Kids have had it with idiotic grown-ups. And frankly, so have I. While judging at the MacArthur High School debate tournament over the weekend, I was anxious to hear how the kids felt regarding the Public Forum (PF) debate topic change. In the beginning of November, the National Forensics League released the month’s PF topic. It read, “Resolved: An Islamic cultural center should be built near Ground Zero.” The topics change monthly, often focusing on a highly publicized issue of political importance. Controversy often goes hand-in-hand with debate subjects; hardly any topic is off limits. So when a wave of complaints pounded the NFL, demanding the Islamic Center topic be removed, debaters were shocked and outraged. It was the students, not adults, who decried the dangerous ramifications of this decision. However, when the NFL posted a new Public Forum topic 24 hours later, students rallied together and seized this opportunity to defend what they considered a violation of the First Amendment.
Instead of scheduled mosque talk, the PF topic deliberated at the weekend competition was, “Resolved: High school Public Forum Debate resolutions should not confront sensitive religious issues.” The students were split on how to interpret the choice of subject. Some felt it was a half-assed substitute for the Islamic Center topic.
“We should be able to argue those things,” said a young debater from Round Rock’s McNeil High School. “I don’t think there should be one thing you can’t talk about just because people are worried about offending people.” Her opponent from a preliminary round chimed in. “I felt the NFL was undermining its own basic principle,” said the Churchill student. “One of the things debate accomplishes is ironing out the differences between us in an arena of logic.” I agree, young squire: that’s exactly what debate is about. For the NFL to crumble under the pressure of over-concerned, over-paranoid helicopter parents and obsessive debate coaches is highly unprofessional, unrespectable (real word!) and borderline unethical
or is it?
The Public Forum tournament champions were Matthew Chandler and Hailey Pulman of Clark High School (left). Three simple values were the basis of their winning contentions: education, tolerance, and the First Amendment. The rights of students in public schools are never consistent and can be stripped away for a variety of reasons, but as Chandler and Pulman fiercely asserted in their case: “Neither this topic nor the previous encouraged proselytizing. Most, if not all religious topics are sensitive because of our personal biases, but as dedicated debaters we are supposed to check those biases at the door. We cannot ignore religion for fear of offending people. Ignoring religion does not respect religion.”
Chandler, Pulman, and several other debaters felt the new topic was a backhanded response by the NFL to flustered parents and coaches. By incorporating the Islamic Center into their argument, all the Public Forum debaters were able to prove just how capable they are of handling issues that leave fearful adults glued to FOX News in a constant state of ignorant paralysis. Though none of the kids ever cited New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s speech defending the Islamic Center, the winning team’s assertion rang reminiscent of his emotional words, particularly when he said: “If we say a mosque or a community center should not be built near the perimeter of the Ground Zero site
we would feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim-Americans are equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen.”
How is it the a small community of San Antonio teenagers are able to realize this despite a wave of anti-Muslim fear running rampant across our nation? And how is it that such unfounded ignorance has managed to infect one of the few outlets young Americans have to become more socially conscious citizens? While it is appalling that censorship now looms over high school debate, it is also comforting to know these intelligent little spit-fucks are capable of fending for themselves, their rights, and the rights bestowed upon everyone in this country. David Bowie sings: “And these children that you spit on
are immune to your consultations; they’re quite aware of what they're going through.” The world is spinning around them faster than we’d like to believe they can keep up with. But the fact is, when given a chance American youth can rise to the challenge of the most demanding social issues. People need to back the fuck off, and give this adept generation a chance to be more compassionate than their paranoid parents.