The Debate Workshop

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Paradigm Shift conducted a debate workshop on the 7th of March to introduce and explain the concept and format of British Parliamentary debating. The room was packed to capacity with students eager to learn the art.

The workshop began with a description of the debate format and the enumeration of the teams and the roles that each of them are expected to fulfill. This format of debate consists of four teams, namely:

  • Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister (Opening Government)
  • Leader of Opposition and Deputy Leader of Opposition (Opening Opposition)
  • Member of Government and Government Whip (Closing Government)
  • Member of Opposition and Opposition Whip (Closing Opposition)IMG_2642

Explaining their roles with examples laced with wry humour they went on to describe the roles of each member in detail.

Prime Minister: He is charged with the duty of defining the motion without any ambiguity that can be taken advantage of. He also lists out points supporting his stance.

Leader of Opposition: He opposes the PM’s stance and points out flaws in the PM’s speech and then moves on to describe his own arguments.

Deputy Prime Minister: He must support the stance of the PM and elaborate on the points of the PM while also criticizing the LO and putting forth new points.

Deputy Leader of Opposition: He must substantiate and build upon the points laid by the LO and rebut the Opening Government’s arguments and again bring in new arguments.

Member of Government: Even though he is competing with the opening goverment he must back them up and at the same time he must set himself apart from them by bringing in more valid arguments.

Member of Opposition: He must also support the opening opposition and counter the points of the closing government and bring in supplementary arguments to support his stance on the motion.

Government and Opposition Whips: The primary role of the whip is to wrap up the debate by summarising all the arguments put forth by his side and using his wit to criticize and expose the fallacies in his opponent’s arguments while toeing the line of civility and decorum that is expected in the debate. It is important to note that the whip cannot introduce any new points or arguments.

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The next aspect of debating that the workshop touched upon was Points of Information (POI). These are essentially questions asked by the opposing faction and addressed to the speaker during his speech. They are used to throw a counter argument at the speaker in the form a pertinent and terse 15 second question. The first and last minutes of a speaker’s speech are protected and no POIs can be raised during this time.

Post this, the workshop also described in detail, the two main blunders that one can commit while debating:

  • Knifing: This happens when the closing government/opposition opposes the opening government/opposition or challenges their arguments. This can lead to immediate disqualification for the offending team.
  • Ad Hominem: This phrase translates to ‘personal attack’. Any sort of slandering of the speakers is frowned upon and can result in a substantial loss of points. In a debate one is expected to attack the arguments not the person advocating them.

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The workshop then announced that they would have a mock debate with volunteers choosing roles and preparing themselves for a debate on the interesting topic of: ‘ This House will ban pornography’. As the volunteers left the room to prepare their speeches, the audience was introduced to the concept of adjudication that is integral to any form of debate. The Chair relies on concrete feedback from the adjudicators to pronounce the verdict. To distil the arguments of the government and the opposition, the adjudicator must be unbiased and should award points only to the most logical arguments by taking detailed notes and scrutinizing the points laid down. In his speech he must deftly point out the mistakes of the speakers. Willing students were also invited to adjudicate the mock debate.

After the introduction to adjudication, the volunteers filed in one by one and the mock debate commenced. It was only natural, given the nature of the topic, that the audience found the opposition convincing and rational. But the arguments and examples put forth by both factions left the audience in splits and brought in much needed comic relief to rejuvenate the atmosphere in the room. The volunteers cleverly included a few mistakes and errors in their speeches to show the audience how to avoid them. The workshop thus taught students not only how to debate but also how not to debate. The mock debate culminated in a question-answer round with the audience which shed light on the mistakes made by the speakers. The workshop ended with the adjudicators giving their speeches and breaking down the arguments of the speakers and highlighting the traits of a good adjudicator.

The event succeeded in holding the interest of its audience and arousing in them a passion for debating.

-By Shagun Nevatia for MTTN

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