Prisoners defeat Harvard debate team The Harvard University nationally winning debate team recently fell to the inmates at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility. (Reuters)
Prisoners defeat Harvard debate team
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Months after winning a national title, Harvard University's debate team has fallen to a group of New York inmates.
 
The showdown took place at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison where convicts can take courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard College and where inmates have formed a popular debate club. Last month, they invited the Ivy League undergraduates and this year's national debate champions over for a friendly competition.
 
The Harvard debate team also was crowned world champion in 2014. But the inmates are building a reputation of their own. In the two years since they started a debate club, the prisoners have beaten teams from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the University of Vermont. The competition with West Point, which is now an annual affair, has grown into a rivalry.
 
At Bard, those who help teach the inmates aren't particularly surprised by their success.
 
"Students in the prison are held to the exact same standards, levels of rigor and expectation as students on Bard's main campus," said Max Kenner, executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative, which operates in six New York prisons. "Those students are serious. They are not condescended to by their faculty."
 
Shortly after the loss, students on the Harvard team posted a comment on a team 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. "And we are incredibly thankful to Bard and the Eastern New York Correctional Facility for the work they do and for organizing this event."
 
Against Harvard, the inmates were tasked with defending a position they opposed. 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 team hadn't considered. Three students from Harvard's team responded and a panel of neutral judges declared the inmates victorious.
 
"The fact that we won is nice, but it isn't the most important thing," said Kenner, adding that the club is meant to help students articulate what they've learned.
 
Inmates can earn various degrees through the initiative, which is taught primarily by Bard faculty. About 15 percent of the all-male inmates at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility in Napanoch are enrolled. Graduates of the program have continued their studies at Yale and Columbia universities, Kenner said.
 
While in prison, they learn without the help of the Internet, relying instead on resources provided by the college.
 
"They make the most of every opportunity they have," Kenner said.

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How does this story prove the value of a college education?
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COMMENTS (12)
  • derekh-day
    10/16/2015 - 11:39 a.m.

    To me debating has never been just about pure intelligence. It's more trying to make logic using your own opinions. Anyone can be good at debating as long as they know how to speak their mind well with good ways to back it up. I am not surprised that Harvard was taken down by the underdogs because it's more than just a battle of the brains.

  • mathewb-day
    10/16/2015 - 01:28 p.m.

    It's amazing to see that inmates are looking to better themselves as the correctional program intended, to see these inmates want to learn and be the best they can possibly be is great. As well as an ivy league school like Harvard accept the challenge presented by the correctional facility and not be bad sports to losing to inmates.

  • brandons-day
    10/16/2015 - 08:57 p.m.

    This is amazing that a prison could beat ivy league schools. Especially beating the #1 school in the country for law is very impressive. Harvard being the world champion of 2014 one would thing they would be unbeatable by some inmates. Lastly this is a very good hobby for prisoners and also a good way to spend their time.

  • tarab-day
    10/17/2015 - 12:07 a.m.

    This story proves the value of college education by showing that even guys in prison can beat top notch Harvard students. Having colleges go to prisons and give a good education is important because sometimes it changes a kid's minds-keeps them out of further trouble. This article can teach kids to rely less on the internet and more on what they actually learn in college. It can clearly be done(as shown by inmates at a prison).

  • raymondw-day
    10/20/2015 - 09:05 a.m.

    The former champions Harvard Debate Team has lost to a group of prisoners from NY Correctional Facility. This reminds me of the movie, “The Great Debaters”, a team that is set up to lose from the start and wins in the end. Personally, I usually want the underdog to win unless I feel strongly about the other team/side. So, to see a group of prisoners beat Harvard pleases me. This just shows you can do anything if you set your mind to it.

  • alyssak-day
    10/20/2015 - 07:17 p.m.

    Alyssa K
    A team of new york prison inmates actually beat the ivy league harvard university debate team. This came as a shock to many, Harvard is one of the most prestigious universities in the world. It was found that the inmates were set up the same way that the harvard students were. Extremely difficult work and very high standards. The inmates were said to have taken this very seriously, they were hand picked and very different from the others in the building. The inmates truly make the most of what they have.

  • austinw-day
    10/21/2015 - 11:58 a.m.

    Not everything taught to students in colleges/universities are not as proficient as the knowledge taught in previous years. Today, schools are more focused on using the internet as a way to collect information. School is supposed to provide the younger generation with the knowledge that provides them a easier way through life not the internet. The fact that a Harvard debate team lost against a correctional debate team that prepared without it but by resources from colleges speaks about the current generation more than prior events.

  • larocca,john-1-cas
    10/21/2015 - 02:02 p.m.

    1. This story doesn't prove anything about college education. Harvard is one of the top schools if not the top school, and Americas criminals out smarted them. It goes to show that everyone is human whether you're in prison or in Harvard, or any school for that matter.

    2. Its really interesting to see this. Everyone looks up to Harvard graduates or students and looks down and criticizes prisoners. How do you know why they broke the law? How do you know it wasn't for their family? Also, how do you know that a Harvard student hasn't broken the law with maybe a DUI or possession of a common drug like marijuana? Yes Harvard has had presidents in their schools, but a man running for the president of the United States Bernie Sanders has smoked marijuana more than once.

  • holdenv-day
    10/22/2015 - 12:13 p.m.

    This article is so cool. Most people think that people in jail are stupid. This proves that they are actually smart. Harvard is an ivy league school. Ivy league schools are super hard to get into. The students from this correctional facility beat there debate team that's shows how smart they could be. This was a great article.

  • briannec-ste
    10/26/2015 - 07:30 p.m.

    To me it would be one of the coolest things to have a prison debate team. Especially if said prison team is beating teams from Harvard. By going at an approach that they didn't think of.

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