Debaters, Define Please! Debate, Argument, Dialogue, Rhetoric?

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When two people, or two teams begin to debate something, an impartial observer often notices that the debate seems to be about two different things. The debaters energetically take their positions, delivering points and counterpoints, yet the clue to this divergence is that they seem to be missing each other’s point.

The debate finishes, and both teams feel like winners. After all, the other team failed to refute your argument. They never engaged with you because they had nothing to say, right?

Your rhetoric was robust, your arguments were awesome, your dialogue was delivered as both prologue and epilogue. You are clear that your team should definitely win the debate. You have left no doubt in anyone’s mind… 🙂 (Both teams feel this way)

To avoid this disappointment and the frustration it brings (for the teams, the adjudicators and the audience) debaters are required to not only define their terms, i.e. what the debate is about, but also to reach an agreement about what they mean when they use key terms in the debate.

To not do this is called a, “squirrel“. Squirrels basically want to get the nut for themselves, and a debater who “squirrels” or practices squirreling, is trying to make it impossible for the other team to have a fair chance to win.

Debates are supposed to be 50 – 50 propositions, not clear-cut, with the possibility of winning or losing equal for both sides.

To win, you have to engage with the other side’s arguments, clearly show those arguments are not true, not important, or will result in some undesirable negative consequences.

On the other hand, your arguments are bigger, better, more important, and will result in some desirable consequence that outweighs any negatives that may be associated with it.

That’s debating. That’s what it’s all about.

Argument, Reason, Evidence, Consequences…and Refutation of the other side’s Argument, Reason, Evidence, and consequences…

To do it right, to debate in this fashion, you have got to define your terms, or otherwise it gets to be quite ugly, with both sides having a one-way argument with…themselves.

Defining terms and reaching agreements about how those terms are being used is an imperative for a beautiful debate to take place…

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
This entry was posted in Debates, Education, Education Technology, EFL, Higher Education Teaching & Learning and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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