The mission of Victory Briefs Classroom is simple. To help more students participate in high-school debate by creating a free, online, debate curriculum that teams and schools can easily use.
There is lots to be said for high-school debate. But for the Victory Briefs team, it really comes down to one core belief.
Good Ideas, well expressed, change the world.
Debate is one of the most valuable activities that students can participate in during high school. There is a long list of benefits students accrue from debating. Debate, like many extracurriculars, instills discipline, improves writing, impresses colleges, and fosters friendships. However, there are two things that debate teaches more effectively than any other activity. First, debate teaches students how to form well-justified answers to complex and pressing questions. Second, debate teaches students how to effectively advocate for their answers before others. In other words, debate teaches students to find and defend the truth.
χαίρειν οὖν ἐάσας τὰς τιμὰς τὰς τῶν πολλῶν ἀνθρώπων, τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἀσκῶν πειράσομαι τῷ ὄντι ὡς ἂν δύνωμαι βέλτιστος . . . παρακαλῶ δὲ καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους πάντας ἀνθρώπους
Renouncing the honours at which the world aims, I desire only to know the truth, and to live as well as I can . . .. And I exhort all others to do the same.
— Plato; The Gorgias.
The focus of school is to provide students the right answer to difficult and important questions. However, there will always be more questions than a school can answer and, in a rapidly changing society, new questions are constantly being asked. Thus, it is imperative that students learn the primary skills of debate, namely how to research effectively, understand arguments, and critically engage with complexity.
Debate forces students to ask difficult questions, and approach each question from a myriad of angles. Debaters spend months researching particular topics. They must navigate academic databases, delve into scholarly articles, parse research studies, and examine applicable philosophies. Needing to defend both sides of the resolution, debaters are forced to learn the nuances of the topic. This allows them to explain, not just the reasons for one side, but how those reasons relate to opposing arguments.
Sicut enim maius est illuminare quam lucere solum, ita maius est contemplata aliis tradere quam solum contemplari.
Just as it is better to illuminate than merely to shine, so to pass on what one has contemplated is better than merely to contemplate
— Saint Thomas Aquinas; Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 188.
In a political climate dominated by divisive anger and bitter uncharity, many, when confronting disagreement, become either apathetic or insular. They either refuse to engage, or else engage only with those who think the same way. This creates a tragic and dangerous condition for a democracy. And even when people choose to engage, they frequently do not know how to talk with those who disagree. Thus, earnest conversation just exasperates disagreement, rather than building consensus. The willingness and ability to persuade others are not things that come naturally to anyone. But debate can train students to engage well.
Debaters labor over not just what to say, but how to say it. They carefully craft their arguments to appeal to a wide range of audiences. They learn how to speak publicly and professionally. And most impressively, they learn to do all of this on their feet, persuasively answering arguments they heard for the first time just minutes before. They engage with literature that ranges over the entire political spectrum, and learn which points of agreement can be used to reach towards consensus. Debate teaches debaters not just how to win the argument, but how to win over the minds of those who disagree.
While we at the Victory Briefs firmly believe that as many students as possible should have access to debate, the unfortunate reality is that many schools do not offer debate as an extracurricular, or do so without providing formal instruction. This, while lamentable, is not surprising given how difficult debate teams are to start.
First, debate is a complicated formalized activity, thus it is extremely difficult for someone to teach debate who does not already have forensic experience. Second, debate requires practice, but new teams don’t have the resources (like years worth of old debate arguments) with which to practice. Third, managing a debate team can be a lot of work year after year, thus, the added demand of creating all new lesson plans and teaching resources the first year is often prohibitive.
Our goal with Victory Briefs Classroom is to lower those three particular hurdles by creating a free and comprehensive beginner debate curriculum. This professional quality curriculum is designed so that it can be used by teachers or volunteers without any prior debate experience. Classroom includes extensive teaching resources, such as sample debate cases and drill resources, as well as complete lesson plans that a teacher could use even when they have had no extra time to prepare for class.
While there are additional hurdles that stop schools from forming debate teams, we believe that Classroom will at least make starting teams that much easier.
We also hope Classroom will be a useful tool even for established teams. This curriculum could easily be used by a team captain to take on a lot of a team's novice instruction, freeing up some of instructor's time for other teaching. Classroom will also provide a nice supplementary resource that students can use for additional instruction on difficult concepts, or that teachers can use for activity ideas on a take-it or leave-it basis.