Date Approved


Graduate Degree Type


Degree Name

Communications (M.S.)

Degree Program

School of Communications


This paper addresses the role competitive high school policy debate participation has on key developmental markers of political learning. As identified by the Carnegie Foundation’s Political Engagement Project (PEP), political learning includes political knowledge and understanding, political identity, and the development of political skills. Based in interviews with former high school debaters, the results of this study suggest there may be a transformative, politically enduring and engaging experience surrounding policy debate.

Using grounded theory to extract analysis of debaters’ experiences, this study demonstrates how sustained competitive high school policy debate experience directly advances political learning and should be a tool to engage students politically. Debaters tend to focus on issues rather than partisan politics, consider themselves well informed on issues of national and international importance, incorporate reflexive political identities, feel their daily lives and activities manifest political actions, and have increased comfort levels employing political advocacy skills including the articulation and design of political argumentation. To respond to a paradoxically increasing partisan and apolitical world, policy debate encourages high school students to access critical concepts of political engagement.