A Plea: Help Low-Income Students Participate in Debate

Dear friends,

As a group, we have in common an appreciation for the tremendous value education has had in our lives. Education has opened up the paths that we have chosen to pursue. It has helped us define who we are and who we want to be. At least, I can say that education has played this role in my life, and I suspect that many, if not all, of you would say the same for yourselves. And, if you are reading this letter, it is very likely that your experience in debate has been an invaluable part of that education.

Sadly, many students are not given a similarly transformative opportunity in their own education. To put it mildly, the situation with this country’s educational system is grim—especially at those institutions that are intended to serve low-income populations. In Chicago, where I live, we have a public school system that virtually no one attends voluntarily; its student population consists almost exclusively of those who are trapped in it.

The inequity of this situation is mirrored in debate. Debate stands out as a high school activity that we know can be tremendously intellectually rewarding. But to truly gain those benefits, students need access to rigorous camps, quality coaching, and the chance to attend competitive tournaments. So as it stands, the intellectual rewards of debate are, for the most part, reserved only for those who can afford its high cost of admission. Last weekend, for example, those students whose parents and schools could afford coaches and plane tickets and hotel rooms and entrance fees gathered for the Glenbrooks tournament.

We should not tolerate this state of affairs. To that end, a number of us in the debate community founded the Texas Debate Collective (TDC) in 2009 with the goal of ensuring that low-income students are not deprived of the advantages of debate. Since then, we have created a non-profit two week debate camp that is free for low-income students and their teachers, and is staffed by successful national circuit debate coaches. TDC is a registered 501(c)3, and we’ve been running our camp for the past four years. For more information about TDC, have a look at our website.

So, where do you come in? We need your help to continue this work. Specifically, there are two things you can do to help. First, we are in need of donations so that we can do two things: (1) expand the amount of financial aid that we are able to offer, so that we can serve greater numbers of low-income students and the coaches of low-income programs; (2) provide year-round support for our students, so that they have access to coaching and travel throughout the debate season. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to TDC here. We are grateful for whatever you can afford personally, and we also urge you to consider passing this message along to family, friends, and colleagues whom you think might be interested in supporting our mission.

Second, if you are a tournament director, then we could use your help making tournaments more affordable for TDC scholarship students. We are looking for tournaments willing to donate “slots” to our students by waiving entry and judge fees to the tournament, and, if possible, also providing housing. Both the Greenhill and the University School Sunvitational tournaments have generously agreed to provide slots for TDC students. If you run a tournament, then please consider doing the same.

Thank you for taking the time to read this message, and I would be thrilled to talk more about TDC and ways that people can help our mission.

Warmly,

Tom Evnen

tomevnen@gmail.com

  • Ruben Delgado

    My name is Ruben Delgado and I’m a
    Mexican American that resides in a suburban neighborhood. Most of my life was spent jumping around to
    different schools in the public school system. I never really knew what it
    meant to attend a “good” school let alone know what debate was. For the schools
    I attended the question was always, “if you go to college”. However, once I
    moved to the Townview Magnet Center things changed and the question now was
    “when you go to college”. It was a school based on merit helping low-income
    students participate in otherwise, economically impossible, activities through
    high academic success. Through fundraising and charitable donations I was able
    to participate in debate.

    I loved debate, I loved what I
    learned, I loved the character it helped build. However, I quickly found myself
    at a disadvantage. Even though I loved debating, nobody enjoys losing and the
    truth was my school couldn’t go out and hire a bunch of debate staff. Even more importantly my debate team couldn’t
    afford to send us to the different camps and workshops all the other kinds were
    attending but thanks to institutions like TDC the playing field could be leveled.
    A debater’s financial situation would know longer play a role in his or her
    ability to get the educational benefit of debate. They made it possible for
    kids like me to participate in an activity like debate. That’s why I’m
    extremely grateful for an institution like TDC.

  • Daniel Becker

    I wholeheartedly support this.

    Debate as an activity can be incredibly, unequivocally educational, provided that you have the (financial) foundation for it – which often unfairly excludes low-income debaters. However, having experienced first-hand the quality of instruction at TDC, I can confidently say that their staff and program are absolutely instrumental in reaching and assisting low-income debaters and schools, and, in every case, going above and beyond to provide a support network outside of the two weeks in the summer.

    More importantly, the outstanding contributions that TDC (and other groups) makes should be echoed throughout the debate community, in the form of slots at tournaments and donations to organizations that provide real change for debate. Students’ ability to participate in this amazing activity should not be constricted by financial freedom.

  • Michael Harris

    I have had the privilege to never fear that I would be unable to attend a debate camp or tournament. My school has a strong program and my parents are willing to fund what the school does not. However, just waiting outside a room for the judge, I have met with many others who are the only ones from their school and can only afford one or two national circuit tournaments a year. One I met at UT in particular stood out. He had taught himself to flow speed from hours of videos on this site, and was catching plane rides from neighboring schools. To any debater who wants to pursue the skills required to compete on the national circuit and is simply held back by the high costs, I strongly encourage you to contact the staff at TDC. Kris, Tom, and everyone in the “collective” will fight for you to have the opportunity to realize the success that your hard work is due. For me, I am offering what I can to TDC (even if it is only my time), and I encourage the rest of you to do the same. And remember that this is a movement not bound to the name TDC, Urban Debate League, or Voices. Opening up your house to traveling teams, scholarships at tournaments, meetings to lone debaters from neighboring schools- these are all actions which can help this movement.

  • As someone who attended other camps before TDC, I can say with 100% certainty that it was hands down the best camp experience I have had so far. Every staff member was incredibly helpful with answering any questions the students had and were extremely friendly when interacting with the students. Compared to other camps, TDC was the only camp where I could immediately see changes and improvements in my skills because of the instruction from the amazing lab leaders I had in Graham Tierney, Tyler Sullivan, and Emily Bao. The lectures and lessons given by the likes of Becca Traber, Tom, and Devin Race, were definitely the best I’ve ever received from any camp. The environment is amazing, the message is very inspiring, and I definitely can’t wait to attend TDC again this summer.

  • As someone who was practically raised in the TDC community, I can speak firmly in favor of how incredible this institution is and the importance of the cause TDC has been trying to promote in debate. I’m sure most people who have participated in the activity can speak very fondly of the educational experience debate has provided them, but TDC is very committed to ensuring that students who cannot afford the prices of other camps are given the opportunity to have this experience and grow as thinkers who could potentially shape society in the years to come.

    I was very fortunate this summer to be in the same lab as Terrence and Jonathan, and I can speak endlessly about the unique experience the lab provided, but they highlighted a lot on the very effective approach Tom, Becca, and John took when teaching us. More than anything, after my 3rd year of attending the camp, I felt an immense kinship with everyone at the camp, staff and students. I have been through everything with the staff of TDC, from many fun bonding experiences to the loss of a family member during my first camp session.

    I can’t stress enough the potential that academic activities like debate possess when considering how to address many of the existing socioeconomic disparities in society, as the research and speaking skills gained are invaluable for activists and any profession capable of actualizing change. Any contribution really can have a meaningful impact on a kid’s life, and even impact the rest of society. Ask anyone who attended the camp; I have no doubt they will speak as fondly of this institution as myself, Terrence, Jonathan, or anyone in the top lab.

  • Jonathan Acevedo

    I just wanted to follow Terrence’s model and express how grateful I am for this camp and the opportunities with which it has provided many debaters and me. I was also in top lab with Terrence and 4 other debaters and the experiences we had in this lab were phenomenal Tom, John, and Becca were amazing lab leaders. They and many other lab leaders at this camp are some of the best lab leaders in the nation, and the staff quality matches that of any other camp in the nation. The difference between this camp and the others is that many of the debaters at this camp cannot afford the high cost of many of the expensive camps. The mission of this camp made it possible for those debaters to not fall behind the other national competitors.

    Prior to attending this camp, I had 1 bid round. This year, I have so far gained 2 bids and have competed in a few other bid rounds. I’m positive that the quality of the instructors and the experiences i had at TDC played a large role in my success. As Terrence said 2/3 of the top lab has qualled for toc and they remaining people in the lab have a bid.

    TDC not only leads debaters to great success, but it also provides them with the valuable lessons they gain from the repetition of the mission. I hope that anyone who reads these posts feels the same passion for this mission and TDC that we do, and I hope you strive to assist this camp in anyway possible as we are also determined to do. A testament to the camp’s quality is the fact that all of the previous debaters who have attended and those graduating now want to give back to this camp in any way possible. Please share in this mission.

  • As a 2010 Teach for America corps member and as someone still teaching in a Title 1 school, I have witnessed some of the efforts in this country to “close the academic achievement gap.” We see TDC as one component in this broader education movement going on in this country. Unfortunately, that movement has thus far barely tapped into the transformative potential of high school debate. There are few organizations—most notably, the Urban Debate League, Voices, and TDC—currently working within debate to impact the lives of low-income students. However, it is our belief that we can all do better and our students deserve it.

    The real problem, in my opinion, is not so much about basic access to participating. Debate exists, in various forms, all over the country. Many schools serving low-income communities have debate teams, which is undoubtedly awesome because even minimal participation in debate can benefit kids (and their teachers). However, at TDC we think kids deserve more than that.

    When I think about what I value about debate, very little of what has kept me so engaged with and passionate about the activity and community are things that can be experienced by a kid who gets to go to some tournaments, often end with a losing record, and go back home without access to a highly effective system of teaching-learning to help her learn from the tournament experience.

    Thus, our mission is to help low-income students not simply participate in debate, but to achieve—academically, intellectually, and competitively—at an absolute standard of excellence. One of our shared beliefs is that the kids we serve should set and achieve goals that are, at least, as ambitious as those pursued by their more affluent peers.

    One of the most important resources available to any debater, let alone to a whole debate program, is the teaching staff. By ‘teaching staff,’ I mean the full-time teachers, the assistant coaches, summer camp faculties, and the more experienced/accomplished debaters on the team. The achieved pages of VB Daily and, now, NSDupdate bear witness to the human capital that constitutes much of the intellectual resources that produce the most competitively accomplished debaters in American high schools. No doubt competitive success is not the only (let alone most valuable) “achievement” kids experience through debate; however, it is hard for me to imagine goals worth pursuing in debate that would not benefit from having access to a lot of learned and effective teachers (both adults and peers).

    Here’s the upshot: To most effectively help close the achievement gap in debate and, thereby, help low-income students experience the most transformative experiences debate has to offer, low-income students must have access to highly effective teaching, both during the summer and throughout the competitive season, and the opportunity to compete at intellectually-challenging tournaments. And this is where our aim for TDC’s future comes into focus.

    We want to offer financial and year-round curricular support to low-income debaters and their coaches, with our summer camp as only one component of this more robust support network. Imagine having experienced coaches and camp instructors go into classrooms during the year, work directly with low-income debaters, and observe class lessons and give feedback to their debate teacher on how to improve instruction.

    And this is why we need your support—we cannot make these resources available without your help. TDC has always relied on its network of alliances to make the impact it does: students, like those at Hockaday, raise money to fund a need-based scholarship to camp. Tournaments, like the Sunvitational, waive entry and judging fees for kids who received need-based scholarships to camp. TDC alumni donate graduation gifts or submit grant proposals to help TDC grow its scholarship fund. Staff from around the country, in one summer alone, donate over $20,000 in services.

    And last summer, when Ari Parker called me to say that he regretted not being available to work at TDC the whole two weeks so he’d bought himself a plane ticket and was flying to Austin on his own dime to work for several days in whatever ways we needed him, I was again reminded—TDC is truly a collective. It consists of people associated with different camps, who coach in different regions of the country, and are in very different phases of their lives. What continues to bring together this diverse group—and what I hope will incite you to join this movement—is the shared beliefs that debate can transform lives, that all kids deserve those opportunities, and that those of us who have the power to do something are obligated to fight to guarantee those opportunities.

    If you haven’t already, join the fight.

    Best,

    Kris Wright (wright.kris@gmail.com)

    Board Member, Texas Debate Collective

    Debate Coach, Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet

  • As a debater who comes from a low-income family and who attends a low-income school with little debate funding, I couldn’t agree more with the goal of TDC. I also think the cost of travel, pricey tournament entry fees, and almost elitist mindset when it comes to tournaments is the silent killer of high school debate programs. During my debate career, I have witnessed several debate programs simply vanish because the price of being competitive is extremely high. On my local circuit, I have seen this time and time again. The closure of programs on the local circuit in Iowa has had a domino effect over the course of 15-20 years. The catalyst of the termination of small school programs was the decision for schools in the state to attend tournaments with larger pools of competition that other smaller schools couldn’t afford. While less students attended these local tournaments, the local schools lost profit at the tournaments they hosted and their budget shrank drastically (my school has faced this problem and competing is almost impossible on the national circuit). This severely weakened local debate and while networking with friends across the nation, I’ve realized Iowa isn’t the only state effected.

    To some extent, underfunded programs and low-income students are so closely related, the terms in my mind are almost synonymous. I encourage any coach or student reading this to attend local tournaments, support small program debate, and help enable low-income debaters to participate and learn by donating to TDC because without acting, small program debate could almost face extinction.

    • Jack: I’d like to get your thoughts on some things. I don’t have your email address, so if you’re willing, shoot me an email.

  • Guest

    what are the dates for 2013?

    • The dates for students are June 23-July 6 (faculty arrives a few days prior to the beginning of camp).

      • Note, however, that registration for this year’s camp has not opened yet. We open it in January.

  • Terrence Lonam

    I just wanted to take a second to talk about TDC as a camp and as an institution. As a competitor, one the strongest investments I made for my career was attending TDC. I was able to work with top notch instructors both during lab (Tom, Becca Traber, John Heizelman) and during free time at night (Emily Massey, Kris Wright, Graham Tierney, Devin Race -the list goes on) and was afforded enough individual attention (my lab had a 2:1leader to student ratio) that I was able to make the most of the two weeks I had there, which I can’t say was true at other camps with comparable staffs. I was able to attend TDC, paying full tuition, at about 45% the cost of any other debate camp I have attended. And the experience paid off, 100% of the top lab has at least one bid to the TOCs and 2/3 are completely qualified.

    What made TDC a special experience (at least for me) is not just the world-class instruction it offered me but the mission it was founded upon, that every student who wants to should be given the opportunity to debate, regardless of their socioeconomic factors. The entirety of the tuition paid by students who were able to is used to provide scholarships for students who are not and to hire staff, though all of staff donated a portion of their time so as to maximize the scholarship money that TDC was able to provide to students. No staff member was there that didn’t truly care about making debate more accessible to everyone who wants to participate.

    I, and the majority of the debate community, have been fortunate enough to have schools and parents and supporters that were able to make debating nationally possible – but most people don’t. Regardless of whether or not you choose to attend, I hope that everyone will consider making a contribution (be it a financial donation, a donation of tournament slots or of your time as an instructor) to this wonderful organization that is making a serious and important impact in the community.

  • Terrence Lonam

    I just wanted to take a second to talk about TDC as a camp and as an institution. As a competitor, one the strongest investments I made for my career was attending TDC. I was able to work with top notch instructors both during lab (Tom, Becca Traber, John Heizelman) and during free time at night (Emily Massey, Kris Wright, Graham Tierney, Devin Race -the list goes on) and was afforded enough individual attention (my lab had a 2:1leader to student ratio) that I was able to make the most of the two weeks I had there, which I can’t say was true at other camps with comparable staffs. I was able to attend TDC, paying full tuition, at about 45% the cost of any other debate camp I have attended. And the experience paid off, 100% of the top lab has at least one bid to the TOCs and 2/3 are completely qualified.

    What made TDC a special experience (at least for me) is not just the world-class instruction it offered me but the mission it was founded upon, that every student who wants to should be given the opportunity to debate, regardless of socioeconomic factors. The entirety of the tuition paid by students who were able to is used to provide scholarships for students who are not and to hire staff, though all of staff donated a portion of their time so as to maximize the scholarship money that TDC was able to provide to students. No staff member was there that didn’t truly care about making debate more accessible to everyone who wants to participate.

    I, and the majority of the debate community, have been fortunate enough to have schools and parents and supporters that were able to make debating nationally possible – but most people don’t. Regardless of whether or not you choose to attend, I hope that everyone will consider making a contribution (be it a financial donation, a donation of tournament slots or of your time as an instructor) to this wonderful organization that is making a serious and important impact in the community.

    • Terrence Lonam

      sorry, had disqus issues. plz ignore this one

  • See, the #TETOffensive does have a heart <3

  • Go tommmmmmmmmm #tetoffensive

  • great post