SIXTY-FIVE

THINGS HAVE CHANGED.  I got home pretty late today, and the husband was making popcorn.  "It's for the debate!"  He said cheerfully.  I wanted to check our house number.  Is this really us?  But I don't want to talk about the debate - I am exhausted from the lack of complete sentences alone.  However, I can't express my joy over a woman calmly destroy a minsogynst bully with actually logic fulfilled all the secret dreams of my middle school heart.

I used to coach debate.  I loved it.  I love a good logical argument.  If you've never debated, I'll let you in on a little secret -- debate is bloodsport with words.  The same high that a football player gets on the field when they defeat an enemy happens in a debate.  Whenever an opposing team would concede the truth of one of my team's points -- the joy that would flood my soul.  My students would nudge each other understanding that they had just witnessed the obliteration of the opposition.  I suppose that makes me sound overly competitive.

I was a surprisingly quiet girl in school.  It wasn't until late in middle school that I started to really use my voice.  I was pretty intimidated by everyone around me.  I was always afraid I would say the wrong thing and people wouldn't like me.  I was a very, nervous kid. It was later that I discovered that quiet girls were built for debate.  Our habit of listening to everything being said is incredibly useful in a debate.  Of course, in the early days of debating, new debaters always fall into the trap of their emotional responses.  It was only later, as a coach that I could see the automatic win of keeping calm under pressure.  

Every kid in America should have to take a year of debate.  It is good for every aspect of intellectual thinking.  In a true debate, you are not asked to argue for the side you "agree" with, but rather to develop arguments for either side.  In some debate tournaments, students only discover which side they will be arguing for 15 minutes before their debate.  They arrive with their plastic containers of facts and arguments for either side, and as soon as they know what position they'll be arguing they start digging through it.  The intelligence required to not only understand your argument but your opponents is the greatest win of all. 

Debate will also improve writing.  You begin to thoughtfully consider your words.  Am I supporting my statements with facts?  Am I achieving clarity?  Am I being factual?  What is my main point?  How can I support my ideals.  This daily blog may not convince you that it leads to good writing, but remember the bulk of my debate experience is as a coach.  Debate made me try and think my writing all the way through - beginning to end, before I had even start.  I have this habit now, of hearing my last line in my head before I begin.  Debate shows you that all writing needs to have solid structural support.  It is never enough to simple string together beautiful words, they have to have substance and meaning, too.

Debate helps quiet students, who sit back afraid to speak, find their voice.  Not only does it help them find their voice, it helps them develop that voice so that when they speak, people around them listen.  I tell my students -- speaking straight to the quiet ones, "Your voice really matters because we haven't heard it.  We need you to speak.  You are wholly unique and no one on this earth sees things just like you do.  We what to know what you have to say.  We are all waiting for you to speak."  I wish someone had said that to me when I was in the 4th grade, maybe I would've done a better job raising my voice when the people around me teased the new girl who had the audacity to wear her hair in bangs.  Maybe I would've voice my opinion in 5th grade, instead of letting all the boys speak over me.

Presidential debates always make me a little bit crazy.  For many this is the only exposure they ever have to debates, and it isn't even a debate.  It is really two side-by-side commercials.  I've always wanted an ACTUAL Presidential debate where the candidates come in with their plastic file boxes, and are given 15 minutes to prep before they have to explain one side of a complex issue.  It would reveal so much about who they are as a human.  I'm not sure that it would be the best way to measure presidential effectiveness, but it would be so very interesting.

Debate kids out there, you KNOW what I'm talking about.  You've seen some of the smartest folks on earth burn to the ground in a moment of panic, clutching their note cards, and muttering under their breath.  You've also seen the quietest kid in the room, calmly delivery a piece of evidence more powerful than a bomb.  Come to think of it, debate is closer to rugby than football, and it is not for the weak of heart.  It takes determination, focus, grit, and a piercingly sharp intellect.  

Wouldn't that be a great person to have as the leader of our Nation.

--Jen