Many high school students sign up for debate class because they think that school-sanctioned arguing sounds like a fun way to spend an hour a day, but there is more to debate class than most students realize. High school debate teams normally compete in weekly debate leagues and larger competitions on weekends. The members of these teams are responsible for researching the debate topic, learning terms related to the topic and to debate, writing cases, delivering speeches, and countering arguments during a debate with documented evidence. The time spent arguing is only a small portion of the high school debate experience.
Students who join the team simply hoping to argue may be disappointed because debate has specific rules. These rules may vary by state and county, but in general a debate proceeds according to the following sequence:
• Each debate team learns the topic (for some this happens weeks before the debate to allow for study-time, while for others the topic is disclosed to both teams just moments before the debate starts).
• Each team makes a case either for or against the topic. The positive side is in favor of making a change and the negative side favors maintaining the status quo.
• The positive side presents the case for a change to the status quo first. The case is normally delivered as an eight-minute speech.
• The negative side delivers the argument in favor of maintaining the status quo next. This is also usually an eight-minute speech.
• Between the delivery of cases, cross examination is allowed for one to three minutes. During this time, the opposing team can ask questions about the case that was just delivered. A long cross examination can be used to buy valuable research time for the upcoming rebuttals.
• Each team is allowed three to five minutes to make rebuttals or direct arguments against the opponent’s arguments or evidence.
• Concluding arguments come next and no new evidence can be delivered at that point. Closing arguments are intended only as a review of points that have already been presented and argued.
• The debate ends and the judge make a decision as to the winner.
Debate can be a surprisingly exhilarating activity for students who are willing to put forth the required effort. It is important for students to understand, before signing-up, that debate class is more than just an opportunity to argue. Being a member of a competitive debate team requires commitment of time and dedication of spirit. For those who are interested in all aspects of the debate process, debate class can be one of the most fulfilling high school experiences, but for those just looking to argue, disappointment is the most likely outcome.