Lincoln-Douglas debate reaches KMS students

At+the+end+of+the+Dec.+7+meeting%2C+seniors+Sokena+Zaidi+and+Michelle+Jiang+and+sophomore+Ashutosh+Jindal+gather+the+Kennedy+Middle+School+students+to+summarize+the+lesson+on+value+criteria.+Lincoln-Douglass+debaters+have+begun+teaching+at+KMS+every+Wednesday+since+the+beginning+of+October+to+familiarize+middle+schoolers+with+LD+concepts+and+critical+thinking+skills+prior+to+entering+high+school.+Photo+by+Lisa+Zhang.

At the end of the Dec. 7 meeting, seniors Sokena Zaidi and Michelle Jiang and sophomore Ashutosh Jindal gather the Kennedy Middle School students to summarize the lesson on value criteria. Lincoln-Douglass debaters have begun teaching at KMS every Wednesday since the beginning of October to familiarize middle schoolers with LD concepts and critical thinking skills prior to entering high school. Photo by Lisa Zhang.

Lisa Zhang

“Was Warren Buffett ever poor?”

“I don’t know, he’s been rich for so long no one remembers.”

As soon as the door opens, lively discussions of rich kings and slumdog millionaires blast from Kennedy Middle School’s Portable D. MVHS students arrived at the moment when KMS language arts and social studies teacher Sharon Larson and social studies teacher Shari Baldock are leading a discussion about inherent social hierarchy and its implications. The room stays loud as varsity Lincoln-Douglas Debate captain senior Michelle Jiang and sophomore Ashutosh Jindal begin their lesson.

At the end of the Dec. 7 meeting, seniors Sokena Zaidi and Michelle Jiang and sophomore Ashutosh Jindal gather the Kennedy Middle School students to summarize the lesson on value criteria. Lincoln-Douglas debaters have begun teaching at KMS every Wednesday since the beginning of October to familiarize middle schoolers with LD concepts and critical thinking skills prior to entering high school. Photo by Lisa Zhang.
Every Wednesday after school starting Oct. 5, five to six LD debaters meet in front of the library to begin their walk to Kennedy Middle School to assist in teaching KMS’s Debate Club. Larson and Baldock started the club in early October, inviting LD debaters to come in every week to introduce the students to debate prior to entering high school.

“A lot of the best debaters got in early [through LD],” Jiang said. “It’s a good way to develop analytical skills that can be used outside of LD as well.”

Baldock believes that exposing students to debate in middle school is helpful to these students. The program is still in its early stages, but both advisers hope to expand the club to include entering competitions.

“[Debate] is so academic,” Baldock said. “But [at the same time], these kids are learning to express themselves — it’s really similar to a social situation.”

The KMS advisers initially started the program by asking students what they wanted in terms of a new club, and were surprised at the interest in creating a debate club. The club currently has 60 members, which eventually led both advisers to seek help from other sources.

Senior Sokena Zaidi listens as a KMS student presents his argument to their group. During the meeting, MVHS LD students divided the KMS Debate Club into smaller groups to practice the meeting's lesson on value criteria. Photo by Lisa Zhang.
Through KMS language arts and social studies teacher Freda Wong, they were able to contact the MVHS Speech and Debate club. Soon after, LD captains worked with the advisers to begin teaching at their meetings. Although the program is open to any student in LD who would like to teach at KMS, members who frequently volunteer include Jiang, Jindal, varsity debater senior Sokena Zaidi and novice captain junior Sean Lee. Many of these students have been involved in LD since their freshmen years and look to expose middle school students to debating competitions.

“We wanted to cultivate these kids like farmers cultivate prize-winning plants,” Lee said. “By high school, they’ll be used to critical thinking, which is [foundational] to LD.”

Larson believes the middle schoolers have advanced tremendously since the beginning of the club.

“Our topics used to be about [things like] Dora the Explorer,” Larson said. “Now I have kids coming up [and talking to us] about drugs, drones, US troop deployment, [and other] political topics.”

A typical meeting for KMS’s Debate Club includes a 10-minute warm-up with argumentation drills and a review of the previous meeting’s topics followed by newer concepts involving classical philosophical theories. The middle schoolers then break up into smaller groups, each led by an MVHS LD student, to discuss the lecture, which at this meeting was about the different value criteria debated in an actual LD competition. Then the meetings end with a brief summary of the meeting’s lesson with the entire Debate Club.

“So, [today] we had a debate about whether milk chocolate was better than dark chocolate,” a KMS student from the back of the room summarizes. “Dark won.”

And then the room fills with shouting, as the middle schoolers again continue their never-ending debate.