Some of the world’s most famous, charismatic and powerful orators and leaders such as former British prime minister Winston Churchill, former US presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton cut their teeth in school and university debating societies, learning and perfecting the art of presenting persuasive arguments. In Western countries, the ancient Socratic art of debate is highly prized with schools and universities establishing formal debate clubs and societies way back in the 18th century.
The Cambridge Union Society was founded in 1815, and claims to be the oldest continually operating debating society worldwide and Princeton University’s (USA) influential American Whig Society was founded in 1769. Other prominent university debating societies include the Oxford Union (UK), Yale Political Union (US) and Conference Olivaint (France).Moreover, the presidential/ election debates of the US, UK and France in which political rivals argue, reason and engage in verbal jousts are much-anticipated events attracting worldwide viewership.
However, though shastrartha — philosophical and religious debates in which scholars interpreted the meaning (artha) of scriptures (shastra) — were common in ancient India, the practice of public debate fell out of fashion in the 18th and 19th centuries. In post-independence India too, most of the country’s fledgling institutions of higher learning at best half-heartedly encouraged debate because of discipline breach apprehensions. However in the 21st century with the advent of Google, YouTube and confrontational television news, debate is making a big comeback. Indian parents and educators are cottoning on that developing communication, including debate capabilities is a valuable life skill. Therefore almost all self-respecting schools, colleges and universities in the country have established debating societies with students encouraged to participate in inter-school, inter-state, national and international championships.
This renewed parental and academic interest in debate has paid off mightily. In July, a five-member student team from India won the prestigious World Schools Debating Championships 2019 for the first time. The Indian contingent which included a visually challenged student, shattered records by winning every round of the competition beating debaters from over 50 countries including the UK, Canada and Australia.
In this month’s cover story, we discuss why parents need to encourage children to engage in debate. Learning to reason and advance evidence-backed arguments while gracefully accepting opposing views is an essential skill which will hold children in good stead in 21st century workplaces.
There’s much else in this November issue of ParentsWorld. Check out our Middle Years’ story on why it’s important for parents to prepare older children for arrival of a new sibling and Health & Nutrition column by Bangalore-based pediatrician Dr. K.N. Harsha emphasising the importance of regularly deworming children.