No debate about HPHS team’s skills
Members of the Congressional Debate Team at Highland Park High School discuss the days topic during their meeting Oct 25. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
For more photographs of the HPHS Congressional Debate Team, visit www.highlandpark.suntimes.com
Updated: November 2, 2012 10:36AM
HIGHLAND PARK — Highland Park High School students aren’t shooting from the hip when they argue about reallocating foreign aid, or recreating a wall between commercial and investment banking to prevent a repeat of the financial meltdown.
Nor are they speaking off the cuff when they debate amnesty for illegal teens and young adults born in this country, or college-loan forgiveness after 10 years of payments.
Veteran members of the school’s congressional debate team wouldn’t think of reciting some pundit’s points without diving into such vaunted sources as the Congressional Quarterly or research from the Cato Institute.
“We always have the best research. We go above and beyond,” said senior Marty Schatz, who has participated in congressional debate throughout high school.
Students meet twice weekly throughout the school year to write and research federal and state legislation and prepare for interscholastic competitions. For each monthly competition, they must research positions on a dozen separate pieces of state and federal legislation written by students from area high schools.
The Highland Park team won first place among large high schools teams in the 2012 Illinois Congressional Debate Association tournament.
On a recent afternoon, more than 40 teens — many of them freshmen and sophomores new to the extracurricular activity — were making arguments for and against cutting funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967 to fund public television and radio programming.
One student stressed that government funds should not be used to promote biased viewpoints; another cited child-development research on the role of programs like “Sesame Street.” Though the proposal isn’t on the docket this year, it provided an opportunity to practice public speaking skills that are a critical piece of the judging.
“We do our best to make sure everyone (on our team) actually understands the bills,” said junior Daniel Nussbaum, citing the example of a taxation bill with implications for the federal deficit, spending and the economy. “We spend time to make sure everyone understands the economic implications of lowering or raising taxes.”
That understanding helps team members hold their own during “crossfire” when arguments are challenged.
In writing legislation, students from other high schools sometimes mix up state and federal issues or propose actions the U.S. Supreme Court would immediately rule unconstitutional. In such cases, Highland Park team members strive to debate the spirit of the legislation rather than call out flaws in the legislation.
“We really try to stress that (highlighting flaws and errors) is not what debate is about,” senior Cari Kraus said.