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Prison inmates beat Harvard debaters: Here’s how

The inmates prepared for the debate in an old school manner without the help of internet.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
October 8, 2015 7:26:12 pm

Harvard University, prison inmatesLast month, a three-member team of Harvard undergraduates lost to a three-member team of inmates with criminal records. And this was not the first time the inmates had won a debate. In the past two years since the inmates’ debate club has been formed, they have won against the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the University of Vermont. But winning it against three-time winners of American Parliamentary Debate Association National Championships was indeed applaudable.

The showdown took place at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison where the inmates can take courses taught by faculty from the nearby Bard College.

What’s remarkable is that the inmates prepared for the debate in an old school manner without the help of internet. The inmates relied on limited sources provided by the college. Above all is the fact that research requests for books and articles had to be approved by the prison administration and that could take weeks, reports Wall Street Journal.

“Students in the prison are held to the exact same standards, levels of rigor and expectation as students on Bard’s main campus,” Max Kenner, executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative, which operates in six New York prisons, told Wall Street Journal. “Those students are serious. They are not condescended to by their faculty,” he added.

Shortly after losing the battle, the Harvard team posted on their Facebook page: “There are few teams we are prouder of having lost a debate to than the phenomenally intelligent and articulate team we faced this weekend,” they wrote, adding, “and we are incredibly thankful to Bard and the Eastern New York Correctional Facility for the work they do and for organizing this event.”

The subject of debate was rather interesing, They had to argue that public schools should be allowed to turn away students whose parents entered the U.S. illegally. The inmates brought up arguments that the Harvard students couldn’t imagine. According to Wall Street Journal the inmates presented an argument with which they personally disagreed, essentially telling judges that if the children were denied admission, then nonprofits and wealthier schools would pick up the slack.

“If we win, it’s going to make a lot of people question what goes on in here. We might not be as naturally rhetorically gifted, but we work really hard,” Alex Hall, a 31-year-old from Manhattan who was convicted of manslaughter, told Wall Street Journal.

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