Debate vs. Forensics: Seemingly similar classes vary in technique, structure

Jansen Hess, Sports Editor

Debate and forensics classes often go hand-in-hand but are two very different activities.
Debate involves creating a specific speech and a plan — an affirmative side and a negative side — whereas forensics is more like a track and field event.
There is acting and speaking, partner events and singular events.
Senior Rajvi Shah, co-captain of both the debate and the forensics squads, said the captains’ main purpose is to oversee the new participants.
“We’re in charge of different functions, making sure all the students know what they’re doing, know what our end goal is and pretty much facilitating the smooth transition between seasons for [debate and forensics teacher] Mr. [Chris] Riffer,” she said.
Junior Aquib Jamil has been involved in debate and forensics since his freshman year.
He said experienced debaters persuaded him to take both classes, but he enjoys debate more than forensics.
“I ended up loving [debate] because, in a sense, it’s like a word game,” Jamil said. “It’s like, they run this argument, and you have to figure out the best way to beat their argument. There’s a judge sitting right in the back room, so you have to have good people skills. You also have to be smart and be able to think on the spot about how you’re going to destroy someone’s case.”
Every year, there is a different topic that is debated throughout the course of the debate season.
“This year the topic’s infrastructure,” he said. “So, you have to make a case talking about how you want an increase in the structure. Then, the negative team has to get up and argue why that’s a bad idea. So, every tournament you go one round with your case and one round saying why the other teams case is bad.”
There are many different events forensics participants can compete in, ranging from speaking to acting to poetry.
“I do informative and extemporaneous speaking,” Jamil said. “Informative is when you write a speech about anything. I wrote one about Snickers bars. I didn’t actually take that to a tournament. Then, the one I legitimately worked on was about sleep paralysis. It has to be about seven minutes long, and you go up and present it in front of a judge.”
Another forensics event is extemporaneous speaking, where no outside preparation is done.
“In extemporaneous speaking, you pull a political question out of an envelope, and then you have 30 minutes to prep a speech for it,” Jamil said. “Then you write the speech and memorize it. Then you give it.”
Shah said she’s more of a debater because of the speech class she took in eighth grade.
“I’ve always liked voicing my opinion and telling it like it is,” she said. “Being argumentative was something that was really big for me, and being able to construct and be logical in arguments is what I really like. You always have a partner with you, and the rounds, I feel like, are more educational.”
Jamil said forensics is more relaxed than debate.
“It’s a lot more laid back in the sense that you don’t have to do as much work throughout the year,” he said. “It’s still a lot of work when you have to prep your speech and stuff. In debate, it’s an hour and a half of straight just getting up there and talking over and over again. If you go to quarter-finals or semi-finals, you have to do it again because each round is an hour and a half long.”
Shah said debate is much more time consuming than forensics.
“It’s definitely more of a time commitment,” she said. “You have evidence you have to file, and you have to think of different arguments and everything; whereas, forensics is more individual, you can pick a piece, go over it in like a week, then be done with it.”
Riffer said he changes his teaching style depending on the class.
“There’s head-to-head competition in debate,” he said. “You spend a lot more time talking about strategies, and [the class is] centered around the topic you’re debating. For forensics, it’s a lot more individually focused in teaching. I work with various speakers on their individual speeches.”
Riffer said he couldn’t see his life without debate and forensics.
“They’re both so different to me, but I have to teach both of them,” he said. “It’d be like trying to give up one of my kids — I couldn’t do it.”