Debating the Issue

Highland eighth-graders learn skills to develop arguments on current issues

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The question was: Should cellphones be allowed at Highland schools?

Two three-person teams were lined up on each side of the question.

The status quo team – Ryan Vandenberg, Lucybelle Gerlieb and Kaylee Schmid – argued that the current Highland policy allowing phones should remain.

The affirmative team – Abby Pierson, Brayden Johnston and Remington Fields – argued for banning cellphones from the school.

In the end, eighth-grade language arts teacher Denise Roth ruled that the status quo team won the debate because they offered alternatives to the other team’s arguments.

“If you are going to prove them wrong, go in-depth,” she told that class after the debate Friday morning.

The six students were the latest in the class to argue their cases in front of classmates, parents and relatives.

The debates covered a variety of topics: vaccinations for children, the First Amendment, social media, gun control and illegal immigrations.

Students were given a list of possible topics, and they had to pick their top three choices.  How students were placed in their specific teams was based on individuals’ skills, dynamics, and abilities. 

The cellphone debate was real for students. Middle school students may have cell phones out before and after school.  Phones must be put away during school hours.  High schoolers may have their phones between classes and at lunch.

The debates started in classes on Nov. 21 and concluded Tuesday.

A coin toss determined which team debated for change – the affirmative – and the team debating that things stay the same – the status quo.

The debaters dressed up for their presentations and delivered their arguments from a podium in front of the class.

Roth said the debates are a culmination of the monthlong debate unit. During this, students learned about debate and worked researching and preparing for their team’s side of their debate.

The teacher’s goal is teaching students to collaborate effectively in a group and develop public speaking skills. The students need to research the topic and then produce a solid persuasive argument in their opening statements.

The lessons learned are tied to Iowa standards that delineate what students should be learning.

In the longer term, Roth hopes students can adapt these lessons to real-world situations such as writing scholarship letters, listening to political debates and organizing and leading groups.

Students already are seeing how to apply these lessons. They have asked their science teacher if they could debate global warming in that class.

Roth attributes the “overwhelmingly positive student performances to Highland being a small school where students are familiar with each other.

“I have taught in a larger school,” Roth said. “Students were not as familiar with one another, which may have played a larger part than I thought in terms of public speaking.”

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