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Agree to Disagree: Grade 9 Students rise to the top on Collingwood’s Debate Team
Jill Slattery

From left to right: Grade 9 Debate Club students Zac, Zena, and Avani

At Collingwood’s Debate Club, arguing becomes an art form. The after-school co-curricular has developed several debate and public speaking world champions and its current roster of students continue to aim high. At the Debate and Speech Association’s (DSABC) Regional Tournament on January 28, 2023, several Collingwood students ranked high enough to progress to the BC Provincials – from there, they could travel to Nationals and beyond. 

Grade 9 students Zac, Zena, and Avani are three of the competitors who made the cut alongside a team heavily stacked with promising sophomores. Competitive debate was mostly new to them in Grade 8, but through Collingwood’s public speaking curriculum at the Junior School, they had the required skills to jump right in. 

For Zac, debate is interesting because competitors don’t often get to pick their side and they usually don’t know everything about what they’re debating. “It really gets you to approach things from different perspectives.” 

Zac debates with his partner Matthew, who placed third in Canada’s Smartest Person Junior contest in 2018. The partnership and camaraderie of debate is another thing that keeps Zac motivated.

“You get to connect with other debaters, especially while traveling. Naturally, all debaters are good at talking and they’re engaging, charismatic people,” says Zac.

Avani finds debating stress relieving. “You get to interact with so many people; it’s just an overall positive experience,” she says.

It can get difficult, however, when a student has to argue a point they disagree with. For Avani, she recalls debating in Grade 4 why women shouldn’t have access to education. She says that was one of her hardest debates in memory.

Avani’s partner Zena agrees that it’s tough to debate something that is against the moral grounds of society. In some debates she’s participated in, there have even been trigger warnings issued, and it can be very hard to not only learn and debate about the subject, but to also do it with sensitivity. 

Judges have to approach these contentious subjects “in a vacuum,” Zac says. They aren’t supposed to take their own biases or beliefs into account when deciding which team was more persuasive. The win ultimately goes to whichever team was more convincing – even if they were arguing something that may be universally opposed.

Avani and Zac travelled to Montreal with four other Collingwood students in November for the National British Parliamentary Debate Championships. They both consider it one of their proudest achievements so far. Zac was thrilled to place 2nd in the individual category. 

The ultimate goal for Zac and Avani is getting to try out for Team Canada. For Zena, she is motivated by learning about so many new subjects through debate. “I never would have voluntarily learned about first-past-the-post,” Zena laughs. She hopes she can grow inside the Debate Club to be a Team Captain. 

These Grade 9s say the most valuable classes at Collingwood are the ones in humanities – English and Social Studies. Sometimes the motions they receive in Debate just so happen to mirror what they’ve recently learned in class. That helps a lot when they only have 15 minutes to prepare an argument on a subject. 

Zena adds that your argument has to be reasonable – it would be bad form to sensationalize or use guilt to persuade the judges – “You need something to back your points up. You can’t just rely on the ‘but people would die!’ angle.”

Collingwood’s Debate Club competitors practice these effective techniques, and it’s working. At the DSABC Regionals, four Collingwood junior teams ranked in the top seven and fellow Grade 9 classmate Xiao Bo placed 1st in the junior speaker rankings. 

Best of luck to all our competitors at Provincials!