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March 21, 2005
Laura Bush praises urban debate program
BY Michael Terrazas
An Atlanta middle-school debate program that involves Emory’s own Barkley Forum got an endorsement from the highest level on March 9, as first lady Laura Bush visited Benjamin S. Carson Honors Preparatory School as she prepares to lead a new national education program proposed by her husband’s administration.
With the westside school ringed by a highly visible force of Atlanta police and Secret Service agents, Bush arrived at Carson Prep in the morning, watching a demonstration of the school’s Computer-Assisted Debate (CAD) project, participating in a round-table discussion on student debate, and then addressing an assembly in the school’s auditorium.
“Anyone who has raised teenagers knows they’re searching for ways to express themselves,” said Bush, the mother of twin daughters who recently escaped relatively unscathed from their teenage years. “Debate is a healthier alternative than violance and gangs. It helps students identify a good argument and reject bad ones, and it makes them better able to deal with negative peer pressure.”
Carson Prep’s CAD is a cooperative program undertaken with the Atlanta Housing Authority, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, Atlanta Public Schools, and the National Debate Project (NDP), which Emory (along with Georgia State University) helped found. NDP, which also includes Tennessee State, New York and Clark Atlanta universities, introduces debate to traditionally underserved urban populations. More than 15,000 students from urban schools in 18 U.S. cities participate in debate through NDP, which supplies curriculum and college faculty and students to serve as coaches.
Carson Prep Principal Nash Alexander said CAD required the commitment of many and that it adheres to the school’s motto: “A vision to teach and learn so well that family background is no longer an issue.”
“I’ve always said, ‘Show me a great school and I’ll show you a great principal,’” said Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who followed Nash.
Both Spellings and Bush talked about “Helping America’s Youth,” an umbrella program the first lady will lead that covers other federal educational initiatives such as No Child Left Behind, the Striving Readers program and the Responsible Fatherhood Initiative. As she prepares for a White House summit this fall that will try to identify best practices in education, Bush has been touring the country to get a first-hand look at some of those practices.
Carson Prep was one stop, but the first lady also visited Baltimore to learn about its “Good Behavior Game,” which teaches reading to first-graders through teamwork; Detroit to witness “Think Detroit,” which recruits some 650 coaches to mentor youth; and Philadelphia to see its “Passport to Manhood” program for teenage boys.
“Helping America’s Youth depends on innovative programs like these—and the individual commitment of every American,” Bush said. “Children want us in their lives; each of us has the power to make a difference in the life of a child.”
Perhaps the best endorsement of the morning came from Michelle Parks, the eighth-grade debater at Carson Prep who introduced the first lady. “I figured it was just going to be a bunch of people arguing; if that was the case, I’d be just fine,” Parks said of joining the CAD program. “I’m learning about the power of words. We should all work to replace weapons with words.”