SPOTSWOD, NJ - Memorial Middle School students got a lesson in the art of debate on Friday as the school's Debate Club took center stage in an afternoon assembly. The topic for the final debate of the 2018-19 school year was whether or not students who fail two or more core classes should be retained. Retention has been a hot-button topic of debate for years among teachers, parents and administrators. Using research the students conducted on their own, members of the Memorial Debate Club presented argurments for and against retention in front of their teachers, classmates and invited parents.
Memorial Middle School Social Studies teacher Rod Hosford began using debate in his popular History Club last year. Hosford continued the element this year, but in the future he and co-advisor, Memorial Science teacher Danielle Vorbe plan on separating the clubs. This year was Vorbe's first with the club.
"There are different categories of topics," Hosford and Vorbe explained. "We generally view a topic as a global topic, a local topic or a school-specific topic. Some of the ideas come directly from the students, especially the school-specific ones. Some come from other debate topics that we search on the internet and some come from the English Speaking Union Middle School Debate League. They chronicle the previous debate topic of past tournaments."
The Debate Club is comprised of 14 sixth, seventh and eighth graders, including Matthew Millroy, Miriam Nell, Brandon Rivera, Diya Patel, Sabrina Rodriquez, Robert Sands, Jessica Faltas, Eric Alongi, Samuel Nell, Cyanne Chan, James Reilly, Corey Miller, Matthew Olejarczyk and Tabitha Devlin.
The group tackled some weighty issues in their Thursday afternoon debates this academic year that touched on controversial subjects such as the death penalty, banning animal testing and whether or not NCAA athletes should be paid. Students researched their arguments at the club each week before debating their agruments. The club spent the last two weeks preparing for the final debate which focused on retaining middle school students who had failed to pass two or more core subjects. Speakers for either side of the issue are chosen by Hosford and Vorbe. The students do not necessarily favor the side they are speaking for.
Chan, Patel, Miller and Sands spoke on behalf of the proposition on Friday while Millroy, Faltas, Miriam Nell and Samuel Nell spoke for the opposition. The proposition started the debate with Chan presenting the argument for retention while Millroy followed with the opposition's opening points. Patel gave a well-thought out and presented argument in favor of retention before Faltas and Miriam Nelll took the podium back to back to refute her argument. Miller closed out the debate with his argument for the proposition, addressing key points brought up by Faltas and Nell.
Hosford and Memorial Middle School Principal Brian Kitchin concluded the event with an explanation to the audience on the art and structure of debating. Kitchin noted that he hoped the debate on retention had sparked the thoughts of the students sitting in the bleachers.
"There are myriad skills I hope they develop," Hosford said when asked what he hopes the Debate Club participants take away from the activity.
"Speaking clearly in front of people, having confidence in weighing controversial topics, developing research skills, learning how to create and refute arguments, learning how to identify faulty reasoning or fallacious arguments, becoming more curious about how the world works, learning how to listen critically," Hosford continued touching on the key skills addressed from debate. "There are so many things that I hope they get from debate and that I have witnessed them getting from debate. I cannot think of a single negative aspect of using debate to help develop critical thinkers and responsible citizens."
"I would like to add that Ms. Vorbe has been a tremendous addition," Hosford said. "It is great to have multiple teachers involved in the club in order to bring additional perspectives and help meet all the kids' concerns. The more teachers we can get involved with using debate as a teaching tool, the better."