Debating ‘big questions’

Notre Dame Middle School receives rare second grant to help facilitate national association debate participation.

Notre Dame’s debate program over the years has continued to receive high honor and awards both from state and national organizations. Most recently, the National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA) announced in May that Notre Dame Preparatory School earned "charter membership," the highest school honor given by the organization.

Over the past three years, Notre Dame Prep earned more than 50 "degrees: for outstanding participation in speech and debate activities. Degrees are earned by students and coaches through speech and debate competition, community service and leadership activities. 

In March of this year, Notre Dame’s middle school debate team earned the ranking of 22 in a list of the top 100 school teams nationwide, an honor from NSDA shared with 99 high schools. 

Now, according to LeAnne Schmidt, who teaches the eighth-grade Individuals and Societies class and seventh-grade writing and manages the debate activity at NDPMA, Notre Dame Middle School has been awarded a rare second grant to conduct Big Questions debates during the 2019-2020 school year.

“Typically, we are awarded the grants at the beginning of the school year," she said. "Our high school and middle school each were awarded one at that time. After the initial awards had been given out nationwide by the John Templeton Foundation, they see what's left in terms of grant money for a possible second round, and our middle school was fortunate enough to get a second grant."

Currently, according to Schmidt, the eighth graders are debating as part of the Constitution unit on representation and political compromise for decision-making. The seventh graders will debate in February as part of their persuasive writing unit and in March, Notre Dame Prep’s debaters will host rounds of debate as part of the Luck of the Irish Invitational.

The Templeton grants specifically cover the cost of all-school participation in National Speech and Debate Association events, which are part of NSDA’s “Big Questions” format, where high school and middle school students grapple with complex worldview questions as they debate both sides of a resolution. This year the resolution is “Resolved: objective morality exists."

According to the Templeton Foundation, Big Questions debates are an opportunity to provide 20,000-25,000 discrete high school and middle school students per year a forum to confront issues that are rarely discussed in other areas of life.

Students not only grapple with complex worldview questions such as morality, the reaches of religion, and the limits of science, they will be required to debate both sides of each issue. 

“Such switch-sides debating has repeatedly been shown as a way to help individuals not just better understand their own beliefs, but also better understand the opposing side,” the foundation said. 

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three school are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at