There's no arguing the benefits of speech and debate

At 2 a.m. on a crisp Montana night, a 40-passenger bus begins to unload in front of Bozeman Senior High School. Weary students straggle out to waiting parents. Some carry trophies. Others carry certificates of final placing, but all carry comment sheets which offer suggestions for improvement. Another speech and debate meet has ended. For two days the forensics team has competed in various speech activities with other students from across the state. The experience does not end here, but it will be repeated at invitational tournaments until the state tournament determines the final placing of the students and the teams.

Although the season and the number of tournaments vary from state to state, the experience of being a member of a forensics team does not. Again and again students comment that forensics is one of the most worthwhile programs in their high school experience. They see speech and debate as contributing to their overall academic and personal growth in substantial ways.

Students who participate in debate are required to conduct research on a topic selected by a vote of the National Forensic League members. For the 1984-85 season, debaters across the nation argued the issue: ``Resolved: That the federal government should provide employment for all employable United States citizens living in poverty.'' To compete well, students must speak well on both sides of the issue, using current information.

In other areas of forensics, students may participate in extemporaneous speaking, which involves national and international concerns; impromptu speaking; original oratory, a persuasive memorized speech; and interpretation, dealing with the portrayal of literature.

Students participating in any of these events readily attest to the benefits they provide. Diana Copeland, a bubbly, dark-haired senior at Bozeman High School says, ``Debate most improved my research skills. I know I can find information on any subject easily. I also know how to ask questions now. I speak up more freely in class, and I seem to have some advantage over my classmates in analyzing issues.''

Diana's debate partner, Kathy Gibson, a quick, thoughtful student, remarks, ``I have become more aware of the power of language. I understand the power of a well-built argument. I've also learned a new respect for others' opinions since debate has had me look at both sides of the issue. Speech has been the best thing I've done in high school.''

One father sees the influence of forensics on his son in this way, ``He even argues with me about taking out the garbage. But, you know, that's not all bad. It means that he now has some sense of power in his life. Teen-agers must struggle in every area of their lives to find themselves amidst adult authority. I've watched my son as he's learned that the ability to communicate well is a healthy access to some control over his own life.''

For nearly every student, speech appears to promote growth. Amber Reinhard believes her involvement has directly improved her writing. ``Although it might sound unusual, speech has helped my writing most of all. I organize ideas more quickly. My vocabulary is better, and I understand a need to logically develop my thoughts.''

In addition to academic growth, forensics offer opportunities for personal growth as well. When asked about the value of the speech and debate experience, most students respond with a comment on self-esteem. ``I was shy,'' said one student. ``Now I feel I can be successful.'' Alison, a tall, attractive student says, ``Speech has given me motivation in every area. I want to accomplish more because I've seen what the rewards can be.''

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