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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Best Way to Spend a Weekend: High School Debate!

As I'm out judging debate at Huron High School at the second Central Forensic Conference Tournament of the season, I note that someone in Los Angeles finds the Madville Times by Googling, "how often do kids miss school for high school debate tournaments". Welcome to the show, L.A.!

The answer: not often enough! Even at today's short Saturday tournament, which involves missing no school, every student has the chance to make as many as ten speeches, not to mention face three cross-examinations and conduct three more. In a full two-day tournament, contestants may make sixteen speeches, plus ten cross-examinations (and that's not counting qualifying for finals). Talk about a challenging educational experience!

For comparison, in a typical semester speech class, I managed to find time for students to make five big speeches and five smaller speeches.

Now the amount of school debaters miss varies from place to place. Most South Dakota debate tournaments are within a two-hour drive of Madison, so our kids, even if they enter debate and individual events, won't miss much more than an afternoon of classes. (And when Madison hosts the Karl E. Mundt Debate Tournament, our kids don't have to miss any school.) Our friends from Aberdeen and Rapid City have much longer drives to tournaments, so they're more likely to miss an entire day of school for a debate tournament.

But in return for missing even one full day of class, your kids can get more than one semester's worth of typical speech class practice. They get feedback from lots of difference judges and coaches, not just the same teacher every time. And your kids can get that experience at at least 12 tournaments throughout the season. Now if practice makes perfect, imagine how good your kids would be at public speaking after a full high school career of debate: possibly 50 debate tournaments—50 semesters' worth of speech practice. And imagine how much more ready those kids will be for a challenging speaking situation, like, oh, say, a job interview, compared to all those other applicants who had one measly semester of required high school speech class.

So what are your kids doing this weekend to get ready for the real world?


  1. Ahh...Central Forensic Conference Tournaments...I remember them well. Back in my day (1972-1976) Highmore always had a team. Tournaments were an all day Saturday affair and a great way to avoid working your butt off on a cold Saturday on the ranch. All speaking skills acquired were an added benefit not fully appreciated at the time.

    If I dug around I might even be able to find a trophy or two...

  2. Highmore?! Wow -- I'd love to see those trophies! E-mail me a photo.

  3. I'll see if I can find them. I remember the "big" schools were Huron, Mitchell, Pierre the little schools were towns like Highmore, Wolsey, Chamberlain, Murdo, Fort Pierre. I'm sure Madison was there but I don't remember for sure.

    The Highmore team would make the rounds of several overnight tournaments each year Aberdeen, Watertown, Vermillion and Brookings. Sometimes we would run across out of state teams from places like Des Moines Hoover.


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