In highschool, I debated from my 9th grade to 12th grade year. I spent most of my high school time listening to teachers lecture and trying my best not to fall asleep. So debating and volunteering were the most useful activities I did to develop as a person back then.

I was also very shy so public speaking helped me overcome my fear of talking.

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In this post, I’ll talk about some of the bittersweet lessons I learned.

What’s a tip you’ve learned about making arguments? 

To be persuasive, you want to:

  1. Make a claim.
  2. Make a warrant that explains why the claim is true.
  3. Back up your claim with evidence .
  4. Explain what are the impacts of the claim you made.

For example:

Claim: Legalizing marijuana can increase government revenues.

Warrant: This is true because governments can place taxes on the marijuana sales and legalizing marijuana create small businesses.

Evidence: According to a Forbes article on March 2009, marijuana sales from local streets make 40 to 100 million dollars in revenue each year.

Impact: The United States federal and state government is suffering from massive debt so programs are needed to boost our national economy and create jobs. Legalizing weed is a solution.

Another example:

Claim: The U.S. department of education should improve the education system by providing money to increase high school teacher’s salaries.

Warrant: This is true because higher teachers salaries will attract more capable teachers.

Evidence: In a November 2012 Pearson study, the United States has dropped to 17th place for education. Latvian, Chilean and Brazilian students are making gains in academics three times faster than American students.

Impact: Without better teachers, U.S. students that enter the job market will form a weaker workforce. This decreases US economic power to compete with other nations.


What’s tips do you have about researching?

  • If it’s a topic that you don’t know much about you’ll want to google broad terms and read from quora or any useful articles. Afterwards, you want to determine what are the pro/con arguments are on each side of the debate. From that point forward, you can use google scholar or other specific databases to find specific sources.
  • Keeping a list of links to articles you’ve read may be helpful so that you don’t waste time looking for articles you’ve already searched for.
  • You want to be careful about the search words you use to find articles.  For example, googling “weed legalization” compared to “pros and cons to legalizing weed” will give you different search results.
  • Try your best to understand the arguments against your case better than the opposition can. Charlie Munger has a quote that “I feel that I’m not entitled to a have an opinion unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people who are in opposition.” 
  • Finding pdfs on the topics you are curious about can help since the pdf documents are usually a lot more specific than regular internet articles. You can do this by typing “filetype:pdf” before any words you search for in Google. You can also go into Google’s advanced search settings and select “.pdf” under file type.

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Like everyone, debate judges are biased. When competing, you have to find a way to learn what the judge wants to hear. Sometimes you’ll lose just because you don’t know what arguments the judges liked.

A lot of my debate friends would come out of their debate rounds and complain of losing since the judge decided to vote for the other team. They felt it was unfair since in reality the arguments they made were better but the judge still believed the other team won.

I even heard of a debate judge named Joe Knox who had a grudge after losing to a debater from my high school. So Joe was infamous for purposely voting in favor of the other team whenever he got to judge debaters from my high school.

So like life, debate is unfair in that some judges won’t like your arguments. The winning competitors usually have access to better coaches, better evidence, or have more money which they use to compete in more tournaments.

Finally here’s a short story from my time competing in debate: 

During my senior year I competed in the State Student Congress debate tournament. The first night of the competition, I gave a speech and got elected the presiding officer of my Republican chamber. I went home excited for the next day of the competition.

However, in a twist of fate, the next day I lost in the final election and was so upset that I called my mom to take me away.

I didn’t have any of the bills we were to debate since the tournament was so badly organized. Since I didn’t know what bills were to be debate, I didn’t have any research or speeches prepared. On top of this, two of my debate teammates couldn’t participate either because of they got sick or had urgent schools projects due soon.

Even now looking back, quitting that tournament was the best decision for me.

It’s best to chose the battles we face everyday wisely. 

After I left that competition, my debate coach called the cops since she thought I had just ran away into the outskirts of city and was lost. For a few hours the cops were on the look-out for me.

The next day I ended up having to go to the office of my high school principal Mrs. Rousseau to explain this situation.

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When I arrived in her office, I was so nervous. I sat in front of her desk and did my best to explain how hopeless the situation had become. I could barely speak a few words before sobbing in front of her.

As the tears flowed down my eyes, Mrs. Rousseau looked at me with her kind eyes and told me that winning an election was a popularity contest. She then told me:

Make my new mistakes everyday and forgive yourself. It’s the only way you’ll grow. That’s always been my life motto.

I stood in front of her crying and grateful for what she said.