Archive for Monday, January 16, 2012


River City Jules: Teen debaters long on arguments, short on breath

January 16, 2012


Mr. P promised, at high school parent night, that our teenage daughter would leave his class capable of organizing a logical and well-constructed debate. My husband and I chuckled at the thought of our little teeny-bopper making sense in 18 short weeks.

Still, we watched as her nights of endless research evolved into weekends on the road while tales of our country’s exo-mesospheric needs overpowered dinner conversation and post-competition recaps filled our Saturday nights.

Where once stood a girl with scrunched up eyebrows and flailing arms we soon found a young woman, composed and deliberate with her words. We might not have been able to follow many of them, but we were fairly certain they made sense to anyone well-read in matters of space exploration and the federal defense budget from the Kennedy years through 2025.

It wasn’t until judging her school’s debate tournament, though, that I fully grasped what kind of monster Mr. P had created out of our teenage text machine.

(For those who have never debated or witnessed a debate, in a high school debate round, the two competing two-person teams face off in a classroom with one or three judges selecting a winner after each member gives a speech, is cross-examined and cross-examines an opponent.)

Alone in a room with four teenagers, I watched the opening speaker for the affirmative team, a sweet young lady not unlike my daughter, casually prepare for her speech.

“Is the judge ready?” she asked. I nodded, which was, in hindsight, untrue. Nothing could have prepared me for her opening argument, which sounded something like this:

“The-United-States-must-protect-its-interests-from-beyond-the-earth’s-mesosphere-with-satellite-based-missile-defense-brilliant-pebble-technology-will-save-us-all-from-death-something-something-federal-funding-something-Ronald-Reagan-something-shoot-them-down-from-outer-space … ”

Her eight-minute, one-breath argument left me speechless. And 100 percent positive we were all going to die if President Obama did not immediately order 50,000 (or whatever) defense satellites to protect us.

But the opposing team begged to differ.

“The-United-States-should-never-develop-this-type-of-technology-or-something-something-retaliate-something-India-something-Iran-something-Missouri … ”

Suddenly I felt less like calling the White House and more like sending “Thinking of You” cards to the Middle East and maybe even Missouri to prevent World War III. High school debaters are infinitely smarter than I am and can produce the evidence to prove it.

Back and forth they went quoting scientists, economists and (I think?) Jedi Knights. By the end, only one thing was resolved for sure: Mr. P was correct. And he is a miracle worker, as are high school debate coaches around the country who enthusiastically turn these hormone-laden rookies into poised and knowledgeable debaters ready for any cable news moderator of today.

I still know nothing about space exploration, but I do know at least one teenager with whom you do not want to argue the topic.


Abdu Omar 6 years, 5 months ago

Nice article. I debated in high school and later, after finishing college, I was a debate teacher and coach. My teams were exactly like the discription here and even though you try to slow them down and help them find pertinent facts to bring out, they do fall into the one-breath scenario. I enjoyed coaching and of course judging debates and wish all who are involved in it the best. This one activity can build a teenager to great heights, all it takes is an interest from them and the desire to be the best. This article certainly brings back good thoughts of those years.

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