Henry Debate Team shows growth in members — and argumentative and citizenry skills


The 2017-18 Henry High Debate Team addressed the following policy issue during their season which began in early October and ended in January: “Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially increase its funding and/or regulation of elementary and/or secondary education in the United States.”

Under the direction of Henry teacher Caroline Stammers and Community Coach Jamie Snoddy, the debate team of 12 students researched in-depth knowledge of three cases relevant to the above statement. In each case, students discussed why the government needs to make the change and explained several benefits to adopting their policy.

In one case, students initiated a plan to fully fund and regulate a universal, public pre-kindergarten education program in the U.S. In another, students initiated a plan to increase funding and regulation for STEM programs, focusing on hiring women and people of color as teachers. In the final case, students initiated a plan for the federal government to cover 40 percent of special education costs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Students argued that implementing these policies would have far-reaching consequences. Additional topics discussed were economic growth, poverty, the school-to-prison pipeline, sexism, racism and ableism. Students also learned how to articulate negative unintended consequences that may come from adopting each of these specific policies, as well as arguments that can apply to many other debate topics like local vs. national control and government spending. Their research strengthened critical thinking about related issues such as economic growth, educational standards and diversity in schools.

In her second year as a Community Coach, Henry alumni Jamie Snoddy (2014) speaks passionately about the debate experience. “Debate did so much for me when I was at Henry and helped open my eyes. To be able to give that back to my high school and the kids is something that really motivated me to become a community coach. My favorite moments are realizing these kids really like this, and knowing you helped them to like it.”

Jamie saw many examples that students are appreciating the debate experience. “We had two sophomores return and provide much leadership: Emily Kral and Giselle Ayala. Emily is the captain of our team. She went to debate camp over the summer. I found that I could provide instruction to our team and these two could take that message and go back and break it down into words and concepts that the rest of the team could understand.”

Jamie also noted that Emily and Giselle were models, exemplifying  that the debate experience is not all about scoring points on argumentation, but listening, and seeing competing arguments from another perspective…and eventually even making friends with those who present those arguments–a very much needed skill set in today’s often poisonous environment of political discussion.

Some of Jamie’s other goals for this season were to: obtain more debaters (the roster increased to 12 from two the previous year); generate interest from more students (progress on this goal is a challenge with the many competing extracurricular interests for students’ time and interests); and spread the word (students who participate in debate for all four years at Henry can receive a four year scholarship to Augsburg University. This point cannot be overemphasized in the multitude of school and community channels of communication with students and their families.).

Now that the debate season has ended at Henry, Jamie begins another debate season, not as a Community Coach, but as a competitor, as she resumes her third consecutive year on the University of Minnesota policy debate team. Jamie connects her college career with her experience in Minnesota Urban Debate League, “Being in debate and being a linguistics major is linked with my love of the technicalities of language,” she states. “Debate is very tactical in that sense. You have to word things very particularly. You can have entire debates about it!”

Jamie will complete her studies in linguistics and graduate in early May. Upon graduation her future plans include giving back to the community with a job in AmeriCorps VISTA, and of course, continuing with the debate team at Henry High School. “After the Henry debate season ends next year I’m planning to participate in a foreign exchange program to develop my Japanese teaching skills by actually moving to Japan.”

This article was written by Tom Murray and Susan Breedlove