Over the last five years, I have seen debate camps through both the eyes of the competitive debater and through the eyes of a young instructor. Both experiences have made me understand new things about both debate and about education itself, much like how each batch of new debaters.
Jr. Instructor Thomas Lloyd and his squad of debate campers in Baltimore shared experiences and forged strong connections while encouraging each other to strive for their best.
teaches me during the season. Debate camp is about gaining experience, it is about immersion, but most of all, it is about building connections and community.
When I first joined debate, I just thought that it was an activity that would only consume my weekends and some school nights. It was something that practice and hard work alone could make me better at. When people first mentioned “debate camp” I was skeptical of the idea from the beginning. I was already on track to be successful (or so I thought), and so why spend my summer debating? Eventually, older debaters and coaches sold me on trying out a debate camp after my first year of competition. I entered the camp about as skeptical as possible, I had never been to any camp, let alone a debate camp.
At debate camp however, I quickly became too involved in the activity to even rest on my skepticism. A good debate camp is not unlike a pressure cooker, it forces you to research, compete, and practice more than you normally would in two or three week period. It squeezed more competition and more experience in to a few short days than some local debaters see during their entire season. Obviously, getting experience is good, but because it is continuous, you also go more in depth. By eating, sleeping, and dreaming debate for an extended period of time, you can reflect on the activity, your style, and your experiences in more meaningful and insightful ways.
The impressive itinerary of my camp had another positive side effect, it brought all of the campers, people who I would be competing against, closer together. Many people complain that competitive arenas bring out the worst in people. Debate is unfortunately not immune to the uglier aspects of competition. That said, debate camps give competitors shared experiences and connections that they will carry forward in to the next season. Debate camps foster friendships, which not only fosters collaboration, but also community. This community is a unique, and not only makes debate competition more human, but also makes the debater themselves more ethical and compassionate competitors.
As an instructor, I have seen all of these benefits come to life in multiple generations of students. My debaters have a network of information and help that is far larger than any one I ever could have created. Their dedication to and understanding of the activity are far more advanced than my own when I was at their level. But perhaps most profoundly, I have seen them form an extended, tight-knit, and uniquely argumentative family.