Saturday, May 9, 2009

Giving birth to great debaters...

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It was a year ago; I was sitting beside a long table in front of six young faces. Hand outs were on their hands, reading and scanning the pages with blank expressions on their faces. Not very surprising, it was a complete zero knowledge. My plight was to produce debaters in a month’s training because the school wanted to participate in the 4th EU-Intercollegiate Tournament in Thailand, April 2008. Fraught with tears, stress and extended overtime work, I was able to shape these six young minds into their first journey in the world of debate.

I picked three boys from year 8 to make up my first team, and 2 boys and one girl from year 9 to make up the second team. Not withstanding the difficulty of the motions, of which as the youngest debaters would complain as all university terms, the team set out and prepared to debate against other participating teams from different universities and high schools. They researched and had practice debate for twelve motions out of sixteen all from six categories: Thailand issues, Environment, Asia/Middle East, European Union, Economics, and Ethics.

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Came the tournament and they became the apple of the eyes of all the participants – debaters and adjudicators. Why not? They were the smallest and far way the youngest of all debaters. They debated against university teams or senior high school teams. No words could express what I felt when I saw them took a podium and debate with all their might. I knew in my heart, they will make great debaters. Adjudicators would asked them during the oral adjudication right after each debate round, “how long have you been debating and you are so amazing?” They’ll get a simple answer with a shrug, “In less than a month?”

They did not get into the final round, but it wasn’t bad. They finished 20th and 26th out of 47 teams. It was just a start.

They again entered the next competition, National High School Debate Tournament in November 2008. This time they did a lot better. Both teams broke into the breaking round. IPS1 and IPS2 both got into the octo-finals finishing 8th and 11th place out of thirty-six participating teams in the preliminary rounds. A best speaker award was won by one of my debaters from the senior team. Yet, they did not make it to the final round.

The most recent tournament that they participated is again, the 5th EU-Intercollegiate Debate Tournament in April 2009. They were much more grown up, responsible and capable this time. They had harnessed their debating style in a more professional level. It surprised me, that the organizers of the tournament where seemed to be aware of my debaters capabilities [given that these debaters had made an image and are famous in the debate society by this time] that they were matched up with well experienced university teams in the first two rounds in the preliminary on the first day of the tournament. It did not really matter anyway, they conquered both rounds on that first day and we went home in the evening all beaming with pride. On the second day of the competition, however, my second team [the youngest ones] were surprisingly teamed up with the defending champion university level from Mahidol University of which debaters are had even won best speakers awards in the previous year. My debaters stood small compared to the giant debaters. I could see the fear on their faces; but an encouraging smile from me never failed to boast their confidence and as they took the floor, they we’re very impressive that even the opponents addressed them as the best high school debaters. They lost the third round, but it was a good debate. Thus my team earned very high margins for that round.

During the break night party on the second day of the competition, we were all tensed waiting for the announcement of the results. My senior team did not break in but the junior team [the one that debated against Mahidol university] broke in really well that they finished 13th place out of 70 participating teams and broke in 3rd of all octo-finalists for high school level.

On our way back to our guest house on that second night, we were very happy and were looking forward for the third day, the octofinals. We were all consumed by excitement. My senior debaters were so darling to stay by the side of their junior debaters to help them prepare and anticipate any possible motion for the breaking round as well as give emotional support.

In the octo-final round, my debaters displayed their unquestionable skills in debating when the motion was given only 30 minutes before the round, “This house would make sex offenders choose castration as a punishment”. My team ended as government side and they had a pretty good model “a choice between castration or 5 years imprisonment plus 5 years house arrest”. They maneuvered the debate well and outsmarted the opponents in many areas. However, my team surprisingly lost the debate. Everyone in the room was shocked when the result came “the opposition won”. Even the opposition could not believe what they were hearing. And my debaters, while looking on the adjudication sheets studying the results, asked me with questions that I could not answer such as “how could the opposition third speaker, the whip, get higher score than our whip, when he totally messed up his speech and could not handle our points of information?”

The result was disheartening. My debaters went to a toilet and cried for a long time. As young as they are, not used to losing, they were completely broken hearted.

Things at times do not come up as we want them to no matter how hard we work”. This was the morale that I had to teach on that situation. “There are reasons that we don’t understand and may seem unfair but they are part of the game. It is how we handle and accept them that make us the real victors” With a hug, I made it known to my debaters that they are the greatest debaters I’ve ever known. 

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