Without borders: youth debaters reimagining the nature and purpose of public dialogue

Nicole Mirra, Debate Liberation League

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: This paper aims to analyze how a group of middle-school debaters integrated their identities and epistemologies into the traditional literacy practice of debate to advocate for more expansive and inclusive forms of academic and civic discussion. The adult and youth co-researchers of the Debate Liberation League (DLL) detail their creation of a critical debate praxis through the use of spoken word and translanguaging and illustrate how they sought to redesign a foundational activity of English Language Arts on their own terms. Design/methodology/approach: Drawing upon critical race and borderlands theories, the authors use critical ethnographic and participatory action research methods to explore how the DLL deconstructed the boundaries of what counts as public dialogue and offered an alternative model of what intergenerational and multi-voiced democratic discourse could look like in English Language Arts (ELA) classrooms and beyond. Findings: The findings demonstrate how DLL students broke down normative binaries of affirmative/negative and objective/subjective in their debate performances and introduced testimonios as evidence for civic claims to make space for their voices and reimagine deliberation. Originality/value: This study foregrounds dialogic data generation through a collaborative, intergenerational research approach. It highlights the constructed nature of literacy “rules,” demonstrates youth expertise in reimagining ELA, and offers a pathway toward a more compassionate public sphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-267
Number of pages15
JournalEnglish Teaching
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 11 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


  • Critical literacy
  • English language arts
  • Literacy and identity


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