Guide for Discussion Leaders
How to Lead Discussion: Debate
Unless debate is used to stimulate a discussion that follows the formal speeches, it will not be a constructive activity for the educational program. Debate, however, is attractive to Americans for two reasons. Most of us have listened to debates and many of us have taken part in them at school or college: so the setting is familiar. The competitive feature of debate appeals to American audiences. But the combative atmosphere of debate denies the basic principles of discussion. These imply an impartial examination of the facts and an attempt to reach a solution acceptable from a number of viewpoints. If debate is used, the only way to meet this dilemma is to throw the subject open for discussion by the audience with the debaters acting as the experts.
There are other disadvantages to the debate form. Debate implies that there are only two sides—affirmative and negative—to the question, while numerous public issues are many-sided. Furthermore, all members of each team must support one side or the other of the proposition regardless of whether they agree fully with it. To this extent debate is forced, artificial, and rigid.
The subject for debate must be so phrased that one side will categorically uphold it (the Affirmative), and the other will oppose it (the Negative). Normally each team will have two or three members. The debate begins with the first speaker for the Affirmative. The main speeches alternate from Affirmative to Negative until the last speaker for the Negative has finished. In preparing their main speeches the team members divide between them the statements of fact and issues which they wish to make. After the main speeches the rebuttal speeches begin. The first of these is made by a speaker for the Negative followed by an Affirmative rebuttal, and so on. In the rebuttal speeches each member tries to disprove or raise objections to points made by the opposing team. For this purpose each side has made notes of arguments or facts advanced by their opponents.
In debating it is customary for specially appointed judges or, the audience to vote either on the merits of the question or on the effectiveness of the presentations. Then everybody goes home, having viewed a purely academic exercise. To make debates useful in the Army educational program a question period by the audience should replace the voting. The questioning should be controlled by the chairman of the debate, using the methods already referred to in this pamphlet.
If the debate is to be at all effective, the debaters must be competent speakers, must be able to think quickly on their feet, and must be acquainted with the formalities of the debate method. They must either be experts in the subject or make themselves such by study. Each team must do a good deal of joint preparation of speeches and study of arguments that may be advanced by their opponents.
In conclusion it may be said that the debate is in general not well adapted to the attainment of the objectives given in Section I. The spirit of discussion in the Army is intended to be one in which the chief purposes are seeking information and exploring a variety of opinions. Since any definite action like the passing of resolutions is not desired on the part of men, partisan advocacy of a given opinion—an integral part of debate—does not easily fit the Army program.