I miss high school debate. There was a structure involved. There were two sides presenting a case on a clear statement. Both sides present a structured case. To do so, they presents their thesis, the value which to judge the thesis and resolution, and the criterion which which lends weight to the paramount value. Finally, you make your contentions, properly cite your contentions with evidence, and conclude by restating your thesis.
I miss high school debate because while it was the most difficult aspect of my high school education, I realize why so many former debaters are so successful and can barely matriculate into a common discussion with the rest of society. The ability of the average person to understand the basic structure of making a valid argument in mind-blowing.
I miss high school debate because it put a premium on the word valid. All arguments and all opinions are not created equal. Yes, you live in a free country and you can say that the President is a terrorist. And that he was not born in the United States. However, it is not a valid opinion. It taught us to form your opinions and conclusions after doing research, after understanding a topic. In today’s society, this has become a novel concept.
I’ll give you an example of the 2012 Presidential Race boiled down to the simplicity and intelligence of high school debate.
Resolved: That the United States ought to increase the overall tax rate as a means to stimulate the economy.
In a debate, both sides will want to define specific words to clarify the debate as well as spin the conversation to their side.
You expect the conservative side to define the economy as resource production, private sector growth, and the health of the stock market. They would likely define the overall tax rate as including capital gains.
You would see a progressive define the economy as the entire GDP — which would include the public sector; they may even include consumer confidence as a health barometer. They also want to restrict a tax discussion to personal income.
This is the core of your case where you take a stance on the issue. Everything must come back to this point. Conservatives will negate the resolution stating that lower taxes stimulates business, thus growing the economy. Progressives would state that the right tax increase will correct market errors.
This is the philosophy behind your thesis, the standard by which you attempt to quantify the discussion. When you hear someone say, “Testing our students is important because it proves the effectiveness of our teachers,” their value is teacher effectiveness.
For conservatives, they might value: freedom, competition, free market, or fairness.
For progressives, they might value: equality, justice, or fairness.
There is nothing like a debate round with the same value – except when it happens in life, which I think is what is happening with taxes. Both sides trumpet the value of fairness.
At this point, you draw out the 3-5 main contentions that prove your case. These contentions need to draw back to proving your thesis through the value. Quality is more important than quantity, something we don’t see much anymore.
In a policy debate, your contentions are already structured. Interestingly, looking back on it, these contentions are extremely relevant to debate discussions in reality.
First, you will need to show why the status quo will cause significant harms to everyone. Second, you will show the inherent barrier to solving your outlined harms.
Third, you need to solve for your intended harms and prove it through evidence.
After you conclude, you will go back-and-forth with your opponent, each getting two rebuttals. Any time you do not respond to a contention, it is automatically won. This is often why you see my Facebook threads get long — you will rarely find me dropping a point, unless it has already been won.
The structure of a high school debate may seem artificial and academic, but the real-world applicability is professed to by anyone who continues to use the skills learned every single day. Unfortunately, we don’t see logical structure to political debates anymore, whether in the media, in campaigns, or among the electorate.
For anyone familiar with the process, in describing the structure of a high school debate, I have implicitly constructed a debate of my own. If you can find the resolution statement, thesis, value, and contentions — then you probably win most of the discussions you have during the span of a day, even though none of the people you talk to know it.