A New Debating Season
Photos, L-R: Georgi Petkov, Tom Millar, Toby Ford
November saw a new season of interschool debating kick off with the traditional first round of the ESU Mace, involving 6 (fairly) local schools. For this event we were still competing online. In the first contest of the evening, a very young team from Parkside Community College (Cambridge) proposed that all education policy should be set by education experts rather than politicians. All their speakers performed confidently, but they tended to repeat each other’s arguments. Their opponents, from The Perse School presented a more wide-ranging case and a better overview of the debate as a whole in their summary speech.
Our team of three Year 13 students had expected to face Herts & Essex in the third debate, but an administrative error and an extremely last-minute change to the schedule saw Tom Millar open the second debate, prosing a ban on the sale and consumption of meat, with Lister Academy from East London as the Opposition.
Tom very clearly laid out the terms of his case– a ban on the sale and human consumption of meat in the UK, to be introduced in 2040 after a process of education and incentivisation to encourage the change and allow time for adjustment – a consideration that the other side never really took on board. Tom focussed on the harm to animals caused by factory farming and questioned its morality, as well as explaining that the loss of freedom of choice would be outweighed by the importance of saving the planet.
Speaking second for TBSHS, Toby Ford reinforced this point before going on to consider the economic advantages of the motion, such as the land usage, reduction of bio waste and a vast reduction in global hunger. He also covered the benefits to human health, arguing that plant foodstuffs are considerably less likely to infect their consumers than meat, mentioning the resilience of a lettuce and making the inevitable reference to a certain former Prime Minister. The second Opposition speaker admitted that he was a vegetarian and then said that eating meat makes people healthier. This assertion and his argument about eating meat being part of certain religions were savaged by Georgi Petkov in a forceful summary speech that rounded off the debate.
The last motion, “This house would ban the use of digital manipulation in advertising, including social media ad content” was contested by two Cambridgeshire schools, Longsands Academy and St Mary’s School. Both sides put forward some good points but I felt that there was less engagement with each other’s arguments in this contest than in the other two debates.
After some well-balanced and mercifully concise general feedback, our ESU adjudicator announced that the teams going through to Round 2 would be The Perse, Longsands and TBSHS. Our speakers were rightly praised for well-structured speeches, the quality of response to their opponents and excellent teamwork. The students had worked hard in preparation and, while there are certainly some areas for improvement, this was a good all-round performance and the important objective of progressing in the competition was achieved.
Photos, L-R: Elliot Lavergne, James Drury, Barnaby Nicholson, Owen Cody
Our first British Parliamentary format competition of 2022-23 was hosted online by the London School of Economics and open to teams from Year 10 and below, sixty-four of whom logged on by 8:50 am for a full day of debating. I felt that the first motion “This House Opposes Proselytisation“ (defined for speakers as “converting or attempting to convert someone from one religion, belief, or opinion to another”) was a challenging one for younger students, especially so early in the day. Owen Cody, opening the debate in his room, argued that forcing views on people is likely to offend them and therefore prove counterproductive, as well as contributing to increased social anxiety, especially if practised in a public place. James Drury, making his interschool debut, opened with some effective rebuttal, refuting an Opposition assertion that Owen had exaggerated his case by mentioning death threats, before going on to back up his teammate with an example from his own experience. Both speakers engaged well with their opponents’ speeches – Owen produced a devastatingly effective Point of Information to which the final opposer had no answer. The team were awarded third place in a very closely-fought debate involving at least one overseas team. Barnaby Nicholson & Elliot Lavergne achieved the same result speaking first against the motion.
I was not able to observe the second round, where both our teams were unfortunately placed fourth in their respective rooms. Elliot & Barnaby spoke first in favour of parents teaching their children that friendship rather than romantic love should be the primary relationship in their lives. Meanwhile James & Owen had to close the case against the motion. The competition was by now running well behind schedule, so the lunch break was especially welcome, even more so as it proved to be the turning point in our teams’ fortunes.
Teams with similar results are drawn together, so it was no surprise that the two TBSHS pairs came up against each other to debate “This House Prefers a world where all works of fiction are published anonymously” in Round 3. Opening for the Opposition, Owen argued that the compulsory nature of the motion violates an author’s freedom of choice and could prevent members of minority groups from identifying with potentially positive role models. James once again offered some useful rebuttal to a speaker from Putney High School and pointed out potential problems with copyright. He was followed into the fray by Elliot who refuted this argument and extended the debate very well by introducing the idea that author anonymity means that readers have to judge their fiction by its innate quality rather than the writer’s reputation. He was able to back this up by reference to specific authors whose popularity increased when they used a pseudonym. Barnaby produced a well-structured summary speech, identifying key points of clash and pointing out that those close to an anonymously-published author would still be aware of their success, effectively countering a closing Opposition argument. There was, in my opinion, little to choose between our teams, and so it proved, with Barnaby & Elliot winning the debate and James & Owen a very close second.
Encouraged by these results, both pairs attacked the motion “This House Would ban all advertising of consumer goods and services” with renewed vigour, despite having to speak in the traditionally more demanding ‘bottom half’ of the debate in their respective rooms. Opposing the motion Elliot began with some sound rebuttal of the previous speaker’s reliance on ‘word of mouth’ recommendation in place of advertising. He went on to point out that the funding of most TV channels depends heavily on advertising revenue. Summarising the Opposition case, Barnaby correctly identified the key points of the debate as a whole and showed how his side’s arguments (especially Elliot’s) outweighed those of his opponents. Clear structure and prioritisation of arguments were evident in both TBSHS speeches and the team was rewarded with another first place, defeating 2 teams from City of London Girls School. Owen & James also fared well in this round, placing second in a room where all the other teams represented independent schools from Kent.
So the day turned out to be very much a ‘game of two halves’, with Barnaby & Elliot’s two victories boosting them to 23rd place out of 64 teams and James & Owen achieving a very respectable 40th place. It was very pleasing to note that all four students finished in the top half of the individual speaker standings. Many thanks to Miss Mays, who supervised them for several hours in the middle of the day and Ms Tokkallos, who also came along to support our teams.