It's Friday evening on campus. So, naturally Michael Shore and
other championship college and university debaters are not at a
or party - they're stepping up to a podium.
Twenty-two minutes earlier Mr. Shore,who is now studying law at
the University of Toronto, was told he would argue the case against
"commodification of the human body." With scrawled notes on a small
pad of paper, he steps to the front for an eight-minute seat-of-the-
pants statement to a tough crowd.
"The body is not a cash cow or a condo," he states loudly in the
Mount Holyoke College lecture hall here in South Hadley, Mass. "We
are more than the sum of our parts. We are not an ATM machine on
legs, so that if you need cash you can just hack off an arm or a
His logic, laced with black humor, wins laughter from an audience
of more than 50 of North America's best college debaters - and maybe
a point from the judge. But a "government" member pops up on the
other side of the room.
Eric Albert, a freshly minted Harvard grad, stands for several
seconds, one hand on top of his head, the other arm outstretched in
front, palm upward. His lawn-ornament-like pose signals a "point of
information" challenge. Mr. Shore decides to permit Mr. Albert to
speak with a dismissive "yes" and a quick nod. "If as you say, a
body is more than the sum of its parts, how can you still favor
giving away body parts?" Albert asks. "Are you saying there is no
such thing as altruism?"
That such rational discourse goes on in a debate format might come
as a surprise to an American electorate, treated recently to debates
that featured shouts of "tell the truth" followed by movie one-
like "you can't handle the truth."
But the truth is that verbal argument, propelled by actual
rational thought, is alive and growing at colleges worldwide.
"There's no doubt college debating is growing quite rapidly," says
Robert Trapp, president of the National Parliamentary Debate
Association and a professor at Willamette University in Salem, Ore.
Look who's signing up
In the United States, intercollegiate debate didn't really get
going until the 1920s, Professor Trapp says, and was not widespread
until after World War II. Last year, however, the NPDA held a
national tournament attended by 206 teams from 120 schools -
with 50 teams five years ago. Hundreds of schools belong to other
national debating organizations.
International debating is peaking, too. More than 200 teams from
150 schools across five continents are expected to participate in
1999 World Universities Debating Championships, which will be held
Manila from Dec. 27 to Jan. 4, 1999.
What's driving the growth in the US, he and others say, is
expanding interest in "American parliamentary-style debate" - a
relative newcomer. Its better known and more lawyerly cousin is the
cross-examination, or forensic, style whose college roots go back to
the 1800s. …