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Teaching tolerance: Debate shows students it's OK to disagree

It's debatably one of the most important lessons a person can learn! (KBOI Staff)

A local high school is leading our state in speech and debate — but they're gaining a lot more than just state championships!

The students in Columbia High School's Competitive Speech and Debate program are learning life-long skills.

"Competitive speech and debate gives our students the opportunity to take what they've learned in the classroom and translate that into real life," said Jeff Stoppenhagen, teacher and coach for Columbia HS Speech and Debate.

Mr. Stoppenhagen teaches his students to leave their preconceived notions at the classroom door.

In speech and debate, there are no 'right' or 'wrong' answers — only stronger arguments — teaching students it's okay to disagree.

"You really want to go into a discussion with an open mind," said Ben Smoldon, a Junior. "[Be] willing to hear other people's side of the story and other people be willing to listen to your side of the story, as well. It is extremely important to have that open mind [and] have respect for each other."

It's debatably one of the most important lessons a person can learn!

"[It's] not really something that can be taught in a classroom," said Casey Moulton, a Sophomore. "It's something that can just be kind of developed in the classroom."

Of course, speech and debate does have rules to keep things fair, like taking turns and staying within a time limit.

Yet, one of the biggest challenges is that these students don't always get to argue for the side they are actually on. So, they are learning to not only accept other viewpoints, but to actually be able to look at every issue from the other point of view.

"I think that is one of the things that speech and debate does very well," said Mr. Stoppenhagen. "It creates these kids who can think, act, and persuade, and that is a powerful thing!"

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