John McBlair, English teacher and debate coach, has returned to M-A after a year abroad. Over the course of the year, McBlair traveled throughout Asia and Europe (see map below). Throughout his travels, he engaged in a variety of new experiences, including eating live octopus — “which was actually pretty good”— pigeon, and pig intestines. McBlair highlighted the “tolerance for humiliation” that must be embraced while in foreign lands and reflected on the positive attitude he gained as a result.
McBlair wasn’t initially sure if he was planning on returning to M-A. However, he “underestimated how much… [he] …would miss the school,” especially his colleagues. He admires how M-A is “a really unique environment where so many teachers are really at the top of their game.” Past students who kept in touch via email also persuaded McBlair to return to M-A.
Prior to his trip, McBlair taught a debate unit in his English classes and occasionally would be asked to coach the debate team. Yet he lived too far away from campus, and with journalism obligations as an advisor, couldn’t make the time commitment to the club. Without journalism duties and a long commute, McBlair has decided to coach the debate team this year.
McBlair’s connection to debate reaches back beyond his time at M-A. In high school, he was captain of a successful debate team that traveled across the state and country to tournaments; he recalled, “I think we were state champions at one time.” For McBlair, “debate was the first exposure to a lot of things that [he thinks] are interesting now, like politics, government, philosophy, and economics.”
In Korea, McBlair worked at a debate academy, teaching middle and high-schoolers alongside colleagues who had themselves been international debate competitors and world champions. Although he did not consider himself as serious as his colleagues, he admired their unique level of competitiveness.
At the debate academy, McBlair was introduced to a new style called parliamentary debate. In this type of debate, a topic is assigned 20 minutes in advance, allowing contestants to research their topics and formulate their arguments. McBlair appreciates how this style “rewards you for being a generally well educated and worldly person.”
The debate club has grown from about 10 students last year to about 30 this year and is attending more tournaments as a result. They meet in F-9 on Tuesdays at lunch and after school from 6-8 p.m. The club allows students to build invaluable skills that can be applied to almost every aspect of their lives. McBlair believes that debate enhances one’s confidence and articulation, and “makes you less vulnerable to the evil side of rhetoric.” Debate teaches the importance of analyzing language and understanding the speaker’s genuine purpose within his or her words.
The debate club not only welcomes students who love to argue and stay updated with current events, but also those who may feel uncomfortable speaking publicly. McBlair believes that debate can be a powerful tool for finding one’s voice on a larger stage.
Below, students practice delivering their arguments at debate practice.