Our View: Let's hear it for more extra-curricular learning opportunities




Over the weekend, about a hundred middle school and high school kids participated in a robotics competition at New Hope High School. 


They were competing for spots in the state competition, to be held in March at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg in March. 


It seems trite to suggest all who competed this weekend walked away winners. Obviously, the nature of competition is to determine winners. 


But in this case, every child who competed left with something worthy of celebration. 


For future engineers, these kinds of competitions help apply the science and mathematics they learn in the classroom to something tangible, which is certain to stimulate learning. 


But the nature of the robotics competition promotes and develops skills that will serve these students well regardless their career path. 


Through the process students learned how to work with teammates, how to communicate with others, how to solve problems. There is no career we can think of where those skills are not important. 


Being able to work with others, to listen, to exchange ideas, to negotiate, all in the pursuit of a common goal is what to seek a common goal is what the working world is all about. 


In much the same fashion that not everyone who plays sports will become a professional athlete, working as a team on a robotics project provides experiences that go beyond the narrow scope of engineering. 


For much the same reason we applaud the emergence of programs such as robotics, which put kids together in an environment where they can learn from and with each other, we long for a return of an old, and mostly forgotten program that once was a staple of American education. 


In schools across the country, debate teams once flourished. Each school had its own debate team from which the top performers were selected to take on debate team from other schools. Debate team members spent hours studying their topic, assembling information to support their arguments, practicing their presentations, taking notes from famous debates, both on style and substance. 


They learned the craft of how to fashion an argument, how to avoid logical fallacies, how to appeal to an audience, how to maintain composure, how to make a civil, respectful case for their point. 


Debate still exists in pockets of the country, but its heyday came and went long ago. 


There has never been a greater need for those skills than today, thanks to a media landscape of toxic partisanship, screaming matches posing as debate on TV. 


None of that would fly in the world of debate, of course. Students would be held to a higher standard. 


Of all the things students may learn in school, you could make a good case that debate may be as important as any, given the world we live in today. 


Our nation is perishing for our refusal -- perhaps even our inability -- to communicate honestly, openly respectfully. 


So, let's hear it for robotics. 


And let's also bring back debate clubs to our schools.



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