A gazillion years ago (when I was in high school) I was in the National Forensics League. My event was Dramatic Interpretation (DI) and I would double enter in Humorous Interpretation (HI). And I was pretty good. I went to nationals twice, once as a first place winner from my district and once as a first place winner from the state. I loved these competitions. I loved winning. I loved being good.
But one of my coaches insisted that I enter in debate as well. My first go around with it was humiliating. I walked into my first round and announced to the opposing team that they were going to win. My partner was furious. The result of that particular debate ended not so much with the other team wiping the floor with me, but rather with me slitting my own wrists with a dull knife and then them wiping the floor with me as I bled and watched, and begged for a quick and merciful end and yet, never quite died. And I didn't love that so I learned the mechanics and didn't embarrass myself again. It wasn't my event, but I learned to get through it. And I learned to enjoy it.
So anyway, Grace's 6th grade teacher asked if I would be willing to introduce debate to the class.
"Sure", says I, figuring this would be simple. I would introduce them to the basics, choose a subject that they could engage in and let them go at it. And here is what I can tell you now: Simple, it ain't.
Part of the trouble is that I talk and brevity is not my strength. This may have actually helped me in debating because you have to fill a lot of time and sometimes you just have to spin it out - but to teach a room full of 11 year olds, economy of words is what will win the day. For this, I own no trophies. The first few times I was there and we were doing the spar debates everyone seemed to have fun and get excited, but as I began getting into the subject of research, and building cases, what a cross examination question was, rebuttals, terminology - I saw eyes glaze over and children began writing on their arms with sharpie pens and erasers started to fly across the room.
So anyway, I don't know how to get them functional in debate without all this information. It seems they just want to spar - and that's a lot of fun. But research? Two weeks before graduation? Not too many takers.
So today, trying to engage the few who still have some interest while trying to keep those with roaming minds from roaming too far, I tried to give everyone a manageable assignment. In identifying the contentions of the case, I gave only one to each student to research on the Internet and told them to write a one paragraph argument. I'd be very happy with 5 complete sentences. And these kids are capable - but willing? That's another matter.
So my day ended with the following conversation with one very sweet, very earnest, but very distracted young boy:
Me: "So, what are you going to write?"
Me: "We've been talking about this, remember?"
Boy: "Oh, yeah. What am I going to do?"
"We talked about how you were going to write an argument about how playing video games can lead to isolation."
"Oh yeah. Okay."
"And you're going to do that, right?"
"And you're going to research this how?"
"On the Internet tonight."
"Oh yeah, on the Internet."
"Because we really need this tomorrow. Your team is counting on you. And I can count on you, right?"
"So you are going to do this tonight and bring it in tomorrow."
I kid you not. And I have to laugh, because the kid was just telling the truth.
So I think I can forget a career as a debate coach.