Topic Analysis: First thoughts on March 2014 Public Forum topic

The newest resolution has been released,

March 2014: Single-gender classrooms would improve the quality of education in American public schools.

While there are no terms of art in March’s resolution, there are a lot of terms that require interpretation. The words are simple by definition, but are not simple placed in the context of the topic. Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself in defining the terms of the debate:

single-gender classrooms

Does this mean single-gender schools or single-gender classrooms within co-ed schools?

improve the quality

What constitutes an improvement? To prove the resolution true do you have to show an overall, holistic improvement? or if you show improvement in one area is that sufficient to vote Pro? If Con proves a negative effect of single-gender classrooms does that negate independent improvements that Pro proves?

What qualities are we looking at improving? long term effect or short term educational advancements? cultural education? core subjects? extracurricular education?

How do you measure those qualities? testing? anecdotal evidence? qualitative measurements? a balance of quantitative and qualitative measurements?

education

What type of education? math? reading? social skills? physical education?

American

American educational standards, culture, and population are important, but studies from other countries can be introduced if you can prove similarities between culture and population.

public schools

Private schools already have single-gender classrooms.  Check out California’s pilot program in Is Single-Gender Schooling Viable in the Public Sector? Lessons from California’s Pilot Program. “This report provides a good background and review of the literature with a broad assessment of where research stands on the controversy. It covers a pilot program in California, the nation’s biggest pilot project, a project that was subsequently shut down. This report presents the findings of a three-year case study of an experiment of single-gender schools with the public sector. It provides a thorough analysis of the topic and examines future directions for single gender school reform program. Amanda Datnow et al., 2001.” (NEA)

But there are a few question to ask yourself that are not implicit in the resolution.

What is the reason for wanting single-gender classrooms? What is the “why” behind this policy change?

Not only should you know the context of American education, but realize that any policy is targeting a problem. Good cases on both sides will explain to the judge what the root concerns are being addressed with single-gender classrooms or maintaining the status quo. For example, the article The Evidence Suggests Otherwise: The Truth About Boys and Girls talks about the disparities between girls and boys in context of education overall.

“The real story is not bad news about boys doing worse; it’s good news about girls doing better. In fact, with a few exceptions, American boys are scoring higher and achieving more than they ever have before. But girls have just improved their performance on some measures even faster. As a result, girls have narrowed or even closed some academic gaps that previously favored boys, while other long-standing gaps that favored girls have widened, leading to the belief that boys are falling behind. There’s no doubt that some groups of boys—particularly Hispanic and black boys and boys from low-income homes—are in real trouble. But the predominant issues for them are race and class, not gender. Closing racial and economic gaps would help poor and minority boys more than closing gender gaps, and focusing on gender gaps may distract attention from the bigger problems facing these youngsters. The hysteria about boys is partly a matter of perspective. While most of society has finally embraced the idea of equality for women, the idea that women might actually surpass men in some areas (even as they remain behind in others) seems hard for many people to swallow. Thus, boys are routinely characterized as ‘falling behind’ even as they improve in absolute terms.” Sara Mead, Education Sector (2006) (NEA).

The Con can target root problems and argue the Pro’s policy does not address these problems; Con could even propose alternative reforms without making a counterplan in order to illustrate the failure of single-gender policies to change the root problem being discussed.

What assumptions are behind the resolution? Could I run a kritik?

“The kritik argues that there is a harm created by the assumption created or used by the other side. The harm may stem from the resolution or the approach used by the opposition. The kritik attacks as untenable and destructive one of the assumptions behind the opposition’s position. While this approach appears similar in intent to a disadvantage it differs in two ways: it looks at core assumptions whereas disadvantages most often look at policy implications, and the kritik tries not to assume the burdens (e.g., uniqueness, threshold) of a disadvantage.” (William Bennett).

This Public Forum resolution is also ripe for a kritik, an argument often used in Policy debate that can be adapted to Public Forum for some resolutions. Because of the gendered language of the resolution and the language that will be used in the debate, the Con has the opportunity to argue against the gendered language through a feminist kritik or a queer kritik. In our modern society that recognizing the gender and sexuality spectrum, there could be very interesting and effective Con cases (depending on the political views of your region) that hinge on debating the binary gender assumption of the resolution. Think about it!

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