Policy Debaters Argue At The Speed Of Cattle Auctioneers

Mar 8, 2019, 6:57 PM | Updated: 7:07 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – At a recent Tuesday afternoon debate team practice, West High School Senior Kiyan Banuri stepped up to a makeshift podium — a chair stacked on a desk – and prepared to state his case about public immigration policy.

He called up notes on his laptop, filled his lungs, and launched into a speech: “’Productive’-immigrants-are-folded-into-the-nation-while-those-deemed-‘unproductive’-are-excluded based-on-the-racist trope-of-the-‘anchor baby.'”

It’s so fast, he sounds more like an auctioneer than a debater. It’s so fast, it’s hard for untrained ears to keep up.

Banuri is a different breed of debater – a policy debater. The more points he makes for his side of the argument, the higher the score he gets from the judges, so he speed reads, or “spreads.”

Kenny Nelson speed reads with a pencil in his mouth

Kenny Nelson speed reads with a pencil in his mouth

Policy debaters typically spread at 350-500 words per minute.

“People talk really fast in policy (debate) to maximize argumentative depth and breadth, which when you first hear it is really confusing,” said Kenneth Nelson Jr., who’s co-captain of the West High School policy debate team with Banuri.

“It’s like, ‘This isn’t debate, they’re in a speed reading contest,’” he said. “So it’s definitely like the perception it gives off at first.”

Banuri got into policy debate after he saw an older debater spread and decided he wanted to be the fastest. He started practicing spreading drills – talking with a pen in his mouth, talking while he moves his cheeks around.

His younger brother, Ramis, is also on the team and joined because he wanted to win arguments with his brother.

Policy debaters work on one topic a year. This school year, it’s immigration policy. The official resolution: “The United States federal government should substantially reduce its restrictions on legal immigration to the United States.”

They research it like they were less like high school students and more like PhD candidates.

Kiyan Banuri said he and his brother research about three hours a day, seven days a week. Nelson said last year he put in four to five hours a day.

“So last year, it was kind of wild,” he said.

The Banuri brothers debate

The Banuri brothers debate

The Banuri brothers spend so much time thinking and talking about debate, they said their parents have banned them from discussing it at home.

“They think it takes up too much of our conversation, like at the dinner table, so they’ve banned us at home,” Kiyan Banuri said.

“Yeah, but we talk about it secretly,” Ramis Banuri said.

Yes, Nelson and the Banuris said, policy debate is about speaking quickly but there’s much more than meets the ear.

“Prior to debate,” Kiyan Banuri said, “I had very strong convictions (about) what is right and what is wrong and wasn’t really open towards contesting those convictions.”

“It allowed me to just become more open to those different corners and crevices of research,” he said.

“I’m sort of undecided about a lot of issues,” Nelson said, “but I know a lot more than I did before. It’s sort of like the idea that the more you know about something, the more you’re convinced you’re clueless.”

The West High School debaters are, as of this writing, the Utah 5-A champs, in all forms of debate and speech. They defend their title March 8-9, 2019.

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Policy Debaters Argue At The Speed Of Cattle Auctioneers