Friendship, Civility, and Competition
Greely Debate Team Students Practice Their Skills at Local Competition
When I walked into the debate meet, I was met with a paradox. An air of civility and competition surrounds a debate. Think about when you are talking with a group of friends, or are in the midst of an argument with a sibling. There are certain things you expect: talking over each other, fighting for the floor, maybe even yelling. While this might be the case for usual conversation, debate meets are different. There are rules and regulations, such as what you can say and how much time you have to say it. Competitors are cordial and even friendly with each other before the judge walks in. A competitive atmosphere suddenly dominates the room as the debate starts, and there is no talking over each other.
There are a few different types of debate: Student Congress, Public Forum, and the Lincoln-Douglas debate. On a cloudy Saturday at Cheverus High School in Portland, the coaches decided to shake it up a little. Today, this specific debate was special in a few different ways. Students were grouped into teams of two. The debate was also very different because it provided a change in subject and forum.
Four students and a judge – and the occasional student reporter – were seated in small warm classrooms. The normal atmosphere of a student congressional debate was described to me as more uptight and maybe even a bit stuffy. Today, the blazers are unbuttoned and both the attendees and the judges have a more casual aura about them. The students in the debates are interested by the change of pace but are also a little nervous. The assigned common area is the Cheverus cafeteria, and there is an excited hum hanging in the air as students flutter around to talk to friends from different schools during the short breaks.
Mr Curry, The Greely debate advisor, did this type of philosophical debate himself in high school. He says that it is interesting to watch the team do it now and notes that it exercises different sides of the brain. About 9 schools showed up at Cheverus, while the week before, when it was a normal congressional debate, around 18 schools were in attendance. The week before this debate, Greely won first in the state.
Today, the subject is debated three times and from two sides. Students are assigned a side shortly before they begin each round and have to prepare speeches and evidence for both the affirmative and negative sides of the argument. Each side is given 5 minutes for its opening statement, and less time for additional speeches and questioning. Debaters also have an optional three minutes to use at any time between speeches. This time is called “prep time” and allows students to regroup with their partners.
The matter discussed was a complicated and layered question: “Do humans act and achieve solely based on personal interest?” All day it was debated if humans perform selfless acts to feel happiness or to protect someone else’s well being. The question remained open to all types of interpretation, and even though the point was to find an answer through debating different sides, it was never formally concluded.
Zach Whiting, the captain of the debate team, worked alongside his partner Ben Hall. At the end of the day, they had won one out of three debates. Whiting said he felt the Greely representatives did well considering the unfamiliar format of the competition.
Story Designer: Ella Normandeau