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Let’s debate that

Interesting op-ed from the weekend by Barbara Radnofsky.

Now, in many urban high schools and particularly in Houston, policy debate is gone. Private and suburban public high schools are still actively involved in debate, but predominantly low-income minority students lack the opportunity.

Houston needs an Urban Debate League to bring competitive debate back to the inner city, and to involve minority and low income students. By public-private participation, we can also aid both sides in the HISD bond controversy and litigation.

Urban Debate League (UDL) structures partnerships between the urban public school district and a private partner, a local not-for-profit organization (the UDL Advisory Board) composed of civic-minded leaders in business, law, academia, government and the nonprofit community.

Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Kansas City and Baltimore all have successful Urban Debate Leagues. Now, Dallas has stepped forward.

The programs succeed. Here’s the evidence from the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues: UDLs increase literacy scores by 25 percent, improve grade-point averages by 8 percent to 10 percent, achieve high school graduation rates of nearly 100 percent and produce college matriculation rates of 71 percent to 91 percent.

We are University of Houston debater alumni seeking resurrection of urban policy debate programs in Houston.

We’ve pledged our service in Houston’s UDL Advisory Board if the NAUDL will sanction a League. We call on Houstonians to contact NAUDL (312-427-0175, [email protected] and to join us.

Also noted here; the idea got some good feedback in today’s letters to the editor. This is more call-to-arms than ten-point-plan, so it’s not clear how this would be done, but that’s not important right now. For right now, this strikes me as a fine idea, one on which I hope there will be some follow through. I hope something will come of it.

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  1. My question is this — why policy debate in particular (e.g., cross-examination debate)? Why not value debate, such as Lincoln-Douglas debate?

    Policy debate in Texas seems to be a dying breed primarily because of the style of debate promoted by the few coaches and judges who eschew the idea of debate as a laboratory for the real world. In Texas in particular, policy debate features a very quick speaking style that rivals the spokesman from the Micro Machines commercials from the late 80’s and early 90’s. For most people, the debaters speak so quickly that the speeches are unintelligible.

    Value debate, on the other hand, has maintained a very accessible and conversational style. The one downside is that it tends to be a more philosophical type of debate instead of dealing with more contemporary issues.

    The ultimate solution could come from two angles — either reform Texas style policy debate or move to parliamentary debate. Parliamentary debate integrates the speaking style of value debate while retaining the policy issues of policy debate.

    I seriously doubt, however, that coaches or old school judges will budge on the issue of speed speaking in policy rounds — of all high school speech events, policy debate tends to be one of the events that most frequently rejects fundamental change.

  2. Michael Hurta says:


    I think you are wrong about the state’s progression of value debate. As someone who just finished a career of middle school and high school debating WITH Lincoln-Douglas debating, I am sad to report that LD has become more and more influenced by the impractical evolution of policy debate. While LD currently offers a more conversation oriented debate, it has been influenced by the idea to get as many points as possible on the table, and to refute every single one of your opponent’s points.

    In truth, I think both policy and value debate, theoretically, are useful. The question is how they are implemented. If both can emphasize oratorical skill combined with analysis, then I think both would be great.

    On another note, I thought I would note that I smiled when seeing a letter to the editor from Jim Henley. He started talking about bringing debate to inner city schools when he retired from teaching at Lanier.