City Schools Debaters Return to UB to Weigh the Pros and Cons of a Controversial Subject

Release Date: December 13, 2012 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. – The University at Buffalo’s Department of Learning and Instruction in the Graduate School of Education will host the year’s second on-campus debate for Buffalo Public Schools students from 9:30-11:30 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 14, on UB’s North Campus.

The student debates – called the Buffalo Public Schools Interscholastic Debates – again focus on what has become a controversial subject in the community, whether fracking should be allowed in the U.S.

Student debate teams from four city high schools will spar with each other on the fracking issue, with students taking the opposite point of view they argued during a previous high school debate held at UB in November. The latest debates will take place in 553 and 555 Baldy Hall under the guidance of UB’s Graduate School of Education.

Judges for the debates have been recruited from the ranks of UB’s graduate students in social studies education for the past three years. “Hosting the BPS Debates at UB has been a great opportunity for our teacher-education students at UB to get involved and learn about the debates,” says Alexandra Dimick, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Learning and Instruction.  “It's also a great experience for Buffalo Public high school students to come to campus and engage in a professional experience."

The students on the four teams, which consist of three members and an alternate, learn significant skills in both preparing for the debates and debating – including researching topics, comparing the validity of sources and listening to arguments.

The topic selected under debate was deliberately chosen for its controversial nature, according to Sarah A. Robert, assistant professor and social studies education program coordinator.

“Debates always focus on hot topics,” she said. “Fracking is a burning issue for public and public officials, especially in Western New York.”

The debates serve both high school students and the teachers-in-training enrolled in UB’s Learning and Instruction program, according to UB educators.

“UB social studies graduate students get a chance to help high school students grow as democratic citizens,” says Robert. “They learn how to explore an issue, take a stand and support it or learn about political candidates and be an informed voter.”

The high school students are encouraged to present and conduct themselves in a professional, well-prepared manner, and still have fun in a relaxed atmosphere.

The goal is to create citizens who know how to participate in a democracy, the UB educators said.

“Debate participation creates smart, thinking people who make good citizens,” says Robert. “The high schools students also develop the hands-on skills required to be lawyers or political officials.”

At the same time, the UB graduate students becoming teachers get an opportunity to receive experience in their professional preparation not constrained by standardized testing and official curriculum.

“Our social studies students walk away from this and other hands-on experiences with local school districts knowing they can do so much more as a teacher,” said Robert. “UB social studies students love this activity because it is real. All the research and theory that we read is captured in this fun and lively learning experience.”

Judging is an opportunity for UB students to meet teachers and administrators, build their resumes, and help high school students learn critical thinking and communication skills that empower them to speak for themselves.

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