The Tulane Debate Education Society is an English Department service-learning project run by Tulane students, faculty, and numerous community partners. Our central goal is to be the catalyst for a debate renaissance in New Orleans, with a special focus on the most disadvantaged youth.
Before we started three debate teams at local middle schools in the fall of 2009, middle school debate programs were virtually non-existent in New Orleans. Today, because of the Tulane Debate Education Society and our community partners, there are at least twelve actively competing middle school debate teams and our regular tournaments and teacher workshops continue to attract more schools.
The Debate Education Society is grounded in an English Department service-learning course that aims to revive the principles of classical rhetoric described by Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, and Quintilian, and put them to work in post-Katrina New Orleans to promote civil discourse and critical reasoning. Each student agrees, as part of the class, to spend forty hours coaching middle school debate in one of three local schools where over ninety-five percent of the students qualify for free or assisted lunches. These schools, in turn, now anchor a new citywide debate league with an official charter from the Middle School Public Debate Program.
Kwame Anthony Appiah, the Laurence S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University, recently awarded the program an American Philosophical Association grant.
In the spring of 2010, the Mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin, officially recognized the good the Tulane Debate Education Society has already done for the city by bestowing a day of honor on the founder and director of the program, Ryan McBride, a postdoctoral fellow in the English Department, as well as the teachers from the three original middle schools involved in the program, including Jeffrey Warner from Sophie B. Wright Charter School, Lynn Loewy from Lafayette Academy Charter School, and Barbara Brewster from Banneker Elementary School. This spring, Mayor Mitch Landrieu honored Dr. McBride's continued work on the citywide debate league.
Our program works in cooperation with International organizations including the Middle School Public Debate Program and the International Debate Education Association. The Middle School Public Debate Program is using our project here at Tulane University as a model as they implement debate projects at universities across the country, including Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Alaska.
The program is very popular with Tulane students. Many have sought to continue their involvement with the Debate Education Society by working as interns with the Department of English (we have about a dozen interns each semester) or fellows with the Center for Public Service. Others simply volunteer to keep coaching or to come back as judges or organizers. The huge increases in applications to Tulane University following Katrina are in part due to the desire of applicants to aid in the renewal of New Orleans. No program at Tulane offers students a better chance to develop meaningful relationships with community members while genuinely transforming the city than the Debate Education Society.
In addition to providing a prime opportunity for Tulane students, the Tulane Debate Education Society is wonderful for the city of New Orleans. The Society does exactly what universities should do: it sponsors civil discourse and critical reflection in the surrounding community. The coverage of our events by local media including The Times-Picayune and WWNO, the local NPR affiliate, has been universally enthusiastic about the impact of the program on local schoolchildren.
The Debate Education Society is grateful for funding provided by the Tulane Department of English, from which we receive the majority of our funding, the Tulane School of Law, the Tulane Center for Public Service, Provost Michael Bernstein, and Newcomb-Tulane College Dean James MacLaren. We have also benefited from the support and consultation of the Washington D.C. Urban Debate League, the International Debate Education Association and the Middle School Public Debate Program.
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 - Some photos courtesy of the Peace Corps - firstname.lastname@example.org