School Life

Debate for Dummies

By: Annushka Agarwal (Grade 10)

A look into the world of debate

There are many clubs at WPGA. Some of these are easy to understand, like the tennis club. Others, like the urban sketching club, are slightly more obscure. But among the many teams, clubs, squads, and councils, lies the holy grail of WPGA extracurriculars: debate. Unfortunately, debate is a confusing world, peppered with bits of lingo that makes it undecipherable to the mere mortal. So, to give you an insider’s look into the secret world of speech and secrets, I bring to you, Debate for Dummies ©. 

Whenever people talk about food, there’s a certain degree of elitism involved. A group of soccer moms all pretending they make quinoa on a regular basis. An upper class New Yorker talking about pappardelle or mignonette or charcuterie or deconstructed anything, knowing full well that nobody knows what those things are. Similarly, the use of debate jargon by abnormally short teenagers in formal wear is so complex that I theorize frequently about its purposefully elitist nature. After all, are terms like “burning the turf” and “knifing” and (used in various ungrammatical ways) “comparative” really necessary? Maybe they’re not, but they do characterize the exclusive and exciting realm of debate. 

So how does debate work?

There are two main types of tournaments, which essentially function the same way as any other sport/competitive activity: qualifiers and invitationals. Qualifiers include regionals, provincials, and nationals, and (as one would imagine intuitively) each qualifies you for the next. Invitationals are generally hosted by universities and sometimes schools; the main invitational in Western Canada is run by the UBC Debate Society and occurs every spring, summer, and autumn. One reason why debate is superior to all other extracurriculars? Think about this: WPGA’s debate team has travelled to invitationals in the Czech Republic, Thailand, and Qatar. WPGA’s volleyball team, on the other hand, has travelled to Kamloops, Kelowna, and (wait for it) Abbotsford. As a debater would put it, we win on the comparative!

Tournaments operate in one of a few styles of debate. In Canada, the main styles are Canadian National Debate Format (CNDF), British Parliamentary (BP), and the style used at the Worlds Schools style (sometimes called WSDC after the eponymous Worlds Schools Debating Championships, but we’ll get to that later). Rounds each have two teams, the proposition and opposition (with the exception of BP, which has four teams), and speeches range from five to eight minutes. BP and Worlds Schools styles are used internationally. There are separate debate styles in America, which are garbage and will not be described in this article.

In Canada, most tournaments tend to be impromptu, which means you get fifteen minutes to an hour, depending on the style, to prepare without internet. Your position (proposition or opposition) is assigned to you in the “draw,” a term which refers to a document which tells you which side you are, who you’re against, and which room you’re debating in before each round. At a tournament, there are preliminary rounds, which everyone participates in, and out-rounds (finals, semifinals, quarterfinals, etc). The number of out-rounds will vary based on the size of the tournament but many tournaments will have semifinals and finals. At the conclusion of preliminary rounds, the “break” is announced, meaning the tournament organizers declare (in an unnecessarily dramatic fashion) which teams have placed high enough to be in the out rounds. This is done firstly on the basis of wins/losses, and then on speaker scores (scores out of 100 that are given to each debater by judges at the end of each round). 

The national debating society in Canada is called the Canadian Student Debating Federation (CSDF) and the provincial debating society is the Debate and Speech Association of British Columbia, aka the DSABC — not to be confused with the Disabled Sailing Association of British Columbia, or the Danbury Schools And Businesses Collaborative (which is abbreviated incorrectly). The CSDF is responsible for selecting the members for Team Canada (TC, debaters are really into acronyms) each year at national tryouts, a tournament which you get to through BC Qualifiers, which you get to through provincials, which you get to through regionals. TC is seen as the holy grail for debate success and its members are both feared and admired (to an almost stalkerish degree) by the debate community. 

And to make things more complicated, there’s university debate! But that’s for another article. 


1 comment on “Debate for Dummies

  1. Edward Gao

    Very nice! Every part of it is true… Including American Debate being garbage.


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