Sunday, April 12, 2015

Slow Saturday Special: The Globe's Great Debate

I was hoping it was going to be the physical impossibility of those three collapses on 9/11 due to fires, but....

"With first taste of success, Boston students up for debate" by Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff  April 04, 2015

Fatah Adan hurled out his words at a velocity peculiar to high school debaters and livestock auctioneers.

Adan and his partner, Elvis Alvarado, had rehearsed their case tirelessly, arguing that the United States should develop floating nuclear power plants. Their goal: to win the Boston Debate League’s city championships earlier this month.

No offense to the kids, but that seems like a bad idea.

Educators have seen debate teams — once the province of suburban high schools and elite prep schools — invigorate struggling students and challenge the best ones in cities across the country. In Boston, a study found that debaters’ grades improved and they were more likely to take and pass advanced placement tests.

Adan, from New Mission High School in Hyde Park, is one of those thriving students, but he was an unlikely debater.

Born in a Kenyan refugee camp, he spent four years in Mattapan’s Mattahunt Elementary School learning English with other Somali children. When he entered an English-speaking classroom in fifth grade, he was intimidated. He barely spoke in class.

That changed in ninth grade, when Adan’s history teacher and his older brother, Jamal, a debater, persuaded him to join the team.

“In debate, everyone speaks, so it’s not like I could hide in the back,” Adan said. “When I began doing that, I saw how much I had to say. I learned to never doubt what comes out of my mouth.”


Studies have shown that debaters in urban areas are more than three times as likely to graduate from high school and 89 percent more likely to attend a four-year college than their peers who do not debate.

Debate has an impact on groups that are most vulnerable,” said Steve Stein, the executive director of the Boston Debate League....

Jews love to argue and thus divide! 

Honestly, some things in this world are beyond debate. 

Maybe you could have the kids debate the fraud of global warming amidst these record-setting winters and cool summers that come after the official arrival of spring (which was technically three weeks ago).

At New Mission High, where 82 percent of the students are low-income, debate is so popular that about 40 students, more than 10 percent of the school, participate.

“It’s part of our identity at Mission,” says Nikki Gerald, a sophomore. “We kill at debate, we kill at ball, and we kill at school.”

Don't go anywhere near that high school! 

Hasn't there been enough killing?

Debaters are as popular at the school as basketball players, students and administrators say. Students who do not get many chances to leave Boston were particularly impressed when they saw that debaters who excelled traveled to national tournaments.

“When I debated, I kind of accepted that I was a nerd,” Stein said. “That’s not true for Boston public school students.”

Motivated by peers

Ninth grade was a tough year for Yaseen Ahmed, who moved to Boston after three years in Somalia. His parents had previously fled the country as refugees, but not long after he enrolled at New Mission, the same history teacher persuaded him join the debate team. To his surprise, he loved it. And the following year, his grades improved so much, he made the honor roll.

“Being surrounded by honor roll students, being surrounded by competitive people who always wanted to succeed, motivated me a lot,” said Ahmed, who has been admitted to the University of Massachusetts Boston, UMass Dartmouth, Fitchburg State University, and Bridgewater State.

Uh-oh. I hate to say it, and maybe they just had a bad day, but things are getting better and the image improving with the arrest and firing of the scapegoat.

And you thought the prison was bad!

At New Mission, championship-level teams — the most advanced — practice about three times a week for about an hour after school. This year’s topic: whether the federal government should substantially increase its nonmilitary exploration and/or development of the earth’s oceans.

Let's accelerate right past that.


During each high school debate round, two teams, each containing two students, face off for more than an hour. The affirmative team presents its case, and the negative team tries to tear it apart. First, each of the debaters speaks, and cross-examines an opponent. The students get a second chance to speak, and refute the opposing team’s arguments. A judge chooses the winner.

Debaters bring their own “evidence” — relevant parts of articles clipped from journals, reports, newspapers — with them to tournaments. At national tournaments, students can store their evidence digitally on laptops. But at Boston Debate League tournaments, students lug around boxes and accordion files with the hard copies.

“At this point, it’s not realistic to assume that one of every two debaters will have a laptop on them,” said Ravi Singh, a coach and the history teacher who recruited Adan and Ahmed....

The secret is — it’s fun

Stein talked to New Mission headmaster Naia Wilson about starting a debate team at the school about seven years ago. She was enthusiastic.

“It helped us to really develop a culture of achievement,” Wilson said. “The teachers were saying students who debated were doing so much better in class. They were more outspoken.”

“The secret is that it does not feel like school,” Singh said. “It’s fun. I think because in school, you could be motivated by getting a good grade. I think being motivated by performing well is maybe a better motivation for a lot of kids.”

Off to California and Texas they go to be raised into the elite!