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经济学人Class and education

来源£ºSOHU  [  作者£ºLearnAndRecord   ]  责编£º吕秀玲  |  侵权/违法举报

原标题£º经济学人Class and education

Open the debate

The struggle to take debating beyond elite private schools

More state schools are taking the floor. But private ones dominate competitions more than ever

SHOULD Elizabeth II be the last queen? Should police officers be banned from using guns? And which is better: Pixar or Disney? Pupils at Redden Court School, a state secondary on London¡¯s eastern outskirts, contend with meaty topics when they give up their lunch breaks for debate club.

The school is one of many in the state sector to have taken up debating in recent years. Debate Mate, a charity founded ten years ago, now works with 240 schools serving deprived areas. Another 180, including Redden Court, take part in six regional championships set up three years ago by PiXL, a non-profit organisation, and Noisy Classroom, which promotes speaking skills. Last year the English-Speaking Union (ESU), Britain¡¯s main debating organisation, began to provide free help to 100 schools with lots of poor pupils. Together they hope to change the perception that debating is for posh kids.

Advocates posit a range of benefits. Duncan Partridge of the ESU argues that the confidence and fluency debating inspires will help children in future university applications and job interviews. Teachers at Redden Court say it has improved pupils¡¯ ability to set out their arguments logically, in writing and in class. Debate Mate believes debating can be of wider use still. It has programmes for pupils with behavioural difficulties, including one, ¡°DebateBox¡±, that mixes debate training with boxing.

Yet, despite these organisations¡¯ best efforts, success in elite debating tournaments is not just becoming more concentrated in private schools, but in the half-dozen of them that take it most seriously. Some hire international debating superstars to tutor their pupils. In 2015 Eton College, one of Britain¡¯s grandest schools, opened a debating chamber that cost ¡ê18m ($27m). In the past decade just two state schools have won the ESU¡¯s annual debating competition in England.

Joseph Spence, master of Dulwich College, another elite private school, says that efforts to share his school¡¯s expertise have been stymied by the time commitment and expense that competitive debating can involve for state schools. Another problem, Mr Spence says, is that ¡°there is something quite white, middle class and male about the debating format.¡± Some worry that school debating promotes skilful rhetoric but not critical thinking. (As it happens, Boris Johnson was a school debater.)

To counter such criticism, the ESU is trialing a new debating format that encourages teams to shift their position in response to their opponent¡¯s arguments. It has also introduced a social quota for England¡¯s international debating squad; from this year, at least 30% of its members must come from state schools. A question, perhaps, for future debaters: is affirmative action a just response to persistent inequality?

This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline "Open the debate"£¨Oct 4th 2018£©

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