April 11, 2008

That's Debatable

Friday marked the debut of the high school's English-language debate team. I assembled this ad hoc group of six about a month ago and circled a few dates on the calendar for competitions against students from other high schools where volunteers have mustered a team.

In preparing them, I reached back into my own rather extensive debating experience and guided the students through the at-times Byzantine rules of debate, occasionally peppering the instruction with funny stories and specific situations they might expect to encounter themselves.

Wait, I didn't do any of that. I didn't do any of that because I've never debated in my life.

You know that saying about the blind leading the blind? Well, what if the blind are under the impression that one among them can actually see? That's got to boost their confidence.

Now, I explained to the kids that I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of a debating team. But I came to all our meetings armed with information regarding strategy and rules, and lots of practice topics and exercises (courtesy of another volunteer, the Mr. Miyagi to my own Ralph Macchio karate-impaired kid). So I've spent the last few weeks fielding every conceivable question about debate, answering those I could and delaying those I couldn't until I could look them up.

After taking what could charitably be called a laizez-faire attitude towards researching their topics, the students spent the better part of this week in somewhat of a panic, pulling it all together. But, really, they did a fantastic job lining up their arguments and were eager to partake in several run-throughs, with me playing the part of the other team.

Wednesday night Jillian and I had the six of them over for dinner. The fare was Mexican and, hilariously, the students had no idea what to do with the tortillas and ingredients. After a demonstration in which I layered the goods and Jillian, well, did the hard part, rolling the taco up into commercial-worthy shape, the kids jumped in and really enjoyed themselves. Above all, it was an opportunity for us all to talk about Macedonia, America, our impressions, and their plans. This is a truly impressive group of students with excellent command of English.

So Friday came and everything went extremely well. All three schools came to the debate prepared for the three topics at hand: Is the death penalty justifiable? Should drivers be allowed to use their cell phones? Should sex education be taught in public schools?

After spending a good amount of time ensuring that my kids simply understood the procedures of a debate, I was more than delighted to see them not just handle the format, but use it to their advantage. On more than one occasion I was stunned at the quality of their off-the-cuff rebuttals. They had done their research and were able to synthesize that with what they were hearing from the other team to produce really quality responses.

Terribly nervous before the debates, the students were (rightfully) very proud of themselves for their effort afterwards. And already asking about the next competition...

One of my teams in action on their way to victory

My other team, also victorious

2 comments:

Hotel Concierge:: said...

wow, you are teachers! The really cool wonderful kind! How great to be able to put all of your training and desire into action. Exposing your students to debate and real wordly topics. Sharing your home and culture. Exposing them to new foods! It must be exciting!

-Mikii

Beth said...

What a great post and blog. I just found you when I searched for Macedonia Peace Corps blogs because my daughter just got her assignment. She will be heading over there in September.