Summary and Keywords
The words speech and debate hold a variety of connotations. For some, they refer to the dissemination or exchange of ideas in a general sense, while others will be more familiar with speech and debate as co-curricular activities, commonly referred to using the umbrella term forensics. Not to be confused with the modern understanding of forensic science, the term forensics stems from the Latin forensis, which relates to assembly in public forums. Forensic programs can be found at a broad range of secondary and post-secondary institutions. Students prepare speeches, performances, or arguments for tournaments where they can win individual and team awards. Despite the individual nature of many speech and debate events, teams play a vital role in forensics. In fact, numerous studies have indicated critical thinking is a necessary component to succeed in our fast-paced society. According to Allen, Berkowitz, Hunt, and Louden, education in communication enhances critical thinking by 44%. Forensics involvement is the activity most identified for advancing critical thinking abilities. Both in and out of competition, team membership is widely understood to be a key component of forensic participation.
In many ways, speech and debate serve as laboratories for the study of small groups. For scholars of group dynamics and intergroup communication, forensics provides a plethora of avenues for exploration, related to such key group concepts as integration, group identity, team culture, conflict management, leadership, administration, and competition. The competitive nature of forensics plays a vital role in shaping the activity, and contributes to a unique opportunity for the study of groups. While some scholars (such as Burnett, Brand, Meister, Wood, and Rowland-Morin) perceive tension between the competitive and educational objectives of the activity, others remain adamant that much education comes through competition, and as such, the two are harmonious rather than dissonant ideals. Both philosophies acknowledge the important role of competition in forensics. For scholars of group communication, the features of competitive speech and debate teams make them unique and insightful subjects for examination.
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