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The Politics of Power
Race, Class, Education, Hip Hop, and Hurricane Katrina
 A Battle Rap & Public Debate

Saturday, September 16, 2006
University of Puget Sound
Howarth Room 212

Jen Johnson, Executive Director, Seattle Debate Foundation:  (206) 910-7920; [email protected]
Derek B Buescher, Associate Professor and Director of Forensics, University of Puget Sound

High School Debaters:
Cole Austin, student, NOVA    -----   Cole Terry, student, Franklin
Ethiopia Berta, student, Garfield -----
  Precious Reese, student, Renton High

Moderator: Anthony (AJ) Johnson, student, Garfield High School

Guest Appearances by Hip Hop Artists & Scholars:
Toni Hill, Siren’s Echo, Hungry Mob, Oldominion
Mic Crenshaw, Suckapunch, Hungry Mob, Cleveland Steamers

High school students from the Seattle Urban Debate League will be debating disaster relief, specifically Hurricane Katrina and Rita, to examine racial, class, and cultural inequalities in the United States.  By debating and also by participating on a panel following the debate, students will voice their own views, experiences, and evidenced proposals for addressing structural inequalities in the United States, including closing the achievement gap.  Audience members will adjudicate the debate and share their thoughts on the arguments presented from the perspective of parents, youth, educators, and administrators.

The students are representing the youth voice at the conference.  The conference will bring together scholars, teachers, and students as well as community partners to discuss the pedagogical implications of race in higher education, particularly but not exclusively in institutions and programs oriented towards a liberal education in the arts and sciences.

Please come and join us in this excellent conference that showcases our collective effort to empower students and provide opportunities for them in which they can develop, express, and utilize their talents, vision and leadership.  Our students demonstrate that as a community we have developed and sustained an easily replicable education model that addresses and provides an effective way to address severe educational inequities; which in turn, helps to ensure that all of our children are powerful and active citizens and leaders.  

The Seattle Debate Foundation runs the Seattle Urban Debate League which creates and sustains informal and empowering learning communities throughout the Seattle area's underserved populations by sponsoring weekend debate tournaments; public/street debates; rap battles; summer workshops; teacher support programs; direct coaching; and parent/community training for paid & volunteer positions in: judging/administering debate tournaments, community organizing, fundraising, and youth mentoring.

In six years, the SDF has worked with 25 partner schools and two community centers.  In the spring of 2003, SDF launched Seattle’s first Middle School Urban Debate League, with five schools participating.  In the spring of 2006, SDF started Seattle’s first Elementary School Debate League.  At the inaugural elementary school tournament in June, over 60 fourth and fifth grade debaters from four schools competed in a two round tournament after school.  As of August, 2006, the SDF serves over 350 youth in grades 4-12, and directly supports debate programs in 23 schools and two community centers. 
The debate format positions students as active, vocal advocates for public policy change: transforming traditional student attitudes toward learning basic skills and civic participation.  Students are freed to speak with authority, as advocates for change in which they are intellectually invested. Breaking the code of public policy language is a byproduct of researching those issues, providing students with justified confidence in their own ideas.  Teachers, parents and judges listen while students speak.  Judges take copious notes. This reversal of power that the debate format embodies is critically important as a life experience for marginalized populations.

This summer, at the SDF’s two-week, residential summer debate institute at the University of Washington, the SDF became the first Urban Debate League in the country to fully incorporate Hip Hop throughout the curriculum as an alternative argument and mode of presentation for students to use in their 90-minute evidenced based debate rounds.  Our goal was not only to increase our capacity to recruit and serve underrepresented youth, but also to create a more inclusive activity, and also stimulate a broader commitment to create a more inclusive politics that values the richness and voices of all cultures and forms of expression.  Dozens of Hip Hop artists from around the Pacific Northwest and California, volunteered their time to participate in panel discussions and teach hands-on Hip Hop Skills workshops including: deejaying, emceeing, breakdancing, street knowledge, entrepreneurship, fashion, beatboxing, Hip Hop history). 

Teaching students how to use Hip Hop to speak to the issues that they will be debating, enables them to switch the code of debate in a way that challenges the typical elite and exclusive form of speech which is the norm in politics (and in the world of competitive high school debate).  During the year, these students will bring this style to weekend debate tournaments that occur both locally and nationally at public and private high schools, colleges, and universities. 

Educators around the country believe that debate is a better learning tool for urban students than anything else they have tried.   According to Yale University Professor Minh A. Luong, “There is no better activity that will develop essential academic, professional, and life skills than dedicated involvement in speech and debate.”   Research on debate consistently produces dramatic results across the curriculum and most measures of academic achievement – especially for traditionally underserved educational communities.  Robert B. Reich, Professor of Social and Economic Policy at Brandeis University explains: “Urban Debate Leagues can help reduce the education-opportunity gap that separates rich and poor communities and thus they can help our children’s chances and our nation’s future.”

Debate participation is linked to improvements in test scores, grades, reading comprehension, critical thinking skills, reducing achievement gaps between populations, reducing discipline referrals , and promoting college attendance.   In Atlanta, a study of the impact of debate on at-risk middle school students found that seventh graders improved their grade-point averages by four points and experienced a 50% reduction in disciplinary action.   Not only do reading scores of debaters improve 25% more than those of non-debaters; but also, the New York Times reported in 2004, that after two years of debating, high school students participating in Urban Debate Leagues research at a post-collegiate level.   Furthermore, John Sexton, President of New York University and former Dean of NYU Law School explains, “In some ways debate is a superior training to what’s offered in some law schools.”

“Making Their Case,”  CBS 60 Minutes, June 8, 2003.
“Debate: New Gateway to College for Urban Educators,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 2003.

Minh A. Luong, “Forensics and College Admissions,” Rostrum, November 2000, page 3.

Keith Ervin, “Student Debates Prompt Cheers,” The Seattle Times, March 26, 2001.

“Debate: New Gateway to College for Urban Educators,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 10, 2003.  

Holly J. Morris, “League of Their Own,” U.S. News and World Report, June 17, 2002.

Tonya Harris, “Urban Debate Leagues – A Growing Phenomenon,” Urban Educator, March 2006, page 6.

Linda Collier, University of Missouri-Kansas City National Study on Debate and Urban Student Achievement, May 2004.

“The Smart Sport” The New York Times, November 14, 2004.

John Sexton in “A Conversation with John Sexton,”  Rostrom, March 1994 Volume 68 Number 7



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