When I was in high school one of my passions – along with baseball, tennis, and, well, lots of other things that 16 year old boys can be passionate about – was debate. I threw myself into the debate season and worked like crazy at it. One of the most interesting things about debate is that it teaches you to pursue both sides of a point, vehemently arguing the affirmative of a resolution and then an hour later arguing just as vehemently the negative side.
Still today I use class debates in my university courses at UNC, and even though students are skeptical, reluctant, and afraid going into the debates, they almost always come away thinking that it they are the best part of the entire semester. Everyone in the class has to participate in one formal debate during the term, arguing affirmative of negative of one of three highly controversial topics, based on doing substantial research with teammates in preparation. The topics that I’ve used most recently are (1) Resolved: Paul and Jesus Represented Fundamentally Different Religions; (2) Resolved: Paul’s Views of Women Were Oppressive; and (3) The New Testament Condemns Modern Practices of Homosexuality.
In my view there is not an obvious answer to any one of these questions, which makes arguing each of them interesting. Even better, most students in the class already have a clear opinion about each one before taking the class (1) No; (2) No; and (3) Yes. As it turns out, by far the more challenging and fun side to argue is the one that most people disagree with. It makes you be creative. Anyway, students come away loving the exercise. It not only gets them to do research in an important topic, it hones their analytical skills and helps them develop effective rhetorical strategies. All to the good.
Every year in the course I also put on a debate in front of the entire class – in which I debate myself! This is to show how a debate works. The topic I usually pick is not as “hot” as the three the students participate in; but it’s interesting intellectually and from the point of view of the NT. It is: “Resolved: The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable.” To do the debate I first give an affirmative defense of the resolution. Then I put on a sportscoat and a baseball cap and give a negative attack of the resolution. Then still dressed the same I give a negative rebuttal of what the affirmative side argued. And finally I take off the coat and cap and give an affirmative rebuttal of what the negative side has argued. It all takes 50 minutes, and by the time I’m done, I feel completely discombobulated! But the students enjoy it and they get to see how a debate is done.
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