Prisoners defeat Harvard debate team
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
Lexile: 900L

Assign to Google Classroom

Months after winning a national title, Harvard University's debate team has lost to a group of New York inmates.
The showdown took place at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility. It is a maximum-security prison where convicts can take courses. They are taught by faculty from nearby Bard College. The 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 has grown into a rivalry. It now is an annual affair.
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. He is executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative. It 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.  A panel of neutral judges declared the inmates victorious.
"The fact that we won is nice. But it isn't the most important thing," Kenner said. He added that the club is meant to help students articulate what they've learned.
Inmates can earn various degrees through the initiative. It 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. Instead, they rely on resources provided by the college.
"They make the most of every opportunity they have," Kenner said.

Source URL:

Filed Under:  
Assigned 147 times
How does this story prove the value of a college education?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • autianae-ste
    10/16/2015 - 01:12 p.m.

    It's impressive that inmates can beat a top school in debates and it shows that you can't judge criminals because they've made bad decisions in their life.

  • jaylynnj-Orv
    10/16/2015 - 03:23 p.m.

    Its amazing that the prisioners defeated Harvard in a debate when they didn't even agree with the side they're defending. Nice Job!

  • hunterm-ver
    10/16/2015 - 05:21 p.m.

    I think that even if you have ended up in prison somehow you should still have opportunities to better yourself. I think that this goes to show how people can change their lives.

  • nathanr-ver
    10/18/2015 - 01:41 p.m.

    Critical Thinking Question: The story proves that the value of a college education is high, this is because if the these kids want to get into some career that involves debating, it's great the won the national title, but you shouldn't be losing to some inmates who haven't been hearing anything about the outside world.

  • brandonr-eis
    10/19/2015 - 09:59 a.m.

    good story

  • brandonw-1-ver
    10/19/2015 - 10:12 a.m.

    I think the college education is important, because they can let prisoner to study. They can defeat the Harvard debate team. It is very impressive.

  • jackt-ver
    10/19/2015 - 01:05 p.m.

    Really? The best debaters in the world lost to a group of prisoners? I learned that kids who did poorly in 3rd grade with reading, ended up in prison most of the time. Ending up beating the best kids in the country proves that just because society hates you, it doesn't, make you different from anyone else.

  • xavierf-
    10/19/2015 - 01:11 p.m.

    this proves that you don't have to be the smartest person to play something s all about believing in your self

  • matson,ethan-cas
    10/21/2015 - 12:08 p.m.

    1. This article proves the value of a college education by showing off that a group of prisoners that had been taught well were able to easily compete with students from a top American university.

    2. I feel this article is a good way to provide reason for students to educate themselves. It is nice to see that inmates have ample opportunities for their education. I feel that this article can be used to motivate students to surpass academic expectations much like the inmates in this article.

  • joeg-orv
    10/21/2015 - 12:32 p.m.

    I think its crazy but great that inmates are actually wanting to learn and get an education. Having this education well make it a lot easier in through jail and their lives.

Take the Quiz Leave a comment