A Commentary on National Debate Tournaments

Alexandre Demoly, Co-Editor

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Back in October, I competed in the Bronx High School of Science Invitational, a national circuit high school debate tournament held in New York. The students who attend these types of tournaments are the best of the best; they excel at taking an average mind and folding it like a work of origami until it collapses under its own weight. These debaters are held in high esteem by colleges for their intellect and creativity. However, when I debated a few of them, I could not see the reason for such praise.

Allow me to elaborate: In a debate round, there is a predetermined topic that you are supposed to have a constructive and intelligent debate about. What makes me question the practical intelligence of the students I met at this tournament is the fact that they simply do not discuss the topic; instead, they go off on tangents that bear no relation to what we are instructed to talk about. Furthermore, the vast majority of them have such long cases that they “spread,” which is the act of speaking at incomprehensibly high speeds to stay within the allotted time limit. These “techniques” combine to form debates with no clear clash, in which debaters argue past each other more than they argue against one another.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I find this style of debate to be absurd. If I cannot hear what you are saying or see no connection to the topic, I will gain nothing educational from the debate. It frustrates me that debaters who use these abusive methods are so deeply respected by seemingly everyone, and if you ask me, the most intelligent debater is the one who uses a conventional style that can be understood by everyone. So what if his/her brain has been folded into the shape of a swan?

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