Thursday, October 8, 2015

Harvard's debate team loses to group of New York prison inmates

This just may settle that old argument once and for all — would you rather be street smart or book smart?

And, in this case, maybe it paid to be both.

Last month, a group of inmates at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility challenged the recently crowned national champion Harvard debate team to face off at the maximum-security lockup and the friendly competition ended in what might be perceived as an unlikely victory for the convicts.

Considering that any college or university student can go online and research anything at anytime, inmates don't even have any Internet access. They also have to file requests for books or articles, which can take weeks to arrive. 

But, if you knew the prison debate club's record, you might have still bet all your smokes on the inmates. 

The convicts competed as part of the Bard Prison Initiative, a program run by Bard College to provide college education to qualifying prisoners. The inmates then formed a debate club, which has become popular with the incarcerated men, according to the Wall Street Journal.

That's when the prison club invited the Harvard College Debating Union to participate.

In the mid-September match, inmates had to defend a point of view with which they fiercely disagreed. A common practice in debate competition: "Resolved: Public schools in the United States should have the ability to deny enrollment to undocumented students."

The debate was judged by a neutral panel.

After the hour-long debate, Carlos Polanco said that he would never want to keep a child from attending school but that he was grateful for his chance to attend Bard College in prison. "We have been graced with opportunity," said Polanco, 31, who is in prison for manslaughter. "They make us believe in ourselves."

In the two years since starting the club the inmates have challenged and beaten teams from the University of Vermont and the US Military Academy at West Point, with whom they have established an annual match and a budding rivalry.

But the victory over Harvard may be their crowning achievement. After all, the Boston school has won both the national and world championships.

Afterwards, the Harvard club seemed to take the loss gracefully.

"Three members of the HCDU had the privilege of competing against members of the Bard Prison Initiative's debate program," the group posted on its 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, and we are incredibly thankful to Bard and the Eastern New York Correctional Facility for the work they do and for organizing this event."

School of Hard Knocks-1. Ivy League-0.

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