Young boys who are part of the College Access Center of Delaware County’s Male Achievers initiative for students from Chester and other areas, ages 12 to 17, were given lessons on fighting, but with words through the art of debating.
Students were given advice from Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland and CNN-commentator and educator Dr. Marc Lamont Hill.
“This is why I’m bringing this to your attention and having this program because you’re going to get into debates and arguments,” Julani Ghana, director of the center located on Widener University’s campus, passionately said. “Sometimes they’re going to be competitive…you also have to talk and discuss your point without getting personal!”
Ghana reiterated Kirkland’s point. He previously told the boys to argue a topic at hand without personally attacking an opponent and staying “sharp and alert.”
“Being able to have an open discussion, open conversation or an open debate, if you will, over certain topics in a manner that is not hostile, in a manner that is not over zealous, but a manner that simply shares correct, proper information in a very wholesome way,” Kirkland said he told the youngsters.
The men both told stories of heated arguments resulting in violence and encouraged the children to tactfully argue.
In a class-style setting, Ghana showed the boys videos of various television debates about topics ranging from sports to politics. He later opened the floor for discussion about the people’s debating tactics. Ghana specifically showed clips of Hill’s debates and allowed the children to discuss them.
Shieem Green, a ninth-grader at Chester High School, was very straightforward with his critique of Hill’s debate against conservative pundit Laura Ingraham about Arizona’s illegal immigration law, the Obamas and racism mediated by Larry King, the host.
“He stumbled over some of his words,” Green said, while others leaned more to the opinion that Ingraham constantly interrupting Hill was rude, but the boys later agreed with Green.
Unbeknownst to the children, as they discussed his debate blunders, Hill quietly slipped into the room, taking a seat in the back, causing their jaws to drop when Ghana eventually made Hill’s presence known with an introduction.
“You guys talked about a lot, it was very good,” Hill said and praised Ghana for being a good mentor to the boys and to him when he was also a teenager.
The Philadelphia-native who frequently appears on CNN and BET, reminisced to the boys about his conversations with Ghana, recalling discussions about education, career aspirations and their favorite pastime, basketball. Hill also spoke about his big break on television as a Fox News commentator, debating Bill O’Riley on the O’Riley Factor, through the discovery of his think-pieces on the Duke Lacrosse rape case posted on his blog.
The Ivy-league graduate dished the workings of television debates, which he described as different. “My goal isn’t to convince the other person, it’s to educate the viewer,” Hill said.
He spoke about how his past adversaries would talk loudly and interrupt him so as to appear victorious to viewers. In one instance, Hill recalled, a political commentator tossed out a vaguely relevant statistic before a commercial break, which prevented Hill from providing a counterargument to question its relevance.
Hill said during the break, off-air, he asked the opponent why he used the irrelevant statistic and, to Hill’s surprise, the opponent said he knew the statistic was irrelevant but it influenced the viewer think it was a knockout victory.
Hill also took a comedic dig at the self-criticism and then challenged Green to a debate on any topic of the high schooler’s choice in front of the room to which he obliged and chose basketball.
“Dr. Hill taught me a lot today, about debating,” Green told The Spirit. “He’s a smart guy who knows a lot about debating.”
Green said if he were to debate among family or peers, he would “be a little more equipped” after learning from Hill.
Montgomery Hallis, a 10th grader at Kingsway Regional High School in New Jersey, also debated Hill about basketball and said he, too, learned a lot.
“(Hill’s) a great challenger; I learned a lot of the tactics used in debating and to not belittle your opponent and get back on track,” Hallis said.
“It was awesome, he really inspired me and taught me a lot of things about debating,” said Evan Boward, a 6th grader at Bell Avenue Elementary School in Yeadon, who chose to debate teachers receiving higher pay than athletes, breaking up the monotony of sports-talk.
“Teachers are the ones who organize athletes to become leaders, or athletes to grow to do what they’re doing now,” Boward said as a rebuttal to Hill’s statement that “…athletes bring in billions of dollars…athletes get more money because they earn more money.”
“The man who created the NFL was actually a teacher,” Boward added.
When asked why he chose the topic, Boward said it was something that interested him since his class discussed it because he felt that teachers are underpaid, though he doesn’t want to pursue the career; instead Boward said he wants to be president of the United States.
During each debate with the boys, Hill deliberately used logical fallacies such as “red herring” and “appeal to authority” to keep the youngsters sharp in their debating.