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 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 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 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," 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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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How does this story prove the value of a college education?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (59)
  • teddyp-mcc
    10/19/2015 - 06:16 p.m.

    This story represents education as a gift and it gives a sense of hope because it taught many prisoners intelligent skills who then took those skills and used them to beat one of the most advanced and intelligent colleges on earth in a debate with some of the smartest students. Education truly gives a grateful and thankful feeling because when you learn and gain traits and skills, you can use those traits and skills to develop critical thinking and you can figure out problems and challenges through education. So, education gave intelligent thoughts to prisoners and fulfilled their abilities to express a smart reasoning and judgement to beat Harvard in the debate. Many are thankful for an education because it offers intelligence to tackle challenges and questions which are advanced and high in level.

  • alexanderc-6-bar
    10/19/2015 - 06:37 p.m.

    The story proves the value of a college education by showing that even prisoners, who have committed crimes for doing wrong, they can still outsmart teenagers who are mastering the craft at that very moment.

  • angelinat-3-bar
    10/19/2015 - 08:29 p.m.

    This story proves the value of a college education because, even a small thing, such as a debate can be won if you can articulate your thoughts, and back them up with evidence. Without college or school, you would not be able to do that. Even though the inmates are in a high security prison, they are still receiving an education which also increases the importance of an education, because it shows that even though they have done horrible things, they still need an education to be able to explain themselves. I found this article interesting because I used to do debate, and I am very interested in the subject. I found this surprising because I did not know that while in prison, the inmates were still allowed to receive an education.

  • mayaw-6-bar
    10/19/2015 - 09:04 p.m.

    This story proves the value of a college education because it shows that people in prison can turn their lives around by wining a debate against one of the top ten colleges in the whole world. I chose this article because I wondered what type of education prisoners get, which I now know is hard due to the fact that they do not have access to the Internet. I found this article interesting because prisoners are being taught college at high standards without the help of the internet.

  • keatonm-1-ols
    10/20/2015 - 12:46 p.m.

    I think that it is awesome that a team of inmates can beat someone and not get arrested. I think that it is scary that they are that smart and are still in jail. If they are that smart they could easily break out of jail and leave the country.

  • laneys-1-ols
    10/20/2015 - 12:48 p.m.

    The story proves the value of collage because it shows most inmates have been to collage. It shows they are smart and that they have won debates .

  • karlees-1-ols
    10/20/2015 - 12:48 p.m.

    It proves the value of a college education, because it really shows how well going to class everyday can increase your knowledge.

  • jasminpd-1-ols
    10/20/2015 - 12:49 p.m.

    It proves that you can learn just as much in or out of colleges. It is a good thing to go to college but if you can't that doesn't mean you are not as smart. It also doesn't mean you can't learn the things you learn in college outside of college. The prisoners proved that.

  • tycenb-ols
    10/20/2015 - 12:49 p.m.

    It shows people that no matter where you are there are opportunities for yourself and others. This article shows that even in prison you can learn to beat a worthy opponent in whatever the subject.

  • amelianaa-ols
    10/20/2015 - 12:51 p.m.

    It proves that even though it was a group of inmates versus a group of students at an ivy league school, they had a fair and equal advantage because they were both given college educations.

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