With the right kind of practice and training, anyone can debate like a pro. Just ask the inmates who formed a debate club after taking classes through a Bard College program and went on to beat Harvard’s national champion debate team in an exhibition round last month. With a bit of passion and creative argumentation, the Eastern correctional facility team put up strong arguments and convinced the judges to grant them victory.
Many news outlets are sharing the story as a feel-good example of underdogs overcoming the odds. But the outcome isn’t as surprising as you might think — and illustrates one of the most interesting aspects of formal debate: all that matters is the validity and persuasiveness of arguments made. And sometimes, a unique perspective on life can be a real asset in making empathic arguments and in understanding different perspectives on an issue. Indeed, one goal of the Bard program is to push folks to become “more empathic people” and “help students master arguments that they don’t necessarily agree with.”
Rather than requiring an extensive background in complicated philosophy or access to an enormous vocabulary as many think, success in debate relies primarily on one’s ability to think and speak clearly and concisely. That and a whole lot of practice. This is how a prison team can come to defeat some of the top ranked debaters in the country — by putting in the hours to understand the proposition and anticipate the other side.
There a lot of personal benefits to learning to think like this, such as better understanding your intellectual opponents, speaking more eloquently, and hey, maybe even defeating some Harvard big-shots. In the meantime, you can grab a bit of the glory by competing in Students For Liberty’s upcoming debate program which involves several rounds of tournaments and culminates in a live debate round at the ISFLC itself!
The grand prize for the winning team includes a free trip for each member to attend FreedomFest 2016 in Las Vegas, NV! And you’ll also be invited to this year’s Awards Dinner with special guest and master of eloquence, P.J. O’Rourke. Before the big day, we’ll cover the basics of formal debate as well as logical argumentation and presentation. Get involved today for a chance to be part of the inaugural SFL debate class all the excitement leading up to the final round in February!