Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Lesson in Poverty

The Girls High School Debate class took a field trip downtown last week to visit the Memphis office of Seedco.  Seedco is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to help low-income individuals and communities move toward economic prosperity.

The eight girls in this elective class are participating in the national high school debate program whose resolved this year is that "The United States federal government should substantially increase social services for persons living in poverty in the United States."  In what is known as policy or cross-examination debate, the girls are paired into teams of two and together they must prepare to argue for and against this resolved.  Before the debate they will be assigned either the role of the affirmative team, in which case they have to argue for the resolved, or the negative team in which case they have to argue against it.  As the affirmative team, though, the girls not only have to convince the judge presiding over the debate of the need to increase social services to the poor, but that they have feasible plan for doing so.  The team on the negative side, then, has to be prepared not only to argue against an increase to federal social services in general, but need to be somewhat familiar with the myriad programs out there and the way in which they work, so as to be able to poke holes in the affirmative team's proposal.

There are few people in the city of Memphis better equipped to start our girls on this journey than Laura Seidell and her team at the Seedco office in Memphis.  Seedco, after all, is a funnel which directs federal funds to a variety of organizations and institutions which help those living at or below the poverty line.  As such, they were able to explain to our girls the details of how various federal programs work, what their strengths are and what challenges they face.  They were also able to explain in real terms just what it means to live in poverty and how real the problems facing the American people are.

From the handouts, powerpoint, and various oral presentations made by the Seedco staff, it was clear that they enjoyed bringing the girls into their world of working with the poor.  From talking to the girls on the drive back, it was clear that they had learned more than they could have from any textbook and that they gained greater appreciation both for the enormity of the problem and for the efforts of the people who have dedicated their lives to trying to solve it.

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