Accidental Education

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Passionate about public speaking, communicating and taking naps. I also make really good brownies.

Most of the best things in my life have been accidents. My entrance into the speech and debate community was much the same: an accident. Young and naive eighth grade me took the time to peruse around the high school elective fair and my critical decision was fairly obvious: take Debate I, or AP Computer Science Principles.

About a week later, the choice was made for me, when the district withdrew my school’s imperative to teach AP Comp Sci Principles. In late August, I made my way into my speech and debate class, only to be greeted by the most eccentric woman I have ever seen. Leopard print pants, a zebra print shirt, a kimono and a Chinese rice farmer hat to top it all off.

I would have quit right then if the door wasn’t adorned with a message: Veritas.

The first words Ms. Kovach spoke were simple. “In this room, you will search for the truth. You will educate and be educated. You will use that truth and that education to better the world.”

It seemed like a rather tall order for fourteen-year-old me, but at seven in the morning, I didn’t have much of a choice so I went with it.

FOUR YEARS LATER

Going with the flow turned into the past four years of my life. In speech and debate, I found a literal world of people. From friends in China to my own teammates, the community of speech and debate is one that is not only overtly accepting, but also overtly encouraging. Every event students do is geared toward providing some kind of education: cultural, political and moral. It’s in debate that most people I know have found the joy of educating and being educated, even though many revel in missing school for the extracurricular.

When I first started out, it seemed to me as though acceptance into the true debate community, what I viewed as the “inner circle,” was conditioned: success was a prerequisite to making friends.

But after I embarrassed myself with an unmemorized speech, people still responded when I reached out. I realized acceptance wasn’t conditioned by success, but rather, the belief that you deserved to be accepted.

I suppose I’ve always been what they call “outgoing.” Social interaction has come easily to me, and it’s no different in the debate circuit. I’m now the girl who films vlogs at every travel tournament, sometimes involving complete strangers in my attempt to capture as many memories as I possibly could. Because, like any high school activity, debate is the amalgamation of little moments. It’s in these small moments that learning happens.

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Photo Credit: National Speech and Debate Association

HOW WE LEARN

Traditional debate rounds center around education and we spend a lot of time educating ourselves for the activity itself. This ranges from learning about a topic to finding policies that function to better the status quo.

The real education, however, comes from the exposure debate provides to the struggles of those we don’t know.

Debate forces conversation about the inequity in the world, especially that in school systems. Coming from a rather affluent school district, I’ve never had to deal with a lack of funds given to my activity. I learned through the debate over allowing internet access in extemporaneous speaking that the traditional preparation method known as “filing” wasn’t feasible for everyone. Filing is storing articles in an offline database so that speakers have sources to reference during the thirty minutes given to research. What I never considered though, was the cost of the software needed to file articles.

It’s these inequities that debate exposes.

The seemingly little things that inherently disadvantage students from finding their education.