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>  News Releases >   2003 >   July

We said, they said: debaters converge on Dartmouth

Posted 07/28/03, by Tamara Steinert
Originally published in Vox of Dartmouth (Vol XXII • Issue 4)

Participants in the Dartmouth Debate Institute prepare for a round by hashing out the issues surrounding a proposal for a hypothetical federal ocean policy. (photo by Amanda Weatherman)
Students debating for and against federal ocean policy

For someone who has never experienced the addictive rush of a fast-paced and well-argued round of debate, the Dartmouth Debate Institute's (DDI) 20-year success might seem surprising. After all, who could have predicted that, each summer, 150 high school students would choose to spend a sizeable chunk of their summer vacations doing research in the library - and pay for the privilege to boot?

"DDI students are among the top high school debaters in the nation. It's a competitive activity. So they come here as a way of improving their skills, doing research, and developing arguments for competition during the school year," said Ken Strange, Director of the College's debate and forensics programs, as well as DDI.

Since 1983, Strange has welcomed dozens of the nation's most talented high school debaters for the month-long Institute. DDI teaches skills particular to policy debate, a style that relies heavily on research and logic. Each year, debaters across the country immerse themselves in a topic, gathering evidence both for and against a shared resolution that broadly defines the debate topic for the season. For example, the topic for the 2003-04 academic year is "Resolved: That the United States federal government should establish an ocean policy substantially increasing protection of marine natural resources." Throughout the season, two-person debate teams alternate between being on the affirmative (or policy proposing) and negative sides.

The Dartmouth Debate Institute and similar programs at colleges around the country help give the debaters a head start on the season. In addition to studying debate theory and public speaking technique, the students also learn more about the resolution topic area and prepare materials they can use to propose or refute arguments during the regular season. There are also plenty of opportunities for practice rounds of debate throughout the month, with a full-scale tournament scheduled for the last several days of the camp.

"With the topics we debate, like ocean policy, the research literature is so vast that students who don't get started during the summer have trouble catching up once tournaments begin," said Glenda Ferguson, debate coach at Creekview High School in Carrollton, Texas.

The Dartmouth program is among the most well-respected and selective camps in the debate world, accepting only about one in three applicants. The staff, which includes high school and college debate coaches and championship-level college debaters, works closely with the students, with the average student/teacher ratio at 10 to 1.

The program isn't cheap - total cost is $3,300, with some need-based scholarships available - and the work is nonstop, with classes or labs scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. most weekdays, and even an occasional class on the weekend. Still, most of the debaters wouldn't give up the chance to be here.

The reasons for DDI's long tradition of success are two-fold, Strange said.

"We do a good job, and the debaters know that they learn the most by competing against the other top high school students," he said.

-Tamara Steinert

Documenting the Institute:

The 2003 Dartmouth Debate Institute will be the subject of a short documentary film directed by a graduate student from the University of Southern California. Titled "Spew: The Competitive World of High School Debate," the film will attempt to explain the origins and excitement of debate for a general interest audience.

The film's director, Steven Kung, is a former high school debater who is one of only two people to ever attend DDI three times.

"I think DDI and high school debate have had a profound influence on my life, and I really wanted to show the world what I saw in debate and why I thought it was so special," Kung said. "I also don't think debate has ever been portrayed accurately in the media. It's always been shown in a "Stand and Deliver," "Inherit the Wind" kind of way-very theatrical and oratory. But that's not the reality. Debate is actually very fast and aggressive.

"If the project goes well, Kung would like to follow up with some of the DDI participants at the 2004 Kentucky National High School Tournament of Champions, where the most elite debaters in the country compete. The top two teams from last year's tournament are currently participating in DDI, Kung said.

Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.

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