In Depth

Lean Mean Debate Machine

By Prithi Swinivasan


When one hears the phrase “debate team,” the first thing that usually comes to mind is a group of high schoolers wearing suits and ties, carrying briefcases, devoid of all emotion except the motivation to out-argue their opponent. Speech and Debate at Pinewood, led by David “Bear” Saulet and Alexander “AJ” James of Club Parli, follows a very different model. 

   Rather than participating in debate tournaments with other schools, students learn the skills of argumentation, persuasion, and confidence through in-class debates. For each debate, students receive a topic and have twenty minutes to research and prepare an argument with their partner. After each team presents their argument, Saulet or James will review the arguments presented and offer feedback. 

   “The debates are informal, so we can practice the skills we learned without feeling like there is too much pressure,” said sophomore Peyton Chui. 

   Along with debates, students also participate in various games and activities that deal with different aspects of public speaking, from improvisation to recovering from mistakes. A debate is not necessarily the only way to practice crafting, supporting, and identifying a good argument, and games help students gain a sense of initiative and self-confidence.

   “We played a game based on [reality television show] Survivor, where we had to choose a historical figure to represent and argue as to why we would be a good candidate to be saved during a zombie apocalypse. Then we would look at everyone else’s argument and choose someone to ‘vote out’ and sacrifice to the zombies,” said Chui. 

   In addition to learning how to hold an argument, which albeit seems applicable enough in the lives of high school students, students learn information that can be applied to other aspects of school and life.

   “I was able to get through a Spanish presentation without being fazed by my mistakes, and [Speech and Debate] also helps keep me informed with current events and important themes in the world,” said Chui.

   Speech and Debate at Pinewood uses a new approach to teaching debate;  it opens argumentation to a new world, beyond suits and briefcases.