Speaking without fear!

 

Ask a random selection of adults to list their biggest fears, and while you might get a few answers like “flying”, or “spiders”, or “heights”, for a surprisingly large percentage of the adult population (including, oddly, many teachers) the top of the list – the scariest possible thing for them to contemplate – is speaking in public in front of an audience.

It has therefore been great over the last couple of years at EtonHouse to see our MYP and DP students growing more and more accustomed to being on stage and speaking in front of their peers and teachers. Not only have they grown more used to it, but they have been getting better and better at it!

Opportunities for this have come in everyday classes, via student contributions to regular assemblies, and more purposefully through our Public Speaking and House Debating Competitions, designed specifically to thrust students into the spotlight, and to allow them to practice that precious, but difficult and nerve-wracking art of speaking in front of a crowd.

This is a real life-skill, valuable in so many different ways and contexts, and one that, as mentioned, many people simply do not possess. Any worthwhile education should seek to enhance this skill, to allow chances to hone and perfect the art. This is a school legacy more important than any taught fact.

As Albert Einstein is reputed to have once said, education is what remains when you have forgotten everything your teachers told you. EXPERIENCE matters!

With this squarely in mind, the Debating Competition provides the opportunity to gain exactly this kind of experience. In addition, it develops research and critical thinking skills, hones the power of persuasion, heightens student awareness of global issues and current affairs, and, of course, teaches them a thing or two about how to effectively argue and defend their point. That’s quite a list of positives!

The competition saw each of the four Houses – Han, Tang, Song and Ming – debate each other once across three preliminary rounds, with the two Houses notching up the most wins going through to the final.

The format was the same for all the rounds: three speakers from each house, speaking alternately, each having two and a half minutes to state their case, with a two minute pause for team conferring in between each set of speakers. Houses were not allowed to use the same team more than once, widening the participation required from each House.

Adjudicated by a rotating set of four staff judges – one from each House – the students were scored both on individual and team performance, on categories such as understanding the motion, quality of oral presentation, use of facts and statistics to support the argument, respect for the opposing team and overall organization of the team argument.

The opening debates took place on the same day as the recent US Election, and to mark that occasion, the motion was:

Despite the impact that Donald Trump has had on the global scene, the students found this topic surprisingly hard to debate. Song prevailed over Ming, and Han had a convincing win over Tang in this opening exchange. Being half a world and many time zones ahead of the USA, we didn’t debate totally in step with the voting, and in any case, as we now all know, the final result took many, many days to be officially confirmed.

For the second set of debates, having argued about the merits or otherwise of a supposed billionaire American president, and with our renewed emphasis on Service & Action in mind, the motion was:

This topic proved a little more accessible for the students, who supported their arguments well with statistics and examples of philanthropy. The word ‘required‘ in the motion was pivotal. It was sobering to consider that, in the time it took for the two debates, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos had made another $6 million! Results-wise, Song made it two wins from two, defeating Han, while Tang again went winless against Ming in a very close debate, the teams separated by just 4 points.

In a marked change of focus, we went extraterrestrial for Round 3, the motion exploring the wisdom – or otherwise – of humanity’s ongoing quest to find evidence of alien life beyond Earth:

This seemed to pique the interest of the students more than the previous two topics, and the result was two very high scoring debates. There was an almost universal assumption by the teams that “alien life” had to mean intelligent, and probably hostile bad guys, when in reality our first proof of life beyond is likely to be microbial and very simple. With Song virtually guaranteed a place in the final, they were playing for a clean sweep of all three rounds, and duly got their third win against Tang, who ended their campaign without a win. The final debate of the day would decide who joined Song in the final, and in the end it was decided by the narrowest of margins, Ming beating Han by a single point for their second win, and a place in the Final. Had it been a draw, or a Han win, they’d have gone through instead. Someone has to lose – just ask Donald!

So, on 24th November, after three consecutive weeks of debating, the Song v Ming final arrived. The motion was befitting a Final clash – an ethically weighty and polarizing issue, which forced the students to confront some genuine moral conundrums:

Both sides were excellently prepared, and saw some impassioned and strident contributions from the individual speakers. The judges awarded the highest score of the whole competition to the winners, Song, who made it a “Grand Slam” by winning every round and the Final, though Ming ran them very close indeed, coming up just 7 points short on the day.

The 24 debaters across the four rounds deserve huge congratulations for their hard work in preparing, as do their peers behind the scenes who helped in the research and formulation of arguments. It was especially heartening to see students from across the full age range, from Year 7 to Year 13, taking part. Valuable lessons will have been learned by all, not least about speaking without fear.

 

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This page was last edited on November 30, 2020