Education

Debate Camps Keep Low Income Kids Out

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Courtesy of Parenting for College


Published 06/21/19 | Reading time: 2 min 57 sec

Editorial | By Cormell Padillow, summer intern and contributing writer

I am a rising senior in high school, and I love debate.

However, I learned that becoming a great debater is for the wealthy, and this is most apparent when seeking debate camps to attend during the summer.

I have been to Oklahoma’s State Speech & Drama tournament twice and the National Association Urban Debate League’s (NAUDL) national tournament in Washington D.C. once.

Simply going to the state tournament cost my school $4,000 for both years. The national tournament cost $10,000 dollars for NAUDL.

My debate coach spent $2,500, personally, for himself, me, and my debate partner to attend this national competition. 

In the black community, that’s tax return baller money.

After going to a national tournament and seeing a clear skill gap, I wondered why these students had knowledge of concepts I had never seen or heard before.

I found out that many students, seemingly wealthier than most, attended debate camps at some of our nation’s most prestigious universities.

I thought: How can a black kid from a lower-working class family in north Tulsa, Oklahoma compete with that?

Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to allow the difficulties of capitalism to keep me from becoming a great debater.

I hit a wall, and I hit it hard because the well was dry, and my family was broke.

My coach found a seemingly reachable and inexpensive debate camp at the University of Kansas. However, I had to earn a total of $1,900 before the rapidly approaching deadline which was at the end of the school year; this led to my coach, and I, resorting to a GoFundMe campaign.

In the end, we failed. We missed the deadline for Kansas debate camp, which highlights a huge issue for low-income students, looking to further themselves in debate.

The cost for most debate camps is too expensive.  

Hence, it’s an activity for the privileged.

The cost of laptops, transportation, paper, and coaches adds up. When the school cannot afford these expenses, it trickles down to the students — which is compounded by the cost of debate camps.

Debate camps are usually held at Universities over the summer break, offering one to six weeks of lessons on research, speech writing, debate strategy, and lectures directed by professors. These camps turn debaters into well-refined debaters.

Debate camps have different prices for length, type of debate, living expenses, and determined by the experience of the debater.

For example, the University of Texas has a Novice Debate Camp for $1,250 and a six-week camp for experienced debaters at $5,450.

The University of Kansas has a two-week camp, costing $1,900 for students planning to stay on campus and $1,200 for commuter debaters who live off-campus.

While searching for a debate camp to attend, I compared prices from the first six policy debate camps that I found in a simple Google search.

I found Harvard, Stanford, Emory, Missouri State, Dartmouth, and The University of Texas. The average cost of these universities’ shortest debate camps, for experienced debaters, was $2,528, and their longest was $4,325.

The cheapest was Missouri State University’s two-week camp for $1,400.

The most expensive camp was priced at $6,000 for 4-weeks, which was the Harvard University camp. 

Now, this isn’t a comprehensive study of policy debate camp costs.

It is an insight into the experiences and difficulties that low-income students run into who have aspirations of a great debater.

The costs of debate camps are an obstacle for students from low-income and working-class families wanting to perform at the state and national level.   

Disadvantaged students must not only debate with their intellect and skill but possibly against someone who has the resources to increase their knowledge of the activity at some prestigious, expensive debate camp. 

Policy debate is a daunting activity. It requires not only a good coach but money to buy resources. It is time-consuming and confusing in many regards.

The best performing policy debaters go to debate camps.

The top debate teams usually have a school that’s well funded, which causes a huge knowledge gap between the privileged debaters and those who don’t have the resources.

Hence, the debate competitions are always rigid against the student who doesn’t have the same opportunity, seemingly worsened by expensive camps.

Camps are an important tool to improve.

If the cost of these camps are not lowered or affordable options are not created, students in low-income areas will continue to disadvantage.


IMG_1220Cormell J. Padillow is a contributing writer/intern for the Black Wall Street Times and is a Wichita, Kansas transplant. He is The Black Wall Street Times’ first intern and is currently a high schooler at Langston Hughes Academy for Art and Technology. Padillow has been a high school policy debater for 3-years and has competed at the National, State, and local levels. His words and pin have become the tool he uses to change the mind of the many.

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