On November 10th, I attended the Junior State of America Fall Convention with my school’s JSA chapter, where students build leadership skills, learn civil debate, and strengthen their engagement with each other through volunteering and activism. JSA chapters serve as the center of political awareness at high schools throughout the country.
During this convention, I was able to learn about political debates and how to professionally argue my case with others. Debates serve as the cornerstone of the Junior State by offering delegates a forum to express their views in an orderly fashion, while promoting a clash of ideas that leads to deeper understanding of controversial issues. Using parliamentary debate style, delegates develop political awareness, adopt various attitudes and opinions of current events, and strengthen public speaking skills through participation.
Debates begin with six-minute opening speeches by affirmative and negative speakers on any given issue. These two debaters are selected prior to the convention; they research and prepare their arguments beforehand. A pre-selected student moderator guides the action following the opening speeches, when any student in the audience may volunteer for three minute subsequent speeches in support of either side. The students then vote for the “Best Speaker” at the end of each debate. However, the main focus of Junior State debate is to persuade the audience and impart a greater understanding of the issues involved, rather than emphasizing competition between speakers.
In addition to debates, I learned about “thought talks”, student-led discussions on pressing issues or questions. These round tables don’t have the formal structure of a debate and allow students to explore issues in-depth in a less confrontational setting. A moderator guides the participants by posing questions and offering facts about the topic.
Founded in 1934 as Junior Statesmen of America, this political program encourages students to express their political values while broadening their perspectives through thoughtful debate with their peers. I am excited to attend future JSA events where I will continue to absorb the art of respectful discourse, and perhaps learn how to run a debate session myself. Above all, I look forward to exchanging new ideas with others in an environment which will help me to speak out about politics in our local community, and become increasingly aware of the critical issues around me.