Debate 101

“Anyone have a flow sheet?  Yes, a flow sheet?!” – “The Point of interruption?  Completely different than barracking another debate team…” – and on would the evening go into a world I truly imagine but never knew.

When the call for ASOMEX debate judges went out for October 31st, that sounded just like any other ordinary call or need for judge volunteers.  Provided speaker score sheets, checklists, heck, we had all we needed right?  This would be easy fun, and a new experience.  Little did I know it would be so much more. Arriving amid what seemed to be hundreds of individual students in suits, and yes, some on Halloween attire with those very suits, you could send this….buzz, this enthusiasm and anticipation.  What I liked best was tons of debaters that were from other schools, and they seemed to fit right in at ASF, and that was even better.  New students, new debate coaches, the whole atmosphere was filled with excitement and you could literally feel it, this electricity of what the evening would be.

Making the judging training session, with 25 judges present, I felt relived, because yes, there were a ton of questions, (heck, I have never done this!) but reading the emails ahead of time in detail, this was a complete review of topics that I was unsure about ; hearing them reviewed, repeated, and discussed by veteran coaches and individuals that have been through this experience many times before – this did seem to calm me a little, but I did notice an anxiety level rising as I took in how comprehensive, and a whole new vocabulary being presented that was sucking me into an experience I truly had no idea about, and I was going to be a judge?  I could sense the preparedness and anxiety, yet sheer adrenalin of these students readying themselves for debate and all of a sudden my personal sense of responsibility to them grew ten-fold. Once we were dismissed from the training session, I reviewed, reviewed, reviewed, the score sheets, checklists, armed with a packet of info that I now viewed very seriously.  I had reason to grow quiet as I instantly had this sense of being a little out of my league and yet, here we were, with a sense of being involved in something that I had no idea how to envision. It was time, I had an assignment, I had a room, and walking in you can see the groups readying and discussing the methods, strategies, and tactics to be persuasive, and in my mind I realized, as an English teacher this was the very lessons I tried to bring life in, coming alive!

Those persuasive papers I tried to create in case courts on?  Alive through debate. Those issues of social importance we visualized through video and national events? Alive through debate.  I liked this. Although my apprehension subsided, when I was asked if I was a lead judge I scoffed and said, “ohmygosh, um, NO WAY, I have never done this before, and I felt like an attorney defending someone on death row, and the was my one shot, I was green beyond the greenest valley.  To my saving grace, a colleague who HAD done this before graciously offered to be the lead judge and I had many mental notes to do just that, observe everything to be prepared for the second debate later this evening. Everything reminded me of a parliamentary meeting coming in session, organized teams on either side, the official time calling, recording of time, and yet, here in front of me were individuals readying to debate, and being Halloween or Day of the Dead soon, some were dressed to the hilt in makeup, it would be hard to take anything they said or presented seriously, or so I thought.

The debate started and despite sensing the nervousness of some individuals who this might be their first time, although none of the debaters in front of me were from ASF, I was completely finding myself connecting to them from the very beginning.  Despite thinking it would be hard to disconnect myself from issues I found biased on, no such thing occurred.  I was so drawn into their words, their presentation, their passion for being along the lines of a debate, the costumes they donned, the personal beliefs, and even sometimes what the actual agreement was at hand, slipped away.  I often had to refer to the very flow sheets that were being asked for at the beginning of the training session to insure I was not lost in their passionate stances, and make sure we were still debating the actual issue as a focus – in this case the fact that students should be given an opportunity to travel abroad before graduating. Often the issue came out that making this mandatory would be criminal as many students  clamor to just have the funds to finish school and get an education in Mexico, et alone have a travel abroad not he table.

Then you are left to wonder, wait, was the about forcing students to travel abroad or only to have the OPPORTUNITY to do so, and then the internal attention to focus on the true subject along with the arguments being made, and then observing the tactics each individual uses, while recording the length of time if too long, not long enough, on particular subjects, and well, you get the idea that by this time, I realized this was more than just listening and making a judgement. By the end of the first debate, I was EXHAUSTED.  I realized how much in-depth concentration it took for not only debaters but for judges to take all the amazing skills that are involved in this being successful.  Instantly, the level of admiration and respect for students that had the courage, stamina, concentration, planning, and manipulation of language rose ten fold, and these were students  I never met before.

Yet, in having moments following the debate to discuss what the strong and weak points were with each individuals, these students all of a sudden did not seem to be outside of ASF at all.  I felt this connection after opting for them, listening to them intently, ad I had no idea at all this would occur, I never met these students before!  Just like that, after one debate, you felt respect and appreciation for them as if you had this student in your class for at leas a year and were looking out for them.  Perhaps that stunned me the most immediately.

On the break between debates, I ran into surprised ASF students, surprised to see me there on a Friday evening, and it are me feel good for them to know I was interested in something I had never seem them do.  I held out luck for seeing them debate, and seeing them differently than in the halls from day to day as I usually did.  One of the next best unexpected moments was the familiarity of new colleagues form other schools and being able to talk with them about that first debate and the debate circuit in general.  I walked away with a brand new reference of friends that again, could only happen on such an event like this and made this whole event shine likeI never knew it would. In heading to the second debate, which would be focused on diagnosing conditions such as ADD other syndromes and what could be considering often over-diagnosing, I found myself on a with two individuals that I never worked alongside with before, and yet, one I knew and the other was a former debater, so I felt like this was an advantage for sure.

This time, I felt I was ready.  However, once again, I was sucked into the passionate responses, celebrating as I watched the debaters confidence grow in front of me as they became used to finding their own rhythm as they progressed, while furiously wrote down every single thing that came up to use as a reference points for grading their performance. You would think after a long week at school the main thing on most every educator’s minds would be – this is Friday, almost, almost.  Yet as I looked around me and I saw educator’s willing to take out their Friday for such an event, there must be something magical here.  Absolutely, positively, I realized the strength and potential housed in the very being in each of these debaters, simply from hearing them.  The ability of students has never ceased to amaze me, and seeing them motivated to take the risk of nervousness, being in front of the public eye, and being strategic on top of all that, I do not think any words I could possible come up with would match the self-strengthening valor each of the debaters exhibited.

The makeup that many wore that at first seemed distracting, not at all.  the strategies surrounding the words and they way they used them simply allowed the very disguises to fade away and bring out the points being made, and that was all that anyone seemed to notice, this amazed me. I have to say, while I never actually had the chance to see ASF students debate, which is probably good since I work at ASF here in Mexico City, pure strangers in the form of debating students had caused me to sit there rooting for them in various moments of the evening.  I was pretty sure I needed a classroom and a year to obtain that connection and appreciation of what students had to offer, usually, until I witnessed debate.

In one evening this was accomplished and matched with the appreciation of the educators willing to participate in the process, I walked away with a dumbfounded appreciation for how intense this whole process was. I also found myself feeling inadequate to offer what was a strength and was was something the debaters needed to improve on as I was simply blown away by the eery and talent they had exhibited, despite the moments they strayed from the actual debate.  That always became the most difficult part for me before, during and following a debate, and I realized that this whole process could never be realized and recognized unless you just jumped in.  That is what each student had done this evening armed with a battalion of tools, strategies, and tactics, and in dong so they defined a whole new level of success and being bold, daring, and go-getters of opportunity.  To see that unfold in front of you is dimly incredible, and I found myself different as well,  walking away and being lucky enough to be a part of this. When you hear about the accomplishments of the debate groups, take this all in and realize, there is a whole new world beyond what you think debate is and what is actually is.

The eye contact that was made that night, from each debate, was phenomenal.  If anything, matched with the powerful stances and rhetoric used, combined with the eye contact of some of the best debaters, you felt as if you knew each individual personally for years.  With this thought, I was amazed at how one specific event can change the whole definition of an activity, and with the ASOMEX debate, you will see that within the first 5 minutes.

You are able to take that away with you and as a result, are a little more aware of the potential of these bold, talented and amazing individuals that are able to bring to life topics that normally would remain very flat and static on paper. Ultimately, that has always been my goal as an educator, wanting to move students past a lecture and have them internalize the very issues on the table, to be motivated and truly feel the idea at hand, and then the learning truly appears. Here, I realized, throughout the opportunities for debate, the participants were doing this at every turn, and bringing the judges along for this experience as well.  An event that is this remarkable in every sense, for all that are involved.  My challenge would be for everyone to take in such an opportunity and see for yourself, and I would guarantee you will see the who advent of debate in a completely different light, as well as those involved in the thick of it.  Mr. Webber, thanks for opening a new door of experience to so many!

DEBATE TEAMS SHINE HOSTING ASOMEX TOURNAMENT Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 6.04.46 AM Posted: November 10, 2014

Debating at ASF is continuing to produce great public speakers who shine in Mexico and overseas, with teams finishing strongly in the ASOMEX tournament held on campus on the weekend of Oct. 31-Nov. 1. Congratulations to our ASF Debate Team for their great showing at the ASOMEX Debate Tournament 2014! 3 Varsity teams made it to Quarterfinals with 1 Varsity team Alex, Mauricio, and Sofía in Semifinals winning 3rd place overall.

Also ASF had 4 Novice teams in quarterfinals and two novice teams (Iker, Andrew , Naomi, Dalia and the team of Matt, Pablo , Valeria, and Carlota) that won both semifinals to close out finals winning 1st and 2nd place overall for ASF! Also ASF took in more than their share of speaker awards with Adrian winning 2nd best Varsity speaker overall and Genoveva winning 1st place best Varsity speaker overall. In Novice Debate, Iker won 4th best Novice speaker and Dalia won 1st best Novice speaker overall! Congratulations to the ASF Debate team on a fine showing!

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About Harry Brake

Employee of ASF in Mexico City, Librarian, Media crazy! :)
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