: our current education system is churning out workers, not thinkers. Children aren’t taught to question things, how to evaluate evidence or an argument, or how to think beyond a superficial, cursory level. I, too, am a byproduct of such a system. However, I had parents who really reinforced critical thinking and learning outside of the classroom, and really nurtured my natural aptitudes. And that’s a key component that’s missing from our society, I believe. While I don’t think that parents should force children to study, they should definitely be role models for higher learning and take a part in the education process. Sadly, I don’t really see this in our society for the most part. Education is a lifelong process, and it mostly occurs outside of the classroom. Our society, however, has compartmentalized education, creating an, “education only happens in a classroom,” paradigm.

    • simcah says:

      Ryan, thanks for stopping by 🙂 I agree that debate is only the foundation for learning. In classical education the trivium is followed by the quadrivium which includes the subject of mathematics. I don’t know what the solution is to changing our education system for the better, but for now all I can do is put my thoughts out there and add my voice to the voices of others.

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