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Wolfman Leads Joel Barlow Debate Pack

Who better to teach history than Wolfman, an immortal creature with an endless capacity for knowledge? "[My name] means 'Wolfman' in Welsh, at least that's what my mother told me," Joel Barlow history teacher and debate coach Randy Smith said of his first name.

So maybe he's not immortal and perhaps he can withstand contact with silver. But his encyclopedic mind erupts with ancient concepts and contemporary wisdom, and he never misses a beat.

"I got published an article about Arab poetry from 1,000 years ago," Smith said. "Baghdad in that time was incredibly diverse and multicultural. ... If the Middle East knew their own past better, they would be more tolerant. That's the argument I was making."

As Barlow's debate coach, Smith has one of the largest and most successful teams in the state – 20 to 30 students compete at any given contest, and the team has won two of the past three state competitions. "It's nice to have the stats," Smith said.

But academia wasn't always his thing. "I was not studious at all," he said. "I was a slacker. I used to play stupid games with my teachers, pretend not to pay attention and still have all the answers. ... I was one of those kids."

It all changed when his parents sent him to Hamden Hall Country Day School, where teachers John Garfield and Bill Hunter taught him the value of hard work and how to argue – with his parents. "I grew up in a house of savants," he said. "I was never right, I was always wrong. Until I joined the debate team."

Smith has taught at Barlow since 2002. "One of the great things about Barlow, is we educators have the freedom to develop curriculum that is important to us," he said. "The board in the end has to approve it, of course. But the idea is, if you care about it, you can teach it."

Smith's wife, Marissa, teaches English at Amity High School, which also has a strong debate team. "Her allegiances are divided," he said.

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