Voices: Debating Debate

The Viewpoints on Debate and Why They’re Wrong

Lennox Tan
Lennox Tan

I’m in the hallways of school, talking with my friends, and I mention that I’m in debate.

“Oh, then you must be a great speaker.”

And while I don’t say it, in my mind I know that isn’t true.

In freshman year of high school I participated in a full year of policy debate, a style of debate that requires you to back all arguments with a specific citation.

And I couldn’t have been more disappointed.

The problem with policy debate is that with every argument you make, in order to win and do well, you need to back everything with a source. This essentially means that in the end, every point you make in a debate round is going to have some piece of evidence attached to it if you want to win. While this may sound reasonable, all debate really is at that point is just reiterating facts you found online.

It made me wonder: Is it really worth it to keep doing debate?

It was the summer between freshman and sophomore year when my opinions of debate would change entirely, and that was the parliamentary – not policy style – Yale summer debate camp of 2023.

In parliamentary debate, you’re given the topic 15 minutes before a round. This means that in club meets before a debate tournament, you aren’t spending the majority of time in silence, pre-researching articles. Instead, you’re working on team-building skills and impromptu speeches, exercises that help you improve your speaking and persuasive skills for upcoming tournaments. This is what I was looking for when I joined debate.

In the two weeks I did parliamentary style, I felt more connected with my team than I ever did in my year of policy.

Many people in numerous styles of debate have told me that they joined so it would look good in college applications. However, by debating in a method of debate like parliamentary, students can not only have fun, improve speaking skills, connect with others, but also write a much more meaningful experience on their applications.

If I’d debated in a parliamentary style debate for a year instead of policy, I wouldn’t feel guilty anymore for when my friends, family, or even others I barely know say that I’m a good speaker because of it.

So the next time you think about debate, think:What are you truly looking for?

This story was produced at ThreeSixty’s Op-Ed Workshop in fall 2023. Lennox worked with researcher Mike Malloy and and Star Tribune reporter Chloe Johnson to finish his story. Click here to read more stories from the workshop.