The need for debate is especially pertinent in times such as ours where, in a world saturated with ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, accurate information acquired through empiricism and challenged through discourse has become increasingly difficult to come by.

This year’s Beale Debate was centred around the two motions of ‘This House would reduce the number of people going to university’ and ‘Parents have the right to select the sex of their children’, chaired by Aoife Pallister-Begadon. The former was between SFC1 girls Jasmine and Ivy and SFC2 girls Maia and Emma, with a close victory won by the SFC2 team. The latter was between SFC2 pupils Anna and Laura and Guild members Annabel Lawrence (2015, Glenlee) and Kitty Hatchley (2015, St Margaret's), with a decisive win achieved by the more experienced Guild team.

Nevertheless, as adjudicators Sally Waller and Mike Scott Bowen emphasised, the results of the debate were overshadowed by the confident eloquence of the speakers, the quality of the content discussed, and the active engagement and enthusiasm of the audience.

The necessity of university as an institution for higher education and character development was called into question as Ivy challenged our preconceived notion of productivity being the ultimate goal in our lives. Yet, despite the financial burden and sacrificed quality of education, which may result from attending an overpopulated university, Maia and Emma argued convincingly for the freedom of choice and for the ultimate societal benefits put forth by such ‘hubs of innovation’.

Similarly, accepted institutions of thought, such as our increased tendency to favour production and efficacy, were brought to the forefront when Kitty asserted the constructed and therefore volatile nature of our gender roles. Our adherence to the law, to the fundamental values of British liberal democracy, and subsequently the right to sex selection, appear to waver when the impossibility of a completely objective standpoint is acknowledged.

Yet, ultimately, an incisive question from Dr Gamblin reminded us to step beyond judging man’s autonomy within a society and constitution. Our values are easily manipulated but the environment, our bio-chemical makeup, are not; thus, the implications posed by the debate must also be evaluated against the idea of humans as mere inhabitants, not independent agents, within a greater system already determined by Nature.

Without a doubt, this was a debate to remember. At the risk of sounding too postmodern, it seems crucial for us to not only be able to consider different perspectives in a debate, but also to evaluate the cultural and historical context within which these views are born, and whether our ‘facts’ are truly irrefutable.

Clarice (SFC2)