Every year, Mr. Soudah’s students formulate a list of resolutions, choose the affirmative or negative, and have it out in a 14-minute face-off in which they exercise their critical thinking and oral communications skills.
Upper School students who attended Hun Middle School find the activity familiar, as all middle schoolers take part in a year-long debate program. Done by grade level, it allows interested students to advance to the Garden State Debate League competition, in which they face students from other schools.
“It’s one of my favorite class projects,” Mr. Soudah said of his classroom debates. “It’s always different and always memorable. When Hun alumni come back to visit, they always talk about their debate experience.”
In the Lincoln Douglas tradition, speakers spar in one- to two-minute increments in which they state their arguments, cross-examine and rebut their opponent’s arguments, and restate their own to close. Students research both sides of their topic, using multiple sources, to better anticipate their opponents’ points. Students in the audience act as announcers, timekeepers, and a panel of judges. (Judges choose a winner, but Mr. Soudah determines students’ grades.)
“I thought it was a different style of learning, having to think on our feet, and I really liked it,” said Julia McBryan ’20, who argued in the affirmative for closing the U.S. Guantanamo Bay military prison.
“It was an innovative way to test our critical thinking skills, make us process information quickly, and respond to it,” said Anthony Bell ’20, who was on the affirmative side of banning private gun ownership.
Ian Franzoni ’20 argued affirmatively that college athletes were entertainers who should be paid. He had considered the topic before the class, since he would like to play football in college. His opponent, Koray Bektas ’20, who argued in the negative that athletes are primarily students and tuition should be payment enough, found the debate worthwhile, but a little nerve wracking.
“I was glad,” he said with a smile, “when it was over.”