My knowledge of high school debating was just about zero before I watched a documentary on the subject the other day, "Resolved." It follows a couple of teams in local and national competition. You can find the review of it by going here.
We didn't have a debate team in my high school back in the Stone Age. Now I'm up to date on debating, I guess. And I'm not sure I like what I see.
What threw me is that some years back, debaters decided that the best way to cope with the restrictions of time limits in the format was to talk really, really fast. Remember the guy from the Federal Express commercial some years ago? Today's debates sound like that. Early in the movie, I recall that today's debaters speak at something like 400 words per minute.
At that speed, you can more or less hear what's being said. But it is certainly difficult to understand the material, in the sense of thinking about the reasoning and coming to a conclusion about the validity of the arguments. I don't know how the judges figure out who the heck won. As a result, nobody comes to watch debates any more.
The story about the kids were pretty interesting. Some fit the stereotype of those who usually are in the debating team -- in other words, nerds. But they all work hard and have plenty of intelligence. It's fun just to listen to them answer questions ... albeit at normal speed.
But once the actual debating starts, my head started to hurt. Whowantstolistentodialoguelikethat? Thisisavaluableskill?
All you kids out there, here's some free advice: Stick to the school newspaper. At least people will understand you -- assuming you are paying attention in English class.