Debating Days
November 10, 2006

In between the political debates this week, I found this article on a whole different kind of debate. Hip-hop debate? An alumni of the classical style, I am curious about this new twist on the old school. My high school days were spent immersed in that lifestyle. Joke what you may, we were master-debaters. I have not thought about, read about or participated in any such activities in years. My freshman year of college I judged a tournament at Newman high school in New Orleans. That was my last bit of debating contact, I don't even keep in touch with my partner. But my lord this was it all I did through my senior year. Policy debate.

Weekends were spent in high school hallways and classrooms across the country; Dallas, New York, Chicago and all over the State of Florida. I knew high schools like people study football teams. Grapevine in Texas, Bucholz in Gainsville, The Glenbrooks in Illinois and East Lansing in Michigan. These were the schools, debate institutions. Coached by debate legends. I wonder if they still are, ten years later. We were all over the place, in planes and busses, plugged into headphones listening to Tori Amos and the Indigo Girls. And we knew people from all over the place, the relationships that began at "camps", at universities like Dartmouth and Michigan, the summer before the school year opened. Time devoted to researching that year's topic, outlining arguments and practicing your oral advocacy skills. Weeks and weeks in college dormitories, with college debaters, teaching and coaching you. Studying our foreign policy with China, the US immigration policy, and how to change our health care system. We propounded such policies as exporting cigarettes to the People's Republic of China and allowing Marielitos out of jail. All relevant, topical issues in 1996, some still are today.

In the interim, we spent weekdays scouring newspapers for articles relevant to that topic and our arguments. We researched the President's approval rating that exact week to insure we could "pass" our legislation through Congress. Otherwise our argument would not be believed. We made sure our proposal had not already been turned down by Congress. Again, it would hurt our credibility. We needed to find all of those articles to "run" against our opponents, to dash their believability and credibility. Each side had a turn to present, tear down, and defend their policies. The one with the best evidence, clearest, most topical, and practical argument was determined the winner, with points given for speaking. You needed to be concise, well thought out, and up to date. Hours spent inside the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor. This was before the internet had such accessibility. We did "steal" time on Lexis and used it sparingly, knowing it cost $100 per hour. But all of our sources were cut from the newspaper and clued to a white piece of computer paper. Later to be filed in the correct redwell and ripped out at a moment's notice in the heat of battle.

All of this was stored in redwells, organized by argument. Affirmative and Defense. Each got a separate one, maybe even two or three. All piled in giant RubberMaid boxes, toted around on several dollies. That is how we rolled all across the country, tucked beneath layers of duct tape. Our case was neatly laid out ahead of time, well researched, well thought out and well practiced. As the person in the team who presented the argument, the 1A, I had that puppy memorized. I could do it in my sleep. I had to sometimes. Late nights, lots of travel and tons of prep work meant we were working on overdrive. It was then I learned the value of Excedrin and Mountain Due. Tons 'o caffeine. The caffeine high helped spew out the arguments at warp speed. The more you could get in during the allotted eight minutes, the better your argument, the more compelling. Therefore, the faster you spoke the better. We talked fast, clear and strong, but fast.

Tournaments were often held from Thursday afternoon through Sunday. Six preliminary rounds and than out rounds out to the octafinals, if not further. Judges made up of ex-debaters and still in college competitors. It was prestigious to get to the finals, in the same way it was to win the best speaker award at the awards ceremony on Sunday afternoon. My heart still beats fast thinking of having my name called. Never did it happen on the larger national scale. We saw our fair share of out rounds and were considered winners in the State of Florida. But we never pushed ourselves to the level required to be National Champions. Those people paid for college through debate. I knew my time for that expired with my high school diploma. College was for other things. It was time for new experiences.

I missed tons of school. I missed tons of sleep. I was unable to participate in any other extra-curricular activities. I probably missed out on meeting more people, though I do not remember being bereft of friends in high school. Plus I had debate friends, all across the country. I learned how to speak in public. I have not a single fear of such. I like to think I can do it clearly and concisely too. I essentially walked on to the Moot Court team in law school with no prep. I can think fast on my feet; no "um's" or "huh's". I learned the legislative process and all about checks and balances and political powers. Stuff that benefited me greatly in college. I definitely knew more about it at that time then I do now. It would take a good bit of refreshing to catch back up. I so knew what was happening with current events. How could you not? Reading three or four newspapers a day. I understood the effectiveness of evidence to prove your point, how to cite to it for added benefit. I learned how to logically put together an argument and deflect a defense. I really learned the necessity of procedure too, going balls out on T (inside joke for policy debaters out there). But it is a reality of a lawyer life, something you learn as a 1L in civ pro.

So I wonder what the break dancing hip hop crowd has to contribute to this whole little weird world that I donated tons of time and money to. I wonder if they will get any of these lessons or benefits from them. Or if they will have their own unique and special experiences.



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