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Edison eighth-graders to compete in national speech, debate

Cary Ashby • Jun 7, 2018 at 2:00 PM

MILAN — The Edison Middle School speech and debate team is making history in its first year of competition.

The four-member team of Aidan Anderson, Connor Betts, Otto Berckmueller and Dakota Sawyer have earned a berth in the national speech and debate competition in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. from June 19 through 23. In March, the eighth-grade students were crowned the Ohio Middle School Policy debate champions.

The topic is whether the federal government should substantially increase its funding and/or regulation of education in elementary and/or secondary schools in the United States. The Edison team must have knowledge of both sides of the issue.

“The state of Ohio has no limitations on the topic, so our Edison kids have been arguing their military family case, but also facing cases on school vaccinations, school lunch programs, charter schools, school funding, teacher salaries, fine arts education, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), the right to education (RTE), Native American education on reservations, bi-lingual education, mandatory school safety measures — including sports and concussion protocol, career tech education, etc.,” said Mike Amstutz, the speech and debate coach.

Two fun facts: The Edison team is one of four public schools competing among the 24 teams in the national competition. Also, this is the first time in 14 years an Ohio middle-school team has qualified.

Berckmueller said there has been “a lot” of nerves knowing he and his teammates are representing the Midwest regions, but preparation has helped.

“It settled them down a little bit,” added the son of Fritz and Bethany, whose uncle who competed on the high school debate team.

Other schools in the competition are from Florida, Georgia and Utah plus American schools in Taiwan, Morocco and others.

“We have spent the last eight weeks working on STEM, school lunches, school integration and RTE cases. This week we will end our preparation by looking into strategies to beat civic education cases,” Amstutz said.

Betts, the son of John and Christine, said he has discovered some teams’ cases that were posted online, which has helped his team come up with an attack.

The Edison team has practiced twice a week.

“Each debater has accumulated at least 1,000 pages of evidence with about 3,000 individual evidence cards over the course of the season,” Amstutz said. “Most schools have their files stored on their computers, but Edison does not debate ‘paperless.’ We have hard copies of everything so we can provide quick (and) concise evidence to back up our contentions; this is a skill which really benefits the students.”

The students have learned a variety of things as part of the debate team.

Anderson said he has enjoyed the opportunity to talk to people and sharing ideas so they can “come to a conclusion.” The competition experience has helped him build a better vocabulary.

“And maybe I can excel in language arts classes,” added the son of James and Sarah.

Berckmueller said he has a better understanding of politics and government.

“I can really express my opinions on certain things,” he added.

Amstutz was asked about the appeal of the speech and debate team.

“Kids love competition. They enjoy hard work if you make it interesting and appealing,” the coach said.

“My students have learned self-discipline, self-awareness, confidence and composure. These attributes will follow them through their high school and college studies as well as into life itself. We are losing the ability to think creatively and critically. Oral communication and persuasive speech will become lost art forms if we don't emphasize the skills we learn in speech and debate.”

Amstutz sees the biggest challenge in debating the military families case, especially since “there is no state-by-state individualized learning program for these students” who may attend five to 10 primary or secondary education schools.

“Our plan mandates a federal set of standards to which all 50 states must adhere. It also provides funding for technology to either ‘catch kids up’ or supplement and optimize their individual learning scenarios. Funding is also provided for adequate teacher training and education about the needs of these kids,” he added.

“Our case is so unique that we had to write to the board of directors of the national competition to get our plan approved. Their response was that our case would fall under the RTE case, but no one had ever even imagined a case on this sub-sect of students. So we have high hopes that our affirmative case will win.”

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