A debate about poverty, excess and obligation

bowery mission
bowery mission (Photo credit: niznoz)
This debate was set up by the King's College, as a way to engage a public issue and get public response from it. Not shown in the video was an interesting talk by members of the Bowery Mission - a homeless shelter and education facility in New York.

One of the residents watched the debate and gave some good commentary. Again, it's not in the video, as it seemed the video was shutting down people's comfort in addressing the assembled group with their thoughts about the debate.

I have an idea that I approached the Mission with after the debate: Would it be possible to use the residents as judges in a debating competition?

They said they would think about it. I extolled the idea that the judges would learn the art of critical feedback and giving a positive, constructive commentary on something they have just heard. This is a great job skill.  As for the students participating in the competition, it would be good for them to get some commentary from people in the public to help reduce the inevitable drive to speak like a debating automaton and reference tropes that only have meaning for a cloistered few in the debate universe.

The topics would be about homelessness and poverty. And yes, as I already addressed one student's concern - the audience will be very biased. But that might be something we lack the capacity to train for in debate. Competition dictates that the debates must be fair and evaluated on the most even standard possible. What happens when a judge is too far gone to one side? We must offer some moments where students are forced to be creative in how they appeal to convicted audiences.

Would anyone participate? I hope so. But first I have to convince the Mission staff that this project would be worth their time. This debate, as presented here, did inspire them and make them express that they would like to participate in some way.

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