The art of debate

Students prepare for a mock parliamentary session at the 2017 CSDF National Seminar in Ontario. Prince Albert debater Jarica Gooding is in the front bench on the left side. -- Photo submitted by Connie Gooding.

After one year of debate, Jarica Gooding found herself thrown into the deep end of the talent pool.

Gooding, a Grade 10 student at Carlton Comprehensive High School, was one of seven debaters representing Saskatchewan at the Canadian Student Debate Federation (CSDF) National Seminar in Ontario.

The experience was a challenging one for Gooding, who only started debating a year ago, but one she was thrilled to have.

“We thought the people coming there would only have one year of experience, and had to be previous novice (debaters),” she chuckled. “A couple of days into it, they’re like, ‘I’ve had seven years of experience and I speak four different languages,’ and I’m like, ‘what, excuse me?’”

Held annually, the CSDF National Seminar attracts roughly 100 English, French and bilingual student debaters from across the country.. Representatives from the Saskatchewan Elocution and Debate Association (SEDA) typically only have one or two years of experience, but many their fellow attendees from other provinces started debating in elementary school.

However, rather than being overwhelmed, Gooding said the intensity created an incredible atmosphere and a great opportunity to learn.

“I kind of felt out of place, and I was thinking at the end, ‘man, I’m so behind,’ but I talked to Melissa (SEDA executive director Melissa Ong) and she told me it’s never too late to start. Everyone is so welcoming and everyone is so friendly and they accept you so much, even though I probably wasn’t the greatest speaker.”

The four-day seminar consisted of a series of workshops, scheduled debates and a mock parliamentary session. The list of debate topics included things like eliminating college tuition, holding sports teams liable when their players suffer serious brain injuries and holding a referendum on electoral reform.

Gooding said there were some heated and heavy debates, but left impressed with the level of respect and friendship each debater showed to their opponents.

“You’re arguing a topic, but you learn how to state your points well and argue well, but not close yourself off from other possibilities. You learn how to respond to things other people bring up, and take things into consideration respectfully. I think that it’s just very important to have those kinds of skills in life.”

Although the seminar ended in mid-October, the time spent there is already paying dividends. In Gooding’s first open competition debate a week later, she placed second in the northern team standings with her partner from Saskatoon. She also finished second to last year’s provincial champion in the northern individual category.

Her goal now is to take you newly honed skills and recruit more members for the debate team at Carlton. Although the school has fielded provincial winning debate teams in past years, there numbers have dropped recently.

Gooding said they have a great debate program at Carlton, and a great coach in Michael Fahie. She just wants to help give them a bit of an extra boost.

“There’s a bit of interest, but nobody has found a partner and registered,” she said. “I want people to know that at Carlton, it’s not just sports and PAA (practical and applied arts). They have that, and it’s great, but we have so many more opportunities that are underplayed.”

@kerr_jas •