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Congressman Garrett Marks National Speech and Debate Education Day

Tomorrow, March 2, is National Speech and Debate Education Day — at least it has been designated as such by a U.S. Senate resolution, which was passed by unanimous consent on Tuesday.

S.Res.415 National Speech and Debate Education Day resolutionSponsored by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the resolution [1] acknowledges that marking the day like this is an initiative of the National Speech & Debate Association [2] (formerly the National Forensics League, or NFL), which, “in conjunction with national and local partners, honors and celebrates the importance of speech and debate.”

Oddly, although there have been at least two other [3] similar Senate resolutions [4] in previous years, there has never been a parallel or companion piece of legislation in the House of Representatives.

With that in mind, Bearing Drift reached out to U.S. Representative Tom Garrett, who represents Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District, for a brief comment on National Speech and Debate Education Day. Here’s his response:

“Speech and debate are at the root of developing critical thinking skills and of persuasion. These are among the key components to success in nearly any arena in life.

“Speech and debate can be one of the most rewarding and beneficial educational activities available to students. Not only does it provide students with a chance to shine in an academic environment, but it allows for a chance to win awards for intellect.

“Not only do speech students develop presentation skills, but they also learn to conduct academic research, think critically through problems, listen analytically to arguments, understand current social and political issues, better appreciate literature, and develop writing skills.

“Skills developed by students that participate and compete in speech and debate; from researching, writing, critical thinking, presentation, time management, and interpersonal communication often translate to success is both post-secondary education and in the workforce.

“But that’s not the only advantage. Speech and debate helps develop self-confidence, not only in front of an audience, but in interpersonal communication. Many student find that practicing speech and debate gives them an advantage in not only speaking in front of a roomful of people, but in one-on-one situations.

“Speech and debate tournaments are a good place to meet people and make new friends. Students get to know their teammates through practice sessions, road trips, and off-time at tournaments, and also get a rare opportunity to meet and interact with students from other schools around the state.”

It’s rather incontrovertible that participation in speech and debate in high school or earlier leads to both academic and professional success later in life. This is true even for those debaters who did not compete at a championship level. The process of learning how to speak in public and how to develop persuasive arguments imbues even those whose participation is brief with useful skills.

The National Speech and Debate Association keeps a list of prominent forensics alumni [5] that includes U.S. Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor, Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, actress Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson), Congressman Joaquin Castro, host of The Late Show Stephen Colbert, Broadway star Idina Menzel, Brad Pitt, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, and potential 2020 presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Oprah Winfrey. There are many more names in that hall of fame you are likely to recognize, since — as one might expect — a good number of high school orators and dramatic interpreters end up in the performing arts, on TV and in the movies, as well as pursuing careers in law, medicine, and public service.