Luke Lamond, Class of 2019
This year, the debate class introduced last spring as a miniblock has expanded into a third-period class for 9th and 11th grades. The class is primarily taught by Ms. Stier, though math and science teacher Ms. Bilodeau co-teaches the combined Public Speaking portion of the class.
The debate class uses parliamentary rules: two teams with two members each argue over a motion—the Proposition in favor of it, and the Opposition against it. Each team is given two seven-minute periods each to make constructive speeches, and one five-minute period each for a rebuttal. After the first minute (but not during the last minute) of a speech or rebuttal, the other side may deliver a Point of Information—any fact which would expose a logical fallacy in their rival’s argument. The arguing debater may choose to reject or accept the Point of Information, and is then given fifteen seconds to respond. At the end of the last rebuttal, an odd number of judges deliver their verdict, and the side with the most votes wins.
The 11th grade recently wrote persuasive speeches—three to five-minute essays designed to be spoken aloud. A persuasive speech should contain logical and emotional arguments in equal measure, and is different than a normal debate—rather than battling an opponent, with entire postulates being taken down and constructed within seconds, the author of a speech is free to write at their own pace, shaping an argument against what they can find which opposes their essay.
Juniors Sophia Joffe, James Fischer, and Craig Ripley offer their speeches:
Why Cannabis Should Be Legalized
Sophia Joffe, Class of 2019
For many years in the United States, cannabis was in used in tinctures and medicines, and could be distributed by pharmacists to cure all sorts of common ailments. To explain why cannabis should be legal, it would probably be best to start by listing a few of the medicinal benefits. CBD is one of the chemicals in the plant—it has many benefits, isn’t psychoactive, and can even be consumed by children with no negative side-effects, although that doesn’t mean parents should immediately start feeding their children large amounts of CBD; not enough research has been done. This can be a good alternative, though, for children and adults alike who suffer from severe anxiety or depression and would otherwise be prescribed dangerous anti-depression medications that can make it difficult for them to lead a normal life. Veterans who suffer from PTSD are prescribed medicines that make it difficult for them to function in their normal day-to-day life. In contrast, consuming CBD will help their PTSD without any of the negative side effects of the pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by most doctors and therapists.
There are also so many advantages to consuming weed over alcohol. According to the national institute on alcohol abuse and alcoholism, 88,000 deaths occur in the U.S. annually because of alcohol abuse, while according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a single death has yet to be reported due to cannabis overdose. A person would have to consume approximately 1,500 pounds in 15 minutes. That’s 100 pounds per minute, 1.6 pounds per seconds. To be fair, after a certain point the person smoking would simply die from carbon monoxide inhalation, but even that would take about 800 joints.
THC is the part of the plant that makes people high but there are countless ways to utilize the benefits of cannabis without ever getting high. THC also has positive effects and can reduce symptoms of seizures, Tourette’s syndrome, and epilepsy. Some people argue that smoking or consuming cannabis makes people lazy or stupid, but if a mature adult with a completed frontal cortex consumes pot, there are no long-term side effects at all. In fact, it is impossible to form a physical addiction to cannabis, though a physiological one is possible.
To be clear, none of what I am saying advocates children and young adults smoking pot, or even anyone smoking pot. Consuming THC only becomes harmless after your frontal cortex is completely developed. There are safer ways that weed can be consumed, though—edibles being one of the many options out there for adults. Even though one could argue that the carbon monoxide present in marijuana smoke is bad for the lungs, there’s no reason that an adult couldn’t willingly take this risk, as many do with legal substances. Alcohol, for example, has little to no benefits, and is still commonly consumed, even after being made illegal in the U.S. for 13 years, during Prohibition.
By criminalizing weed, we are supporting large drug cartels that result in death and crime. By making it legal, the government can take taxes from it and in some cases, like Colorado, it has. Making this drug legal would not only free thousands of prisoners who were sentenced to inordinately long stretches in prison for merely having a bit of weed on them, it would give more research opportunities to our government—as a Schedule 1 drug, it stands with heroin and methamphetamine as something deadly. In the next ten or so years, we’ll hopefully see an increase in legalization, research, and new medicines to benefit society.
The Necessity of Net Neutrality
James Fisher, Class of 2019
What is net neutrality? I was asking myself that same question long ago, and while it may seem like a difficult topic to fully understand, net neutrality impacts all of our lives more than we might realize. Net neutrality is essentially the liberty to access all parts of the internet freely, without having to pay for specific services or be barred from certain sites. With the internet now a crucial part of just about every American’s life, we need net neutrality more than ever. The Trump administration’s push to repeal Obama-era net neutrality laws is not only terrifying, but overtly totalitarian in nature. By repealing net neutrality, internet providers would be able to control which sites people have access too, and which are unavailable to the public. This would enable the government and corporations to control people’s access to things like news outlets, allowing them to control the media, as every fascist dictatorship does.
On a smaller level, however, repealing net neutrality would cost Americans financially in a massive way. No net neutrality means internet providers get to put values on certain types of websites, and force people to pay for them individually or in “packages,” sort of like cable TV. This could wreak havoc on poorer, lower class families who may not be able to afford internet as is. With the internet as much of a necessity as it is today, this could be devastating, making it incredibly difficult to find a job, stay up to date with news, etc. The government denying people’s right to access the entire internet without any bias in favor of service providers is the very definition of corruption in politics.
At a time when so many First Amendment rights are being threatened, repealing net neutrality would be a blow to free speech that this country cannot afford. Limiting the public’s access to the internet is limiting the most easily accessible mode of expressing opinions currently in existence. Without access to websites like Tumblr, Reddit, Twitter, or any similar sites, everyday people would not have the right to express their beliefs, complaints, and ideas. The push to repeal Obama-era net neutrality laws is a corrupt, greedy, and dangerous move that puts the American people’s ability to access the necessity that is the internet—and free speech itself—in peril.
CRISPR Isn’t “Playing God”
By Craig Ripley, Class of 2019
In recent years, scientists have found a potential cure for the world’s many genetic diseases: genetic engineering on humans. Naturally, this would cause most rational people to worry. We can all remember stories of when humans tried to “play God,” such as Jurassic Park or Frankenstein.
Scientists have found a tool that can edit DNA far more precisely than anything we had previously. This new tool is called CRISPR, or clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats—a biological tool that can be used for genetic engineering. Using CRISPR is actually a natural occurrence—bacteria use it as a genetic archive to store information on the viruses that they’ve encountered.
If a virus attacks a bacterium, and the bacterium survives, it saves some of the viral DNA within it. If the virus attacks later, the bacterium uses CRISPR as a defense mechanism; it makes a copy of the stored genetic code out of RNA and gives it to a protein called Cas9. The Cas9 molecules then move throughout the bacterium until they find the virus whose DNA matches the RNA genetic code. Once the codes match, the Cas9 knows that it has found its target and cuts out the DNA of the virus, which makes it harmless. This ability is similar to the body’s ability to become immune to diseases like chickenpox after encountering them once.
Because Cas9 works at a genetic level, it is a precise tool. Upon the discovery of the CRISPR/Cas9 system, scientists realized that this precision could potentially be harnessed to artificially edit genetic code. Furthermore, Cas9 is easy to program; scientists can simply give it a copy of DNA or RNA for it to record and then inject it into a cell. Once inside the cell, the protein will cut out whatever genes match the genetic code it has been given. On top of all this, CRISPR/Cas9 is cheaper than previous forms of genetic engineering, such as those used to make GMO foods. Because of its precision and efficiency, scientists have experimented with using CRISPR/Cas9 on both plant and animal cells.
One of the most promising abilities of CRISPR is its capability of curing diseases; it can be used both on bacterial infections and viral diseases. Most significantly, however, is its ability to cure diseases such as cancer.
Scientists used CRISPR to remove HIV from a small group of cells in 2015. In 2016, they moved on to rats that had been completely infected by HIV. The scientists were able to remove the HIV from more than half of cells using CRISPR/Cas9. On June twenty-first, 2016, the government approved the first CRISPR gene therapy tests on human patients; China, however, became the first country to actually use CRISPR on a human with lung cancer in late October of 2016.
In addition to curing other types of diseases, CRISPR can fix genetic problems, which range in severity from color blindness to dangerous diseases such as hemophilia. These problems would be surprisingly easy to fix, as most genetic diseases are caused by small errors within one’s DNA coding. Many of these errors consist of a single incorrect nucleotide—the “code” of DNA.
Many people worry that genetic engineering such as CRISPR/Cas9 will result in damage to the human genome; once a person’s DNA is changed, the human gene pool is forever altered. There are, however, two types of cells: body cells and gametes. Gametes, the reproductive cells such as sperm and eggs, could be left unchanged if only a person’s body cells were modified, thus preventing changes to a person’s descendants.
Still, CRISPR could be used to modify a child before it was even born by modifying sperm and egg cells. This could result in “designer babies”—children whose parents decided what they should be before they were born. Many people fear that this could lead to “normal” people—those who hadn’t received modification—being seen as inferior by modified ones. They worry that if CRISPR becomes commercially available, only the rich will have access to it. Fortunately, CRISPR is cheap and easy for geneticists to use, meaning that it would likely remain at an accessible price.
CRISPR has the capability to solve many of humanity’s problems, but it must also be used responsibly. In the end, the benefits of CRISPR far outweigh any risks it may pose, and due to its efficiency, it could become one of the strongest forces in the field of medicine. Genetic engineering isn’t “playing God”; it’s simply a form of medicine that could save millions of lives.