The Nature of Debate Class

We’ve had our first class and maybe some of you are a bit irritated with me.  Or maybe you’re angry.

We started a discussion about dropping the drinking age to 15.  Some of you made arguments that were disputed.  And then…

I cut off the debate.

That’s because this is a debate class.

We’re going to have debates in class, but the purpose of the debates isn’t to argue those topics.  Those debates, like today’s, are to demonstrate debate and how it works.  We could have just as easily argued whether yellow brick roads are safer than red brick roads to talk about morality debate today.

The focus of this class is debate.  It’s not about the topics we’re debating.

Because debate is inherently argumentative and based on ideas and topics that are controversial – we’re going to be challenging you and your assumptions and your sources.  It seems likely that you’re going to hear information and ideas that contradict what you have been taught and what you believe.

Our purpose here is less about the topics and more about the philosophy, the mechanisms, and the techniques of debate.  When we’re arguing a topic, if we get to the place I want us to break the debate and talk about debate in itself, that’s going to be very jarring.  Positively frustrating, actually.

Therefore, let me say right now:

I’m sorry that I’m going to offend you.

I know it’s going to happen because of the way this class is going to be structured.  There will be challenges.  Learn from them.

Emotion has very little place in debate.  If anything, emotion will get you in trouble.  So when you’re feeling annoyed or threatened, stop for a moment to think about what’s going on.  I don’t want to hurt any of you. I don’t want anyone in the class to hurt each other.  But debate shows us our flaws in our thoughts and the chinks in our value structures.  That’s a good thing – once you can accept it.

The State of Nature of Debate Class

We’re going to talk about the concept of the State of Nature from three philosophers’ points of view.  All of them have this idea of how humankind functioned in a society without government.

We do have a government in Debate Class.  Let’s lay some ground rules.

  1.  Respect each other.   No name calling – unless it’s their name.  No insults.
  2. Listen to each other.  You’ll learn a lot from the experience of following a debate, even simple ones we have in class.
  3. Ask questions.  I need to know what you’re not understanding so I can clarify.  We also will likely have words and ideas that we need to understand – that’s a significant part of debate.  Ask, don’t assume.

Today you saw me talk with Gracelin and I asked her if I understood her position.  Obviously, I didn’t and Gracelin and I took the time to understand each other.  Do that with each other.

In short,

Don’t take our debates personally.  We’re working with ideas.  We love you as a person.  But we’re going to challenge you every single class.  If you’ve got a problem, we need to deal with it.  Let me know.


Talk to you next week!

Tagged: Tags