Throughout high school, students fill their time with studying and diverse extracurricular activities, ranging from soccer to music to art. But perhaps one of the most strenuous yet rewarding activities is debate. Debating as an extracurricular activity represents a serious time commitment with endless hours of practice and dedication to achieve goals. It takes time out of weekends; tournaments are held in different states around the US during these times. Most importantly, it requires arguing about a given topic, understanding its implications in the real world, and being a persuasive speaker to the judge.
While this applies to all types of debate, debating has many forms and styles. While I focus on a specific style of debate, namely Public Forum debate or PF, debaters have multiple events to choose from like Policy, Lincoln-Douglass, and Congress. To clarify the history of PF, it was originally intended to be presents to the “layman” or, in other words, all types of people regardless of background. Thus, the main purpose of PF is to have a convincing and simple argument.
Typically, a topic is assigned to each month and students are required to research, write up arguments, and debate. This month the topic is “Resolved: the benefits of the United States federal use of offensive cyber operations outweigh the harms.” Previous topics have been “Resolved: the European Union should join the Belt and Road Initiative.” In essence, the point is to become the ultimate expert on each topic within one month.
Receiving a new topic is intimidating, and it requires lots of research to fully grasp even the most fundamental ideas on each given subject. However, the extensive research done provides tons of background knowledge to topics that are useful later in life. For example, Tina Dong, a debater in the tenth grade at Northview High School in Georgia explains that “[learning about] things like the national debt or universal basic income helps learn about the economy [or other real-life topics]” Regardless of how difficult the activity is, Dong continues that “debate [overarchingly] helps you tremendously with just being more logical.” In order to succeed, it’s critical to “think through the [logic and steps] of [each] action [to] … truly understand.”
But it can also have drawbacks. Johnathan Sun, tenth grade debater at Richard Montgomery High School, finds that it can retract from your mental health. “Imagine hundreds of high schoolers, with APs and IBs and college applications, pulling all-nighters and flying off to colleges and high schools every weekend for months on end.” Despite all this, Sun believes that debate is worth the effort. “Debaters are a special kind of people — we work hard, and we play hard. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s really true.” Dong corroborates that “debate is one of the hardest and most academically challenging activities of the nation. It takes time and effort, especially when you are traveling out [of the state] every single weekend [to tournaments]. It develops self-discipline as you are completely responsible for yourself whether it’s catching up on missing school work or taking care of yourself at out of state tournament. [Ultimately], it helps you manage stress and really organize your schedule in a way that best maximizes productivity.”
Personally, debating provides me with greater self-confidence, the ability to speak about my opinion proudly, and to have a better understanding of the world as a whole. I get the opportunity to meet students from all around the country and learn more about politics, science, history, technology; the list is endless. To put it into perspective, debate furthers researching skills, reading comprehension, and most importantly, critical thinking. It is something that each student should consider partaking in — it provides a holistic view of our society and, as Dong concludes, it “honestly just makes you smarter.”
Allison Moon, Grade 10
Winston Churchill High School