Our workshop series this season was about much more than topic preparation. Lecturers Jason Sykes (Associate Director of Debate at The Hockaday School) and Brian Lain (Director of Debate at the University of North Texas) created some innovative lessons plans on argument theory, an often-neglected aspect of debate, that translate easily to your classroom or debate meeting! You can find them below the fold.
We really hope you enjoy these! Argument theory and public speaking skills can often take a back seat to research and case writing, but they can really be the variables that up your game and take you to the next level. Some quick reasons:
1. You won’t always have all the cards. For those moments when you’re caught unprepared, a basic understanding of claims, warrants, and values gives you a leg-up. Knowing how to step back and identify a logical fallacy or an incomplete argument can be the difference between losing to a poorly-structured trick or identifying the weakness and winning. Make sure that no one’s winning because they’ve simply caught you off-guard. If they’re going to out-research you, make sure they’re not bluffing with what we used to call GFO’s (arguments that are Good For One win but not two; poorly structured claims that collapse under scrutiny).
2. This is what debate should teach you. The topics change all the time, but the rules stay the same. Why is that? It’s because the research function of debate is important, but it’s more important that debate teach you a way of thinking and looking at the world. You need to know how to break statements down into their component parts, analyze them, and draw global conclusions about relative argument strength. We’re all consumers of information almost 24/7 in the internet age. You need a filter for what makes sense versus what couldn’t possibly hope to pass as reasonable.
3. This is the bike-riding; the topics are the trails. Learning how to argue ensures you’ll do well. Mastering the topic is an important piece of that, but consider: the best debaters often are good at debate from topic to topic. They don’t have wild swings in results every time the topic changes. Why? They get how to debate, to construct an argument, and to win with that argument. Learning to debate is like learning to ride a bike. Each topic is a new trail — some may be more challenging than others, but if you know how to pedal and brake effectively, you’ll be fine.
We know this is the start of tournament travel for many of you, so remember: You know how to do this. You’ve prepared. Arguing is like riding a bike in this sense as well: once you know how, you never forget. Now go get ‘em!