Monday, November 17, 2008
The International Debate Education Association (IDEA), in association with Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) has been involved in teaching English-language debate for the past three years. For the past two years, we have held workshops and tournaments in English. Since last year’s tournament and workshop at BFSU, IDEA has initiated a further move in debate education: Four—team British Parliamentary Debate training ---- in Mandarin.
Chinese Mandarin debaters, who already have a long fine tradition of debate, may find the new format hard to accept. Indeed, it is a pioneering and challenging move to introduce Western-style debate in Mandarin language. With this concern in mind, IDEA created a curriculum for Four-team debating and three facilitators (He Jingkai, Li Xi, and Yang Ge) prepared to teach a workshop on Four-team debate, also known as British Parliamentary style (BP) debate. Prior to the workshop, the three of us and others recorded a demonstration debate in Mandarin, The demonstration debate was used to introduce the workshop, which was followed by lectures and discussions of various topics ranging from rules and roles to refutation to constructing arguments for the proposition and opposition.
Li Xi began the training by explaining rules and roles of four-team debate while simultaneously playing the demonstration to the audience. The topic “China should legalize the marriage between the same sexes.” was a dashing one and the atmosphere was hilarious. The audience was composed mostly of veteran Mandarin debaters, and it was their first time to be engaged in this style of debate. Except for Tom Smithurst an Australian, majoring in Law in Beijing University and a former BP debater in Australia, all of the debaters were full of curiosity and surprise. Tom took it a good opportunity to practice Chinese, as well as debate here.
The first day’s exposure to BP filled the audience with doubts. For example, since every debater had 7 continuous minutes to speak, they were worried they couldn’t make full 7 minutes (traditional Mandarin debate involves free debating and each debater is assigned fewer minutes.) Since the Prime Minister bore the right and responsibility to define the motion for his own sake, the opposition seemed to lose the edge and advantage. Mandarin debate does not have this rule. Some felt puzzled about definition and policy-making. A few even suggested adjusting the format.
The following morning, He Jingkai described how to define a motion and construct a case for the proposition. His vivid lecture involved a lot of personal experience as a debater. The essence of four-team debate began to dawn on the audience: it provides teams with the opportunity to learn creative problem solving and think outside the box in the spirit of democracy, humanism, respect to the individual rights and freedom. With some exercises of practicing defining motions followed, they became more excited about BP. Many interactive questions centered on how to justify the value each team proposed.
With many doubts cleared away, my lecture on refutation became easier. I introduced the methods of refutation, and I focused on evaluation of a quality argument, how to connect evidence to a claim through logical reasoning. This kind of logical reasoning is not considered so important in our traditional Mandarin debate.
On the third day, my discussion of constructing argument for the opposition and Li Xi’s talk about “Extension creation” went very smoothly. She covered varieties of values and perspectives to analyze.
At the end of training we were happy to find debaters have been prepared to try on a full debate of BP. We set the topic “Zoos should be closed” and chose volunteers to engage in the debate. They showed great confidence and enthusiasm in debating although with slight traces of traditional debate. Tom was one of the 8 debaters. We had not been able to imagine how superb he was to debate in Mandarin.
I felt highly impressed and encouraged by the audience in our workshop. We formed new friendships with people who are definitely fast and enthusiastic learners, open-and-democratic-minded young college students, full of vitality and intelligence. It was such an amazing experience for me, and I look forward to the IDEA-BFSU tournament in December.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Using curriculum written by Dr. Robert Trapp and translated into Mandarin by Yang Ge, Li Xi, He Jingkai, Wu Mian, Wang Yingchong and Li Chaoyuan, students in the Mandarin division learned the basics debate in the British Parliamentary format. After watching a sample debate on whether or not gay marriage should be legal in China on Friday, students participated in sessions on interpreting debate motions, case construction, refutation and opposition arguments on Saturday and Sunday. Yang Ge, Li Xi, He Jingkai and Wu Mian led the Mandarin division. 36 participants from various schools across China participated.
Across the hall, a simultaneous session was held in English by Dr. Robert Trapp, Dr. Kevin Minch and I. We started off with an overview of the rules and roles of four-team debating, and then let some brave volunteers take the stage for a sample debate on the motion “This house would ban zoos.” The same subjects were covered as in the Mandarin division. All 160 students had plenty of time to practice building and presenting cases and opposition arguments on resolutions about coal mining, protecting the environment and school uniforms.
In the spirit of the workshop, we held a language contest of our own. After going over the registration forms, Robert, Kevin and I realized that most students in both divisions had English as well as Mandarin names—so we asked for second names of our own! Thanks to everyone who entered the contest, and feel free to call us by our new Mandarin names 池若博 (Robert), 凯敏奇 (Kevin) and 韩依蓓 (Elizabeth) next time you see us.
Debaters interested in Mandarin and English debates have a chance to hone their skills next month at the IDEA-BFSU Four Team Tournament from December 5th through December 7th. Two simultaneous divisions in Mandarin and English will be held, and there are no tournament fees. To read more, click here.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Lecturers from polytechnics across Malaysia met last weekend in the northern town of Kulim for a debate workshop and tournament. The Politeknik Tuanku Sultanah Bahiyahin (PTSB) hosted representatives from 12 different schools, including some in the eastern Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.
Over four days, Azrul, Kye and I worked with lecturers and some of their students on the basics of British Parliamentary, or “Worlds School” debate. We started off with discussions, lectures and group sessions, and ended with a small tournament. It was amazing to see how quickly everyone latched onto the concepts, and the final debates were exceptional!
On the first evening, Azrul covered the basics of critical thinking and how to talk in front of a crowd. All of those apprehensive about speaking in public had their worries eased when Azrul reminded us that Abraham Lincoln, Sokarno and Moses were all nervous before speeches—it’s a normal problem! We ended the evening with a game that allowed students and lecturers to practice speaking in front of people and making simple arguments.
I would like to thank Azrul and Kye from the International Islamic University of Malaysia for lending their time and expertise, and Lye and Nara from PTSB for organizing such an excellent workshop and being terrific hosts.
Though a number of public universities in Malaysia have debate programs, debate is a new activity in polytechnics. Based on the interest and skill displayed this past weekend, though, polytechnic debate seems to quickly be gaining speed!