This post is a continuation of Joshua’s discussion about World School Debate, covering some of its techniques and how they can be applied across debate forms.
Being the human species, we have a tendency to get off track. Whether that means forgetting to send that email to your boss or running a useless argument, we all do it. One method of circumventing this habit is a team line – a rhetorically persuasive summary of your team’s position. Those can be twists on common sayings (“the shortest distance between two points means people get trampled”). They can be humorous (“bitcoin is a lit coin”). They can even be song lyrics (I listen to Fred Astaire and Harry James. You wouldn’t get my references). Beyond keeping you on topic, they also give the judge something to remember. The more memorable your team, the higher your chances of winning. When the judge is putting their ballot together, they’re more likely to vote for the strategy they remember.
This is different than “having clash,” as discussed above. Clashes in World School are a technique usually employed by the last constructive speaker (although in most formats they’d be better suited for the rebuttals). There are typically two to three, and they sum up the main areas the opposing teams disagree on. Important to this technique is the realization that common ground exists. No matter how different the other team’s stance may seem to yours, there is always something you agree on. From there, you move into where the teams part ways. You then break it down, and explain a) why this argument matters, b) why you win the argument, and c) why you therefore win the debate. Doing this clarifies the round for yourself, your opponents, and the judge – overall making it more enjoyable and instructional.
This is, unfortunately, sorely lacking in American debate, although its considered necessary internationally. It only adds a short amount of time to your argument, but can take you leaps and bounds ahead. After responding to an opposing argument (especially some of their strongest arguments), you tell the judge why you win the debate even if your opponents are right or win this argument. This paints the round in a light more favorable to you and your side.
The four parts of an argument
Every argument in WSD has four parts: Statement, Explanation, Example, Importance. All too often in American debate we go straight into analysis or evidence and skip the rest. Your statement is more than just a tagline – it is a sentence that sums up your argument succinctly. Never start an argument without the judge knowing exactly where it should be going. Three words to write on the flow aren’t going to cut it. Explanation is the part everyone assumes – this is where you explain your argument. The example can be your evidence or application, depending on the style of debate you do. It could also be something more – not only where you read a quote from an expert, but also give an example of what this looks like in the real world. It can even be hypothetical. People like stories, and when you tell a story about your argument it immediately becomes more persuasive. Finally, importance (which is also referred to as impact). In every style of debate we claim to do this, but the sad truth is it only comes out every once in a while. Don’t just say “the economy is hurt” or “safety decreases.” That’s not an impact, that’s an explanation. Don’t assume I agree decreased safety actually matters in this debate – tell me why it matters, why it’s more important than your opponent’s impacts, and why it wins the debate.
PERMS is not a hairstyle, it’s an acronym. It stands for Political, Economic, Religious, Moral, Social. These tiers of analysis are incredibly useful when trying to prep a resolution (e.g. in parli) or trying to come up with responses to an argument you’re not familiar with. All you have to do is ask what the real-world implications of something are in these three areas. How would legalizing marijuana affect the political and governmental world? How would the economy be changed? Does it allow for more freedom of religion? Is it moral to legalize something that’s addictive? What would be the societal impacts? This one acronym opens up a whole world of possible arguments.
This basically does exactly what PERMS does, only it looks at arguments from another angle. Who is affected by a policy or idea, and are those effects good or bad? If we put ban cryptocurrencies, that affects the shareholders, people who mine these currencies, people with trade with these currencies, people who are scammed using these currencies, and the list goes on. Find the stakeholders that benefit from your side and use them as possible arguments.
Another tool in your array of options. Start small. How does this affect small communities (like families, schools, or churches)? Get bigger, analyzing local cities, counties, countries, regions, and the globe as a whole. Maybe something that’s good for Malawi and the rest of Southern Africa is bad for Africa as a whole. Maybe something is bad for rural areas but is beneficial for the entirety of a nation.
My coaches Mary and Sherri Russell describe the value of WSD this way:
“In domestic debate, we often choose whether we’re going to debate about efficiency (policy) or legitimacy (LD). World School combines the two by recognizing that every policy discussion is, at its core, reliant on the values of the stakeholders involved…WSD facilitates value-based discussions about tangible issues, creating a balanced approach that leads to extremely productive conversations.”
They’re absolutely right. All too often we forget that debate is about both facts and value – and the more we realize that the better debate can become. Just last week I was at a Stoa tournament in Fort Worth. I happened to debate against one of my partners from my world team, and noticed something interesting – I wasn’t the only one using WSD style. Debaters who try World Schools consistently implement it elsewhere – and it works (she actually beat me partly because she did clash analysis better than I did). Of course, not all parts of any style work perfectly in another league, but try the strategies I’ve mentioned and I promise you’ll feel an improvement in your overall debating – and I’m pretty sure the Romanians would agree.