Learning to Argue
As summer hits its stride in Ithaca, more than 100 high school students from China and the United States are preparing for the Cornell International Summer Debate Camp beginning Sunday at ILR.
During eight days of intense instruction, teens ages 14 to 18 will learn the fundamentals of argumentation and debate.
Their teachers will be internationally-recognized debate experts and Cornell faculty, plus ILR and Cornell students who represent the university in national and international debate competitions.
Cornell burst into the number one position in international university debate in 2012. The Big Red team, based at ILR, is known for its large squad – 100 members or so – and its philosophy of being elite, not elitist.
Although intellectual curiosity, strategic thinking and confidence are traits that play to one's debate abilities, high schoolers can prepare for the camp other ways, too, said Leah Salgado CALS '12, a camp director.
"Being well read is always helpful in debate. Additionally, taking classes that help you speak in public are always good."
Salgado was president of the Cornell Forensics Society her senior year and is now assistant director of the Cornell Forensics Department, which administers the university's speech and debate program.
"To be honest, ambition and having a willingness to learn from others are what is most helpful. Some of the best debaters in our program came to Cornell without having any experience, but they worked hard and that hard work paid off," she said.
Rachel Hinkley, 2014 camper, said, "Since I come from a rural village – Bainbridge in Chenango County – this is a unique opportunity for me to meet others from across the world."
"I look forward to learning more about argument construction. I find it intriguing how, when formed correctly, an argument has the power to sway someone else's opinion. I look forward to learning how to do just that."
Campers will take on serious subjects for debate, Salgado said, pointing to 2013 camp topics that included nanotechnology, genetically modified crops, prisons and punishment, and hydraulic fracturing.
Students will learn argument construction, persuasive speaking and critical thinking through a regimented practice schedule. Local campers return home at night during the week and overnight campers are housed on the Cornell campus.
Overnight campers will spend an additional three days of camp touring the campuses of Harvard, MIT, Yale and New York University.
Steven Shen, reflecting on his 2013 camp experience, said, "I still miss life at the Cornell International Summer Debate Camp … I want to continue debate and I hope that I can be a Cornell student someday."