Teaching Through Debate

My daughter's team after the debate.

My daughter’s team after the debate.

My younger daughter is very intellectual and a Type A kind of a girl. She is also a giving, kind child and doesn’t have a selfish bone in her body. Personally, I love it. It is a lot of what makes her who she is.

Earlier this year, my daughter wanted a new activity. She was not selected to be part of an elite math team at her school despite her strong grades and she wanted something for the smart kids that were not on that team or pulled from class to participate in gifted programs. She, and one of her friends, approached the principal and, shortly after, they started a debate team.

Initially, the debate team had a pretty large group (over twenty kids) and it was all she talked about but, as time passed, it became more like work. The kids began to fuss with one another. Eventually the team dwindled to a much more manageable group of nine and they began to focus on participating in the school’s district debate.

As excited as my daughter was, part of her was very apprehensive with getting in front of the other schools for the district debate. She researched the debate’s topic, prepared a speech as she was supposed to, and went through all of the motions unsure of if she wanted to actually be one of the three chosen speakers.

The day came to present her speech to the group and for them to decide on speakers. Somehow, her speech managed to disappear before the group met and my daughter was sorely unprepared. Despite not being able to share and showcase her own work, the team voted for her to be one of the speakers. She declined the opportunity to speak giving the spot to another girl on the group that she felt was better prepared, but was not as strong with public speaking.

I was not initially told about my daughter being selected or turning the spot down. I actually heard about this after the fact from the team’s coach. When I spoke with my daughter about her decision, she indicated that she would have liked to do it, but the other little girl was more prepared and was getting upset over not being selected. My daughter did not want to upset her friend.

For the next week, as the team prepared, my daughter stressed over her decision. She did all she could to help her friend prepare by practicing with her during down time at school.

The big day arrived and my child was a ball of nerves. She was really worried about how the other girl would do and that the team would not win. Her worries were not unfounded. The team lost their debate.

My daughter was very upset as we left the debate. Thankfully, she maintained her composure until we were alone. She was very critical of her team members, especially the girl she allowed to take her place. I tried to remain objective and point out that she could have been on the stage but chose not to. I told her how nerve racking being in front of a large group is for some. I encouraged her to remember that she is still a team member and needed to be treated with kindness as she probably was kicking herself over the loss.

As a parent, the debate day, and weeks leading up to the debate itself, was an emotional roller coaster. I was so proud of our team, the other teams, and the work that the kids put into it all. I hated the way that my daughter handled the disappointment of the loss. But really, my main issue came from my daughter making the decision not to participate. She wanted to participate and could have done so. But, she selected not to rather than upsetting another child. I do not want my child to be a doormat for others to walk all over. I do not want her to put her own wishes on the backburner.

How do you teach a child to share, give, and care for others, but not to take it too far? Really, I have no clue. I tried to talk to her about it letting her know it was okay for her to accept if she really wanted it and that her friend would forgive her. I guess time will tell if any of my words got through to her.


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