Great Debates – A New Course in Critical Thinking

May 2012

It doesn’t get more communicative than debates and this book provides a comprehensive collection of meaningful topics for students to tackle. The course covers international relations and trade, tax and spending, the gap between rich and poor, globalization, culture, commerce, civil liberties, crime & punishment, and other ethical dilemmas of state.

There is a practical and empowering purpose in argument for argument’s sake. It allows us to express ourselves better. Modern homogenized society had lost the need for the formal learning of debate but the internet has rekindled the popularity of public discussion and increased the amount of written communication we partake in. Thus the quality of the language we employ in many of our interactions has to be of a demonstrably high grade.

Great Debates

The 24 lesson plans contain

  • concise overviews of the topics
  • cue cards with key ideas
  • functional phrases
  • rhetorical tropes
  • principles of logic
  • commentaries on relevant works of art
  • activities which incorporate community-based learning and writing tasks in real world media to make people not just more socially conscious but more socially active.

Politics may be a taboo for many people and cultures but that’s something to be faced appropriately rather than be tiptoed around. I don’t think it is revolutionary or avant-garde to cover these subjects in class. I just see it as rigorously educational. No one lives in a bubble and many students that we have may know something about politics already. But what they don’t always know about are the different facets of the central political questions that really affect our lives.

As such, debate is necessary for learning about the world and for developing intellectual and critical thinking processes. It is topical and constructive and it builds a spirit of maturity and inquiry in students.

Teachers might worry about imposing their value system on others but this shouldn’t be a problem with good debating. Good debating and indeed good teaching involves lot of value perspectives. In other words, you do critical thinking best by showing allsides of the argument.

Aristotle said that the mark of an educated mind is being able to entertain an idea without accepting it, and this is what I believe we need to encourage. This principle underpins the course, blending the classical form of adversarial argument with the softer rogerian style which encourages compromise.

Great Debates is a self-published book and I have used this mode because I’m aware that ELT publishers do not touch politics, despite there being not many subjects of greater importance. But secondly, self publishing allows a level of freedom and control that empowers writers and benefits readers. It has taken me several years to put this course together and I’ve had very positive responses from the teachers and students who have worked with it. The book is available in paperback and as a pdf — for ease of printing and viewing fully. You can buy it here.