News / USA

    US High School Students Debate Politics, Issues of Day

    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

    Syrian Torture Victim Recounts Horrors

    'You make them think you have surrendered' says Jalal Nofal, a doctor who was jailed and survived repeated interrogations in Syria

    Mandela’s Millions Paid to Heirs, But Who Gets His Country Home?

    Saga around $3 million estate of country's first democratic president is far from over as Winnie Mandela’s fight for home overshadows payouts

    Guess Which Beach is 'Best in the US'?

    Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay tops an annual "top 10" list compiled by a coastal scientist, also known as Doctor Beach

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora