Fourth- and fifth-graders might have something to teach adults about how to handle differing opinions.
At least that’s the case for kids who have been signing up for DebateAble, a budding local debate program. The ability to think critically and craft compelling arguments seems to come naturally to the roughly 75 students who participate in the program each year.
“It’s really interesting,” said DebateAble co-founder Margot Saharic. “Grown-ups are terrible at dealing with people having a different opinion. There’s at least two sides to everything. It’s an interesting paradigm that kids are better at than adults.”
DebateAble’s main program consists of a roughly 12-week class that’s offered twice a year in 11 elementary and K-8 schools in the Seattle Public School system. The classes are one hour a week before or after school, and nine to 15 kids can sign up. Students learn the different debate formats through games and activities that culminate in a final debate before parents.
Recent debate topics have included “Whether or not students should have homework” and “Should zoos be abolished?” Topics are chosen based on student interest and whether research is available on both sides of the issue.
“It’s so fun to present the resolution to the kids,” Saharic said. “Many times they’ll go back and forth on their opinions.”
Students are encouraged to research the topics and use personal experience to bolster their argument, which “keeps them connected to it and drives the point home,” Saharic said.
“It’s a pretty tremendous thing in this age group to be able to argue both sides,” said Elizabeth Kruse, DebateAble’s other co-founder. “It really boosts their empathy and ability to communicate.”
The kids learn skills that are valuable in their regular classes, Saharic said, adding that teachers have told them, “I can tell which kids are in your DebateAble program.”
Saharic, who has a background in sales, and Kruse, a former prosecutor in New York City, began DebateAble in 2012. The 12-week class costs $200 per student and scholarships are available.
This month, DebateAble will begin offering a teaching tool that any school or youth organization can purchase. Saharic and Kruse have also taught a shorter series of debating classes on the Eastside. DebateAble is currently seeking coaches to assist them in the Seattle area. No previous debate experience is necessary.