Gifted Tongues: High School Debate and Adolescent Culture

Front Cover
Princeton University Press, May 6, 2001 - Social Science - 301 pages

Learning to argue and persuade in a highly competitive environment is only one aspect of life on a high-school debate team. Teenage debaters also participate in a distinct cultural world--complete with its own jargon and status system--in which they must negotiate complicated relationships with teammates, competitors, coaches, and parents as well as classmates outside the debating circuit. In Gifted Tongues, Gary Alan Fine offers a rich description of this world as a testing ground for both intellectual and emotional development, while seeking to understand adolescents as social actors. Considering the benefits and drawbacks of the debating experience, he also recommends ways of reshaping programs so that more high schools can use them to boost academic performance and foster specific skills in citizenship.

Fine analyzes the training of debaters in rapid-fire speech, rules of logical argumentation, and the strategic use of evidence, and how this training instills the core values of such American institutions as law and politics. Debates, however, sometimes veer quickly from fine displays of logic to acts of immaturity--a reflection of the tensions experienced by young people learning to think as adults. Fine contributes to our understanding of teenage years by encouraging us not to view them as a distinct stage of development but rather a time in which young people draw from a toolkit of both childlike and adult behaviors. A well-designed debate program, he concludes, nurtures the intellect while providing a setting in which teens learn to make better behavioral choices, ones that will shape relationships in their personal, professional, and civic lives.


What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.


Learning to Talk
Rites of Arguments
Evidence and the Creation of Truth
In the Round
Our Team
Debate Culture
Teachers and Coaches
Gifted Leisure and the Politics of Debate
Debate and the Adolescent Toolkit
Communities of Debate

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 274 - Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), and The Rhetoric of Religion, Studies in Logology (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1970). 49. Burke's own "definition of man...

About the author (2001)

Gary Alan Fine is Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University. He is the author of Morel Tales: The Culture of Mushrooming, Kitchens: The Culture of Restaurant Work, and With the Boys: Little League Baseball and Preadolescent Culture.

Bibliographic information