Debate team teaches students the art of verbal warfare
You can’t argue with success.
For decades, the only option for Temple students looking for a good argument was the debate club — a small group dedicated to perfecting their communication skills. But, after years building their case, the students have finally persuaded the University to give them what they always wanted.
Last fall, Temple launched the University’s first official debate team, complete with a nationally recognized coach and a group of fiery students.
In addition to three-times-a-week meetings and weekend tournaments, Temple’s new debate team, led by Marcus Paroske (left), has worked with seventh- and eighth-graders at Ferguson Middle School, a Temple Partnership School, to develop students’ communication and rhetoric skills. (Photo courtesy the College of Liberal Arts)
“The College of Liberal Arts wanted to get behind the debate team because we know that argumentation and rhetoric helps students to think critically and improve their analytical skills,” said Angela Scott, director of undergraduate affairs for CLA.
“Temple’s students are exceptional people who are able to communicate and articulate themselves wonderfully in both academic and non-academic avenues.”
Long before the University decided to get involved, a student-run debate club was catching the attention of many students and faculty. It was this popularity that led to the University’s decision to support a team of its own.
The professional brought in to get the job done was Marcus Paroske. According to Scott, he was the perfect choice to get the team off its feet because of his extensive knowledge of communication and rhetoric skills, which he acquired as a graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of Pittsburgh.
Justin Murphy, a junior economics and political science major, belonged to the debate club before switching over to Temple’s team last school year. He said he was excited when he learned the University was going to sponsor a team that would compete at national events.
“Learning how to debate is great because it helps you become comfortable speaking in front of others and strengthens your ability to be able to think on your feet,” Murphy said. “This year, with the help of [Paroske], I’ve learned the logical components of making an argument effective and also gotten to know what my weaknesses are as a debater.”
Those students who don’t have a lot of time for extra-curricular activities may want to participate in the club, which requires a smaller time commitment than the team. The team meets three days a week, with tournaments scheduled on weekends and community service projects thrown into the mix during the week.
Team members’ involvement ranges from those who don’t miss a single chance to compete to those who drop in just to pick up a few debating pointers. There are about 10 very committed students and close to 20 others who occasionally drop by to catch a heated discussion about the latest current events.
Paroske said that although it is true that arguments can get intense at times, debating actually makes people more connected to each other.
“Learning how to debate well is essential in a democratic society, where opposing viewpoints are supposed to bring us together,” Paroske said. “It allows students to argue their own views while hearing both sides of the issue. Knowing how to effectively argue a position gives the student an opportunity to understand where they stand.”
During their most recent tournament, the debate topics covered everything from the controversial immigration reform issue to the philosophical argument over America’s third-world relations. Other “hot-button” issues include American military presence in Europe, the present war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“In order to prepare for the tournaments, our research is done by discussing current events in the weeks leading up to the competition,” Paroske explained. “It is important to know about the issues and where you stand, so you can use language and rhetoric to communicate it to others.”
The debate team isn’t just concerned with current events; it is also trying to make a difference in the future of local Philadelphia schoolchildren. Last spring, the team traveled to Ferguson Middle School, a Temple Partnership School, to demonstrate to seventh- and eighth-graders how to communicate their arguments using rhetoric skills. The debate workshops continued for a month until the students staged their own debate using the skills they had learned.
By teaching others the essentials of debate and getting a few national competitions under their belt, the team has had a strong, eventful first year. And with increasing numbers and four major tournaments on the fall schedule, the squad is looking forward to its second.
“Things have been going very well for [the team] this year,” Paroske said. “We spent last year learning the idiosyncrasies of debate, so I think what we have now is a really firm foundation for getting more competitive.”
By Karen Shuey
For the Temple Times
Update: Read the history of the debate team