Debating: Good Results in London Competitions
UCL & Imperial College Schools
This was our first ‘in person’ competition in nearly two years, requiring a very early start for the (masks on) Tube journey into Central London. Team numbers were also restricted, so TBSHS was only able to field two teams, but most of the ‘big names’ of English schools’ debating, including Westminster, Eton, South Hampstead HS and St Paul’s Girls were there.
In the first debate Luca Ollandini & Oliver Worthy (Year 11) were the only male speakers in their room. Speaking first against the motion, “This House Believes that deep sea exploration should be prioritised over space exploration”, Oliver argued that harvesting Helium3 from space would aid the development of nuclear fusion on Earth and space exploration would also give us a greater understanding or our own planet’s history. He was well supported by Luca, who pointed out that much of the deep sea had already been explored and that space offered a better solution to over-population of the Earth. In their first interschool competition for nearly a year, both students produced well-structured speeches and were awarded third place with the winning team from SPGS going on to finish in the top four overall. Meanwhile Donovan Wong & Georgi Petkov, opening for the motion, were also beaten by a team from SPGS, but gained a very creditable second place ahead of SHHS.
After lunch, both our teams were drawn in the traditionally harder ‘bottom half’ of their debates on removing the ban on animal testing for medical trials. Speaking third for the Opposition in a debate that revolved around the issue of whether humans are more important than animals, Georgi used the example of thalidomide to support his argument that tests on animals can often be a poor predictor of the results in humans, and predicted testing on artificially produced organs. In his summary speech, Donovan provided some effective rebuttal of some of the arguments for the motion and stressed the value of all forms of life on the planet. This proved to be a very strong room, with two of the other teams ending up in the top five and TBSHS had to be content with a fourth place. Unfortunately, Luca & Oliver, closing the case for motion, suffered the same fate.
The third motion was intriguing but probably the most demanding of the day – “This House Would nationalise all fictional works that portray national, political or historical events”, I was able to watch both our teams, as they were in the same room. While the first two teams concentrated mainly on the relative merits of reducing misinformation and the effects of censorship, Georgi brought a new dimension to the debate by arguing that under the motion the Government could support up and coming writers. In response Oliver pointed out that Government control of the areas mentioned in the motion could lead to history being rewritten by the winners and dealt very well with a point of information. Donovan identified the clash between the purposes of government and the purposes of the publishing trade as a key issue in the debate and proceeded to explain why the latter are more important. Finally Luca weighed up the relative dangers of inaccurate information and government bias before arguing that his side did more to dispel ignorance among readers. We were unable to receive any feedback from the judges but eventually found out that Donovan & Georgi won the debate, but unfortunately Luca & Oliver had (undeservedly in my opinion) been awarded another fourth place.
In the final standings Georgi & Donovan gained a very pleasing 16th place out of 32 teams. Oliver & Luca finished further down the table in what was a very high-quality field. Members of both teams clearly enjoyed the competition and made good use of the opportunity to interact face-to-face with students from other schools.
Imperial College Schools
What turned out to be our last online competition of the season involved a strong field of 80 teams, including most of the top debating schools in England, plus others from Wales and further afield. Five of our six speakers were based in school, with Henry Davis self-isolating and having to confer with his teammate Alex Banhidai by phone. The first motion was the reassuringly familiar “This House Would mandate voting”. In only his second interschool appearance, Tom Millar put up a strong case for the individual freedom to choose not to vote, dealing well with a question from his opponents, whose arguments he described as anti-democratic. Making good use of his reference material, interschool debutant Omar Ahmati produced a well-structured speech, asserting that people forced to vote would do so thoughtlessly and tend to back extremist parties. They were placed third in their room, as were Alex & Henry, also opening against the motion. Meanwhile Toby Ford & Rohan Rana, speaking second in favour of compulsory voting, made an excellent start, winning their debate against strong opponents, including Dulwich College.
In the second round, “This House Believes that governments should require that meat packaging include images that vividly and accurately reflect the experience of the animals slaughtered”, two TBSHS teams were drawn in the same room. Opening the debate, Tom stressed the importance of consumers being made aware how their food is prepared and Omar argued that implementing the motion would empower advocates of animal welfare. Closing for the Opposition, Henry made the point that many animals are killed humanely and said that it should be left to the individual to research their food choices. Alex produced some effective rebuttal and made a good job of summarising the case against the motion. Surprisingly he and Henry came fourth, with Omar & Tom third.
In a different room full of first-round winners, Rohan & Toby were also awarded fourth place.
After lunch, speakers had to debate whether sports clubs should be punished for the off-court behaviour of their fans. Opening the case against the motion, Rohan argued that fans are customers of the clubs and asked whether any business should be held responsible for what its individual customers do. He also pointed out that the vast majority of sports fans are law-abiding. Backing him up, Toby challenged his opponents to provide an example of sports clubs encouraging their fans to behave badly and described the racism they had mentioned as a “problem of society rather than sport” This good team performance earned them a second place Alex & Henry put their disappointing morning behind them with a very pleasing win, but Tom & Omar had to be content with a fourth place.
In the final round, this ‘novice’ team faced the demanding task of speaking second in support of the idea that “The rise of populist leaders has been good for politics”. As the obvious points had already been covered, Tom made the bold decision to argue that the rise of populist leaders had benefitted politics by exposing the limitations of populism, educating the electorate and spurring more moderate parties into action. He was well backed up by Omar, who challenged the Opposition to answer Tom’s points. Their reward was an encouraging second place. Even better news came when we heard that both of the other TBSHS teams had won in their rooms, bringing the day to an extremely satisfying conclusion.
These victories propelled Toby & Rohan to a very creditable 19th place overall, ahead of some of the teams from Eton, Westminster and St Paul’s, with Alex & Henry 32nd out of 80. Given their inexperience, Omar & Tom’s 63rd place finish was equally pleasing. All our speakers remained positive and cheerful all day and deserve congratulations for their organisation, resilience and readiness to act on the feedback they received.