How to Debate in Class

The reality is that most students (and people for that matter) won't speak out. It's called human nature and it was recognized in the Declaration of Independence: "...all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."

While you might feel alone when debating a teacher, professor, or other students in a high school or college class, rest assured that there are more people than you think who agree with you. Remember the oft-repeated words of someone who knew a bit about speaking out, Sam Adams: "It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brushfires in people's minds."

That said, you don't want to end up being "that guy." We've all been there in class when the same guy debates every point the professor makes and ends up disrupting class and being annoying. Rather than getting other students to rethink their positions, they tune that guy out. Don't be that guy.

Remember: your goal for debating is to be respectable and credible, and ultimately to expose students to the ideas of freedom.

You are not likely to be able to defeat your teachers or professors. Sorry. They are the establishment. They also hold your grades in their iron grips. They've been doing this for years, and they know how to debate you. They probably have heard some of your arguments before. In fact, many professors have been trained through their education to know how to dismiss you and your ideas.

Don't lose heart. Just because teachers and professors know how to make someone look bad or are skilled at debate, doesn't mean they're right. History shows that many in academia have embraced some horrible ideas like eugenics, fascism, Marxism, and others that unleashed great evil on the world. And that is why we fight.

Some Rules for Debating

1) Debate on your terms. Don't wade into every fight. Pick your fights and be smart about them.

Rather than do a full frontal attack on what a professor or other student says, pose questions that cast doubt on the merits of the ideas being discussed and use other sources to make a point for you.

Let's say that someone in class throws out the statement, "The world has never been this hot before, and so we must stop climate change."

Here's a solid response:

"How would you respond to Dahl-Jensen's Greenland Borehole study that shows that there have been substantially warmer and colder parts of the earth prior to industrialization? Might that not tell us that there are greater influences on climate than man-made CO2, and that rather than focusing on stopping climate change, we should try to adapt instead?"

Example below:


To back up your question, you could also offer to forward everyone a copy of the material you are sourcing (Note "Tell a Friend" indicated by the red arrow makes this easy.).

You can search Intellectual Takeout for other helpful sources on a variety of topics.

2) Use their own words against them. In another class you might be discussing John Maynard Keynes and his ideas on how to "manage" an economy. You might want to throw out that when considering management of the ideal economy, Keynes also included the idea of regulating the numbers and types of people:

"The time has already come when each country needs a considered national policy about what size of population, whether larger or smaller than at present or the same, is most expedient. And having settled this policy, we must take steps to carry it into operation. The time may arrive a little later when the community as a whole must pay attention to the innate quality as well as to the mere numbers of its future members."

John Maynard Keynes
The End of Laissez-Faire
1926

Needless to say, ever since Germany's holocaust, Americans have not been very supportive of the ideas behind such policies Additionally, it's worth asking the question, "Where does the idea of managing an economy ultimately take the society?"

You can search Intellectual Takeout for other helpful quotes on a variety of topics.

3) Don't be emotional. It is okay to be outraged, but be rational in your response. Emotion can cloud your judgment and your argument. No matter how infuriating a professor's or student's statement may be, you want to keep the horribleness of the statement as the center of everyone's focus, not your emotional response.

4) Words matter. Pick your words carefully. Always try to frame your position in the positive. For some thought-provoking insight, read Words that Work by Frank Luntz.

5) Work as a team. If you have freedom-loving friends in class, work together. It is far better to voice doubt about a particular issue and then to be backed up by someone else in the classroom. If you have a laptop or handheld device in class, make sure your friends are working off the same material as you are. If you're going to talk about a graph or quote you find on Intellectual Takeout, make sure you send it to your friends, too.

6) Finally, keep your chin up through it all. Our freedoms, society, and civilization are worth fighting for and preserving. You won't win every debate, but you will change people's thinking. Don't be scared to stand up for what you believe. If not now, when?

More About This Topic...

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Quote Page

Commentary or Blog Post

"The Center for Biological Diversity ('CBD') has recently taken the first step toward using the Endangered Species Act ('ESA') to regulate industries accused of contributing to global warming. If CBD is successful, virtually every segment of U.S. industry will become subject to the ESA's standard to insure no harm to ESA-protected species."

National Geographic reports that the Endangered Species Act can sometimes backfire and cites a number of examples of intentional habitat destruction intended to make land inhospitable to endangered species.

Adler, professor of law at Case Western University, remarks on the defects of the Endangered Species Act on the 30th anniversary of its enactment, citing a study in the December 2003 Conservation Biology that reports just as many landowners responded to the listing of Preble's meadow jumping mouse by destroying potential habitat as undertook new conservation efforts.

Increasingly, the theory of global warming is being linked to the destruction of endangered species. There is no arguing that climate change can kill off species; consider the dinosaurs. Consider, too, that the dinosaurs were killed off well before the industrial revolution.

This article explains the potential precedent (and future impacts) of citing global warming as a cause for endangering species that could be set if the Department of the Interior agrees to list the polar bear as a "threatened" species under the ESA.

"You ask a citizen on the street, 'Who runs the Endangered Species Act?' and they would say, 'Well, the Fish and Wildlife Service, I guess.' 'No.' Sansonetti said. 'It is run by a third branch of government. It's the judges that are running ESA right now.'"

This article explains how Western officials want to rewrite federal species law based on their success at saving sage grouse habitat.

The commentary piece describes the success story of the recovery of the Grey Wolf (Timberwolf) in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. These states chose to move away from the federal approach of relying heavily on threatening farmers and property owners with heavy fines and even jail time for protecting their livestock from the great predator. By finding ways to compensate local landowners for...

This U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service news release describes the special rule created for the protection of the polar bear. It precludes activities outside of its protection zone that may lead to the incidental taking of a bear from being regulated under the Endangered Species Act.

Just five years ago, Charles Monnett was one of the scientists whose observation that several polar bears had drowned in the Arctic Ocean helped galvanize the global warming movement. Now, the wildlife biologist is on administrative leave and facing accusations of scientific misconduct.

Burnett explains that recent pushes to list the polar bear as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act are, "...based on flawed forecasting methods and incomplete data."  Sterling explains that these are merely political efforts (U.S. polar bear populations are not declining) to force the Bush administration to take a tougher stance on greenhouse gas emissions.

Chart or Graph

J. Scott Armstrong, ultimately responsible for the graph above, testified to the Senate on how the data about Polar Bears and decreasing ice was selectively presented.

Analysis Report White Paper

In this article, Jonathan Adler looks at four recent studies conducted by various researchers and organizations that provide evidence that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) may actually be doing more harm than good to the very wildlife it purports to protect.

This report offers a detailed look at the original intentions of the ESA, the litigation procedures that accompany the act, specific case studies in which the ESA has harmed land owners, the ultimate failure of the Act to protect species, and, finally, concludes with an argument in favor of a "non-punitive, non-regulatory approach" to conservation.

Endangered species protection can be made effective - and honest - only if we recognize eight truths ignored by the failing Endangered Species Act. Among them: letting nature take its course isn't the best way to protect biodiversity; and property owners must be given an interest in protecting sensitive habitat.

"Environmental groups are intensely aware of the power charismatic species have to both capture the imagination of the public and serve as levers to emplace environmental restrictions and regulations."

This study examines private landowners' responses to the listing of the Preble's meadow jumping mouse as threatened under the ESA and finds that listing the mouse "does not appear to have enhanced its survival prospects on private land."

"Unfortunately, the bald eagle will be delisted in name only because despite the species' much hailed recovery the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has cut-and-pasted the Endangered Species Act (ESA) land-use regulations-the 'teeth' that make the law so broadly powerful-to the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act)."

"The picture that emerges is that the ESA's role in conserving the bald eagle has been significantly overstated, the ESA may have done more harm than good, and there are a host of factors key to gaining a fuller picture of the eagle's conservation."

In reality, the protection of species at risk has been hampered by the ESA's perverse incentive and lack of prioritization.

Video/Podcast/Media

Schleibe is interviewed about the current status of the polar bear, what steps will be taken to protect it, and the role played by ESA.

Governor Dirk Kempthorne, who later served as Secretary of the Interior during the second Bush term, discusses the triumphs and failures of the ESA, and examines prospects for its future.

Primary Document

Transcript of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution.

This is the text of the act, the link was provided via the organization River Network.

This press release from the DOI explains the changes that were put into affect under the Bush Administration in late 2008. As the release states, "These changes are designed to reduce the number of unnecessary consultations under the ESA so that more time and resources can be devoted to the protection of the most vulnerable species. Under the proposed rule, agency actions that could cause an...

How does the ESA impact ranchers and farmers? Sims, a rancher and president of the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, testifies about the negative impact of wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone, the loss of private property rights and land values under the ESA, the cost of defending against ESA, and the misuse of the ESA to further special interest goals to land use and development...

This decision, the first Supreme Court interpretation of the Endangered Species Act, demonstrates the power and breadth of the Act. In TVA v. Hill, the Court stopped construction of a virtually completed $100 million federal dam because it would adversely impact the habitat of the snail darter, a three inch, tannish colored fish, despite the fact that Congress continued to fund the...

"The proposition of our author, then, should be reversed, and it should have been said, that they mind so much their own, that they never think enough of others. Suppose a nation, rich and poor, high and low, ten millions in number, all assembled together; not more than one or two millions will have lands, houses, or any personal property; if we take into the account the women and children, or...

Books

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