Censorship at High School Debates

James Fishback:

Once upon a time, the National Speech & Debate Association, or NSDA, was the country’s premier debating organization, touching the lives of two million high school students across its nearly hundred-year history. Its famous alumni include Oprah Winfrey, and Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch and Ketanji Brown Jackson. The NSDA, formerly known as the National Forensics League, currently has 140,000 young debaters on its roster—but now, rather than teaching them to debate, it is teaching them to self-censor and conform their arguments to a new politically correct standard.

The NSDA has allowed hundreds of judges with explicit left-wing bias to infiltrate the organization. These judges proudly display their ideological leanings in statements—or “paradigms”—on a public database maintained by the NSDA called Tabroom, where they declare that debaters who argue in favor of capitalism, or Israel, or the police, will lose the rounds they’re judging.

This has fundamentally changed the culture of high school debate—or so scores of students are telling me. One of them is former high school debater Matthew Adelstein, a rising sophomore studying philosophy at the University of Michigan, who was a member of the NSDA in high school. 

Adelstein told me that, in April 2022, he competed at the prestigious Tournament of Champions in Lexington, Kentucky, where he debated in favor of the federal government increasing its protection of water resources.

In his final round of the two-day tournament, Matthew was shocked to hear the opposing team levy a personal attack against him as their central argument. The opposing team argued: “This debate is more than just about the debate—it’s about protecting the individuals in the community from people who proliferate hatred and make this community unsafe.”