Urban Debate League (as Seen on Tonight's 60 Minutes)

Did anyone else catch this story on 60 Minutes tonight? It was about debate clubs in a Baltimore public school, particularily one team, the Warriors. The Urban Debate League, which the Warriors are a part of, uses different rules than most of us probably know and/or use(d). Instead of a moderator there is a judge who lets the two sides go at it and announces the winner based on who made the better argument.

This is good as it gets students interested in current topics, teaches research skills, and helps self-esteem (one student spoke about overcoming his speech difficulty through debating); however, I have issues with the way it is conducted.

I searched online for the offical rules of the Urban Debate League, but I came up with nothing. From what I gathered from the report the groups are given the topic of the debate ahead of time. They do research. When the group gets to the debate site they are told which side they are arguing. So far so good.

Then come the opening statements. These are timed. According to the reporter’s voice-over the students have to read at “light-speed to get as much in as possible.” Next, the two sides have at each other. From what I saw, this is an agrument in which both sides try to cram as much of their side into the debate as they can. It seemed to be a contest of who could talk quicker and louder. Instead of a cool, level-headed debate in which arguments are made and dismantled with care it was a case of throw as much stuff on the walls and hope more of yours sucks. The Warrior debate coach was seen telling his team , “When your opponent comes up with two arguments you hit them back with six or seven*.” Instead of the best argument winning, the largest argument does. The whole system seems to be based on a fallacy.

Until someone convinces me otherwise I think the Urban Debate League is a great idea that does much good; however, traditional debate adds in fallacy busting which is a very useful skill. We have enough people that think quanity equals quality in this world. Why not try to do something about it in school?

Hey, use a spoiler box next time. Some people haven’t seen that episode of 60 Minutes yet.

Seriously, I don’t know. It seems to me, that if it is as you describe, it’s not all that great.

You seem to be forgeting that the team they featured had also won at the bigger tournaments, competing against kids who supposedly play under more traditional rules. So it’s not a case of these kids being “victors” under a totally twisted system. They simply debate well.

I didn’t like the lightning speed opening statement round, but I have absolutely no problem with the argument being a free-for-all afterwards. That’s how arguments happen in real life. Keep in mind that this wasn’t something the Urban Debate League made up. The suburban kids were debating like this as well. I have absolutely no experience in debate, but is it possible this is just a different style of debate?

Lastly, they weren’t simply presenting arguments. I clearly saw the kids dissecting their opponents’ points. Do you not remember when the two guys were going at each other over mental health funding? They were clearly debating, not simply regurgitating facts, although it was not the Lincoln-Douglass kind of debate that most of us are familiar with.

I thought the whole thing was very cool indeed.

Well, Wolfian did put “as seen on tonight’s 60 Minutes” in the title. Anyone not wanting to spoil their weekly dose of 60 Minutes were thoroughly warned (and probably should get a life).

Sounds like they do policy debate. In high school I did Lincoln-Douglas, which is much more focused on the quality of the arguments (though you do get your occasional speed-talker). In policy, however, it’s speed and quantity that count. Did they give any sample debate topics? Policy debates tend to be focused on “is this a good idea to implement?” (for instance, “The United States should abolish agricultural subsidies”).

You beat me to it. A long time ago (well over a decade) in a high school far, far away, I did L-D debate, too, for the exact reason you describe. Who cares how good your argument is if 9/10 of the people listening miss it because it flew by at Mach 3? I could do the speed-talking thing if I needed to (the exceptionally short final affirmative-side rebuttal time sometimes necessitated it), but always thought it counterproductive overall.

L-D was still a decidedly minority division at the time, though – most high school debaters did policy. And they were just soooooo smug about it. Asshats. :slight_smile: