Urban Debate

For those of you who don’t know, I met all of our fellow stonesoupers through a league called the American Parliamentary Debate Assosciation. Well, it’s another year, and that means more debate, except it’s a little different this time.

While all of us are done with APDA save Alex, I’m continuing my involvement with debate this year in a different capacity. I’m going to be mentoring for the Boston Debate League. This isn’t your average prep school league which flies across the country all the time, debating on the national circuit. Rather, BDL is an extension of UDL or the Urban Debate League. Basically, each week I’m going to go out and coach kids about a rudimentary form of policy debate, in order to further prepare them for their studies. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention anything about them getting better at debate as that’s not at all important. Many of these kids read at a grade level several years behind, and are generally ill-equipped to go onto any sort of college education, let alone find decent employment in some cases. However, debate seems to have a drastic effect on these kids; according to BDL, those individuals who stay with the program are 46% more likely to graduate from high school.

A few weeks ago, I was actually able to see this kind of improvement in action. I worked for BDL at their annual summer camp which takes place at Suffolk law school, and for a week I had a group of 18 kids who were basically mine to mold. The leaps and bound by which I saw these kids progress was nothing short of inspiring. These kids went from not knowing how to spell basic words like marriage, to talking about Hamid Karzai and Afghan counter-insurgency policy inside a week. Even more amazing, some of them actually seemed to have a pretty decent handle on the material and were generating arguments of their own. Aside from being a transformative experience for the kids, it was also a transformative experience for me. Up until that point, I had studied diligently for the LSAT with every expectation of going to law school next fall. However, after teaching these kids for a week I suddenly realized, that teaching these kids was the only job I’ve ever really enjoyed. I immediately stopped studying for the LSAT and am now applying for teaching programs for next year. It’s a radical change to my life plan, but I’ve never felt better about it. After all, if it doesn’t work out, I can always apply to law school in a year or two.

Anyway, I’d like to leave you all with a question. While I did get some ideas from the BDL camp on how to appropriately convey often dense sets of information to kids while keeping it fun, I’d love for some more tips if anyone has them. Thus, has anyone had any particularly good experiences in teaching kids, or any tricks they’d like to share? It would be much appreciated.

P.S If any of you are in the Boston area, BDL is constantly looking for people to commit a few hours of their weekend to judge these kids. It really is rewarding and I would encourage anyone with the time to volunteer.

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One thought on “Urban Debate

  1. Last year I didn’t coach, but volunteered/judged at a few Urban Debate League tournaments in New York City. I’d encourage any of our New York-based readers to look into judging, if you don’t feel qualified enough or don’t feel you have the time to coach. Please email me for the details.

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