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Always up for a good debate

Canada should bring its troops home from Afghanistan. Evil is a necessary part of human nature. Up is better than down.

If your response was “Well, that’s debatable,” you’re entirely correct. Those are just a few of the resolutions tackled by the Elmira District Secondary School debating society.

This weekend, the question is whether Canada should apply to join the European Union, and debaters from across Ontario will be making their case at Kitchener’s Eastwood Collegiate during the provincial championships. Elmira won’t be making an argument, as the debating team missed the provincials this year, but EDSS student Tristan Neill will be taking part as a judge.

 A veteran of high school debating, EDSS student Tristan Neill will be acting as a judge in this year’s provincial championships, going on this weekend in Kitchener.
A veteran of high school debating, EDSS student Tristan Neill will be acting as a judge in this year’s provincial championships, going on this weekend in Kitchener.

Neill and his debating partner, Wren Laing, excelled on the debating team for four years. After they graduated last June, Laing headed to McGill University while Neill returned to EDSS for a fifth year. In September, Neill decided that he’d prefer to judge this year.

“I want to debate at the university level and I thought looking at it from that other perspective would be really valuable,” Neill said.

Taking a seat at the judges’ table wasn’t hard; four years as a debater taught Neill what a good argument sounds like, and new judges are paired with older judges at tournaments to offer guidance as necessary.
There are two rounds to high school debating; teams first argue in favour of a resolution, and then they turn around and argue against it.

“The ability to see both sides of an issue is really important,” said teacher supervisor Caroline Knapp. “It’s a good intellectual activity.”

The topics tend to be current issues that are making the news, and they can be anything from politics to social justice to international affairs. There is also one fun tournament every year, where students debate quirky resolutions like “Cupid’s arrows are weapons of mass destruction.”

EDSS is in rebuilding mode this year, after almost all of their experienced debaters graduated last year. The school has a strong debating society, and it has graduated some proficient debaters. Jordan Schmidt, an EDSS grad, is now president of the Wilfrid Laurier University debating society, and represented Laurier at the world championships in Bangkok, Thailand last year and Cork, Ireland this year.

Knapp said she doesn’t cut anyone who comes out, and experience isn’t required. The debating society even has its own song, and members greet each other with a “three fingers up” hand signal.

Debating is a good way to meet interesting people from other schools, Neill said, and it’s also useful academically.

“Debating really helps you with your English, with your essay writing and presenting and with your thinking skills.”

It’s not just for those who enjoy arguing: Debating is a good way to get better at public speaking, Neill added.

“You don’t need to be political and you don’t need to be opinionated.”

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