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Susan Campbell (opinion): Let’s have debate clubs for adults

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I wish I’d joined my high school debate club. At the time, I’d already collected a drawerful of nerd ribbons and I worried that my thin popularity would collapse under the weight of one more.

Still, I admired the briefcases carried by the members of my school’s debate team, who did quite well, if memory serves. I also liked their index cards, which they would rifle through in a debate as if the world depended on their finding the right one.

Maybe those of us who were too cool for debate club bear some of the blame for the current state of U.S. social discourse. We missed a wonderful opportunity to learn how to discuss issues in a meaningful way.

A new study says that middle- and high school students who belong to debate clubs tend to be better at critical thinking (a much-needed skill) and after graduation, those students are more likely to attend college.

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But the rest of us? We appear to have lost — if we ever possessed — the ability to engage in civil discussions. If you tuned in to Fox for last week’s Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis/California Gov. Gavin Newsom televised debate/rumble, you probably walked away disappointed. I tuned in and was reminded that just because there’s a circus in town doesn’t mean I have to buy a ticket. Then, too, if you appoint Sean Hannity as moderator of a debate that covered topics such as homelessness, taxes, immigration and abortion, you should keep expectations low. Of course, this was a political debate, so our expectations weren’t very high in the first place. Political debate is theater and the news coverage mostly keeps track of who dominated what conversation, with bonus points if you humiliate your opponent.

At least the fact-checkers earned their paychecks that night, and bless them.

This may be patently unfair, but compare last week’s performance (“You’re a liar,” “No, YOU are”) with the 1858 Lincoln/Douglas debates. Republican Abraham Lincoln and incumbent U.S. Sen. Stephen Douglas (a Democrat) went head to head in a series of seven debates about the most controversial issue of their time — slavery and the expansion thereof. The stakes were high and what ended up being 21 hours of debate set the tone of other debates that would drive policy.

You can read the transcripts of the debates — which were later published in a book. The language includes such gems as Lincoln’s imploring that “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” which he borrowed from a Christian scripture (Matthew 12:25) people would have recognized.

The debates helped send Douglas (who argued that territories should decide whether to allow slavery) back to Washington, but it put the nation on notice that Lincoln was a politician who bore watching, and it reminded the populace that the debate about slavery wasn’t going away.

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Compare that to select statements from last week’s show:

“…one thing, in closing, that we have in common is that neither of us will be the nominee for our party in 2024.” — Gavin Newsom

“You have the freedom to defecate in public in California.” — Ron DeSantis

“I don’t want to be the hall monitor. Please don’t turn me into that.” — Sean Hannity.

Who won? Who cares? That was not debate. It was an online argument read aloud as bad spoken word poetry.

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In fact, these days, most debates exist entirely on social media. They go thus:

  • Someone posts something controversial and often unlinked to reality
  • A second party refutes the post
  • Name-calling ensues
  • Someone mutes or blocks their “debate” partner

And that’s it, a very modern and useless exercise in which we risk and learn nothing. Since social media is not the venue for serious debate, let’s consider moving back to real-live, face-to-face conversations with debate clubs. Our democracy is hungry for it.

So: Resolved: In-person debate clubs for grown-ups shall be organized in every Connecticut town starting in the new year. Attendance isn’t mandatory, but there will be door prizes. We need to learn (or relearn) how to talk to people with whom we don’t agree.

Last week, we went to an area library to listen to a Connecticut College professor talk about Palestine, as in how we got here. This was no debate, per se, but there was a lot of information shared by a credible source. From the questions afterward, it was obvious there was some disagreement, but the conversation remained respectful and fruitful. We were face to face, after all, and though we continually find ourselves learning new social norms, calling someone an idiot to his/her/their face remains rude.

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We drove home excited to have been out in public (like during Before Times) to participate in a real-life talk about an important issue. It felt like a throwback. It felt necessary. It felt great. I’d be willing to argue for a debate club for adults, though I probably wouldn’t do so effectively. Maybe I can hire a young debater, who would most likely know best.

Susan Campbell is the author of “Frog Hollow: Stories from an American Neighborhood,” “Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker” and “Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl.” She is Distinguished Lecturer at the University of New Haven, where she teaches journalism.



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Dallas, TX

December death in Far East Dallas now being investigated as homicide, police say

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December death in Far East Dallas now being investigated as homicide, police say


A man found dead at a Far East Dallas home last year suffered “homicidal violence,” police say.

On Dec. 5, officers discovered the body of Rory Thacker, 46, during a welfare check in the 8000 block of Hunnicut Road, southeast of the intersection of Ferguson Road and Highland Road, according to Dallas police.

In a Monday news release, police said the Dallas County medical examiner’s office in February ruled that Thacker “died from homicidal violence,” adding that the department’s homicide unit has been assigned to the case.

The department had been investigating the incident as an “unexplained death,” according to the release.

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Police on Monday did not provide further information about why the death was later ruled a homicide or whether authorities have identified a suspect.

The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Dallas Police Department by calling 214-671-4226 or emailing joshua.romero@dallaspolice.gov. They should refer to case No. 216536-2023.



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Miami, FL

Miami Hurricanes football begins spring training

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Miami Hurricanes football begins spring training


Miami Hurricanes football begins spring training – CBS Miami

Watch CBS News


The Miami Hurricanes football team’s spring training is underway. CBS News Miami’s Trish Christakis gives us a sneak peek on what to expect from the Canes this season.

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Atlanta, GA

Atlanta vocal coach ‘Mama Jan’ has worked with some of industry’s top artists

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Atlanta vocal coach ‘Mama Jan’ has worked with some of industry’s top artists


ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) – An Atlanta-based vocal coach has helped craft some of the most talented voices in pop music.

Star after star, hit after hit, Jan Smith’s pitch-perfect technique has kept her at the top of her game.

“I’m just a working girl. I never really thought about, you know, blazing a trail. I was just helping other people,” she said. “I was just doing something that other people hadn’t done before.”

Smith – or as she’s known in the music industry, “Mama Jan” – has played a significant role in shaping some of the industry’s top artists, including Justin Bieber, Drake and Atlanta’s own Usher.

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In all, more than 10,000 vocalists, musicians and producers have turned to Mama Jan for her special brand of tough-love training and music industry expertise.

“There weren’t many instructors that were helping other rock and roll singers, or urban singers or rappers, and I just got to be the first girl on the block to do that,” she said. “Being a woman, who – I don’t have children of my own, but being that ‘mama’ in the industry, if you will, to so many artists matters a whole lot to me.”

Mama Jan’s legacy as an inductee in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame is mirrored in the services she offers at her multi-faceted business, which is predominantly owned and operated by women.



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