A Dose of Opinion

An Honest Opinion/Experience on Debate

July 16, 2020

My experience with debate classes begins in eighth grade, when I was given an opportunity to choose debate as one of my two electives (the other being Technology Education). At the time, it seemed like the obvious decision for me to choose debate, as the other options were subjects that involved some sort of creativity, like art, music, cooking, or sewing. I am what you could consider a “right-brained person”, a methodical and logical person, so I assumed that debate would come easily to a person like me. While I like to express my opinion, as I am doing now, I had an unfavorable experience debating in class, which has dissuaded me from pursuing it in the future.

The first day of debate was merely an introduction to the class, as my debate teacher, who was actually the gifted instructor, explained how a debate worked, the rules associated with the debate, etc. He introduced how long each side would have to talk, in addition to point of interests (POIs), in which the other team could interject and attempt to refute the other team’s points. The next class, we quickly transitioned into starting our first debate, where we picked debate topics and chose whether you are in support of the topic (proposition), or against the topic (opposition). The groups were picked, and then we were told that we would be given about three classes to prepare for each debate, and then one of the debates would be presented each day for the next three classes (three different debates). This process would repeat for the rest of the semester, and I took part in about six total debates for that class.

At the end of this “bout” (if you could call it one), my first semester with debate was much more underwhelming than I had anticipated. One problem with the class was the work time that we were given to prepare for our debate. Because it was an elective class, most people didn’t take this class seriously, and this became a liability, especially if those people were on my team. This ends up becoming more of a problem than it seems, because communication in debate matters more than that of a group project. In a group project, the criteria is laid out in some sort of rubric and each group member would work on some small portion that is only loosely related, so each portion could be treated like a homework assignment. Everyone did their own research and portion, and communication is not as critical; everyone’s work would come together to form the bigger project. Even if your group has to present, each person could simply talk about the section that they worked on without much difficulty.

This differs tremendously from a debate, in which communication is necessary for a good debate. During the planning stages, I had to check in with the rest of my group to make sure we have covered certain points and that we aren’t repeating points. Even during the debate, we have to be prepared to have a counter argument for the points of the other team and change plans if we aren’t able to cover certain points. For this reason, it is impossible to work on a debate solo, so our group was really limited to the class time. Most of the time, I was working with people I have never really talked to before, and I couldn’t contact them outside of class, which made debate preparation very confusing. As a result, some of the debate performances were really lackluster, and my experience with debate began worsening.

The next time I had a debate occurred in the next semester. It was for my integrated class, where three of my class periods were spent in that class. It was part of a social studies unit, in which my group debated about pro-death penalty. As I have previously been emphasizing, communication is key for success in a debate, but unfortunately, I was unable to spend much time with my group because I was involved with writing an essay for a larger and more significant project that we would have to compete in. I was able to write my own part, but I could only collaborate with my other group members about our content briefly, and I was not as prepared as I could have been. When it was time to debate, our team did mediocrely, but I am positive that my opposition did not do much better. However, I can recall that after the debate, my teacher allowed for “questions” from the audience to be asked, which I believe shouldn’t happen in a real debate. As a result, one person began asking an abundance related to the ethics of death penalty, that I did not have any rebuttals for, due to my lack of my preparation. At the end of the day, my team lost not because I performed badly, but because of the comments of the audience. Life will never be fair and you won’t be able to win every competition, but I felt as though that loss was undeserved.

My most recent experience with debate is probably the most saddening for me, and it probably was the reason why I have turned away from debating as a possible hobby. This time, it was an assignment for my public speaking class during the first semester of my freshman year at high school. I was fortunate enough to pick my groupmates, as I knew that we would have a good chemistry working together without getting distracted or sidetracked. However, our topic was assigned to us, and it was a prompt I was not a fan of: defending the idea that violent video games should be banned. That’s another problem with debate: topics are usually preassigned and it might not be a viewpoint that you support. Other teenagers and children of the same age are just as likely to reject that same viewpoint, so I was almost certain that this defending the idea would be an insurmountable challenge. From my experience, I feel as though it was difficult to support something that you are not a fan of, and it is merely something you just have to accept and pretend to support.

While my team was working hard and collaborating to gather evidence and reasoning to back up our debate, I saw that the other team was sitting around and doing nothing to work on their debate. We assumed that this debate would be an easy win and that the other team weren’t really going to put up a fight. On debate day, the other team seemed to have prepared a debate that was five to ten minutes before the debate, although there was no way for me to know for sure. Regardless, I strongly believe our debate performance was a lot better than the other team’s. At the end of the debate, it was the classmates/audience that would end up voting for the winner. Even though the teacher said to vote for the team that had the better debate performance, the voters voted for the one they support, which led to my team losing, despite the better preparation, performance, etc. Losing something that you believed you shouldn’t have hurt me a lot, and really made me develop a dislike towards debate.

At the end of the day, my opinion on debate shouldn’t influence yours. The debates that I took part in were casual ones, and not competitive, since competitive debates probably would be more organized and the unfortunate occurrences that I had to endure probably would not happen in a competitive scene. Regardless, I will spend my time doing other things that won’t get me screwed over.