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Monday, October 21, 2019

Competitions #1 - Debate for England

In the first of an occasional series on debating competitions, we have a guest post from Izzy Fidderman of Debate England. In it, she explains how you can apply to debate for England. She also has details of an intensive training camp run by Debate England.

Applications to trial for the England Schools Debating Team are now open! The top five students across England will be selected to represent their country at the World Schools Debating Championships, which are being held in Mexico in July 2020. The chance to represent your country on the international stage is a once in a lifetime opportunity. If selected, students will receive world class coaching throughout the year delivered by some of the best coaches in the world, as well as the chance to travel to Mexico for the ten day tournament to compete as Team England. 

If you would like to apply to trial for the England Debating Team please fill in this link. We welcome applications from students aged 14-18 attending school in England (UK citizenship is not essential). Those invited to trial will have to attend a full day of debating trials in central London on 23rd of November, and must keep the 24th free too in case they make it through to day two.

There is also an opportunity to experience intensive training in the World Schools format in the World Schools Boot Camp, which runs this year on 16th and 17th November in Central London. 

World Schools Boot Camp was set up in 2016 as a debating training camp tailored uniquely to the World Schools Format. It follows a training program written and developed by Will Cook and Kenza Wilks (both ex-members of Team England, both world champions at the World Schools Debating Championships, and both individually ranked best speaker in the world in 2014 and 2017 respectively), and employs only the top coaches, all of whom have extensive experience in the World Schools format. Since 2016 the camp has grown and we now operate in London and Bermuda. 

Debaters of all experience levels are welcome to the Boot Camp: we will run a minimum of four streams, catering to all levels of experience. Classes will be small groups of 6-10 students. Each day will include small group sessions working on specific aspects of debate, with a particular focus on the World Schools style; lectures on areas of current affairs relevant to debating; and practice debates.

Registration for the camp is now open, and the link to register can be found here:  
The form should take about 10-15 minutes to complete and should be completed by the student with help from their parents when necessary.

The cost of registering is £250 per student: this includes breakfast and lunch on both days, all coaching costs and camp materials (such as an exercise book/pens). However, we are committed to providing financial assistance to all students who may require it, so we have a number of bursaries available that will be allocated on a means tested basis. If you would like to apply for a bursary please indicate so on your registration form. 

Registration will close on the 1st of November, but we would recommend applying early as we will be offering places on a first come, first served basis. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

Tricks of the Trade #1 - anaphora, antithesis and argumentum ad populum

‘Rhetoric’ is a Greek word, meaning the art of persuasion. It’s not surprising that it’s a Greek word, as rhetoric was big in Ancient Greece. Rhetoric is an important part of democracy, which the Greeks invented (democracy is also a Greek word - it means ‘rule by the people’) as democracy, like debating, involves different ideas competing, supporters of each trying to persuade people to agree with them. 

Some people think that the Ancient Greeks sat around in the sunshine debating the issues of the day in a calm, rational manner, listening carefully to each other and nodding their heads appreciatively at a particularly well made point, pausing in their discussions only to chew an olive or sip some ouzo. It wasn’t like that. 

Thousands of men (I’m afraid they were all men - and slaves weren’t allowed either) would gather on a hill in Athens called the Pnyx for regular assemblies to discuss the business of the city. Supporters of different policies would put their point of view, but they had to fight to be heard. Interruptions, barracking and personal abuse were all routine. If you’ve ever watched the House of Commons and been shocked by how badly behaved MPs are compared to the models of discipline and decorum that are your lessons, well, Parliament is like a Year Seven class on the first day in September with the strictest teacher in the school compared to the Ancient Greeks. You had to be loud, confident, entertaining and wily to get people just to listen to you, never mind agree with you. And it wasn’t only the assemblies; the courts were like that too. The Ancient Greeks were very litigious (that is, they liked suing each other a lot) and the average citizen went to court half a dozen times in his life. But unlike in our system, juries did not consist of twelve people sitting quietly in a box listening to the evidence; they ran to the hundreds, and they didn’t hold back in letting the litigants know what they thought of them. 

So, rhetoric in Ancient Greece was big, and it became big business. There was a whole class of people called sophists, who made a very good living teaching citizens the tricks of the trade of rhetoric; how to use language to persuade. 

Persuading is what debating is all about. The trade of rhetoric is the trade of debaters. In this series of posts, we’re going to be learning some of the tricks of that trade. It’s useful to know them, as deploying them in the right way will help make your speeches more persuasive. They all have Greek words to describe them, which you can drop in if you want to impress your English or Classics teacher. I’ll also give them descriptions in English for clarity. There are lots, so I'll post them two or three at a time.

Anaphora (varied repetition)
Repeating the same phrase at the beginning of several phrases, sentences or paragraphs. Probably the most famous example is Martin Luther King’s speech in favour of equal rights for African Americans in Washington in 1963 in which he begins successive sentences with the phrase ‘I have a dream … I have a dream …’, fixing in his listeners’ minds his vision of a better America. (It has become known as the ‘I have a dream’ speech.) In a speech on the motion, ‘This house would make the use of homophobic language illegal’ you might begin several sentences with ‘Gay people walk in fear because …’, each time giving a different example of homophobic violence.

Antithesis (balanced contrast)
Comparing one thing with another in balanced clauses. In debating, you would normally use this to compare what you are advocating with what your opponents are advocating, making it clear by the comparison that your version is better. E.g. in the debate on making homophobic speech illegal, ‘Do we want a world in which gay people walk in fear, or a world in which they walk in freedom?’

Argumentum ad populum (appeal to the people; actually a Latin phrase).
A direct appeal to the audience. A good way to make an emotional connection with your listeners. It can be in the form of a question (‘Is there anyone in this room who would keep silent when they heard a gay person being abused?’) or a statement (‘I know that no one in this room would keep silent when they heard a gay person being abused.) Can be a high risk strategy if the audience is not on your side; they might not give you the answer you want.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Guest Post #2 - Should the West pay reparations for slavery?

This week we have a guest post from a Year 8 student at Godolphin and Latymer School, Antara Martins, about a recent debate she attended held by Intelligence Squared
Intelligence Squared present an exciting programme of public debates featuring high profile speakers. They also run debating workshops for students. Both are highly recommended! 

I recently attended a debate held by Intelligence Squared with the motion ‘The West should pay reparations for slavery'. It was a topic that provoked heated and passionate debate on both sides.

The speakers for the motion were: Kehinde Andrews, Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University and Esther Stanford-Xosei, a reparations activist and co-vice chair of the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe. Opposing the motion were Katharine Birbalsingh, Headmistress and co-founder of Michaela Community School in London and Tony Sewell, Educational consultant and CEO of the charity Generating Genius, which helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to study science and technology at top universities. What I found most interesting was the fact that all debaters for and against the motion were descendants of slaves. 

The proposition stated that almost 12 million Africans were enslaved during the transatlantic slave trade and suffered inhumane cruelty; yet the only people to be compensated when slavery was abolished were slave owners and traders. The government’s justification was that slave owners had lost their business and it was only right to make up their lost earnings. In addition, until four years ago, British taxpayers were still paying off government pledged debt in 1833 of £20 million (40% of its national budget) in order to reimburse the owners of slaves when slavery was abolished. The sum was monstrous in 1833, equivalent to £17 billion today and it took the British taxpayer 182 years to pay off.

Another point put forward by the proposition was that the UK and US gained much out of slavery.  The Industrial Revolution would not have been possible without the wealth generated by slave labour. Britain’s major ports, cities and canals were built on invested slave money. Several banks can trace their origins to the financing of the slave trade. In the US even the Capitol and The White House were built by slaves. Capitalism itself is born out of slavery.

To conclude, the proposition emphasised that the repercussions of the slave trade remain even over a hundred years after its abolition. The lack of compensation paid to slaves and the philosophy of the Enlightenment thinkers who put whites at the top and blacks at the bottom of society created economic disparity, racism, discrimination and limited access to education and jobs for descendants of slaves. 

The opposition’s Tony Sewell wanted to take a more positive approach by citing that Africa is a strong and growing economy and the African people should not rely on handouts from the West to make them succeed; instead the West should make investments in Africa that can further improve the economy. They gave the example of how China invested in Africa. This was very well rebutted by the proposition speaker Kehinde Andrews, who mentioned that investing does more good for the Chinese people than the African people. 

Katherine Birbalsingh questioned the practicality of the motion stating that it would be impractical to pay reparations. It would be impossibly complicated to calculate the exact amount of compensation, or to work out to whom the compensation is owed, and in what proportion. Once again, the proposition quickly pointed out that if it was possible to calculate what we owed to the slave owners then surely it would be possible to do so for the slaves who worked without payment. 

The opposition’s closing argument stated that these slaves are no longer with us and slavery was an event that occurred over a hundred years ago. Whilst they were in agreement that slavery was cruel and brutal, they suggested that instead of focusing on the past, we could take steps to prevent it in the future and also tackle racism in the present day. The proposition  quoted Malcolm X in response:  “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, that's not progress. If you pull it all the way out that's not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. " 

The proposition won by a small margin. It has been 154 years since slavery was abolished; yet still the wounds run deep. I am surprised by the lack of dialogue on this subject, and by the fact that people who are happy to inherit their ancestors' land and property do not want to know how it was acquired.