In the online teaching environment of 2020, it would have made a great deal of sense to suggest that the debating component of the Year 8 English curriculum should be jettisoned, when connection between speaker and audience, teacher and student, could have a stilted aura compared to the life of a classroom. However, Wadhurst English teachers demanded this would not be the case and, from this, the inaugural Wadhurst Online Debating Festival (WODFest) was born.
Every Year 8 student took part in a debate via Webex, over two sessions on a Wednesday afternoon with the proceedings adjudicated by teachers. For one hour, Wadhurst became a theatre of intellectual battle in which students invoked the ethos, pathos and logos modes of persuasion passed down by the classical world. In addition, Year 7 students each viewed a debate of their choice.
Despite the possibly less familiar medium, students were expected to adhere to the established standards of a debate, exemplified by the viewing of a Senior School debate which modelled what a debate should look like – tenacious, uncompromising and composed – during the prior week.
On the day, Mr Greg Caldwell, Head of Wadhurst, oversaw the topic ‘Attending all an all-boys school prepares students for the future’, while Ms Lauren Smith, Coordinator of Drama, adjudicated the topic ‘Good guys finish last’.
“While we were all a little weary from weeks of isolation and online learning, the opportunity to debate and communicate with such purpose was a welcome change. It was a reminder of how enjoyable, yet challenging, public speaking can be,”Dimitri Gasis, Year 8 student
The success of the program was due in no small part to the zeal and energy of Mr Paul Stewart, Coordinator of English.
Romans such as Marcus Fabius Quintilian believed that to be a masterful orator that one must first be a good citizen. The quality of debate on the day showed that Wadhurst shares the company of many a good citizen. Wadhurst debaters are encouraged to develop and cherish the art of argument, so that one day they may cultivate this skill in order to use it as a force for good in the world.
David Roche, History Coordinator and English Teacher at Wadhurst