Lesson two: Debate topics

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The Debate in the Neighbourhood mentor training programme provides all of the material that you need to begin exploring debate with teaching staff and youth workers in your institution or youth group.

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  • Facilitators begin the presentation by emphasizing that debate topic is central o any debate and it determines not only the quality of arguments and the interaction between the two teams but also the level of interest of both debaters (I.e. how enjoyable the experience it is for the young people) and the audience/judges – how interesting and easy it is for the audience and the judges to follow the arguments presented by the debaters. Facilitators begin by saying that the main characteristic of successful debate is how controversial the topic is and how debatable it is (debatable meaning in this case- how well it lends itself to being debated). Facilitator may give an example of a controversial topic which is debatable: Songs containing violent lyrics should not be played on the radio and TV . Facilitator asks participants whether they think it is a controversial topic ? Following a brief discussion, the facilitator asks whether this topic would make an interesting debate- i.e. whether there is enough room/space for disagreement between both teams. Facilitators then give another example: Marihuana should be legalized in NL and asks what the participants think about this resolution. Participants are most likely to say that it cannot be really debated in the Dutch context since marihuana can be smoked legally in NL. Facilitator then asks how a debate on marihuana can still take place in NL- what needs to be changed in the resolution to make it possible: the possibilities include: Marihuana should be de- legalized in NL, Marihuana should be made legal to minors, etc. Facilitators should mention that for the debate topic to be controversial., it should be contrary to the status quo and include a proposal to change something: for example if marihuana is legal in NL, than making a topic controversial will mean that the topic will propose a de-legalization of marihuana. It will be then the side that defends the resolution that will need to propose a change in the status quo. At this point facilitators may engage participants in a brief discussion concerning the ethics of selecting debate topics- I.e. what can be debated vs. what should be debated. Facilitators may use an example of Geert Wilders : Koran should be banned in NL and initiate the discussion on the limits of free speech and the goal and objectives of the DIN program- treating debate as an instrument to address controversial issues- yet as an instrument to build bridges between people of different ethnic groups rather than as an instrument of division.
  • Another issue that facilitators may bring to the attention of the participants is how interesting a given topic is to young people and their audiences. E.g. the topic Immigrants to NL should be required to learn Dutch may be of interest to youth from ethnic minorities but not necessarily so for other youth, the previous topic on banning violent songs and the one on: National service should be compulsory may be more interesting. But a very specific, narrow topic of Nuclear energy is preferred to the fossil fuels may not be that interesting to young people (unless it is part of a class on energy).
  • Facilitators stress that the topic should be expressed in a declarative mode using simple terms. Two resolutions: 1. Turkey should be admitted to EU. 2. Market mechanisms are preferable to regulatory approaches in reducing carbon emissions . illustrate this point quite well.
  • The last consideration about the choice and wording of topics is that they should be balanced- that is – they should provide equal opportunity for both teams to present their arguments and find convincing reasons and evidence to support their claims. The topic Economic development is more important than the protection of the environment will most probably lead to balanced debates while the second topic: Working mothers are detrimental to the stability of family is balanced against the side defending the topic- these days it is difficult to convince anybody of the validity of this claim without being chauvinistic.
  • Lesson two: Debate topics

    1. 1. Debate – topicsControversial and debatable Songs containing violent lyrics should not be played on the radio and TV. Marihuana should be legalized in NL.
    2. 2. Debate – topicsInteresting to young people and theiraudienceImmigrants to NL should be required to learnDutch.National service should be compulsory in NL.Nuclear energy is preferred to the fossil fuels.
    3. 3. Debate – topicsExpressed in a simple affirmativestatement- avoiding ambiguous termsTurkey should be admitted to EU.Market mechanisms are preferable to regulatoryapproaches in reducing carbon emissions.
    4. 4. Debate – topicsBalanced: providing both sides in a debate withequal opportunityEconomic development is more important thanthe protection of the environment.Working mothers are detrimental to the stabilityof family.

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