The Women’s Debate Institute

Jeff · July 21, 2005 at 8:18 pm · Filed Under Off-topic ranting 

As some of you know, both myself and DMZ are alums of academic debate. Just found out during an outing to the Aquasox game that Dave is, too.

Please excuse the off-topic post, but if you’ve got a daughter in high school debate, or if you are a girl in high school debate, check out the “More Inside …”

Debate is, beyond any question, the educational activity that taught me the most. The research, the public speaking, the strategy, the training in policy analysis … you just can’t beat it. It makes you smarter, it helps get you into college, and you meet brilliant people.

Unfortunately, like many great activities, there’s the problem of access. A lot of the kids that could benefit the most from debate are cut off from it through economic factors or social factors. Schools in funding crises often can’t afford to travel teams; even if they can, to be competitive, most students must attend summer debate camps to keep up. All of this costs money.

Some time ago, people in debate started doing something about it by organizing Urban Debate Leagues, bringing debate back to sparsely funded schools in the city. These folks included a good friend of mine, Becky Galentine, who founded the Seattle Debate Foundation. This was and is a tremendous program, worthy of praise, admiration and support. There were also debate cooperatives, where instructors volunteered their time and kids attended at cost.

Five years ago, when I was coaching a high school debate team, a group of fellow coaches and I noticed another troubling trend. Girls were joining debate at about the same rate as boys — but something was driving many of them out, at least here in the Pacific Northwest, before they got to the upper echelons of the activity.

This group of coaches hatched an idea. What if we founded a low-cost camp for girls, led by prominent women in the activity? What if we delivered top-notch debate training at the most affordable prices we could manage? We were and are solution-focused: we want every kid who loves debate to be welcomed into the activity and encouraged.

That’s why we founded the Women’s Debate Institute.

It’s a camp for high school girls, taught by some of the most outstanding people in the activity. We’ve had national champion debaters and coaches on staff; we’ve had multiple state champions teach. It’s been five years, and I’m proud to say a lot of our students go on to debate in college — and return to WDI as instructors.

I’m proudest — and most humbled — by the fact that this is an all-volunteer effort. Nobody gets paid. Most teachers pay their own freight to get to the camp. These are coaches, including a national champion, who spend their own money for the privilege of working their butts off. They could be doing research for articles, making thousands teaching at some other camp, or just relaxing with family — something debate folks don’t get enough of.

But they don’t. They come to WDI. Because it’s important, and because it makes us feel good to do something important.

Like anything worth doing, though, it’s hard. Funds are always scarce, and that’s flat-out my fault. No joke.

One fundamental goal of mine is to make the camp affordable. That means I always argue for setting the tuition fee as low as we can. This means, thanks to my stubbornness, we go into the red every year and have to fundraise.

What can you do to help? Simple. If you know a young woman interested in high school debate, please encourage her to register for the camp. It’s incredible value for the money, and the kids tell me they have a good time, too. We put this on for the kids, so the more we get, the better.

If there’s one thing I hate more than the Yankees, it’s asking people for money. But if you’re so moved — and/or if you want a tax deduction, since we are a 501c3 — feel free to click on that button down the left navigation bar and donate.

In either case, you would have my undying gratitude, the thanks of a lot of great kids, and excellent, excellent karma.

In the interests of minimizing my intrusion into the daily business of this baseball blog, I’m turning comments off. Folks interested in the camp can come straight to me with questions at jeffmshaw, with the domain name being hotmail period com.

Thanks to you, the reader, and especially to the other four guys who write the blog — even the non-debaters — for your forbearance. We now return you to trade speculation, odd nicknames for Australian baseball players, prospect analysis and object lessons in stridence.


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