Debate program undergoes change

Andreea Sabau, News Editor

Juniors Prajnaa Jain (left) and Josh Yang debate during their Lincoln-Douglas and Public Forum Debate class. The course is set to be replaced by a new class on Congressional Debate, another form of competition. Photo Illustration by Richard Chu

Critical thinking and sifting through research are just a few valuable skills learned in debate class. But as student interest in Lincoln-Douglas and Public Forum Debate at Glenbrook North began to decline, debate teacher Michael Greenstein felt that something needed to be done to reinvigorate the program and retain these skills.

“Given the idea that the term ‘fake news’ has become so popular and commonplace, I think debate naturally brings with it an element of media literacy where you learn the skills to recognize bias, … and that’s something that now, more than ever, is incredibly important,” said Greenstein. “I think no matter what type of debate someone’s doing, if they work at it, they’re going to gain all those skills.”

Coaxed by a shift in student interest, Greenstein created a new class to enter GBN’s debate program: Honors Debate Seminar/Congress, also known as the Congressional Debate class. It is set to replace Honors Debate Seminar/LD, also known as the Lincoln-Douglas and Public Forum Debate class. Although current freshman in debate can only choose between Policy or Congressional Debate for next year, one Lincoln-Douglas and Public Forum Debate class will be offered next year for those currently in the class.

Both classes teach different types of debate, each with their own rules and procedures. According to the National Speech & Debate Association, Congressional Debate is a simulation of the U.S. legislative process where students write bills and resolutions to be debated. In comparison, Lincoln-Douglas Debate is centered around philosophical, one-on-one debate, and Public Forum debaters work in pairs to either support or refute the claim in a topic that changes monthly.

According to Greenstein, an important benefit of Congressional Debate is that it allows more students to attend tournaments. Lincoln-Douglas Debate tournaments are usually capped at four students, whereas Congressional Debate tournaments can accept up to 44 students. In addition, teaching a Congressional Debate class can be approached in many different and creative ways.

“You could do a traditional Congress, where every student writes a bill and you debate pieces of legislation, or you could make it more specific [and say], … ‘Let’s take out the GBN student handbook,’” said Greenstein. “‘Let’s propose changes to the student code.’”

Greenstein said he piloted Congressional Debate this year by giving all debate students the opportunity to participate in three Congress tournaments, after which several students expressed interest in continuing with this type of debate.

According to Scott Williams, instructional supervisor for social studies, another reason for the upcoming elimination of the Lincoln-Douglas and Public Forum Debate class was a shortage of certified debate teachers. He believes Congressional Debate is a more “social studies teacher-friendly class.”

Senior Esther Kim, who has competed in Lincoln-Douglas Debate for three years, said she was only able to attend one Lincoln-Douglas tournament this year because not enough students had signed up for previous tournaments, so they got cancelled. She hopes Congressional Debate will gain popularity and avoid Lincoln-Douglas’s “negative stigma of being a lesser debate [than Policy].”

“I feel like if there were more tournaments to go to, the attitude would change,” Kim said.

Tara Tate, assistant debate coach at Glenbrook South, said in a phone interview that Congressional Debate has been an “anchor in their debate program” for many years. During an average class, students receive an independent research assignment based on topics given a month before tournaments. Then, they rehearse their speeches as part of their practice for competition.

“The tournaments tend to be a little bit shorter in length, and the amount of research is not quite as intense.

“It is a popular event [at GBS] because it allows for students to balance being on the debate team with their other activities,” Tate said.

Sophomore Masha Kozlova said she took the Lincoln-Douglas and Public Forum Debate class last semester, but she dropped it because she believed nobody “poured any effort into it.” Although she is not sure whether she has room in her schedule to take Congressional Debate next year, she enjoyed competing in it this year because she enjoys public speaking, which is a major component of the class.

According to Greenstein, he believes the skills students will learn in the Congressional Debate class, such as learning about the way laws are made, will be a “good supplement” for the rest of their education at GBN because they complement the new Civics class.

“You can say something like, … ‘Let’s go back in time and pretend this is the Constitutional Convention,’” said Greenstein. “‘We’re debating our Constitution. What should it actually be like?’ … I think there’s a lot of neat opportunity for students to approach [Congressional Debate] as they want to.”