on debate …


I just got back from a really nice meeting with Joey Miyamoto from Iolani School in Honolulu, Hawaii. Joey teaches English and courses on public speaking, and she serves as Iolani’s high school debate coach.

My visit was spurred on by our Head of School who is piloting a Review and Renewal program for our curriculum. Our new Department of Communications was chosen to pilot the effort where we take some time to review our program offerings to see how they are serving our institution’s goals and mission. As part of this effort, every member of our Department was asked to do a site visit to find out what other schools were doing in our curricular areas.

What I have learned, generally, through this process is that:

  • our Administration is quite (wonderfully) forward thinking in bringing communication skills to the fore–even going so far as to create a Department to be certain that students learn the skills of effective communication as they progress through the grades in the time that they are with us.
  • the teaching of public speaking and debate both as an official part of the curriculum AND as a co-curricular activity are quickly being eliminated from most of the public schools in the Islands (I would be surprised if the same were not true in all of Southern California as well).
  • very few schools, even among other independent schools, teach debate at the middle school level.

What I learned, specifically, during today’s visitation is that:

  • debate is taught at Iolani as a component in their Frosh English curriculum which stresses oral communication. One issue that has been raised since this curricular model was developed is that teachers’ backgrounds in the teaching of oral communications varies greatly.
  • competitive debate at the high school level is not limited to Lincoln-Douglas style debating. Students also have opportunities to debate in public policy and other styles (which I cannot remember now).
  • a course supporting competitive debate was considered, but it was felt that students interested in competitive debate were interested in taking other course offerings during the school day. Additionally, Joey felt that she did not want the “competitive debate” world to engulf all of her work day–she felt it important to maintain some separation between her regular work day and coaching debate.
  • an attorney who is a former parent and a former student who currently attends law school at the University of Hawaii nearby, assist in the coaching of the high school debate team.

Although this process and this visitation did not happen to offer any specific things that I might bring back and incorporate directly to the Debate 8 course or to the coaching of the middle school debate team, I found that there is GREAT value in being reminded that the opportunity to develop and teach a course in debate is rare and is something to be treasured.

That, for me, has made the process very worthwhile in and of itself …

On a different note, the part of the visit that was the most fun for me from a purely personal standpoint is that before my meeting with Joey, I got a campus tour from my Middle Niece who is a seventh grader at Iolani this year. She sure seems a lot more worldly and mature when she’s out in her “real world!”

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