At its best, debate is a space for open discussions. It inspires students to take initiative and learn about current events from a multitude of viewpoints. During rounds, speakers contribute to conversations that account for those perspectives, and each angle contributes to a different understanding of the topic. At its worst, however, debate can cause people to become defensive and unwilling to continue these conversations. As a result, being an effective debater also means knowing how to frame topics mindfully, especially when discussions include sensitive subjects. 

In every round, your priority should be to avoid alienating anyone in your audience; in the scope of a debate round, doing so could harm your chances of winning because your words could personally affect your judge and/or your opponents. 

Even more important, however, is the risk of causing people to close off from the discussion and possibly reinforcing the belief that they should avoid these conversations in the future.

Adding nuance to arguments is a key skill in preparing debate cases, and the following examples demonstrate how you can build narratives for your cases in an effective and respectful way.

For the middle school affirmative action topic:

Proponents of affirmative action believe that it increases diversity, partly remedies the nation’s history of racial injustice, and extends opportunities to minorities that they historically have been excluded from. Others, however, say that it leads to “reverse discrimination,” superficial diversity, and a continuation of stereotypes.

When discussing either side of this topic, please be mindful of your phrasing. Arguments surrounding affirmative action often tend to perpetuate stereotypes, such as the “model minority” myth for Asian-American applicants to universities. Make sure to also avoid misrepresenting your prop case as reasons why certain communities do not deserve to be granted preference; your arguments may want to advocate a position based on how affirmative action policies unfairly benefit some populations more than others, but saying that some people “do not deserve” something does not effectively convey your point.

For the high school 1619 Project topic:

The introduction of slavery to the colonies and subsequent organization of anti-slavery movements were a formative part of American history. As a result, it is important to begin your narrative in a way that acknowledges this rather than, for example, pushes for the topic of slavery to be excluded from school curriculums.

Historical narratives are constantly evolving, so you should familiarize yourself with not only the arguments but also the most common historical viewpoints supporting each side. When you incorporate these narratives into your points, represent them accurately because they can be nuanced; evidence for this subject may be less statistics-based, so make sure to avoid misrepresenting quotes and literature. Since the topic is open-ended, your team on the prop should also discuss specific, concrete ways to center social studies classes around the 1619 Project.

These two topics both explore multi-faceted arguments related to racial inequality. As always in debate, focus on the tone and implications of your assertions; the scope of your narrative extends past the timeframe of the round itself, which is especially true for discussions of racial inequality.

Your voice can only be a tool for change if you are able to convey your arguments effectively, so use it wisely.

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