Learning the Art of Civil Discourse

You could say the students in John Reynolds’ debate class are serious about working out. Working out mentally, that is. Reynolds calls it “stretching their brains.” Dakota Shelton '21 calls it “mental strength.”
As members of Hutchison’s debate team, they take an assigned topic and learn to debate it from multiple sides. At the actual tournament, a coin toss determines what side they must take. Critical thinking, mental agility, poise and confidence. Those are the skills of this game.

“I feel energized when I practice debate. It really does take a lot of mental strength to process people talking really fast and then gather your information and convert it into questions for cross fires,” says Dakota. “Debate helps you learn argumentative skills that can be applied to other things such as essays in English. If I have a course in college that is more of a talking format, I feel like I have the tools and resources from debate that I can use for those things as well.”
Reynolds agrees that the skills the girls are learning today will serve them well in the future.
"Debate encourages girls to stretch their brains as they learn to approach an argument from multiple points of view. They develop a respect for civil discourse, using logic, reasoning, and evidence to prove their points,” says Reynolds. Not to mention invaluable life skills. “Having the ability to see both sides of an issue is a healthy skill to develop,” he says.
“You got this!”

“One of the main benefits of participating in debate is working on your public speaking skills and learning how to stand up for what you think is right,” says Loralei Forgette. “You find ways to structure arguments and find reliable information to back up your information. The other main benefit of debate is the confidence it gives you. You start to tell yourself ‘You got this’ and to stand up for what you believe.”
Reynolds is obviously proud of his debaters. "It is rewarding to see the girls improve their skills. I can tell when they have found their voices,” he says.
The judges at a recent event, where Hutchison teams placed first, second, and third, also noticed the poise and confidence of our girls.
“Shelton came out of the gates with confidence,” wrote one. “Forgette demonstrated passion without getting emotional. This made her speeches seem very genuine,” wrote another judge.
Captain Lulu Amro, who along with Dakota Shelton placed first recently, is the team’s number one recruiter, says Reynolds. She enjoys debate for many reasons, but in a recent article for Signpost, she appealed to her classmates’ desires to be heard, in the classroom and beyond. Lulu cited a National Forensic Journal article noting that debate receives less participation from women, because of stereotypes that describe the art of debate as “masculine” and “aggressive.” Lulu Amro wants to change that.
“If more women began to sign up for competitions," says Lulu, “If more women perceived debate as a chance for them to have a voice, and if more women would be able to say, ‘Excuse me, but it was my turn to ask a question’, then these discriminatory practices would end.”
It’s hard to argue with that in an environment that’s committed to teaching girls to speak their minds and think for themselves.
Fresh off a strong finish in Collierville last weekend, the girls will compete again this weekend, and have their eyes on the state tournament in April.

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Hutchison is the leading private girls school in Memphis for ages 2 years old through twelfth grade.