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America’s reckoning on race comes to high school speech & debate

America’s reckoning on race comes to high school speech & debate

From Time Magazine

But when it comes to the words spoken in competition, much of what’s changed comes from young people themselves. Wunn says he first noticed a shift toward “heavy-hitting” speeches at the 2015 nationals in Dallas, where Kenon Brinkley from Andover High School, in Kansas, placed first in Original Oratory with a speech about racism and victim shaming. Then, in February 2018, the student protests that followed the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., brought home to the NSDA just how the political landscape was changing. Kids who weren’t old enough to vote were addressing the public and politicians directly through the media. “The lessons we’ve learned in the last few years, about the power of their voice, no matter their age—that just slapped us upside the head,” Wunn says. “Of course it’s a central requirement of the organization to foster that.”

Getting it right is an existential matter for the NSDA. After all, speech and debate are designed to teach young people how to address topics of public importance with reason and civility. But what good is public debate if it excludes a good part of the public?

“A few years ago, there were speeches winning at nationals about how we shouldn’t procrastinate, or about cats,” says K.M. DiColandrea, who was a debater at New York City’s Stuyvesant High School and coached the Achievement First Brooklyn team from 2011 to 2019. “That’s starting to change. You got kids in debate recounting cases of racism. You got kids in interpretive speech reading poetry about Black Lives Matter. You got kids in oratory writing about their undocumented parents. Our kids are not afraid to speak their truth about what’s going on.”

But when it comes to the words spoken in competition, much of what’s changed comes from young people themselves. Wunn says he first noticed a shift toward “heavy-hitting” speeches at the 2015 nationals in Dallas, where Kenon Brinkley from Andover High School, in Kansas, placed first in Original Oratory with a speech about racism and victim shaming. Then, in February 2018, the student protests that followed the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., brought home to the NSDA just how the political landscape was changing. Kids who weren’t old enough to vote were addressing the public and politicians directly through the media. “The lessons we’ve learned in the last few years, about the power of their voice, no matter their age—that just slapped us upside the head,” Wunn says. “Of course it’s a central requirement of the organization to foster that.”

Getting it right is an existential matter for the NSDA. After all, speech and debate are designed to teach young people how to address topics of public importance with reason and civility. But what good is public debate if it excludes a good part of the public?

Read more at From Time Magazine