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Debate in China–A New Experience, A New Triumph

Amand Luo, Dipont Education Management, Debate Program COO

Jeff likes to recall the story about his first visit in early 2012 to Montgomery Bell Academy, an all male high school located in Nashville, Tennessee. A high school debate tournament was being held at the prestigious academy. As a VP of Dipont Education, Jeff was in charge of laying the groundwork for the first officially sanctioned and internationally recognized debate program in China. He was invited to the Montgomery Bell competition, and sat in throughout the entire tournament. Without flattering my own boss, I’m going to go ahead and say that Jeff is a well-educated and experienced professional who holds an MBA from one of America’s top business schools, and speaks perfect English. As the tournament began, however, Jeff could only recall his difficulty in catching up with the high school debaters’ furious but well-crafted arguments. After personally working with top debate coaches and talented students this past year, I know how fast academic debaters think, much less speak. The debaters at Montgomery Bell had fully convinced Jeff the value of debate, the skill of public speaking, and the perfectionism required for oratory argumentation. That single day had inspired Jeff to bring the age-old and egregious academic activity to modern day Chinese students.

A year ago, Jeff was the sole official staff member at Dipont Education to start and build a nation-wide debate program. He needed a team, and made the excellent choice of selecting Mr. Joe Zhao as the director, and me as the project manager. Excited and thrilled, we carefully approached the daunting task of spreading the concept of a completely new academic program to Chinese students. While the course itself is time-tested and widely used in most Western nations, Chinese students, faculty, and parents were wholly unfamiliar with such a foreign concept.

Our first step in promoting the project began with the invitation of Stefan Bauschard, co-director of the Harvard Debate Council Summer Workshops in the US as our lead consultant. Stefan’s work was followed by the organization and presentation of a nationwide tour in 2012, where we provided seminars and debate training to a number of top-ranking high schools around China. It was during this tour when we were met with the unanimously enthusiastic reception by Chinese high schools, potential students, educational organizations, and parents.

With our main goal of providing for and exposing Chinese students to the same academic rigor as high school students in the US have experienced, several terrific organizations, including the Society for Cultivating Innovators, the Innovation Method Society, Harvard Debate Council, and the US National Forensic League (the largest and oldest middle-school speaking and debate honor society) were sympathetic to our cause. They came to our aid and built relationships with the Dipont Education Management Group to officially begin the Debate Program.

Based on America’s highly successful program experience, we combined the best parts of Chinese culture and local awareness to tailor a 4-part program specific to Chinese students: a debate curriculum and debate class, local and national debate tournaments, extracurricular debate clubs, and the Harvard Debate Summer Camp.

By early 2013, we had successfully launched our debate class in 22 top-ranked high schools in the provinces of Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong, at prestigious institutions such as the Nanjing Foreign Languages School, the High School Affiliated to Renmin University, and Shenzhen Middle School. For the academic year of 2012, we had registered more than 1500 students into our debate classes. Within a year, we had appointed 25 professionals, including 9 experienced debate coaches from the US as the trainers and teachers of the Dipont Debate program. By 2013, we had a young and passionate team coordinating the program in 9 different cities across China.. Our program director, Mr. Joe Zhao, holds an MBA from Fudan University and years of experience in one of China’s leading consulting firms. Our assistant at Dipont headquarters, Peter, has been involved in Chinese debate programs since his freshman year in college. Sasha, our program coordinator in Hangzhou, received her MA from Temple University, while Jane, our Shenzhen coordinator holds a master’s degree in law. I would go on and list the qualifications of our entire team if I had enough space. For me, it is a personal honor and privilege to have worked together with these individuals as a team. Throughout this past tournament season, we worked continuously over weekends for months, but no one ever complained. We love what we do.

In December of 2012, we began preparing the first official academic Public Forum debate tournament in China. By spring of 2013, 10 regional debate programs had been organized across Jiangsu, Beijing, Zhejiang, Guangdong and Shanghai. Consisting of over 1000 debaters from over 30 top high schools around China, tournaments were held at both the regional and national levels. The topic of debate for the first round of our National High School Academic Debate Tournament was modeled around the question of whether “China should increase its use of nuclear power”. The tournament was fully supported and highly regarded by local education and school officials, and broadly covered by the press. Our judges and staff consisted almost exclusively of native English speakers and foreign volunteers. For our students, who had been training for almost a year, the tournament was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate their newfound skills for us, and for us, the tournament a great way to evaluate the quality of our program thus far. The performance and achievement of the student debaters quickly confirmed the value of our program, and the hard work that we had put into it, strengthening the confidence among all students, teachers, parents, and staffers involved in debate. Concluding the tournament, 10 champion teams consisting of 2 students each, from 5 regions, qualified for the US NFL National Tournament in June, and represented China in June’s tournament in Birmingham, Alabama. The top 100 teams from the regional tournament competed in the first annual China National Tournament in Beijing this September.

If I were asked what the most rewarding and memorable moments of my work in the debate program is so far, the answers would be very clear – that moment our students spoke confidently in public debate, the moment they became brave enough to challenge the information set by educational authorities, and the moment those two teary eyed girls, after they lost all of their preliminary rounds, promised to keep debating year after year in the next tournaments, and that glorious moment of tears and laughter when the young boys and girls were awarded their championship trophies. The most rewarding and memorable moments of my work in the past year are all the reactions and emotions of all of our spectacular and hard-working debate students.

Chinesespeakers

Throughout the past year, I’ve learned that academic debate carries an indispensable value for a student’s development. While we hope for our students to win their debates, more importantly, we teach them how to face their losses, so that they can learn from their mistakes and continue to apply their very best effort in both debate and in real life. Through debate, students not only vastly improve their reading and writing abilities, but also improve in other areas that are traditionally weak among Chinese students – learning to work collaboratively as teammates, perfecting their academic research and information management abilities, and most importantly, develop their critical thinking abilities and argumentation skills. It is a new concept that has produced well-rounded Western students for centuries, and it is a concept we hope can produce academically superior Chinese students in the near future. We want our debaters to have fun, to make new friends, and to make the most out of the resources and opportunities that we provide. We want our students to make the most out of their high school lives, both socially and academically. We want our Chinese students to be even more intelligent, so that they can succeed in college, in their careers, and in their lives. For that, we will keep working.