In the movie The Great Debaters, what does the following quote mean? Why does Tolson make his students repeatedly say this?  Tolson: Who's the judge? Debaters: The judge is God! Tolson: Why is he...

In the movie The Great Debaters, what does the following quote mean? Why does Tolson make his students repeatedly say this? 

Tolson: Who's the judge?
Debaters: The judge is God!
Tolson: Why is he God?
Debaters: Because he decides who winds and looses, not my opponent!
Tolson: Who's your opponent?
Debaters: He doesn't exist!
Tolson: Why does he not exist?
Debators: Because he is merely a dissenting voice to the truth l speak!

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The scene with the quote between Tolson and his debaters is the scene after Dr. Farmer has the unfortunate and unnerving incident with the man and the man's pig. Since Dr. Farmer's car killed the pig, the man forces payment from Farmer, then forces him to "help" get the pig in the man's truck:

[Man] Whoa, whoa, whoa! Where the hell do you think you're going?
You got to help us get this hog in my truck.
Come on. Grab the tail end of that, boy.
[...]
Town niggers. They think they're too good to get their hands dirty.

The scene immediately cuts from Farmer to Tolson's living room, where the debaters...

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pwalle01 | Student

When we initially dissect Tolson's quote here, it can be a bit confusing. After all, Tolson claims that the competition is not even between the two teams, but rather between the debate team and the standing judge. Realize that Tolson's strategy is twofold. 

Tolson reframes the student's basic understanding of debate, asking them to consider their task as seeking "the truth", not just the "best answer" that may happen to beat their opponents. If his students debate against their opponent instead of speaking to the judge, they are already conforming to their opponent's questions rather than forcing the opponent to do so for them. 

Tolson asks that his students repeat this, near mechanically, in order to solidify the concept and to break bad habits. Think of when you have a debate or argument with a friend. Are you trying to prove him or her wrong? Or are you trying to be "right"? Often, we do the first despite the fact that the second is the more effective means of argumentation. 

Stepping back, this quote also could provide you with a decent chance to do some outside research of your own. Did Tolson actually say this, or is the scene in the movie a way to impart the lessons that he taught in a flashy, "hollywood friendly" way? It's important when we watch movies like this one, especially biopics, to ask what parts are truthful, what parts cater to viewers for show, and, ultimately, if we care about the difference between the first and second.