Caveat: Why Debate at Karma

It’s been taking longer than I intended to write the Part II of my IIRTHW article I began with Part I three weeks ago, now. My intention is to finish it this weekend, and get to work on Part III, which was my original intent all along.

Meanwhile, I thought I would share something I wrote for work. It’s a draft of what’s supposed to be a concise description of the debate program I designed, initiated and have subsequently developed at Karma. Like most of my writing, it ends up being distressingly non-concise, and I don’t envy the poor coworker who ends up trying to translate it into Korean – the document is intended to go into a Karma catalog (a sort of extensive sales brochure) that will go to parents. But it does manage to cover the parameters set out for me (why, what, how – all in less than a page).


Rhetoric is the name, in English, for the art of effective or persuasive speaking and writing. It is a very old concept, which comes to Western European culture from the Greeks and Romans more than 2000 years ago. Aristotle and Plato, for example, each wrote about methods of rhetoric and argued its role in leadership. Thus rhetoric is a foundational element of Western education and civilization, and even now with a good understanding of rhetoric a student has the essential intellectual tools to be successful among the elites of Western education.

Our KarmaPlus debate curriculum teaches classical, Western-style rhetoric in a way that engages students’ interest and imagination while providing opportunities to practice and develop all four language skills: reading, listening, writing and speaking.

Debate is frequently used in government and to talk about public policy decisions. In many countries, there are also academic debate competitions which function similarly to sports competitions. Most major Korean universities have English debate teams that participate in national and international competitions, and our debate curriculum is intended to introduce students to that style of debate.

A student who has mastered the essential skills as taught in our debate curriculum will have an advantage on any test that requires rapid, long-form speaking: iBT (TOEFL) and TEPS Speaking are the best known examples, but many foreign and elite high schools conduct interview tests for applicants where a basis in debate is valuable. Later in life, debating skills can be useful in business or career environments such as job interviews or product presentations.

Each debate class follows a simple, repeating pattern over a series of four or five class-hours. On the first day, we do a reading on the topic we will be debating and discuss answers to questions about meaning and opinions. This provides exposure to relevant vocabulary and concepts. Next we present a  “Proposition” which is the idea to be debated. The teacher gives a detailed hour-long lecture on the background and possible PRO and CON ideas on this topic. For homework, the students write an essay (or several essays) about the topic, and the next class
they form teams for a practice debate, using their own opinions as well as opinions suggested by the teacher. Lastly, they memorize a speech and present it as a “debate speech test” which is recorded on video and scored by a detailed rubric covering many details: intonation, speed of voice, grammar, ideas, organization, research, etc. This is their test score and monthly grade. In this course structure, over four or five class hours we cover reading, listening, writing and speaking.