Several members of the HWS Debate Team have started working after school with students from North Street Elementary School and Geneva High School, teaching the younger students both the intricacies of debate and the power of being able to make a cohesive argument.
The idea for the program at North Street School was conceived last fall by Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Etin Anwar and elementary school teacher Denise Arliss.
Anna Dorman ’14 initially took the lead in organizing this program and bringing debaters to North Street on a weekly basis. She is currently participating in the Colleges’ study abroad program in Jordan so Amil Shah ’12 has taken over coordination, with great success.
“I was thrilled one Thursday evening when I heard from Amil how one of the North Street Elementary students gave such an amazing speech that he convinced his class to vote in favor of mandatory school uniforms,” says Assistant Professor of Philosophy Eric Barnes, coach and adviser to the HWS debate team. “I am very proud of my students for working so well on this program.”
Last month, debate team members also began working with Geneva High students. That effort was spearheaded by Jackie Augustine ’99, instructor in the Philosophy Department. Students from Geneva High have been coming to campus once a week to learn about the Lincoln-Douglas style of debate. Will McConnell ’12, who recently placed 21st in the World University Debate Championship with team member Gerald “Buzz” Klinger ’12, has been a leader in developing the high school program.
The HWS Debate Team has received a request from DeSales High School to participate in this program, and anticipates expanding the effort to include DeSales soon.
The article about the HWS and Geneva students’ debate program that appeared in the Finger Lakes Times follows.
The Finger Lakes Times
The Fine Art of Debate
HWS students are leading new North Street team
Heather Swanson • February 10, 2012
GENEVA – Though the city’s board of education is still debating the possibilities of a school uniform, some of the children in the district have already reached a decision. The controversial subject has led to lengthy school board discussions, but members of the North Street School debate team have voted – they’re overwhelmingly in favor.
The students will continue to refine their arguments for and against as the year progresses with the help of Hobart and William Smith Colleges debate team members.
Amil Shah and Vienna Farlow, both HWS seniors, along with Amira Abdulkadir, a sophomore, have been running North Street School’s new debate club since fall with help from other members of their team. They are assisted by Denise Arliss, extended studies coordinator in the district.
“We all just decided this would be a nice thing to do for the community,” said Shah, adding they already have seen dramatic changes in the students’ ability to logically form and present arguments.
“We’re really seeing growth,” he said.
Though many of the young debaters were earlier against school uniforms, they voted 17 to one in favor at Thursday’s meeting.
That may have been due to a convincing argument made by fifth-grader Beka Bekauri. Standing in front of his peers, Beka countered opponent Nate Askin’s argument against, saying, “It will solve some bullying problems because people will not be judging other people by what they wear.”
Another benefit, he added, is “we’ll have a different variety of friends, because we won’t be judging people by what they wear, but by who they are as a person.”
His argument came after the HWS students divided the 20 debate clubbers into three groups, each of which was then asked to debate the pros and cons of a uniform.
Fourth-grader Christine Tran’s team had already moved on to whether or not the uniforms for girls should be skirts or pants.
She was in favor of pants. Skirts could be problematic in gym class, she explained. The argument about whether to have a uniform, in her mind, was a done deal.
“I think we should have school uniforms so that people won’t get teased,” she said, explaining students who don’t have “fancy clothes” are often picked on.
But Christine didn’t really join the debate team to decide her school district’s uniform fate. She joined so that she can convince her father to wash the dishes more often.
“My mom makes me do the dishes,” she explained.
Sometimes her father takes on the task because Christine’s an only child, she said, but all too often, she loses the dish debate and winds up washing.
She enjoys debating with her family, she said, she just wants to win more often.
Teammate Jacob Singleton, a fifth-grader, had similar motives for joining. He frequently argues with his brother over remote control privileges. Since his brother is 16, Jacob says he usually loses that argument.
“I wanted to learn how to win an argument,” he said.
Walking her group through the uniform debate, Abdulkadir prompted them with questions.
“How would you convince a judge of that?” she asked when Patrick Grier, a fifth-grader, tried to make the argument that uniforms would be itchy. His teammates were unconvinced.
“People might get your name mixed up ’cause you’re all wearing the same clothes,” Rye Weber, a fourth-grader, proposed.
“So would it be true to say that you’re not easily recognizable?” Abdulkadir asked. “Do we agree? How many of you want that point down?”
Only Rye raised his hand.
“It’s amazing, what they have pulled out of the kids to make logical, concise, persuasive points,” said Arliss, noting the debate team was really helping the children focus and even asking them to argue points they might not necessarily agree with.
“That’s a great skill,” she said.
Arliss added she’s excited about the cooperation with the Colleges, noting any opportunity to work with them is a priority for her.
“The Colleges are just invaluable,” she said.