I accompanied a group of 8 debaters from Clapton Girls’ Academy to the World Schools Debate Academy in mid-June. Now, while at Noisy Classroom we love all forms of debating, we might have a slight bias towards the Worlds Schools Format. Alice and Debbie both debated for England when they were at school and Debbie successfully coached the England team in 2008, when they won the World Championships. While at WSDA, I began thinking about the way that camps such as these help to broaden students’ minds.
What could be better than a whole week spent talking about, thinking about, and practising debating?! WSDA Slovenia brought together roughly 200 students this year, from England, Malaysia, India, Slovenia, Italy, Germany, Kazakhstan, Finland, Croatia and Canada – apologies if I have missed any countries out. It was a fantastic educational experience, with students getting coaching from some of the best debaters in the world, but it was also a brilliant forum for cultural exchange, as friendships that now span the globe formed in that short week.
The week combines classes, electives, practice debates and a competition. When not debating, there were a variety of socials and excursions on offer. Students went on biking and walking trips in the surrounding mountains and everyone also went on an afternoon’s coach trip to visit the beautiful Lake Bled. The final three days of WSDA Slovenia are a competition. This gives students a chance to show off what they have learned so far and gain some competitive experience in this format against some of the best teams in the world.
WSDA Slovenia certainly offers students a terrific opportunity to really hone their debating. However, I think that the opportunities for cultural exchange and discussion it offers are really what makes it such a special week.
At its best, the debating community can be a place where ideas are explored, challenged and (of course) debated. However, continually debating in the same domestic circuit inevitably means that your school runs up against the same schools, teams, and judges again and again. There is a real possibility that certain arguments and ideologies begin to dominate; because a successful team uses them and others seek to imitate their successes, or because a judge is well known to favour a certain kind of argument., etc. Now this isn’t an absolute rule and in the UK there are many different teams, formats, and judges so I don’t think there is an absolute cultural hegemony in our debating circuit. Nevertheless, there are certain values that almost everyone in the UK assumes are ‘absolute’ and ‘right’, e.g, Feminism, Democracy, and Free Speech. Often the most challenging debates are those that push you to defend and explain ideas that, to you at least, just feel instinctively ‘true’. As I so often tell students that I teach (much to their annoyance), good debating really boils down to following up every line of analysis by asking “ but why?”.
At WSDA, students can’t simply assume everyone thinks like them because they don’t. Students and judges come from across the world and as a result everyone approaches debates (and debating) very differently. In debates students have to really unpick ideas and explain the importance of base claims that they might otherwise assume everyone would agree with.
This isn’t exclusive to debating. I overheard countless conversations between students in breaks and lunchtimes. They compared their families, religious beliefs, political systems, school experiences, hobbies, love lives… you name it, they discussed it! I think it is so important for young people to broaden their thinking and start to challenge potential biases they may be developing. Spending a prolonged period of time with others from across the world allowed students to do this, almost unconsciously, as they made friends with each other.
If you’re interested in entering next year’s WSDA, you can find out more information here
If a debating camp appeals, but Slovenia is a bit far, you should consider the English-Speaking Union’s Debate Academy. This is a residential debating camp held every July/August in the UK and there are bursaries available to ensure that everyone who wants to attend is able to do so.
If you’d like to learn more about the World Schools format, you can watch a debate in the format.
Alice Coombes Huntley, Head of Programmes, The Noisy Classroom