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High Schoolers Meet to Debate Fiscal Cliff

By Quinn Ford | December 8, 2012 8:10am | Updated on December 8, 2012 10:53am

WEST LOOP — As Republicans and Democrats in Washington continue to squabble over the best way to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff,” Chicago high school students met Friday to debate some of the same issues.

Students from eight high school debate teams around the city squared off at the offices of a West Loop investment firm to discuss U.S. economic policy. Like lawmakers in Washington, they locked horns over tax rates, spending cuts and legislation like the Dodd-Frank Act.

Jeron Dastrup, of Whitney Young Magnet High School, argued against the Dodd-Frank Act in the first round of the competition.

"Let me break it down for you," Dastrup told the judges, speaking emphatically with his hands. "Dodd Frank assumes that [the government] can regulate in such a way with perfect knowledge and perfect effects as they see it with no unintended consequences. This is simply not true."

Mercedes Hall, a senior at Daniel Hale Williams Preparatory School of Medicine, was on the other side of the issue.

"They say government intervention will never be successful simply because the government undermines the actual complexity and things of that nature," Hall said. "But that would completely undermine all the successful interventions the government has had."

Afterwards, Hall said she really liked being able to debate one of the hottest issues facing the nation right now.

“I love the topic,” Hall said. “To debate about something that’s so relevant, it’s really fun.”

Hall, who lives in the city's Auburn Gresham neighborhood, said it’s useful, too. She said before the debate that she did not know a whole lot about economic policy. She said that became clear when she was researching the Dodd-Frank Act, a law passed in 2010 that increased regulations on the financial industry.

“I read a post online that called it ‘Dodd-Frankenstein,’” she said. “It was trying to be funny, but at first I just thought that was the actual name.”

And even if students like Hall say they are not experts on the subject, debate judges like Jon Waterman say these kids know their stuff.

Waterman is a partner at McGladrey LLP, one the event's sponsors. Waterman watched as Handleman and her teammate faced off against two students from Whitney Young High School.

“It’s a fun time,” Waterman said of judging the debate. “Doing this on top of their class load and everything else, I think it’s tremendous. They put a lot more effort into high school than I did.”

The event took place at 500 West Madison Street, at the headquarters of lead sponsor Performance Trust Capital Partners, an investment company. In addition to serving as judges, Performance Trust and other co-sponsors met with the students to help teach them about the issues.

Marissa Bacon, Hall's teammate who is also a senior at Williams Prep, said she learned a lot.

"They talk about interest rates and loans and leveraging and over leveraging," Bacon said. She laughed when asked if she thinks she could tackle the problems facing Congress now.

"I never intended to be a politician, but I would definitely work with money all day," Bacon said. "It seems like a lot of fun, but I have other dreams."

While she decides what career to pursue, Bacon said she loves being a part of the debate team. Williams Prep opened in 2005, so there is only about 50 students in the senior class. Bacon, who lives in the West Pullman neighborhood, said that means the debate team rules the school.

"The debate team is the most successful team," Bacon said. "Basketball team loses everything. Football team doesn’t have a name for themselves, so we’re the only ones who get announcements at the end of the day."

The debate's championship round takes places Saturday morning.