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Sophomore All-Stars Debate FCC Fairness Doctrine

Trading a podium microphone for a Zoom-box unmute icon, 10 sophomore debaters created a compelling online event open to the BB&N community despite the physical distance imposed upon all by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Under these odd circumstances and employing a different format from the usual annual debate, the All-Star Exhibition Debate 2020 invited the students to participate in a more impromptu, fun challenge. This year’s All-Star squad comprises Howie Brown, Laura Cox, Daniel Cudkowicz, Jack Haining, Daniel Katz, Ali Roche, Julia Shephard, Jack Theobald, Daniel Wang, and Eli Waisburd. 

Voted All-Stars by their classmates in each English 10 section after a week of inter-class debates before Spring Break, the stellar bunch arrived at the event not knowing what topic they were about to take on. Given a resolution and a packet of materials, they then hunkered down in Zoom breakout rooms for one hour to collaborate and prepare arguments. 

The two teams reconvened before an appreciative online audience and argued for and against this meaty resolution: The United States should reinstate the 1949–1987 FCC fairness doctrine (a doctrine that would require television and radio broadcasters to present controversial issues of public interest in a manner that is honest, equitable, and balanced). Along the way, they made points involving ancient Greece, literature, the First Amendment, whistleblowers, contemporary politics, and not surprisingly, press coverage of the current pandemic. 

“I loved the fast nature of the debate that enabled me to best use my problem-solving skills,” says Daniel Cudkowicz ’22, “without dealing with the stress of a normal debate.” 

That was exactly the hope of the English Department in offering this less-competitive but still challenging opportunity for the All-Stars. Speech and Debate Team Head Coach Sarah Getchell suggested the format, devised the resolution, and collected the resources for the students to use in the hour of preparation. 

“We wanted to give the all-stars a platform to exercise their skills and to engage with an important topic,” says Getchell. “Equally important was the opportunity for the BB&N community to come together for an academic event. The students did a great job with this topic, and it was wonderful to see so many upper school students and faculty in the audience!”

In the end, the team arguing against reinstatement of the doctrine prevailed, according to this year’s presiding panel of judges: history teacher Lizanne Moynihan and two of last year’s All-Stars, co-winners of the Jacobs Prize, Jack Lichtenberger ’21 and Elise Hawkins ’21.