Speed Debating: The future of…eh?

It’s like the lovechild of a rapper and a policy wonk. No—no, it’s like the lovechild of a rapper and policy wonk got acne and joined Fight Club.

It’s “speed debating.” And I have not got the first clue why it exists.

But apparently in high schools across America, our young people are being taught that the way to win arguments is to regurgitate a string of facts so fast that no one can understand what you’re saying. Because if they can’t understand your argument, they can’t counter it effectively. You win. (I think.)

“In debate, you have eight minutes to get as nuanced and in-depth and rigorous as you can,” one young debater explains (slowly) in a television news segment posted on YouTube, “which requires a lot of research.” Yep, can’t argue with that.

These young people spend weeks preparing detailed files full of facts and figures. (I love it!) Because “you never know what the other team is going to argue.” Yep, that’s one of the great things about Debate Club.

But that’s about where we part ways with sanity (in my opinion) because, as the TV reporter explains, they try “to fit everything they’ve learned into the limited amount of time they have to talk.” And when they say “everything,” they do mean everything—speeding up their rate of speech from a normal person’s 6o words per minute to upwards of 350. Words. Per. Minute. What? “The whole point of speaking faster is to fit more arguments into your speech.”

No! No! Stop the madness! Persuasive argument is not about burying the opposition in facts. It’s about using those facts to tell a story. To engage the listener’s emotions and brains.

What kind of a world are their teachers preparing these young people for? A world in which opposing sides just talk at each other and never get anywhere. Oh, wait—I guess we’re there already. If Congresspeople spoke as quickly as these teenagers, they could avoid taking action on nearly six times as many bills.

Here’s the news story I’m citing in this piece. It’s six years old, but brand new to me, since the spousal unit told me about it yesterday afternoon. Listen at your own peril: I watched it twice and now I need to lie down.

  • politics
  • speeches
  • storytelling