GENTLEMEN'S ARGUMENTS INNER-CITY KIDS HELP CHANGE WORLD OF HIGH SCHOOL DEBATE.
LONG BEACH - A two-person debate team from Jordan High School is shaking things up in a new, feature-length documentary that earned an audience award at the Los Angeles Film Festival last month.
Richard Funches and Louis Blackwell, two African-American students formerly at the inner-city North Long Beach high school, stick out among high-powered teams, mostly from private schools, with few black members.
The documentary shows the pair -- who became state high school champs, graduated and went on to compete in college -- trying to change the style of debate. The filmalso profiles a white team from University Park, Texas. The director and producer, Greg Whiteley, said he wanted to spotlight high school debate, as documentaries have explored competitive activities such as spelling bees.
The focus, however, partly shifted to Funches and Blackwell, who came out of nowhere in the debate community to become state champions in 2005. The students, now both 19, argued that the structure of debate itself had the effect of excluding minorities and low-income populations. The structure had "never been thought of as a problem because ... the debate community is mostly an affluent community," Blackwell said.
The pair discussed the inequities during debate rounds in an effort to change the system.
"We felt like a lot of urban minorities ... didn't necessarily have adequate resources or equipment to debate the way" most teams debate, Funches said.
The style of rapid speaking and jargon-filled prose also is exclusionary, Funches said, prompting his partner and him to try to switch the conversation during debate rounds to argue about the structure of debate itself.
Too often in debate, the rapid-talking tactic results in a victory for the team that throws out the most arguments, even though some center on outlandish scenarios, said David Wiltz, a former Jordan debate coach who worked with Funches and Blackwell.
"What we were saying is that the issues we were bringing into the round were more real and had more impact than any other issues we can discuss," Wiltz said.
The strategy was not without controversy, Funches said. "There were several people who wouldn't even shake our hands after the round," Funches said.
Funches and Blackwell didn't have debate in mind when they first enrolled at Jordan High School. Funches ended up fleeing into a debate room for safety during a 2003 melee at the school. He got interested after talking with the debate coach. A teacher advised Blackwell to join the debate club. Funches said that debate kept him focused and out of trouble. "Debate kind of saved my life," he said.
After Blackwell and Funches began to debate as sophomores, a coach paired them. Their joint competitive appearance won the regional novice tournament.
A three-year, $175,000 grant from the L.A. Urban Debate League ran out after Funches and Blackwell finished high school in 2006, and the debate program ended at Jordan. Wiltz now teaches at Jefferson High School in South Los Angeles, where he is starting a debate program.
Blackwell attends California State University, Fullerton, and Funches goes to the University of Louisville in Kentucky -- both on debate scholarships.
Blackwell hopes his success at Jordan will create more interest in debate and belief in success at inner-city high schools.
"I think maybe people could look at me and say, 'You know, it's not impossible,'" Blackwell said.
Kevin Butler can be reached at kevin.butler(at)presstelegram.com or (562) 499-1308.
Louis Blackwell, seated, and Richard Funches helped change the insular world of high school debate.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jul 9, 2007|
|Previous Article:||PUBLIC FORUM.|
|Next Article:||'TRANSFORMERS' WINS AT BOX OFFICE $152.5 MILLION TAKE IS BIGGEST 7-DAY OPENING IN HISTORY FOR NONSEQUEL.|