Posted in Colchester High School, General, Programs

Debating and Forensics—Developing Lifelong Skills

I love argument, I love debate. I don’t expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me; that’s not their job.
—Margaret Thatcher

Colchester High School held a speech and debate tournament on January 7.

The speech and debate tournaments—like virtually all organized activities offered in our schools—have a greater overall purpose than simply to keep our students busy. As with the poetry slams, traveling to Andros Island, pioneering a student-oriented sustainability organization, coordinating events celebrating student musicianship, providing hands-on field ecology experiences, creating engineering teams, offering important workshops on financial literacy, hosting comprehensive college and career planning offerings, and so many other examples, the opportunities created for our students have objectives in mind that are designed to serve them well in their lives beyond CSD.

So why is debate important? How does it help to prepare our students for their futures?

To properly prepare for debate, a person must develop and employ excellent research skills, and he or she much also be able to examine complex issues from multiple perspectives. It requires excellent writing skills and the ability to speak eloquently—all in a competitive environment.

Debate also encourages the development and fine-tuning of critical thinking skills, analytical skills, organizational skills, careful listening, and excellent note-taking proficiency. It allows participants to sharpen their concentration and further develop their focus. It encourages participants’ ability to calmly, rationally, and convincingly defend a position when challenged by someone with an opposing viewpoint.

Beyond all of that, debate is a challenging, fun, and highly rewarding team-building activity. It prepares students for effective participation in leadership and conflict resolution, enhances social skills, develops proficiency in investigation and analysis of issues, and promotes the integration of knowledge about a myriad of subjects and disciplines. Most importantly, all of these skills will be useful throughout the students’ personal, scholastic, and professional lives.

The topic for the January 7 event was Resolved: The costs of a college education outweigh the benefits. CHS’s debate topics are selected by the National Forensic League (NFL), which is the oldest and largest high school speech and debate honor society in existence. Part of the NFL’s mission is to promote speech and debate activities as a way to help students develop critical thinking, effective communication, and presentation skills.

CHS participates in a type of NFL debate referred to as Public Forum, which involves two teams of two students in a structured format, and it is designed with citizen judges in mind. As such, the debated topics are on par with those generally found in everyday media headlines, as opposed to the values-centric Lincoln Douglas debate, the legislative-related Congressional debate, and other types of competition events. The topics are released on the first day of the month, and students must prepare to debate both sides of the resolution since they do not know which side they must debate until the competition begins. And because there are three rounds in a tournament, each team could potentially debate both sides in the same competition.

In addition to the debate team, CHS also offers a forensics team, in which students have the opportunity to develop and deliver speeches about a variety of subjects in a number of vastly different categories. The Impromptu category, for example, involves drawing a topic and delivering a two- to three-minute speech with only one minute of advanced preparation. In the Radio category, participants create and deliver a radio broadcast about local or national news, weather, and sports and even include a thirty-second commercial with only thirty minutes of preparation. Other categories include Original Oratory (which involves memorizing and presenting a speech on a controversial issue), Extemporaneous (delivering a speech with only thirty minutes of advanced preparation), prose and poetry readings, and so on. Both the debate and forensics teams are extra-curricular activities open to students in grades 9–12. In order to qualify for state meets in either debate or forensics, students must compete in a minimum of three regular-season meets. There have been a number of state champions from Colchester High School in past years, particularly in the Prose and Poetry categories.

At CHS’s January 7 event, Hunter Colvin took first place in Poetry, Eleanor Johnson was second in Poetry, and Deanna Bessy was second in Prose!

Clearly, cultivating excellent debating skills serves our students well both during their academic careers and beyond them. For more information about the debate and forensics teams, please contact Bob Hall in CHS’s Guidance department or Steve Fiske in the Humanities department.

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