web debateThe Upper School debate team had an outstanding season full of remarkable performances, but what stands out most about these exceptional students is how dedicated they were all season to perfecting their arguments.

“This is an extraordinarily self-motivating, self-starting group of debaters,” according to debate teacher Les Phillips. “They frequently come into class with suggestions and the work done already. They’ve anticipated me. They set up practices on their own beyond what I’m able to schedule.

“They’re unusually concerned with arguments and the quality of supporting evidence,” he added. “In competitive terms, they’ve vastly exceeded everyone’s initial expectations.”

At their first tournament, the Harker Invitational in San Jose, two Nueva teams made it to the final round, referred to as sudden death.

“I expected we would get some of our teams in sudden death,” Phillips said. “I didn’t expect it would be both Nueva teams.”

While competing in the prestigious NYC Invitational at the Bronx High School of Science, juniors Jake M. and Matt S. won the final round against a team that’s the defending national champion. During a tournament in Berkeley, which attracted 200 teams from foreign countries and around the nation, Nueva debaters placed first and second.

“They are superior thinkers who have found a template for thinking they love and plug into beautifully,” Phillips said. “They take ownership of their arguments, understand the argument, and understand the weaknesses in the argument they are making. They read articles; they do their homework.”

The debaters have constant, almost-exhausting discussions of issues and arguments, he added. Right up until the day before a tournament, they are refining their points.

Topics have included whether the government should pay reparations to African Americans, genetically modified organisms, the usefulness of economic sanctions against Russia, the best way to resolve income inequality, and abolishing private prisons.

“It’s a balance of foreign and domestic issues,” Phillips said.

To prepare, junior Zubin A. said he reads as much general literature on a topic as possible to become acquainted before doing a deep dive on certain research arguments.

“It goes from general to specific as time goes on,” Zubin said.

Finally, he writes out his arguments and prepares the initial speeches that are presented during the debate.

“A lot of time is spent using words that evoke a certain emotion,” Zubin said.

He relishes both the competitive and creative aspects of debate.

“I enjoy competing at a high level and doing something I’m passionate about,” Zubin said. “I also utilize muscles that I use in school, but don’t flex as much.”

While there are now very seasoned debaters on the team, there  is always room for new students.  Nueva attends a beginners’ tournament at San Francisco State University and Phillips said he is looking forward to welcoming the new students who may see debate as a way to polish their skills.

“You can have limited commitment and still get a great deal out of it,” Phillips said.

The 2015–2016 season has concluded, but students are still hard at work practicing and honing their skills.

“I expected us to be successful,” Phillip said. “I didn’t think we would be this successful.”


May 20, 2016

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