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Public Forum Debate

By Isabella Wu

Most high schools in the U.S. have a speech and debate team. Similar to sports teams,  debate teams also have frequent meetings, in which team members participate in topic analysis and practice drills. Though Chinese students, especially newcomers, might be nervous to join, as this is something they are not very familiar with, through participating in debate, one can not only improve his or her English, but can develop essential life skills.


With a long history, debate can be traced back to rhetorics of ancient Greece. Modern forms of debating and the establishment of debating societies occurred during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century. Varied forms of debate are offered by the National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA), to high schoolers nationwide. Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Public Forum Debate, Policy Debate, Congress Legislation, World School Debate and Big Questions all have their unique structure and fascinations. In this article, my focus will be on Public Forum Debate, one of the most popular forms among tournaments.


Each month, this form of debate will have a specific resolution, voted by students and coaches. Entries are comprised of two students from the same school; each debating both sides of the resolution and advancing on its own record. Before each round starts, a coin is tossed by one team and called by the other team. The team that wins the flip may choose one of two options: EITHER the side of the topic they wish to defend (pro or con) OR the speaking position they wish to have (begin the debate or end the debate). The procedure of the round is shown in the graph below.





















By joining the debate team, students can improve their social skills. Similar to sports teams, students get to meet more people, including those from a different grade. Forming friendships is easy due to the extended amount of time spent together. During each discussion, people in the team learn more about others. Additionally, one can form a close relationship with his or her partner, since Public Forum Debate requires close cooperation among partners. During the resting time between rounds in a tournament, partners always chat and talk with one another.


Furthermore, students can develop important academic skills, including research, critical thinking, and presentation skills. As a highly evidence-based competition, Public Forum Debate requires evidence and statistics to prove one's point. Both writing cases and preparing blocks requires the writer to have strong research skills. Critical thinking also plays a crucial role in this game, as one must use logic to rebut the opposing team and understand both sides of the argument. Eye contact and oral presentation are valued greatly by the judge. Apart from logic and argumentation, these are the factors that determine one's final speaker points. Through debate, one can gain essential life skills easily.


Additionally, students discuss hotly debated topics, which allows them to learn more about current events. When a topic is assigned monthly, it is in one of the most controversial topic areas. For example, we had topics on South Korea and anti-missile systems; student-athletes and monetary compensations. Participating in this activity requires active engagement in these crucial events.


Overall, there are many benefits students can get from debate, not to mention the trophies or metals one can earn at national tournaments. So check out your school debate team! They usually don't require tryouts. You will love debate after you give it a try!

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