Debate: Transforming the Urban Spectrum

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In 2009 President Obama said to the nation’s students, “Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team”(Obama 2009). One of the most pressing issues in America is the decreasing academic performance of urban schools. Students in urban schools are not achieving as much as their suburban counterparts and educators have very few ways to motivate students to do better. While there are many issues beyond educator’s control, social and economic backgrounds are the most prevalent and keep students from reaching their true potential. When students are faced with adversity they are less motivated and less likely to move forward in their education. In urban schools this leads to high dropout rates, low percentages of students seeking post secondary education, and low minority representation in the competitive career pipeline. The National Association for Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL) started in the 1970’s in Atlanta’s urban school system in order to address the declining school system and promote the support of debate. Their mission is to provide urban debate to as many students as possible in America. Since its beginning it has found its way into 21 cities and has advocated for the integration of debate in public schools and has proved its effectiveness in thousands of students. When a student participates in debate, they can expect to benefit in at least three different skill areas: social and communication skills, academic skills, and professional preparation (McBath,

237). These skills have been proven to be successful in the development of students. By concentrating on these skills, even students who attend low performing urban schools can be amongst the high achieving group. While educators look for a way to transform student performance, they should look towards debate. By creating a debate based curriculum, educators can build career- ready skills to promote student development and growth.

Social Awareness and Skills
When you first enter the debate, round you can’t help but feel the rush of anxiety and peacefulness all at once. You know you’ve been through your case a dozen times before this moment, but you still have an air of uncertainty hovering over you. You place your box on the table and open it to unleash the clutter within. Though you may not know what each of these files contain, and you doubt you will use a fraction of them in the next hour and a half, these files are your life. Without them you have no warrant to your claims, no essence to your arguments. Without them you have no voice. As the first speaker you have to be prepared. You have to be ready to state your case to the judge with clarity and swiftness all at the same time. You have to be able to present your evidence, set up your case, state your inherent barrier, bring forth your harms and set up your solvency and defend it all until the end. You have to keep eye contact with the judge and make sure he receives every word you said while hoping your opponent doesn’t catch a sentence. If this wasn’t enough, you have to all of this with the burden of proof on your shoulder and you have to do it all in 8 minutes or less. You take a deep breath before you begin. “Are my opponents and judge ready?”

You start your engine. Their nods give you the approval to put your foot on the accelerator and start.

“The United States Federal Government should substantially reduce its police presence by ending all counter narcotics mission in Afghanistan through normal means of enforcement.” And there you go. That’s it. You resolve an issue that has been debated for years all in the course of an hour and a half. And to think, the debaters are high school students and the judge is a college student volunteering their time to relive their days of high school debate. Prominent debate coach Jim Unger of Georgetown once said, "The quality of the ordinary folks...
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