Children’s debate shows candidates what civil discourse looks like


Skye Freeman, 13, is an eighth-grade University of Chicago lab school student who wants to be a lawyer when she grows up. She already practices oral arguments.

On October 20, Freeman and six other children aged 10 to 13 struggled as presidential candidates with their own platforms in a Zoom live webcast moderated by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), former law school student at the University of Chicago and former presidential candidate.

The event was organized by Debate, a non-profit organization founded by recent UChicago alumni Leah Shapiro, AB’18, and Josh Aaronson, AB’19. The organization hires and trains students to teach debate skills to children aged 4 to 16, including low-income students and students with learning and developmental differences. Teaching, like debate, is now done virtually.

Several of the students who attended last week’s event attend schools in the Hyde Park area, including Lab Schools, Bret Harte Elementary School and Whitney Young Magnet High School.


“Our students have a lot of really passionate and mature perspectives that they don’t often express, so we wanted to create an event that would feature them in a fun and original way that is true to what we’re doing,” Aaronson said.

The panel discussion showcased some of the foundational skills students learned from participating in the Debate it Forward program: reasoning, empathy, and how to present their own beliefs constructively.

“I was really nervous. But after all, I felt accomplished, ”Freeman said of a live debate in front of Senator Klobuchar and a large audience. To prepare, she took notes on various topics, reviewed them with Debate it Forward coaches and her parents, and practiced in front of the mirror at home. Its Zoom configuration included a podium next to the fireplace.

During the debate, students shared their thoughts on some of the big issues facing society today, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, systemic racism, and education policy.

“I will face the COVID-19 pandemic and establish much better ways to deal with the situation, including forcing people to wear masks in public places,” Freeman said in his opening statement. “I want to slow down or even stop the impact of global warming. I believe that if we work together we can help make America better. We will remain truly united.


The children’s policy proposals were ambitious and broad on a variety of issues. Khalil Hannah, 11, wanted to support small businesses affected by the pandemic.

“As President of the United States of America, I will provide small business loan relief with a 24-month repayment delay,” Hannah said. “This will give us time to create and successfully implement an effective vaccine that will allow the economy to return to some form of normalcy.”

When Freeman asked how he would pay for it, Hannah was ready to respond, “With a lot of my other policies, we can get the extra tax money back from the super rich. “

Climate change received more attention than in many actual presidential debates, with proposals that included funding for forest fire mitigation, incentives for businesses to go greener, and a nationwide build of clean energy. .

On one subject, most young candidates agreed: the voting age should not be lowered, as children could be too heavily influenced by their parents. But youth activism should continue to spur change, they said.


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