Student Congress at a Debate Tournament

NickOtani's picture
Submitted by NickOtani on Mon, 2008-01-28 02:34

Hey, I just got back from an all day trip to Moses Lake High School, in the center of the state of Washington, and thought I’d write about some of my experiences there. I got called to judge debates and individual events at a debate tournament there. I judged at these events quite a bit a few years ago but not recently. When I was called upon to substitute teach for Mr. Smith’s class, the debate coach at University High School and the person for whom I did some classroom observations and worked for as a debate judge previously, I left word that I would be available to judge again if he needed me. Well, he called on me this weekend for the tournament at Moses Lake, and I accepted. I got up at 3:30 in the morning on Saturday and got to the University High School parking lot at 5:00 to get on the school bus which took us; me and a few other judges and two coaches and about twenty teenagers from two different schools, U-High and my old school, Central Valley; to our destination about three hours away.

When we got there, the first event was student congress. This is where about twenty kids sit in a classroom and act as senators at a parliamentary hearing. They elect a leader who uses parliamentary procedures to lead the meeting where, first, senators propose several issues, which have been prepared and summarized on a sheet of paper. One senator makes his or her recommendations, and then others add topics they wish to discuss. When everything is moved and seconded and voted on, the list is produced on the board, and the leader takes each topic in turn and asks if anyone has a speech in affirmation of the issue. If someone does, he or she gets up to make a case and answer questions from the floor. Then, someone else may have a speech in opposition to the issue and gets called on to make his or her case and answer questions from the floor. When everybody has had his or her say, the group votes; and the bill is passed or fails.

A judge sits in the background and gives points to each speaker, but I was not judging this event. I was just observing. They talked about affirmative action, whether or not PETA should be considered a terrorist organization, whether or not prisoners should be tortured in Guantanamo Bay, and whether or not marijuana should be legalized. There were pros and cons. It was interesting. These kids were learning how to make their cases and seeing how policy is made.

I love this kind of thing. I wish we could get some of these discussions and debates going on this forum. There is a lot out there to talk about.

With affirmative action, the old quota system was being challenged and points were being made about reverse discrimination. Someone proposed a more general criterion which included achievement and cultural diversity rather than just test scores and race. Someone made the old argument that affirmative action was a way of atoning for past injustices etc.

With PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the point was made that these people sometimes do some radical things. They show people pictures of slaughtered animals which would make those who are used to gutting fish and foul sick. They throw red paint on people who wear fur and shout murderer etc. They sometime sabotage equipment in lumber yards which could lead to injury. They get in the way of trucks and equipment and get themselves hurt. They drive nails into trees which catch the saws used to cut the trees, and this is dangerous for the person holding the saw. These actions are not legal. Should these people be considered terrorists? Some people think they are just good people concerned about ethical treatment of animals, but they also threaten jobs and progress. There is plenty to be said on both sides.

The prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are supposed to be terrorists, but some of them are innocent. Some of them are American citizens who are getting their rights violated. People may think we are protecting our country from more 9/11 type attacks and need this kind of option, even the water boarding which simulates drowning, a form of torture which wouldn’t be legal in the United States. We put people on Guantanamo Bay to get around Constitutional restrictions, but this doesn’t make it right. The Declaration of Independence says “all men”, which means all humans, regardless of whether or not they are citizens of the United States, have natural rights. The Constitution tries to secure those rights by securing rights to counsel, rights to a trial, and rights not to be tortured, yet these prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are having their rights violated. Is this right?

Then, what is wrong with legalizing marijuana? Nobody dies of an overdose of marijuana, and it is less harmful than alcohol, which is legal. There are some medical uses for marijuana, and it is not necessarily addicting or a gateway drug for harder drugs. You can ask old guys like me who have used it in the 60s and early 70s but not anymore.

Other things were discussed, and I judged a few individual events, Oral Interpretation and Expository. I also judged a Lincoln-Douglas Debate, my favorite, and I’d like to talk about that in a separate post.

What do you all think about the issues I touched on above? Does anyone here have definite opinions about any of them? Could we have a little congressional debate about any of them right here?

Bis bald,


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