Guest post from Jason Smith, Institute of Ideas
Whatever your thoughts are on the various bio-medical controversies currently facing society – whether your particular interest is in GM crops and the future of agriculture, the ethics of animal experimentation, or the benefits or otherwise of giving IVF treatment to women in their fifties – the point has to be for these issues to be debated as widely as possible.
In an era where the term ‘evidence-based policy’ seems to crop up in relation to every news item, it’s useful to take a step back and ponder the role of wider society, the opinions of non-experts, in working out the direction we want to see our society develop.
For the past year I have been working for a schools debating competition which encourages sixth form students to engage with these issues and many more. The Institute of Ideas has run the Debating Matters Competition since 2002. With the help of a five year Strategic Award from the Wellcome Trust it is now open to 50% more schools starting this autumn.
The Qualifying Rounds of the competition take place in local schools all over the country from Aberdeen to Brighton. We’ll be starting off with 288 schools which over the course of the year are whittled down to just 12 who go through to the National Final next June.
From its inception, Debating Matters has championed a different approach to schools debating, one where substance is emphasised over style, and young people are taken seriously. Schools with a long tradition of debating, and those with none at all, can excel in this format. Interaction, and a critical engagement with the topics, lie at the heart of the competition’s format and offer students a unique intellectual challenge. Students are required to conduct in-depth research using the competition’s Topic Guides, and through a dynamic interaction with an adult judging panel and the audience are engaged in discussion on their arguments, challenged to substantiate their case and encouraged to delve deeper in to key contemporary questions.
This is where you come in. I am currently looking for people to act as judges at a Qualifying Round near you. You do not need any experience, just a willingness to put the students under some serious intellectual pressure and provide them with honest feedback on their performance. The belief that young people are resilient and prepared enough to respond to this pressure and interact with the judges as equals is central to Debating Matters.
For information on the dates of rounds and to find out more drop me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Teachers tell us that Debating Matters offers them the opportunity to explore ideas, free from the constraints of the school curriculum, and you can read their comments on our website.