Debate team members from Whitney M. Young Magnet High School and Albert G. Lane Technical High School represented Chicago in the National Urban Debate League (NAUDL) championships this past weekend at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Representing Chicago were Owen J. and Joseph P. of Lane Tech High School, along with Head Coach Valerie Mason, and Whitney Young’s Hanna N. and Sydney D., joined by Debate Director Jeff Scheur.
The top-ranked urban debate teams from 20 cities competed for the Urban Debate National Championship title. Teams qualify for the National Championship by winning first or second place in their league’s qualifying tournament. A total of 80 high school debaters took part in the competition on April 14 and 15. The winning argument was, "Resolved: That the United States Federal Government should substantially increase its exploration and/or development of space beyond the earth's mesosphere."
The CPS students gave stellar performances, as Hanna N. and Sydney D. both were semifinalists and Lane Tech’s Joseph P. joined them in the quarterfinals. Owen J. was named the top overall speaker at the NAUDL championships.
Whitney Young Debate Director Jeff Scheur explained that space exploration was an extremely broad subject so students had to become well-versed in a wide array of potential issues, ranging from whether the federal government should invest more money in satellites that go beyond the earth’s mesosphere to whether the space program should try to explore Mars or return to the moon. “The topic shifts as the political landscape shifts,” said Scheur. “Different plans would have different repercussions; it’s a very fluid topic. We often change our arguments. Sometimes our students even have to change the arguments that they make between rounds at the same competition. Also, if new evidence emerges in the news, students come prepared with that new information to support their argument.”
The National Forensic League (NFL) announces the resolution for next year’s tournaments in the spring. Debaters spend many hours over the summer researching the topic and preparing for the upcoming debate season which begins in September. The debate teams have weekly scheduled practices to discuss strategies for arguments and for speaking drills to help them prepare to debate as quickly and clearly as possible in timed tournaments. Scheur applauded his team’s diligence, saying, “The team is very passionate, self-motivated. They’re passionate about politics and the state of America, and strive to better inform the discourse.”
Hanna N. has been on the debate team for all four years of high school at Whitney Young. She said the Young team has had some highly competitive debates this season. “I think academic activities [such as debate] provide students with an outlet not only to express themselves, but also to obtain intellectual fulfillment that they can’t always get in the classroom. The reason I’ve stayed as long as I have is not only that the [debate] material is interesting, but it’s also very relevant to things that are happening in the world; it gives me new perspective on current events.”
Hanna explained that participating in debate was good practice for a career in law or public policy and, although she is still undecided, she is considering pursuing one of those fields to study in college next year.
Owen J. of Lane Tech explained that debate was about much more than an academic activity for him. He said, “I really like the effect debate has on an individual. For me specifically, it has made me smarter. Debate has forced me into a community of incredibly gifted, talented, and smart young people. Every time you go to a debate tournament, you’re bouncing big ideas off of really intelligent individuals. Then, at the end of the debate experience, you come out a much more filtered person, filtered down to the best parts of your person.”
Lane Coach Valerie Mason added, “I really like seeing them succeed at something that they enjoy so much. I think it can make a real difference in the lives and education of all students, but specifically urban debate students.”
Debate students from Whitney Young will continue to be busy as they will be joined by their peers at Northside College Preparatory High School and be competing in the prestigious national debate competition, the Tournament of Champions, hosted by the University of Kentucky April 28-30.
Congratulations to the Whitney Young and Lane Tech debate teams!
Learn more about Lane Tech
Learn more about Whitney Young
Read Catalyst Chicago article connecting the benefits of debate: Debate skills help students prepare for Common Core