Maybe, just maybe, if Waltham High School debate club students were in charge of solving the country’s pressing issues, America would have far less to worry about.
“Teamwork is crucial,” said Sejal Kotechaj, one of about 40 Waltham High School students who recently performed a mock presidential debate as part of a pre-election lesson.
About 40 Waltham High School students from the school’s Debate Club and Campaign Club performed the faux debate on Nov. 5, the day before Election Day. Students from both clubs cooperated to write questions and answers for the debate, selected who would play the candidates and hone their verbal arguing skills.
As the students described it, the debate instilled many useful life lessons and skills in addition to lessons about politics and policy. Those lessons – verbal debating, writing debate questions, negotiating and overcoming partisanship, according to several students who participated in the debate.
Kotechaj, a senior who played President Obama during the debate, said she knew little about politics and debating prior to joining the club as a freshman in 2008. While she describes herself as a natural introvert, Kotechaj said debating has pushed her to be more outgoing.
“Getting reactions was really fun,” Kotechaj said of the two debate performances they did at Waltham High School and McDevitt Middle School.
Thomas Waddick, a high school senior, played Mitt Romney.
Eliciting audience reactions helped boost the students’ verbal skills. Performing the debate for a live audience helped sharpen their verbal skills, said senior Stephanie Gao, another member of the Debate Club. Gao will likely need those skills when she enters the professional workforce. She said she wants to do something in which she can use negotiating skills to help people.
“I have always liked defending people,” Gao said.
Most importantly, it taught the students one the key principles of America’s democracy – getting involved in the public policy process. Maddie Chambers, another senior who participated in the debate, said participating in the democratic process is important, especially for young people.
“Even young people should really become involved,” she said. “It is really good to become educated and know what is going on.”
The debate also brought another key skill to light – how to dispassionately argue a point without creating an adversarial relationship with others. Chambers said she discovered how to put her personal feelings on an issue aside and form a friendly relationship with somebody who disagrees with her.
“You can still be friends at the end of the day,” she said.
While Chambers learned to tamper her feelings, she may become a fierce advocate for social justice in the future, she said. While she did not specify what she meant by “social justice,” she hinted at wanting to fix what she believed are injustices in the level of medical care some people receive when they fall ill.
Besides the debating lessons, debate advisor Janis Marchese said the debate was intended to teach the students the platforms and underlying philosophies of the Democratic and Republican parties. Marchese, along with history teacher Francis Stanton and campaign club advisor Lauren Boyle oversaw the students as they formed questions and answers for the debate. Now, the clubs plan to continue holding mock debates on whether to ban large drinks, as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently did and foreign aid, Marchese said.
Who knows – maybe the students will come up with a solution to the fiscal cliff, in a mock debate of course.