She doesn’t know it, but Heather Wolpert-Gawron got my morning off to a good start. I just read that the 2017-2018 Missouri Educator of the Year is working with middle level students to help them to hone their speech and debate skills. On surface that may not sound groundbreaking or earth-shattering, but I’ve felt for a long time that it’s a very important skill we should be promoting in our P-12 schools.
Wolpert-Gawron teaches at Greenwood Laboratory School in Springfield, Missouri. The school was originally established in 1908 as part of the teacher training curriculum at Springfield Normal School but has been associated with Missouri State University for many years. In fact, I’m proud to say that I completed my student teaching at Greenwood many years ago and am pleased it has maintained its reputation for innovative instructional practices.
Ms. Wolpert-Gawron correctly observed that most P-12 students have no problem expressing themselves in social situations with their peers—the difficulty comes when they are asked to apply what they have learned about a given topic and communicate on a more formal level. In my opinion, it is extremely important to teach our students how to think critically, analyze, articulate a position, and engage in thoughtful, meaningful discussions with others. In a nutshell we really need to be teaching all the Language Arts, which are broadly comprised of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Some additional key skills that can be developed in association with the Language Arts include:
- Formulating arguments without being argumentative
- Disagreeing without being disagreeable
- Knowing what you stand for, and then being able to defend it
- Using your knowledge for good – to effect positive change
- Feeling empowered to make a difference
Students who are taught these skills and given opportunities to hone them will become much more confident thinkers, writers, and speakers. They will grow up to become valuable employees, entrepreneurs, and political leaders. Most importantly, by teaching language arts skills including debate, these students will become informed, confident, articulate, and empowered citizens of our great nation. In other words, “Active civitate opus effectum positivum mutation.” – “Active citizenship to effect positive change.” I can think of no better gift to give to our students, or to our nation.
Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design. Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com).