Featured: Debate Club

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Debate’s probably one of the most overlooked CCAs in ACSI. It’s certainly less publicised than YDS. As a result, there are probably a lot of misconceptions about what AC Debate is and what exactly it can do for you. This article’s here to clear that up.

Debate, at least in the context of the Singaporean national circuit, consists of 3 speeches (6 minutes each for the secondary side and 8 minutes each for the IB side) and 1 reply speech.

These speeches are given by 3 speakers, who, in turn, are part of a 5 member team. Debates can be prepared or impromptu. In the latter case, teams are given a fixed amount of time (usually an hour) to prepare a case.

Debate is not public speaking. A 71 year old baboon with more lawsuits than brain cells can
speak publicly, provided he can wrap his tiny fingers around the cue cards. Sure, part of debate is the ability to deliver the material confidently and engagingly (even if the material is complete rubbish). But it’s so much more than that — it’s about figuring out what the core principle of your team’s case and sticking to it. It’s about understanding the nuances of the context you’re debating in — be it suburban New York or rural South East Asia. It’s about enumerating myriad of opposition cases and launching pre-emptive strikes from the very first speaker.

Debate is, therefore, beneficial. It helps to develop understanding of principles — how do we weigh up competing principles of national security and privacy? It helps with critical thinking. Most of all, it develops self-awareness by showing you how your beliefs aren’t necessarily universal truths, even if they may be accepted by the people you talk to.

Debate is not just for lawyers. It really isn’t. I, for example, want to be a computer engineer. The debaters in my batch want to become doctors or bankers or researchers. To all those aspiring lawyers: yes, debate helps you in your future career, but not in the way you might think.

Debate helps you by fundamentally changing the way you consider issues and viewpoints, and develop your own opinions. It makes you more open minded to new ideas, and helps you sniff out false promises. It gives you insight into why people prioritise certain things over others and lets you understand the whole picture, and then choose for yourself what you believe in. As a researcher, this means having greater understanding of the ethical nature of your experiments. As a computer engineer, it means understanding both the value of start up culture and large tech conglomerates in the larger tech industry. These aren’t career specific benefits, this is something you’ll subconsciously apply in every aspect of your daily life — including, but not limited to, your future career.

Debate’s not purely a dry, academic exercise. More than anything, it’s about family. Our
coaches have all been seniors or alumni that were once in AC Debate. The debaters I train and compete with today are the same debaters I trained and competed with when I was in Primary 5. Naturally, when you work so closely with someone for such a long period of time, you develop this understanding that’s hard to express. The best way to describe it is that we’re on the same wavelength — when given an assignment or a project or a debate motion, before a word has been spoken, we’re all already on the same page. These are the people who I know I can trust with my life, who I know will always have my back. It really is a “brotherhood”.

Debate is such a wonderfully complex and enriching activity, and nothing I can say will truly encapsulate just how amazing it has been. I can only tell you that our team lost in the finals of a 3 month long national competition, and it was one of the very worst experiences of my life. But I’d rather go through that a thousand times over than not have experienced debate at all.

Written by Michael Lee

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