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The argument about debate

December 6th, 2007

Secret societies exist at colleges across the country that love printing stuff and then arguing about the stuff they printed.
The more widely used term for these societies is “debate teams.” There is one at this school, and from what I hear they’re pretty good. After a semester of debate class, I walked away with one feeling towards this academic endeavor– respect.
I call them secret societies because few really understand what debate is or what debaters do. I’ve been taking the class for the last four months and I still don’t know.
For a small time I was a part of the debate community. It’s a community that had previously shunned me, or maybe I shunned it, one of the two.
Anyway, on Sunday my partner, Kate McCall, and I went into our class tournament with victory on our minds. To be more accurate, I wanted to win, she just wanted to do a good job.
Chatter was high inside debate circles that the Rafferty/McCall team could make some noise in the tourney. But did we have enough firepower to knock off to top seed?
We did not, losing our first debate of the day.
Afterwards we did some major damage, winning three straight. Finishing with a 3-1 record, some debate analysts had us ranked as high as the second best team in the tournament.
I learned a lot at that debate tournament. First off, don’t try to bribe the judges, rarely will it work. The judge actually viewed my one-dollar bribe as an insult.
Secondly, debate is kind of addictive. Once you start you want to win. Even if you think you would not care, I’m telling you that you would. It’s natural, instincts take over, and you want to destroy your opponent. The biggest win of the day came over Illinois State. It was a must win just out of principle. We needed to make a statement that said Ohio is better than Illinois. In a close decision, we took the prize, ending my debate career on a historic victory.
Debate is like a never-ending research project. You find some evidence that supports your argument; then you find thousands more that support your argument.
After that, you need to find evidence totally contradicting all that other stuff you found. That is why debate teams carry around a ridiculous amount of paper.
I don’t want to discourage future debaters from doing it, but I realized pretty quickly that if you want to be good you have to work hard. You also have to be smart, readily able to think on your feet. To top it off, you need to be able to read fast.
It’s not just reading fast, it’s more like orally vomiting words. The varsity debaters talk faster than I thought it was possible for humans to speak. It’s impressively scary.
Debate is arguably the most demanding extracurricular activity in college, though I wouldn’t recommend debating them about it.