News / USA

US High School Students Debate Politics, Issues of Day

High School Debaters Advocate Civility in Political Discoursei
|| 0:00:00
X
Greg Flakus
October 11, 2012 6:18 PM
The U.S. presidential and vice-presidential debates are of special interest to young high school debate teams which compete regionally and nationally for awards, as they hone their skills in argumentation. But their experience also makes them critics, not only of the candidates, but of all the political discourse they hear around them. VOA's Greg Flakus tells us about one such award-winning debate team in Oakridge, Texas.
TEXT SIZE - +
Greg Flakus
— The U.S. presidential and vice presidential debates are of special interest to young high school debate teams which compete regionally and nationally for awards, as they hone their skills in argumentation.  But their experience also makes them critics, not only of the candidates, but of all the political discourse they hear around them.

Oak Ridge High School, on the outskirts of Houston, has a debate team that has placed in the top 10 percent of high school teams nationally.  In an age when young people favor casual dress and speech, debaters follow a more formal routine.

As the affirmative team presents its case for a renewal of the federal ban on assault weapons, the other team, arguing the negative, prepares for rebuttal.

At one point, a member from each team shares the podium for a question and answer session.  The boy from the affirmative team tried to explain the proposal as a long-term ban on military style weapons that have little value for hunting or other recreation, while the girl from the negative team challenges him on the basis of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

"How long will this ban have to go on?  How long will we have to restrict people's rights?" she asks.

Debaters must know the topic well enough to answer such questions on the spot.  They make their case with evidence and logic, while questioning the arguments of their opponents.

In another point in the debate, a boy from the affirmative team challenges an assertion from the negative team that a ban on one type of weapon might lead to an eventual ban on all guns.

"The biggest fallacy we can possibly talk about is the 'slippery slope fallacy' because it relies on so many other variables," he says.

Although these young people have their own opinions on this and other subjects of debate, bias has no place in these contests.

In competition, debaters have to be able to argue either side of a question and they find that, in general, this helps them to see both sides of any issue.

As members of various teams prepare their cases, they often come together to help out each other.  In one such exchange, a boy asks a girl to clarify her position about the cost of a proposal she is making.  He says, "That is good, but you have to show evidence."

Assembling evidence and learning how to use it in argumentation is a large part of what debaters learn in this extracurricular program.  But many of them find the skills they learn here help them in their regular studies.

Oak Ridge High School debate coach Deanne Christensen is in her 11th year of helping young people learn how to think and argue effectively.

"It's great when they disagree with each other, it is awesome to see them trying to defend their position," she says.

High school debaters can be great critics of candidate debates and adult political discourse, in general.  They watch all the debates leading up to this year's presidential election and discuss them later.  What troubles many of them, though, is the increasingly nasty tone taken by many adults when discussing politics.

Debater Jonathon McClanahan thinks partisanship today is undermining civility.

"I don't think we should have to hate the president to disagree with him," he says.  "That is why I honestly believe that with partisanship we need to be more respectful to each other.  We need to have bipartisan bills passed.  We need to work together more."

Bryce Brady thinks high school debaters maintain higher standards of civility than most politicians.

"I definitely think that politicians today could get a real lesson from a high school debate team," he says.

He says political leaders need to listen to each other and try to bridge partisan gaps.

Bryce's sister, Brie Brady, followed him into debate and now works with him at home on research and argumentation.

"We just sit there with the opposing cases and just go back and forth; I will read my case, he will read his," she says.

She says debate helped her overcome shyness and find her voice.

"I was a really reclusive child, I did not talk a lot," she says.  "But since I joined debate, I have gained a lot of knowledge of world events and just been able to learn how to talk to people."

Her teammate, Daniel Champagne, says debate has given him confidence and maybe even a little feeling of superiority.

"I definitely see where my parents are one-sided, " he says. "Maybe my teachers seem a little less informed than I, even though they are my elders and teachers."

Coach Christensen doesn't necessarily encourage students to challenge their parents.  "I am a mom, too," she says with a smile, "and what I say goes!"

But she encourages students to politely challenge people of any age to back up their assertions with evidence and reason.  Christensen thinks the confidence her students gain from their debate experience will serve them well in life.

"They are very savvy politically," she says.  "They are smart and they want to see this country be successful because they are that future of our country."

She believes some of these award-winning debaters may enter politics themselves one day and become the leaders of tomorrow.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid