Behind the barbed wire fences and red brick walls of the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island, two skilled debate teams met at sunset on May 6 for a highly anticipated match: The New School team made up of Lang College students and the undefeated Arthur Kill Facility team composed of inmates.
The topic agreed upon was Should government funds be used to finance higher education for inmates, with the university’s Johanna Goossens, Skanda Kadirgamar, Nick Olson, and Santiago Posas arguing the opposing viewpoint. Lang College students told New York Times columnist Susan Dominus that they were meta nervous, and were afraid of offending someone,, but after the debate got underway it was all hands on deck. In fact, this debate is classic Lang education in motion, encouraging students to explore social issues and implement their learning through hands-on experiences.
Before an audience of nearly 30 inmates, along with staff and guards, each member of the four-person teams alternately took to the podium, passionately presenting statistics, serving up theories, and underscoring points with quotes from Foucault to Einstein, while a New York Times photographer kept clicking away.
After 30 minutes of intense back and forth debate, the teams waited quietly behind their tables while the three judges huddled. The final decision was unanimous√¢‚Ç¨ the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility team remained undefeated.
Applause and cheers broke the silence and The New School team extended congratulatory handshakes to the Arthur Kill team. As the students and inmates chatted about their debating techniques and persuasive arguments, the tension of competition eased into a spirit of camaraderie.
Will there be a rematch?
Absolutely,, said Ella Turenne, director of special projects at Lang and acting director of the debate team. Same place, next fall and spring. Our team can’t wait.,
Click here to read the New York Times story.