High school debate catching fire in Oakland

photo of Natassija Jordan-Oliver, 15, left, and Jessica Winsey, 16, right, by Ray Chavez/OAKLAND TRIBUNE

This weekend I stopped by the All-City Finals of the new Bay Area Urban Debate League, held at East Oakland’s Fremont campus. I watched just one of the competitions and strained to follow the intricate and rapidly spoken arguments and rebuttals about environmental policy.

“It’s a fusion between adrenaline and creativity and competitiveness,” Street Academy senior Tevah El Ehmet, known as V, told me after the round I observed.

If the rush of competition is one way to get Oakland teens to spend hours each week synthesizing policy journals and international news, maybe the city’s high schools should offer more of these academic challenges. 

You can read a story about debate in Oakland here.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Lisa Shafer

    Thanks for writing about debate! I watched my own students — and students from the other nine schools –grow so much in so many ways in the league’s first year. The City Champs last weekend cemented in my mind that this is a program worth touting!

    The frequent Education Report commenters who find so much fault with OUSD ought to make a point to watch a portion of one these tournaments next year. Those who are so good at arguing on this blog might even want to mentor teenagers in policy debate. There are definitely some great things happening in OUSD. And this is Exhibit A.

    Katy,you mention that maybe the district needs more of this type of activity. I agree, but this one could easily expand to reach many more students. Parents should encourage their children to join … or their children’s school to start a team if they don’t have one yet. One of our biggest schools, Oakland Tech, did not field a team in the first year. It would be great to see students there participate next year!

    Lisa Shafer
    Debate Coach
    Media Academy/Fremont Federation

  • Donna

    Oakland Tech participated in Mock Trial (sponsored by Alameda County Office of Education) earlier this school year, so the intensity of that undertaking was probably a factor in not joining the Urban Debate League. One of Tech’s freshman participants scored exceptionally well, so she will be the powerhouse to watch if she should decide to pursue this further.