MOTION ANALYSIS: What are we actually arguing about?
Written By: Coach George, edited By: Coach Maggie
A month of lessons filled with awesome debates has passed at LearningLeaders, and the coaches would like to share some tips to help make you a better debater! In this blog post, the coaches want to share the importance of analyzing a motion properly to ensure that learners do not make it unnecessarily difficult for themselves to win a debate, or do not make arguments that don’t fit within the true context of the motion.
Below are some topics/motions that we have encountered in our debate practices during the past few weeks. Let’s break them down by doing some motion analysis:
LBRT: Kids should not be allowed to play video games on weekdays.
A lot of PRO/AFFIRMATIVE teams tend to focus on the problems associated with video games such as addiction and distraction as a justification for why video games should be banned. These teams also tend to offer more preferable alternatives like books and sports/games instead of playing video games. Most of the debate teams clashed on the harmful effects of video games and the viability of the alternatives. Whilst a few PRO teams did talk about the possibility of playing video games on weekends, these instances were few and far between; even in these cases, the slight change in case theory was often not utilized to its full effect.
This motion allows for PRO teams to run a case that does not see video games as something inherently bad. The most common case by PRO teams is “Video games are bad because it causes distraction and addiction. Therefore, we should not allow kids to play video games. Instead, kids should spend their time studying (which is more important apparently) and doing what they posit to be more ‘productive’ alternatives (like books and sports).”
Whilst there is nothing wrong with this case per se, it unnecessarily prevents the PRO team from laying claim to benefits that CON teams can raise about how video games can be educational and can spur creativity etc. If PRO teams were to adopt a position that video games are distracting and cause addiction in all instances, they will not be able to also argue that video games do bring about certain benefits when played in moderation.
A better approach would be to make the distinction between weekdays and weekends and argue why it is in the best interest of studies/homework/other activities on weekdays to reserve playing video games for just the weekends. This approach is much more nuanced and allows the PRO team to also lay claim to the benefits of video game playing that will remain exclusively in realm of the CON team.
As we can see, motions can be tricky—and arguments must be unique and specific. LearningLeaders coaches hope students can now be more aware of the way motions are phrased. We want learners to thoroughly analyze every single words or phrase in a motion to see how these small details may change the scope of the debate and the clash points.
THW ban home-schooling.
For this motion, most CON teams either ran the argument that home-schooling is not bad therefore it should not be banned or argued that the harms brought forth by the PRO teams are non-unique, therefore the logic that PRO team uses to justify banning home-schooling is faulty. Some other ideas mooted included regulation as opposed to a complete ban. None of these approaches are wrong per se, but again it unnecessarily raises the burdens of the CON team and prevents them from raising certain arguments.
Whenever you receive motions on banning something, you should rejoice, especially if you are the CON team. This is because it allows you a lot of leeway to run a case and push a difficult burden on PRO teams.
In this motion, coaches would like to suggest a cleverer approach. The cleverer approach would be to say that:
- as the CON team we acknowledge that home-schooling is not for everyone but if some families/people think home-schooling is better than schools, they should have the freedom of choice to do so, and…
- home-schooling is not a major trend as most students still go to traditional schools (this allows CON teams to challenge the Significance/Harms that PRO teams will often raise to justify their ban on home-schooling).
Therefore, some CON arguments that should be raised (following from the cleverer approach) would be the freedom of choice argument, and argument about how diversity in an education ecosystem is needed/beneficial, and how a complete ban will remove diversity. In simple terms, CON teams can argue that a world with universities/workforces made up of 100% students who went to schools is worse (less diverse) than a mixed system of 75% students who went to schools and 25% home-school students.
This allows CON teams to first knockout the PRO arguments that in any country/economy we need a standardized system that most students go through to create a centralized workforce equipped with the right skillsets because this also exists under the CON paradigm. In addition, CON teams get the benefit of giving effect to freedom of choice and encouraging diversity of viewpoints and ideas.
TH, as China, would welcome Donald Trump as President of the United States.
When given this motion, most students defined “welcome” in a very typical run-of-the-mill yet unnecessarily burdensome manner. Typical definitions include equating “welcome” to an outright endorsement of Donald Trump (including his policies and values) whilst others speak about merely associating China with Donald Trump (and the negative connotations). While there is nothing inherently wrong with these definitions, it unnecessarily raises the bar for PRO teams as it exposes them to rebuttals and arguments about the detriments that an association will bring (i.e “being seen as a social pariah by the international community because a country associates themselves with Donald Trump”).
A more strategic way to define the motion would be to turn the debate on its head and define “welcome” as celebrate. And by celebrate, we mean to celebrate how bad Donald Trump is as a person/leader of America because this makes the Chinese government look good and provides them an opportunity to step into the power vacuum left by a more isolationist America-first commander-in-chief.
Tapping on most students’ disdain for Donald Trump, the suggested definition approach by the coaches allows PRO teams to raise arguments such as:
- As the Chinese government, it gives them the opportunity to paint democracy in a bad light. Below are just some examples of news articles on this point:
- Donald Trump gives the Chinese government the opportunity to step into the power vacuum in key areas: free trade (i.e TPP), climate change and extend their influence around the world. Think President Xi Jinping’s talk on globalization at Davos at a time where Donald Trump chooses to turn his back on globalization.
Therefore, the learning take-away that coaches hope students can glean from this example is that to widen their perspective on any given issue and think outside-of-the-box, especially when it comes to open-ended definitions like “welcome”.
In conclusion, the main take-away for debaters in this cycle is that do not belittle motion analysis, definitions of a motion, and case setting. Very often, coaches have observed that most students spend little or no time on these and jump straight into thinking of arguments and examples. Debaters need to understand that in doing so it will likely mean that they will fall into the trap of making things unnecessarily difficult for themselves or miss the opportunity to direct the debate to a discussion of higher value arguments/clashes. Hence, coaches hope students can spend more time analyzing motions in the next few weeks! Happy debating and looking forward to more positive energy and awesome debates in class!