In addition to enhancing research and organization skills, debate also teaches students to separate good logical evidence and reasoning from that which is poor or mediocre. They learn to understand and use surveys and statistics and become proficient in determining the most credible sources for facts while ignoring evidence from less reliable sources.

Today, the internet allows us to find what we are looking for very quickly and easily. At the same time, it is now much more difficult to know what information is sound and trustworthy and what is not. It is crucial for students to learn to analyze information, separate accurate from inaccurate data and discern fact from opinion. For example, statistics published by government agencies and research results published by Stanford University are considered reliable. A blog post or a term paper written by an individual is, typically, not a reputable source of facts.

Some of the topics students have debated recently are: Should we drill for oil in ANWR? Should the US adopt the Universal Health care system? Should the US close Guantanamo Bay detention facility? To recap and illustrate the debate research and organization process, we refer to the exercise “Should the United States drill for oil in ANWR?” Most students do not know what the topic is about because they are unfamiliar with ANWR. During their research, they learn that ANWR is the national wildlife reserve in Alaska, that it is very large, that it contains “a lot of oil” (debatable), and that it is pristine wilderness supporting many species of animals and plants. They learn that the United States imports much of its petroleum from the Middle East and why gasoline prices are rising. They also learn about related issues such as the Iraq War, environmental protection issues, etc. As they research and learn about many aspects of the topic, they begin to understand and be able to organize facts in a structured and logical way. That accomplished, they are ready to begin working on the delivery aspect of their debate.

As Senator McGovern stated (see beginning of Research and Organization Part 1), there is no other school activity that teaches students more about research and organization than debate.

Julie Yi is director of Apex College Prep with locations in Walnut Creek and Cupertino, Calif. She may be reached at