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Digital debate within historic Kump House

Andrew Carroll is the resourceful Elkins High School Debate Coach who also serves as a member of the Kump Education Center Board of Directors.

When the high school Wi-Fi would not work early last Saturday morning, he called me to ask if the debaters could use the Wi-Fi and other technology given to KEC by Altice.

The EHS team was ready to compete in the digital Duke Invitational Debate Tournament but had no internet service.

Of course, I said yes because I believe high school debate is the most effective way to teach critical thinking and rhetorical skills necessary for citizenship in a democracy.

These essential skills are sadly lacking in most rhetorical performances by current political leaders, and we need critical thinkers so desperately during the pandemic.

When I pulled into the parking lot at KEC, four cars were waiting. Coach Carroll introduced Alexandra Barrickman, Logan Nixon, Thomas Nixon, Annmarie Raschella, and Dorie Raschella. They wasted no time.

Once the doors were open and debaters had the KEC Wi-Fi access code, each debater took a computer to a different room in historic Kump House.

One was in the music room where the glass doors protected him for interruption, another sat at the dining room table where Eleanor Roosevelt ate lunch in the 1930’s, and a third student worked in the learning lab on a new table from Altice, still another sat at Miss Kump’s unpainted desk where she studied and graduated with a law degree that she was not able to use.

One local judge sat in the sun porch, and Mr. Carroll served as a judge sitting in the living room.

Coach Carroll confirmed that all Elkins judges and participants were “on the digital bus” meaning they were at their computers and ready to participate in the first round of the Duke tournament. The debate topic was: “Resolve that, in a democracy, voting should be compulsory.”

I would have stayed to listen to each debater, but they could focus better alone in each room. They were muted when they were not speaking, but they were required to keep their cameras on and pay attention when other debaters were speaking.

I have never seen high school students concentrate so fully for so long. They were competing for almost 12 hours with breaks between the five rounds of debate.

Of the 47 debaters participating in the Duke debate two from EHS, Alexandra Barrickman and Annmarie Raschella, were among the final 16 who competed again on Sunday.

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