Seventh Time Lucky For TBSHS Debaters

Date published: Thu 18 Mar 2021   Author: HLH/ADF   Category: News   Share: Share on facebookShare on TwitterShare on MySpaceShare by Email

Seventh Time Lucky For TBSHS Debaters

The school had reached the Eastern Region Final every year from 2015 onwards, without managing to progress beyond this stage, despite some very near misses. Would the change to online debating make a difference? Having known for over three weeks that they would have the tricky task of proposing that “This House Would Embrace Emotion In Public Discourse Over Dispassionate Objectivity”, our team had prepared their case very thoroughly. On the day, they found out that their debate would be the first, rather than the third, of the evening.

Undaunted, Finn Lihoreau opened proceedings with an unashamedly passionate and very well-constructed speech, setting out the team’s case that while dispassionate objectivity has a very important role to play behind the scenes, emotion should be given pride of place in the public discourse, which he defined as “speeches, publications and other statements made in pursuit of the public good”. Finn explained that emotion is what separates us from machines and enables us to empathise with others, a vital component of public discourse. He pointed out that movements such as the abolition of slavery were driven by emotion and challenged the Opposition to name one great social cause rooted in dispassionate objectivity.   The first speaker for Chelmsford County High School responded with an erudite, well thought-out but perhaps rather dry speech heavily informed by psychology and neuroscience, in which she argued that emotion clouds one’s judgement and causes discourse to degenerate into ‘ad hominem’ reasoning and even shouting. In contrast, she said, dispassionate objectivity allows one to make clear-sighted decisions without being manipulated by emotion.

Finn Lihoreau

Speaking second for TBSHS, William Worthy reminded the Opposition that the motion referred to “This House” and said that he was sure that the discourse of members of the audience would not descend into a shouting match. He informed us that he would consider the dangers of dispassionate objectivity, first pointing out that statistics, usually seen as providing impersonal and accurate information, can be used to manipulate just as much as emotional statements. He went on to argue that the language of dispassionate objectivity is the language of scientific research and big business and, as such, excludes many members of the public.  The next Opposition speaker’s address was similar to that of her teammate. She made much of the link between emotion and bias and cited the attack on the capitol by Trump supporters as an example of emotion in public discourse leading to unacceptable outcomes.

 William Worthy

After a small number of contributions from the audience, Chelmsford’s summary speaker refuted a number of points made in support of the motion, but was not able to answer the question that Finn had raised earlier and gave the impression that much of what she said had been prepared before the debate, In contrast, Elliot identified the main points of clash, dismissed the Capitol mob as a very small and extreme minority and gave the COVAX initiative of ensuring that all countries received vaccines as another reason to embrace emotion. He finished by, reminding the audience of his team’s belief that dispassionate objectivity has its place but that human emotion would dwindle if it did not prevail in public discourse.  

Elliot Wood

The second motion of the final, “This House regrets the glorification of the ‘genius’ narrative” was proposed by a team from Royal Hospital School Holbrook that included at least one member of the team who were regional champions last year. Their opening speaker focussed mainly on the TV programme “Child Genius” and the harm that he claimed it does to the mental health of those taking part. He was supported by an engaging performance from the second speaker who concentrated on the damage to the self-esteem of others who feel that they cannot measure up to fellow students who are awarded the ‘genius’ label. She also reminded the audience that this label tends to be attached to academic success rather than other talents. The team’s case was rounded off by a very well-structured summary speech that addressed the main themes of the debate well and effectively refuted some of the points made by the Opposition. This was provided by a team from St Benedict’s School, Bury St Edmunds, who chose to appear wearing black bow ties. They argued that, contrary to their opponents’ views, being seen as a genius was a good thing and could inspire others to aim for higher achievements.

Their second speaker pointed out that some geniuses came from disadvantaged backgrounds, from which the genius narrative had allowed them to break free. Their third speaker’s contribution was, however, more of a supporting speech than a summary of his side’s case.

The last debate featured a more familiar, but extremely topical, motion. Proposing “This House believes that national health decisions should be made by a panel of scientific experts rather than government”, the team from Colchester County High School produced a coherent and well-argued case. Their opening speaker explained that the panel would consist of members with a wide range of expertise, including such disciplines such as mental health and epidemiology and would be appointed rather than elected. She argued that the specialist knowledge and lack of political allegiance of the panel members would allow them to make better decisions, based on science rather than political dogma. The response from Queenswood School’s first speaker sounded rather over-prepared, but she did raise questions about the independence of a panel appointed by the government of the day and asked what would happen after a General Election where power was transferred to a different party. The second proposer countered this by drawing attention to the Supreme Court and describing it as the judicial equivalent of the proposed medical body. She spoke very persuasively, making good use of vocal variation, but was followed by some of the best rebuttal of arguments of the evening from the second Opposition speaker. After the floor debate, in which Will asked a perceptive question about the accountability of the panel members who could not be voted out in the same way as politicians, the final speakers from each side both summarised their own team’s arguments but could perhaps have done more to attack those of their opponents.

After a mercifully short interval the three ESU judges returned with their verdict on proceedings. They praised all the teams for their innovative arguments, the depth of their analysis and the clear structure of their speeches, but rightly remarked that time management had been an issue for most of the competitors. They also pointed out that a debate is not the same as a lecture or a discussion and that it was clear that some speakers were reading their contributions word for word. They then announced that had placed Colchester County High School second and the winners were TBSHS. In more detailed feedback afterwards they congratulated our team members for the way that their enthusiasm and passion had engaged the audience and for their excellent teamwork. They said that they had also been very impressed with the quality of responses to our opponents’ arguments.

Team Photo

Retired teacher and coach Tony Fraser commented, “This was one of the best Regional Finals I can remember. Many congratulations to our students, who worked very hard researching and practising in order to earn this well-deserved success and put everything into the delivery of their speeches. Special thanks to ‘squad member’ Tom Harding, who helped the team in preparation and to Year 11 students Toby Ford, Georgi Petkov and Rohan Rana, who gave up their time to ‘attend’ the competition.”

Mr Reeve added “This is a brilliant achievement for the three boys and for all those involved in Debating at TBSHS. Debating provides the perfect arena for young people to develop the confidence to speak publicly and encourages them to communicate in a clear, coherent way that will certainly impress future employers. Huge credit must go to Mr Fraser and the other staff who have supported our debating endeavours over the years.”