Cross-X: A Turbulent, Triumphant Season With an Inner-city Debate Squad

Full Disclosure: Joe Miller is a friend of mine, with whom I worked at a newspaper in Denver before his relocation to Kansas City. Visit his blog: Kansas City Soil.

Tune in to Talk of the Nation on Tuesday, October 31 to hear Joe speaking with Neal Conan about Cross-X!

In Cross-X, Joe Miller tells the true and fascinating story of an inner city high school debate squad that in spite of overwhelming educational, economic, and racial odds, excels in a game dominated historically by privileged students with prep school backgrounds.

Miller, who initially visits Central High School as a detached journalist for a local Kansas City paper, becomes progressively involved with the team. By the end of Cross-X, he’s tossed aside any pretention of journalistic objectivity and has signed on fully as an assistant debate coach. His passion during the tournaments is palpable, and he keeps the readers awash in the same suspense:

“I was a wreck. My palms were sopping with sweat, and all my muscles and nerves felt twitchy from a lack of food and an overload of coffee and adrenaline. I honestly can’t remember feeling more nervous and excited-not before my rare dates in high school, or for big job interviews, or when I was a student at the University of Colorado and the Golden Buffaloes won a nail-biter against Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl for the national championship. I desperately wanted Central to win.”

Miller’s narrative keeps the reader transfixed. Beset not only with economic challenges but also crippled by a school deemed “academically deficient” by the state’s own education commissioner, the kids best their worthiest contendors, pulling arguments from such philosophers as Michel Foucault and Slavoj Zizek as they chop the logic of team after team en route to national tournaments.

By the end of Cross-X, the same students are using debate to address the racism inherent in the game, the schools, and generally in the country. While culling their arguments from the foremost educational and sociological experts, they are turning the game on its head with cutting edge style found only within fringe college teams.

Cross-X is an incredible read, not just for debaters, but for readers concerned with issues of race and public education in America today.

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