Over the last few weeks of Term 4, our History Debating team from Year 10 has been anxiously preparing for their Grand Final debate against Emanuel School Randwick. On 27 November, the final stage of the J.A. Thompson History Debating Competition took place with our students arguing the affirmative for the topic ‘That movies are better at teaching history than historians’.
In training, the squad had been researching the psychology of engagement and learning, and considering whether there can be objective truth in history. They built up a solid case centred around accessibility, the nature of teaching and learning, and how visual and narrative representations can lead to deeper understanding of the lessons of history. As part of their training, the team took part in a practice debate against All Saints Catholic College on the 25 November. This allowed them to view the potential holes in their case, leading them to consider rebuttals regarding unethical historical accuracy and arguments surrounding the impact of academic gatekeeping.
Finally, 27 November had arrived. The room was filled to the brim with a selected student audience from 10.3, Year 9 Elective History, 2021 Modern History students, younger students who have shown an interest in History Debating in the future, as well as the siblings of our Year 10 History debaters.
The debate was getting ready to begin, with Bianca R as first speaker. She opened the debate by expertly defining the topic and justifying her definitions using the sources of Seaver, Smith, Hirst, Gilbert and Leopold Von Ranke - the founding father of the modern discipline of history. She then passionately argued that accessibility for learning is essential, not only in the consumption of history, but in the writing of it - proving that the elitism in academia prevents historians from being an effective teacher of history. It was an outstanding opening, and the foundations were laid.
When it came time for Grace’s speech, the negative team had raised several concerns surrounding how films may endanger vulnerable communities through inaccuracy and misplaced empathy. Grace’s incredible rebuttals were highly thorough, asserting that problematic films can still be great learning tools when they are reframed as a primary resource, evoking the prevailing views of the time in which it was made. She proceeded to argue that objective truth is not possible, by citing the work of EH Carr, and that teaching the key lessons of history becomes the most important element to consider. At this point, the ideas provided in the debate were becoming increasingly complex, nuanced and exciting.
Finally, the time had come for Molly to take the debate home. Her manner was outstanding, and the passion with which she refuted and summarised the debate was incredible to behold. She brought the debate down to the key issues of accessibility Vs accuracy. She compared and contrasted films and historians on the basis of engagement, bias, elitism and accessibility, proving that statistically and logically, films come out on top. By the time she sat down, the entire room was bursting with pride for her, the team and our school.
It was decision time, and the adjudicators excused themselves to a breakout room to discuss who would be the winner. The room was tense and buzzing with excitement - nobody knew which way this debate would go. Emanuel had put up a big fight, but so had we. “I remember thinking that it was so well executed that there’s no way they couldn’t have won,” stated audience member Meghan W from Year 8. “When we were sitting there, I could see their structure, the way they conveyed their points was superior” agreed fellow student Renae L. The students discussed how inspiring it was to see their Year 10 mentors in action, Megan stating: “It was how well prepared they were. Their vocabulary was so good that I was taking notes on my pamphlet. I just did not have that many notes for the other team”.
The adjudicators returned to reveal the final decision. Every person in the room turned to the screen, hearts pounding, as they listened to the result:
“The winners of the Grand Finale” said the chair adjudicator “came down to two adjudicators to one. The winner was decided because they showed depth in their argument and logic. They had a link to a multitude of concepts as well as having an overall strong foundation for their historical argument. So we would love to announce that the winner of this debate is St Patrick’s College”.
Hands in the air, voices soaring, and smiles all around - the room exploded with love and pride for the work of these incredible young women. We were the 2020 champions of the J.A. Thompson History Debating Competition.
Congratulations to Bianca R, Grace K, Molly Q, Olivia L, Hayley M, Chelsea P and Layla E, for their wonderful achievements in this competition. It has been a pleasure to watch each of them grow in this highly challenging competition. Thank you to all students and staff present for their support of our debaters - it means the world to them to know that they have the support of their community behind them. Thank you to the Maintenance and IT staff for their expert facilitation of the event, particularly Tim Godbee who put in a considerable amount of time to ensure a positive Zoom experience. And finally, thank you as always to the wonderful Mr Duncan - his effort to prepare the girls in this competition has been insurmountable and he is thanked greatly for his support, expertise and enthusiasm in supporting the girls.
We are ecstatic that, in our first year entering this competition, our students have triumphed above the plethora of elite private and selective schools to enjoy their well-earned victory. We greatly look forward to holding the Grand Final cup here in Campbelltown for the year of 2021 and we are all very excited to see what this competition brings us in the future. Go St Pat's!
Laura Bryant - Public Speaking and Debating Coordinator