The 2020-2021 Middle School debate season is coming to a close! Our community has come together to deliver an amazing middle school season this year, virtually, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coach Melissa Hart is leading Ramsey Middle School’s committed and enthusiastic debate team. They’re addressing the challenging and complex topic of criminal justice reform while adjusting to the new, all-virtual debate format.
Recently, we got the chance to sit down, virtually, and listen to what the students of Ramsey Middle School had to say about their experience in debate this season. We learned about their feelings on the topic, how they overcome struggles in debate, how they celebrate their victories, and more. Check it out below:
Facing Challenges in Debate
From the tough topic to making the transition for virtual debate, this middle school season has been full of challenges. We spoke with students on Ramsey Middle School’s team about their strategies in facing the challenges of debate.
What’s something challenging about debate?
Lahna: When people ask you a question during Cross-X, it challenges you to have to answer quickly. I think that is a good skill in life. If you study your book, you will have better and quicker answers in the Cross-X.
Steele: I think the most challenging part for me is not leaning towards the other argument. If you agree with your opponent’s side, but you’re arguing the other side, you’re going to lose.
Kiddist: Sometimes you’re going to have to argue sides you don’t 100% agree with, so it’s hard & you have to be very confident in things that maybe aren’t your genuine opinion. It can be challenging, sometimes, separating your genuine self and opinion from what you’re debating. So that’s probably the hardest part – staying confident in your argument, even if that’s not your genuine opinion.
Marco: The rebuttals — it’s so hard to come up with a good last word!
Georgia: Trying to connect your arguments so it’s not, “Oh, you’re saying three random pieces of evidence that don’t have anything to do with each other,” but instead trying to maintain themes throughout your arguments and then finding the correct pieces of evidence for the correct stories.
How do you overcome those challenges?
Lahna: I study the book and try to see where my opponent is getting me at and ‘switch it around’ on them and try to be ready for the comebacks.
Steele: For me, it’s practice. We have had 3 debate tournaments, which means 7 different debates and many practice meetings.
Kiddist: Finding arguments that you can agree with. You may not agree with exactly what it’s saying, but the arguments that sound the best and most convincing, are ones that you can portray genuinely… Don’t choose arguments that you blatantly disagree with because most people will be able to tell. Choose arguments that are more aligning with your beliefs, but will still help you.
Marco: Our coach helps us a lot and she also printed us a template for us. The template has questions and then we write down our rebuttal.
Charlotte: We practice during debate practice time and we also got sentence starters for rebuttals to help us.
What’s the most rewarding part about debate?
Lahna: I think the most rewarding part about debate is knowing that you had a good argument. It doesn’t matter if you won or lost, I think the argument is key. Like on Tuesday, when we had our last debate, we lost some of them, but I feel like I did really good and better than I have before, which is really rewarding to me.
Steele: I agree! Also, another rewarding part is when the tournament is done and, at the next practice, going over your scores and placements. It makes me proud of myself and what I have learned how to do, when I see/hear where I placed.
Kiddist: The most rewarding part is just knowing I did well. It’s not really about winning or losing, even that sounds kind of corny. Sometimes you win some debates and you don’t feel like you did your best, and those don’t feel amazing. But ones you lose, where you stayed consistent and were confident in yourself, those feel good. Being confident in your questions or confidently reading, those are rewarding — when you are unapologetically yourself & confident in yourself. That feels the best.
Nadav: Definitely when you win!
Georgia: Seeing your name on that little list that says Speaker Awards or Team Awards, it just feels… rewarding!
Marco: Knowing how to argue better with your siblings and parents.
Charlotte: Getting positive feedback from the judge about what you did well, and also winning and seeing your name on that list.
What do you think more people should know about debate?
Lahna: I think a lot of people think debate is all about arguing, but it also has an educative side and you get to learn more about a topic. The topics have actually taught me a lot about police legitimacy & stopping gun violence. You get to work as a team, which is fun because your teammates can back you up. And it feels good when you have a good, solid argument.
Steele: I think a lot of people when they hear the word “debate,” they assume debates are about defending yourself or arguing your point. Yeah, you argue your point, but it’s more an educational thing, teaching you to stand up for what you believe.
Kiddist: It’s not really just disagreeing with the opposing points… I think we all agree police brutality is bad, but we talk about different solutions we can have and flaws in each other’s arguments on both sides. So, it’s very educational, knowing that you can both have the same “end goal,” that we both don’t want police brutality, but different views on how to fix it, look at different solutions and try to find a middle ground. It’s less about arguing complete opposite opinions, more pointing out flaws in each other’s arguments and ways we can do better.
Charlotte: I think people should know how fun debate is! You’re not just arguing with people, you are constructing your arguments and you have to prepare.
Georgia: More people should know that you actually have to prepare your arguments for a debate and the complicated duology with rebuttals. You are supposed to respond to what the other team said, but at this age we don’t have the capacity to speak for a full two-minute’s freestyle, so we have to prepare rebuttals. The Cross-X too, is oversighted in most arguments. People think it’s just people yelling at each other, not people asking questions to try and poke holes in the other arguments.
Celebrating Virtual Victories
Kiernan has been competing in debate for two years, and recruited Andorra and Eleanor to the team! Danny has attended our debate camp and is competing for the second year. We spoke to Andorra, Kiernan, Eleanor, and Danny about their experiences as 7th grade virtual debaters, including how they are celebrating victories in the virtual space.
How do you feel about the criminal justice topic?
Andorra: It’s very relevant right now. I can understand both sides of the argument.
Kiernan: Since I know a lot of background information on this topic, I can go more in depth about the argument. I have a connection with it. I know what I stand for. I’m not just reading from paper, I’m thinking about the evidence. You can really put yourself into it.
How do you feel about virtual debate, compared to in-person debate last year?
Eleanor: There are some good parts. I fell out of my chair during a debate, and nobody saw because my camera was off. So, that was good. (Laughs)
Does your team find ways to make debate special, even though you’re apart?
Andorra: There’s a lot of yelling, joking, games, and an infinite amount of laughing. One time, during Eleanor’s rebuttal in a mock debate, we ended up talking about mushrooms. (laughs)
Kiernan: It’s not like a regular debate team. After tournaments, we have Google Meet open. We come on after the debate, scream, and tell everyone what happened. It’s a lot more fun, and that makes up for what we can’t do in person.
Andorra: We do a lot of cheering when we get our results. Everyone gets together and watches the results slideshow on Google Meet.
What have you taken from doing debate?
Andorra: I feel more confident recently, and a lot better about speaking in public. I’ve gotten better about thinking on the spot.
Kiernan: I’ve benefited a lot from debate. It does make you more confident- maybe too much. I do get cocky sometimes. (laughs) It helps me learn more, and really educates me about important topics. I get more understanding.
Eleanor: I’m slightly less awkward now. (laughs)
Danny: It’s good to argue because the other side actually really has good reasons, sometimes. It’s good to think.
Our middle school debate season may be ending this week, but we still need virtual judges this spring! Watch for upcoming Spanish Debate League and East African Debate virtual judging opportunities at our Sign Up Page.