The formal debates of school and college are of necessity barren of practical result; yet even here your discussions have a potent effect in molding your opinions. It is a habit of mankind to start idly talking on a subject, and as idly taking sides; then, when the talk grows warmer, in the natural desire to carry a point to talk themselves into belief. This is a human, though not a very reasonable way of framing your views on public questions; and it does not make either for consistency or for usefulness as a voter. It is not good to back one’s self into opinions of what makes for the common weal.
Furthermore, debate is something very different from dispute: to talk round and round a subject, contradicting blindly and asserting without bringing forward facts, has its place in our life with our friends, so long as it is good-natured; but it does not bring illumination. The essence of debate, whether in a classroom, in a city council, or in Congress, should be to throw light into dark corners, and to disentangle the view that most makes for the general good. For us in America noblesse oblige applies to every educated man. The graduate of a high school, and, even more, the graduate of a college, has taken exceptional benefits from the community. This obligation he can in part repay by helping all citizens to a better understanding of the issues on which the progress of the nation turns.
Finally, debating should share the zest that comes of any good game that means hard work and an honorable struggle with opponents one respects and likes. It is preeminently a social occupation. The House of Commons has long been noted as the best club in England; and this sense of fellowship, of continuing friendship and intimacy, gives a charm to English parliamentary life which is hardly possible with the unwieldy numbers and huge hall of our own House of Representatives, but does spring out of the smaller and continuing membership of the Senate. A class in debating should have the sense of comradeship which comes of hard work together and the trying out of one’s own powers against one’s equals and betters, and from the memory of hard-fought contests; and intercollegiate and interscholastic contests should be carried on in the same spirit of zest in the hard work, of a sane desire to win, and of comradeship with worthy opponents.
1. Name three questions in national affairs which have been debated within a month, on which you could profitably debate; three in state affairs; three in local affairs.
2. Name two subjects affecting your school or college which are under debate at the present time.
3. Name two subjects on which you could write an argument, but which would not be profitable for debate. Explain the reason.
4. Name two good subjects for a debate drawn from athletics; two from some current academic question; two from local or municipal affairs.