More Defending Debate

Dallas Perkins hits back at the Journal piece discussed here previously.

Mark Oppenheimer ("For Argument's Sake," Taste, Oct. 17) reports on a single academic debate round and leaps to a series of totally unwarranted conclusions about the state of intercollegiate debate in America.

Mr. Oppenheimer's fears are greatly exaggerated. It is a good thing -- not a bad thing -- that today's collegiate debaters are prepared to discuss everything from the nuts and bolts of U.S. farm policy (the current topic) to the philosophy of Heidegger.

Mr. Oppenheimer's primary complaint is that the debaters speak very quickly, even accusing Laurence Tribe of "ruining" debate in this regard, on his way to winning the national collegiate championship for Harvard in 1961. But Mr. Tribe, with his world-renowned body of scholarship and three dozen oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, shows the power of debate to enhance exactly what Mr. Oppenheimer seeks: "participation in civic discourse." If Mr. Tribe is Mr. Oppenheimer's poster child for the impact of debate on seeking style and eloquence, then we rest our case.

Competitive debate rewards rhetoric and humor as well as analysis and research. It continues to be one of the most educationally valuable activities around. And it provides a proven method for high-schoolers everywhere, even in failing schools, to develop the skills necessary to become successful college students and professionals.

We are surprised that Mr. Oppenehimer apparently has so little faith in the marketplace of ideas that he is unwilling to tolerate the kind of free-wheeling, unencumbered, and enthusiastic discourse that competitive debate has always embraced.

Dallas Perkins
Coach of Debate
Harvard College

Well put, although I would have thrown the word "douchebag" in there for good measure.

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