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My Morning with the Great Debaters

Danielle Kennedy

Danielle Kennedy is a member of the ExpandED Schools Junior Board. 

The New York Urban Debate League's mission is to promote civic awareness and engagement in every school. [Pictured: Volunteer judges at The Highbridge Green School in the Bronx.]


My soon-to-be husband has a far better memory than I do. 

My admission of "I've never seen a debate before" was answered with, "you watched every single primary debate this year." 

"I've never been to the Bronx before" was rejoined by, "Remember those two times we went to Yankee's Stadium to see games last year? Yeah, that's the Bronx." 

Not a great start to our morning as judges for the New York City Urban Debate League's Middle School Quality Initiative (MSQI) Debate Championship, which was held at The Highbridge Green School, an ExpandED school, a week ago Saturday. Luckily, neither lack of prior debate experience nor geographical-recognition abilities precluded me from volunteering. We arrived at the school bright and early, not really sure what to expect. During the 30-minute orientation, the organizers went over the rules of the competition and gave guidance on how to give appropriate feedback. 

Twenty-three schools were represented by 90 debaters, which is much less than any given Saturday (full tournaments average 350 student competitors). But this was the big time, the championships, and schools can only bring four students each.

Danielle Kennedy, ExpandED Schools Junior Board Member

In addition to a souvenir from the day, Junior Board member Danielle Kennedy took home a new-found appreciation for teaching debate in schools. 

The resolution for this day’s debate was: Does rap have a negative impact on youth? Each judge presided over two teams of two students, one side for the pro and one for the con. It was all very organized and every student knew the rules and followed them to the T. 

I was beyond impressed with the competitors. They were poised, they made strong eye contact AND they delivered well-prepared speeches, offering up decently reasoned arguments seemingly on the fly.

My favorite point of contention was between two young men during the crossfire round. The question was whether the clothing worn by hip hop artists, particularly Nicki Minaj (an apparent favorite of the ‘against’ team), was a clear example of self-expression that should be lauded for its creativity, or a bad example for young women that could be influenced by celebrities to dress more provocatively than what is considered appropriate for underage women. The conversation quickly turned into a debate on equality between the sexes which, while slightly off topic, still felt incredibly relevant and encouraging that these young men were so thoughtful on these issues.

At the end, only the top 22 teams and 33 individuals could take home awards (though they were all winners in my eyes!) However, the goal of the event was not to name winners or losers, but to support the students' drive to continue competing and to foster love of debate. 

And me? I got to go home with an excellent knowledge of rap, a newfound appreciation for an age-old tradition, and a pretty sweet mug. 


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