Curt Robison started the debate program at Loomis Chaffee 43 years ago. He had been a debater in high school and college with a double major in math and philosophy, two subjects he teaches.
Two subjects, he says, that also fit in with the art of debate. “Both are pure reasoning, and debate is about that,” Curt said. “Debate also ties in so well with what a philosopher does. ... You’re trying to create the best argument you can for something, trying to be analytic, and have it organized.”
Curt said he is interested in political and social issues, all of which helps him form debate resolutions and coach debaters on a given topic. There’s little debate that he is a leader in the high school debate world. He was one of the founders of the Debate Association of New England Independent Schools (DANEIS), of which Loomis Chaffee is a member. The Pelicans also participate in the Connecticut Debate Association. Between the two debate leagues, Loomis will have competed in more than 20 weekend tournaments when the 2023–24 season ends in April.
The school has won more than 300 awards since beginning competition in 1981. On January 21, the Pelicans had yet another great showing, this time in the 2024 Loomis Chaffee Debate Tournament, which featured 11 private schools.
The Pelicans finished first with a 10-2 record, based on a combined won/loss record of advanced and novice divisions. The novice division is for debaters who have competed in fewer than six tournaments.
In the advanced division, Junior Artem Gagushin, junior Oliver Zhang, sophomore Claire Cen, and junior Cindy Lin were undefeated at the tournament. Artem and Oliver finished second in the two-person advanced team competition in what Curt said was a “very competitive 20-team field of advanced debaters.”
Junior Luke Han, junior Julius Kim, sophomore Alex Park, sophomore Chris Zeng, junior Everett Denaro, junior Kaden Schroeder, junior Victoria Amador, and freshman Regina Amador all compiled records of two wins and one loss. Luke and Julius were in the advanced division; the rest were in the novice division.
The resolution debated at this tournament was “No state in the USA should disenfranchise felons from voting.” The LC tournament uses a prepared format — with a twist. Curt prepared a 12-page packet that included articles for and against the resolution. The challenge is this: No team knows what the resolution is until shortly after registration ends, and students have about an hour and 10 minutes to prepare once they receive the packets. Talk about thinking on your feet.
Curt said debaters Drew Carmon (sophomore), Nana Achiaa Donkor (senior), Jake Delcampe (junior), Nina Cushman (junior), and Oscar Kong (junior) along with faculty members Michelle Ruffle and Alex Pena Bethencourt helped him with the tournament, serving in various roles — judging, tabulating, registration, and distribution of materials.
“Students enjoy the competitive nature of debate, but I think they also get a lot out of it because it is something that helps them in their academic life and in life down the road,” Curt said. “The ability to quickly hear an idea and generate arguments on one side or the other, trying to figure out the support and evidence needed, that type of thinking can help you in all sorts of fields.”
He said he often hears from graduates just how much the Debate Society helped them.
“That is about as good as it gets for a teacher,” Curt said, “when students say debate made an impact, made a difference, that I can do things now that I'm not sure I could have done without being part of the debate program.”