UVM debate team member: I've heard it described as a swim meet, or a track meet for your mouth. So it's kind of a marathon of talking.
Alfred "Tuna" Snider, director of UVM's Lawrence Debate Union: Studies show it's the success skill of the 21st Century, being willing to speak, not being afraid to speak, being able to speak well, but also the aspects of critical thinking — how to determine what's wrong with ideas and what's right with them, how to think on your feet, and how to deal with difficult rhetorical situations.
The world's format as a format for competition in America is not that old. Because America had its own debating format and its own way of doing things. We seemed kind of resistant to doing things the way the rest of the world did, but increasingly, it's a global world. And people are going all over and cooperating with each other, so this format became very important.
Claremont College in California sponsored the first one, and then last year it was at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, and there were about 60 teams that attended. And this year is year number four, and it's the first time it's ever been in the East, and we have 126 teams, and we're very excited.
How do those debates look? Well, they're very interesting and dynamic debates. First of all, you get the topic, or it's called the motion, fifteen minutes in advance.
Semifinal round judge: The motion for the semifinal is, "This house believes the United States should actively undermine the International Criminal Court." (Audience laughter, applause)
Snider: "Then, the teams prepare, but they cannot use the internet, cannot talk to anyone except their one debate partner, so it has to be in their head. Then, there are four teams in one room. Two are saying yes, and two are saying no. And at the conclusion of the debate, the judge ranks them — one, two, three, four — as to who did the better job debating.
Now these two teams on the same side are on the same side, but they're also competing against each other. But they can't contradict or go against the other team on their side; that would be disloyal, and you would never do that in Parliament. It's a difficult strategic thing because you have to both cooperate and compete against the other team on your side.
Footage of debaters in the semifinal round:
Lewis Bollard, Harvard University: We have two substandard points, and then more on second. I'm going to be talking about the idea of basic U.S. national interest. What the principles of U.S. foreign policy are based upon.
Monica Ferris, University of Toronto: The likelihood of complete idiots being in charge of war crimes tribunals, regardless of if they're temporary or permanent — because you seem to think that people will be smarter in temporary ad hoc tribunals — is quite low.
Lucas Caress, University of Vermont: You know what name is claimed when these punishments are handed down? The say it's "crimes against humanity" but really, it's violation of international (e.g. European) law.
Robert Embree, University of Toronto: Maybe terrorism takes a back seat in those negotiations, or other issues we care about, or the Mideast peace process.
Sam Natale, University of Vermont: They've talked to you about how this happens in the immediate sense, why the U.S. is in immediate need. What I'm going to do is take a larger view and show how the ICC damages the process of justice as it pertains to reconstruction, and I'm going to illustrate first the principles of what the ICC...
Ben Belser, Harvard University: These are static bodies, which are entirely entangling at the outset, and which require pretty much a priori certain American convictions, regardless of what America has to say about the issue. No thank you (to Ferris, who has stands to make a point). That's not the kind of politics that would ever fly...
Snider: In American debate, they like cross-examination. In this format, there are points of information, and this is how they work: If you're giving a speech, members of the opposing team may rise to ask you a question. You may either accept them, "Yes, I'll take your point," or you can go, "No thank you." But it's expected that you'll take two points during your speech.
So they're very voracious and excited about it, and we love that.
Watch the video.