Tuesday, December 11, 2007

WRITTEN WORD 41 - Debating & Writing I

Not long after Mr. Abbey had let me know I did not have to be seen as dumb and slow and a lesser figure than my brother, he announced in his first year English class that we were going to stage a debate. To us, this was a little like saying we were going to conduct a football game, since debating was the only competition in which this little school had been able, in recent memory, to add to its trophy case.

Joe Abbey, who was both the debate coach and the English teacher, now announced that in only two weeks four of us would actually be in an actual debate. It was only a debate in English class, but it would be judged just as if it were one of those big-time debates in which our varsity debaters took on and beat rival debaters and brought the sort of glory to our school that its sports teams could not manage.

I was teamed up with a kid called Fishbone, so named because he once swallowed a fishbone and it stuck in his throat and he did not tell anyone until weeks has passed and he was hardly eating. Fishbone read a lot, but like me was so behind in his classes that he had to go to evening study hall. Fish Bone and Speedy were teamed up against two boys who had the best grades in the class. One of them was my assigned roommate Peter Churchill, on his way already as a future president of the school – the dark, popular if not happy, son of a big time Boston heart surgeon. The other was my smart twin, Peter Poole, who was shorter than me but always looked people in the eye and always walked with the stride of someone who knows where he is going.

The subject of the debate was federal world government. The time was less than five years after World War II and there were many people saying the world should now be organized in a different way. Fishbone and I were to speak in favor of world government. Peter and Peter against Fishbone and Speedy.

Everyone except the teacher, Mr. Abbey, laughed when I got up to speak. Someone in the back said the word "Speedy," and someone else said "Study Hall versus Room Study."

But we won quite easily.

And two months after winning the debate I was at the top of the class, not the bottom, and going to Saturday events at high schools in other towns where debaters at all levels could took part in practice debates with other schools. At this time I asked to retake my IQ test and jumped ahead 40 points. Suddenly I was on room study. I could spend my evenings doing what I wanted so long as I stayed indoors. I quit Latin and scored high enough in other subjects to rival my twin brother.

But I was still called Speedy that year, and the next year, 4th form year, it got worse. This was when the organized torture went on each night, and my roommate moved out so as not be tarred by my unpopularity. But I kept going to these practice debate events. Mr. Abbey would not, I knew, have included me on those Saturday trips if he did not think I had potential.

I was not winning much. I was shy. Judges said they had trouble hearing me. And yet I was doing it, and Joe Abbey had faith. And I could hardly remember ever not having been on room study.

I was becoming a young master of linear thinking.

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