CCA Previews ’21: Raffles Debaters

By Min Sitt Hman (21A01A), Chairperson

Your opponent’s time is up. Cue applause. You take brisk steps to the centre of the room, recalling every nook and cranny in your mental arsenal. You are ready.

Your first word slips through the mouth, casting a brilliant gossamer unto the undecided masses; before you know it, you have become the Crusader of Truth, the one valiant defender of Reason standing ardently between Virtue and Ignorance.

With surgical precision, you puncture your opponents’ morale, dexterously deconstructing their case. With every victorious stroke, you demonstrate the sheer magnificence of human rationality, resurrecting the spirit of Socrates—and as you ascend to the climax of your speech you transfigure into the custodian of Kant’s kingdom on Earth, proclaiming with ease one moral axiom after another, each one most coherently aligning with the noblest aspirations of man.

Haha. Just kidding.

Reality is often disappointing—our training sessions are often a far less spectacular imitation characterised by petulant tirades and one-brain-cell rebuttals! But we all try, we do, and that’s the important part.

Who are debaters? Simply speaking, we are a bunch of people with a passion for argument and a desire to get better at it.

In a debate, we split ourselves into two sides (Proposition and Opposition) and present arguments in favour of or against a topic, like “This House supports the use of force by social movements” or “This House believes that recidivism should not be an aggravating factor in criminal sentencing”. Really, we talk about everything under the sun, from feminism to criminal justice to geopolitics to sugar relationships. Essentially, debaters wield logic and rhetoric to convince judges of their team’s position on the issue at hand.

Founded in 1886, Raffles Debaters is the oldest club in RI, and we are proud to count amongst our alumni a few luminaries who have gone on to become changemakers in their respective fields,  including leaders in public service like Former Prime Ministers Goh Chok Tong and Lee Kuan Yew, as well as Professor Tommy Koh. We’ve changed radically, but something that remains a constant in our club (and grew only stronger with time) is our firm belief in open and reasoned discourse. 

A little history. (Source: Raffles Archives and Museum)

Our training sessions are held twice a week, though extra sessions may be held during competition seasons.  At the point of writing (August 2020), our weekly sessions are held on Microsoft Teams in accordance with the school’s safe-distancing rules, but we are hopeful that in-person training will return very soon – it’s always more fun with people around!

We value critical thinking and a love for knowledge, and our illustrious coach, Mr Ryan Wee, takes care to nurture these qualities in us. Every training session, Ryan gives us an extensive dissection of our cases as well as personalised feedback on how we could improve our argumentative skills. Not only that, but we are also blessed with a team of dedicated teachers who are more than willing to help you thrive within the club—Ms Umarani, Mr Ashton Tan and Ms Magno!

Aside from training, every debater has the opportunity to debate in a competitive setting. We also host our very own tournament for secondary school debaters, the renowned Raffles Debate Academy Under-14s Debating Championships. Additionally, we organise Hodge Lodge Debates from time to time, where we invite the school community to engage in discussions about pertinent contemporary issues like race or gender.

But of course, what keeps us looking forward to every training session is the people – it’s the faces we see, the banter we share and the camaraderie amidst communal suffering that makes debates more than just an extra-curricular activity. We are a diverse bunch here, having amongst us the Israeli foreign policy enthusiast, the hardcore Marvel fan, the musical nerd, and so many other peculiar personalities all tied together by the same common passion. Our club welcomes everyone, and whether you’re a curious first-timer or a battle-scarred, been-doing-this-since-primary-school old-timer, you’ll be sure to find yourself at home pretty quickly in our family.

Our former coach Jonathan used to say that once you are a debater, you will always remain a debater; certainly, debating has been something that has profoundly affected us. One way or another, you will leave the club with a broader worldview, a more critical eye and a renewed confidence in your ability to voice out and defend your own opinions. If all this sounds appealing to you, we hope to see you at our trials!

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