Seventh Graders Vie for Land Rights in World Court Debates

Middle School Humanities students tackled the fate of the Pacific Northwest land rights during the annual World Court Debates on Tuesday, Oct. 24. The debates are the culmination of a world history unit focused on the 1800s.

To prepare for the debates, students form teams and research U.S.A., Spain, England, Russia, and First Nation peoples. Then each group argues why their nation best deserves ownership of the Pacific Northwest territories in the 1800s. The debates follow a traditional format: each group is responsible for presenting an opening argument, a rebuttal of points made during the debates, and a closing statement.

"I felt like we did a good job researching our facts and preparing for the rebuttal," said Jason C, one of the First Nation team members. "But when we did our rebuttal, we learned you also have to be organized. It was difficult to make an effective argument on the spot."

The World Court Debates are often the first foray into the realm of rhetoric for many of the seventh graders. The project serves as an introduction to the influence of politics and economics on the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest. Humanities teachers Julie Kim and Tamara Bunnell work with librarians Suzanne Fox and Alicia Kalan to help students use databases for research and learn how to organize material from multiple sources. The students also learn the best ways to speak persuasively to an audience.

After the debates, the class votes on the top three teams (and are not able to vote for their own team) to go on to the final round.

Isla C. believed that England team did the best job with their speaking skills, engaging the audience with their eye contact. Wendy H. felt that Russia won the debate. "They had a good and convincing argument, and repeated their point over and over again."

England, the United States, and First Nation peoples presented new arguments in the final round on Thursday, Oct. 26. The entire seventh grade class voted England as the winner, thanks to an approach which maintained a consistent focus on repeated points throughout the debate.