Open To Debate Features High School Debate Champions For Latest Episode

May 24, 2024

“Young Voices Debate Tough Topics: DEI & Climate Change” airing on NPR stations and all podcast platforms this week


Nonpartisan media organization Open to Debate has led the way in civilized debates—for adults and educators—in the U.S. for over a decade. For their latest episode though, they’re going back to school, covering a recent high school debate championship of new startup organization called Incubate Debate. Just as Open to Debate does on the grownup level, making debate available to a broad national audience free of charge, Incubate Debate aims to democratize the art of debate for high school students, offering competitive training and tournaments at no cost to participants. The winners of the championship, including first place champion debater Briana Whatley, were awarded scholarship funds made possible by Open to Debate.

Open to Debate CEO Clea Conner explains what debate can do for high schoolers:

“The erosion of civil discourse that we’ve seen in institutes of higher learning this semester is alarming. The ability for students to consider views they disagree with and respond with civility and respect has become all too rare. We believe in the power of debate to teach critical thinking, active listening, empathy, and the ability to marshal evidence to understand complex issues. We are confident these students will model a more thoughtful way forward for their generation.”

Open to Debate reports from Jacksonville, Florida, hearing from some of the ninety kids competing, the best from their schools who were whittled down from over 5,000 who competed across 22 individual tournaments during the school year. They came from all backgrounds and all variety of schools (public, private, charter, and homeschool). In addition to Conner herself, judges included former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and “Street Epistemologist” and author Peter Boghossian.

At the championship, the students debated some of the most timely, hot-button questions facing policymakers today. These included whether there is a climate emergency, whether colleges should abolish DEI programs, and whether the United States should defend Taiwan in the event of a China invasion. In many cases, unlike at many traditional high school debates, they could choose their own sides, arguing positions they truly cared about.

Incubate Debate founder James Fishback explains the group’s mission:

“We believe in objective judging, free expression, and strict institutional neutrality. We believe that high school debates are not merely competitions, but powerful platforms for young Americans to challenge ideas and assumptions, think critically, and relentlessly pursue truth.”

One participating student, Rachel, describes in the episode what she learned:

“One of the biggest things I have learned with debate is, you can quote as many statistics as you want, but you have to look at how people are being affected. That’s how you make other people understand. Obviously, a professor is going to understand a statistic I throw out, but they’re not everyone in the audience. But if I tell you about maybe a mother who is suffering, everyone’s going to understand that.”



Open to Debate addresses a fundamental problem in America: the extreme polarization of our nation and our politics. We are the nation’s only nonpartisan, debate-driven media organization dedicated to bringing multiple viewpoints together for a constructive, balanced, respectful exchange of ideas. Open to Debate is a platform for intellectually curious and open-minded people to engage with others holding opposing views on complex issues. We know debate works to find common ground: On average, 32% of the Open to Debate audience changes their mind on contentious topics after hearing a debate. That’s the power of debate done right, and at scale, it can change the direction we’re headed in America. Open to Debate is broadcast as a weekly public radio program, carried on NPR stations including WNYC (#1 in the nation). Open to Debate is made available as a podcast, video series, and digital platform, and records episodes with live audiences nationwide. Visit to become a member, access an archive of more than 220 debates, and attend live events.

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For more information on Open to Debate, please contact Ray Padgett ( or Mark Satlof ( at Shore Fire Media.