Guest Post: Debate! by Shawna Vertrees

Shawna Vertrees

So there we were, two English Education majors in the national tournament for the NEDA organization. Granted, we were in the novice round, which means our opponents had been debating for less then a year, but these were communications majors, political science majors, future lawyers and lobbyists. I imagined these students would be using glib tongues, in-class debates, and well-honed arguments the way we use thesis statements, essays, and critical research.

You might be wondering why we were even there. We are both enrolled in Comm. 220, and our teacher, Ms. Jenkins, gave us the option to forgo debating later in the semester for a weekend spent debating in this tournament. Considering that we would have to research and prepare for two more debates during the time of year when our most important papers would also be coming due, we opted to get this out of the way early and sacrificed our weekend to the NEDA tournament.

I had never debated academically before. I had done some impromptu speeches during high school, but that was ages ago. I am a non-traditional student and I’ve aged considerably since my high school career in the 90’s. The tournament lasted two days and we debated a total of nine times. In the end, we won first place in what is called “Novice Crossfire.” After the debate, as we were basking in the glow of our win, I mentioned how I thought English 230 was a class I was glad to be taking, as it required critical thinking and analysis that was easily applicable to the debate. It turns out that Kassie Markovich, my partner, was in another section of the same course and agreed that the skills we were learning in the class had given us an edge. In my estimation, the pressure to suss out what a critic is saying about a work and then apply this point as support for my essay’s thesis made me into a more articulate debater.

Another element of English 230 that I found extremely helpful is the idea of templates. I gather that these are not tools employed by every professor, however Dr. Collier has provided us with a book of templates to use as support for our essays in English 230. While they are by no means required, or even made the focus of a lesson, perusing and adapting them has made me a better writer. Because of this comfort with the adaptation and use of a literary template, I was able to understand advice from the debate coach, Ms. Jenkins, as templates for use in the debate. She advised that I begin each refutation of a point with, “Judge my opponents have said______.”  I cannot count how many times I would look the judge in the eye and say “Judge my opponents have said  _______ but the evidence says  ______.” Anyone who has had English 230 with Dr. Collier will recognize this as a variation on the formula for framing an argument with an opposing critical quote. I credit Dr. Collier’s templates and Ms. Jenkins advice for the other award I won at that tournament: I was the fifth best speaker out of 20 or so, despite the fact that I was unpolished and made numerous, blatant fumbles.

It was a great experience and I highly recommend both classes to students both in the English department, and in other disciplines. Seeing the application of critical thinking skills learned for writing in the realm of policy debating was really something. If you have a chance to do what Kassie and I did, I suggest you take it. And thanks again to the Ball State Debate Team for being so welcoming and helpful. Special thanks for Dr. Collier and Ms. Johnson for running some extremely useful classes. And of course, a great big huge thank you to my partner Kassie.

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