IDEA #40. Challenge an adult in your household or immediate world to a formal debate: choose a topic, set a date, and prepare, prepare, prepare. Then have at it! (Maybe this could become a weekly or monthly event—with a great dessert.)
Nothing makes a young person feel more grown-up than having his or her ideas and opinions taken seriously by other adults, and this interactive activity—and the adult should plan on doing some serious preparation as well—will provide the youngster with both a reason to think seriously and logically about a particular issue and a chance to strut his or her stuff in an adult fashion, with an adult audience/opponent.
A formal debate should have rules, but there is no need to follow any of the many competitive debate structures. Even so, the topic should be clearly defined: “Resolved: That the lawn needs to be mowed only once a month,” or “Resolved: That the United States should devote as much money to solar energy as it does to military spending.” A few minutes of opening statements, a minute or so of rebuttal time for each side, and some time for closing arguments would suffice—equal time for each participant. Time limits, as set forth by a designated timekeeper, should be observed quite strictly so as to keep things fair.
Of course, a debate is not a debate without an audience to convince, and in this case at least a couple of audience members should also be judges—perhaps distributed equitably by age. The point of a debate is to assemble a logical and factually thorough argument that supports the side of the argument represented by each side (known formally as “Affirmative”—for the statement of the resolution—and “Negative”—against the statement), and the categories for judging should be about the quality of the argument, the use of evidence, and the quality of the speaking and presentation.
Regular family debates could even be used to solve ongoing issues (such as the frequency of lawn-mowing) or making household decisions. As participants become familiar with the form, they are likely to grow better and better at it, so watch out!