During a JSA convention, students engage in a variety of activities including debates, thought-talks, mock trials, and other simulations which critically examine the political landscape. Students can choose from several different topics and activities that are offered in each “activity block” during the conventions.
Debates serve as the cornerstone of the Junior State by giving delegates a forum to express their views in an orderly fashion, while promoting a clash of ideas that leads to deeper understanding of controversial issues. Using parliamentary debate style, delegates develop political awareness, attitudes, and public speaking skills through participation.
What style of debates are used at JSA Conventions?
JSA debates center around “resolutions” that outline the issue being discussed. For example, “resolved, Social Security should be privatized.” Debates begin with six-minute opening speeches by the main affirmative and negative speakers. These two debaters are selected prior to the convention; they research and prepare their arguments beforehand. A pre-selected student moderator guides the action following the opening speeches, where any student in the audience may volunteer for three minute subsequent speeches in support of either side. Download the Junior State Debate Handbook from the Virtual Library for a complete guide to debating in the Junior State.
Students vote for the “Best Speaker” at the end of each debate.
However, the main focus of Junior State debate is to persuade the audience and impart a greater understanding of the issues involved, rather than competition between speakers.
What if a student is not comfortable in a formal debate setting?
Thought talks are student-led discussions on pressing issues or questions. These activities don’t have the formal structure of a debate and allow students to explore issues in-depth in a less confrontational setting. A moderator guides the participants by posing questions and offering facts about the topic.
Students have equal opportunity to express their thoughts and let their comments take the discussion in many different directions. No main speakers are chosen for Thought Talks and no awards are given. This pressure-free atmosphere engages students very differently than debates and helps students gain confidence in their public speaking skills.
Are there adult speakers at the conventions?
Distinguished politicians, journalists, and public policy experts are invited to address JSA conventions. Past speakers range from Pat Robertson to Ralph Nader to Colin Powell to Joe Trippi and others across the political spectrum. Students have the opportunity to meet and pose questions to key figures from the world of politics.
Some conventions also feature Political Fairs that enable students to meet representatives of lobbying and political groups and get to ask questions regarding their policies and views. In recent years, our Political Fairs have included groups like the National Rifle Association & Handgun Control Inc., NARAL Pro-Choice America & the National Right to Life Organization, the Republican, Democratic, Green, Libertarian and other political parties.