Jon Mark Beilue: Here, Here! A Better Way to Get a Point Across

Here, Here! A Better Way to Get a Point Across


We are a country of arguers and name-callers, and if you don’t believe me, look at your latest Facebook feed. We are a country that too often believes yelling loudest and longest is the best way to be proven right.

But that’s not debate. That’s not reasoned persuasion. That’s not what was front and center Matt Anderson and Duncan MiertschinThursday night at the Alumni Banquet Facility at West Texas A&M University.

The Brits were in Canyon, and were here to have a word with a few people. Meabh McMahon Flanagan and Owen Mooney are two of Great Britain’s finest debaters, both members of the United Kingdom’s debate team.

In conjunction with Lambda Pi Eta, the national communication honor society, and West Texas A&M’s Department of Communication, the two British debaters are among the UK team making a selected tour of universities to debate current and relevant topics. This is the 15th year for WTAMU to host touring British debaters.

They were teamed with a pair from the WT forensics team, communications grad student Matt Anderson of Austin and freshman Duncan Miertschin, a freshman math and physics double major from Amarillo.

The two from WT were not paired against the Brits—the format at most universities—but were split to form Brit/American teams. The style: parliamentary debate. The topic: A world with open borders.

Pretty topical now with a caravan of approximately 7,000 Central American refugees marching in Mexico with sights set on entering the United States. Your social media sites likely have plenty of loud opinion on that. It likely sounded nothing like what the four told the audience Thursday night.

“A lot of social media has to do with ad hominem attacks,” said Anderson, a 2018 graduate of Texas State in San Marcos. “A lot of social media arguments are not substantiated. In debate, if you make a claim like you see on social media, you’re going to be asked by your source, ‘where did you get that information?’

“And in social media, when you refute a claim, it tends to become a personal attack, and devolves from there.”

About the only thing true debate has in common with social media bluster is taking the side of an issue. A formal debater needs what is increasingly rare these days—an open mind.

“You have to see both sides of an issue because you can’t further an argument if you don’t understand where it’s coming from,” said Connie McKee, WT forensics coach with 30 years of debate teaching experience.

“Before we present a case, we have to find holes in our case so we know how the argument is going to go against us. It causes you to look at everything. You find there are no black and white issues. They just don’t exist.”

Debate is not believing you’re right. It’s proving you’re right. And that’s where debate skills lie.

“What people normally do in their day-to-day lives is that arguing tends to be unstructured with no real discussion or educational merit to it,” Miertschin said. “They just say it because they think they’re right. They don’t want to change their opinion, and they’re trying to get someone who disagrees to feel bad about themselves or what their opinion is. That’s not debate.”

Thursday night was parliamentary debate, not the usual policy debate. It takes a bit of a page from opinionated British parliament.

It was audience participation with the Alumni Banquet Facility set up with a center aisle and audience members on the side of the debaters they initially support. In the course of the debate, if they are swayed, audience members can change sides.

If they disagree with a point, the audience can yell a “for shame” and not be hushed. On the other hand, a particularly persuading point or well-crafted phrase can get a “hear hear.”

Anderson said parliamentary style is easier for the layman to follow, while Miertschin points to audience participation as a nice change.

“I did a version of it in high school,” he said. “It’s kind of weird how it works, but from my experience, it’s very fun and it’s good to allow the audience to have a voice.”

Anderson, who graduated with degrees in communications and political science, has an eye on the law or as a communication specialist in the political field. Debate obviously would come in handy.

But Miertschin is a math and physics major. He one day wants to be a research physicist. Why debate? Why at Amarillo High and now at WT?

He wants to be an advocate for the STEM curriculum, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates 1.2 million jobs open in those fields in 2019, but not enough applicants to fill them.

“The STEM field is something I’m passionate about,” he said. “I want people to get more involved with it without sounding like an idiot.”

The debate with the touring Brits, many of them with doctorates, will only hone the skills of two of the WT forensics team. They are in the middle of a long debate season. WT was at Colorado Springs last weekend, and after the Thursday debate, left for a tournament at TCU.

“Debate has literally changed how I thought about the world,” Anderson said. “It has offered me a lot of new perspective. It has forced me to a higher level of thinking.”

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