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Defining a high school debating topic – 07. With Tony Davey

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TONY DAVEY: Hey there. It's finally my turn to do a definition. So, I'm Tony Davey. I'm the speaking competition's assistant at The Arts Unit, and I've been helping to put together these videos. So, of course, I saved one of the easiest, but also I think one of the most interesting topics, for myself.

The topic we're going to start defining and setting up today is 'That all Under-12 sporting teams should be mixed gender.' It was actually a really, really popular topic in the Premier's Debating Challenge last year. Even though it was a high school topic, kids were really interested in it. So, there's something really important we can learn from going through this topic. Let's get into it.

So, I'm a bit dumb. I'm a bit old-school about defining stuff, and I still like to ask myself, 'Where is it going to happen, what are the details, and when will it start?' So, let's get the easy ones, 'where and when' out of the way first. The 'where' I reckon is going to need to be all Australian sporting teams. So, everywhere in Australia, in every competition where there's a team, that's where the rule applies.

You might worry a little bit, or think about leaving some things out. You might ask yourself, is Little Athletics a team sport, and stuff like that, where you are potentially individuals, but when you're younger you also have a team with you. And look, I just think in the end, none of that stuff is going to matter. If the other team wants to argue that this will ruin Little Athletics, because that counts as a team, that's going to be really hard for them to argue, because you're going to be able to say, 'How is it fair that a five-foot kid, who's had their growth spurt, is competing in high jump against a same sex three-foot kid? How is adding a girl to that mix going to be unfair, or a boy to that mix?'

So, I think we don't need to leave anything out. We're just going to call this 'all Australian sporting teams for the under 12's, under 11's ... anyone under 12, basically.' With the 'when', I think it's important we do leave it a little while. Sports administration for young kids is actually reasonably tricky. So, I don't think we can start this mid-season. For instance, you might need to go and recruit some girls, or some boys, to join your team. So, I think what we should do is we should say, 'next season.' Whenever the next season is for your sport, that's when this rule comes in and stays in forever.

OK? So, there's the easy ones. I think you probably knew that. The interesting question here is, 'What are the details?' Because I think there are 2 very different, basic ways that you can make all Under-12's teams mixed gender. Let's start with what I'm going to call the passive option, or I think, in fact, even better for learning purposes, let's call it the smaller option. It still definitely is a big change, but it's the smaller of 2 choices.

So, that choice is, we say, we're going to get rid of boys' teams and girls' teams, and boys' competitions and girls' competitions. Now, there's just 1 competition, and every team - boys or girls - could be in it. That's what a mixed gender competition looks like. Now, that's a perfectly fair thing to stand by, and would make for a good debate.

The one thing that's going to cause us a problem is that, if we do it that way, we might not see that big a change. You can imagine a situation where there's only 1 team in 1 competition, but it's still basically an entire boys' team signing up for, maybe, the rugby league, because that's what they're used to playing, and, maybe, no boys sign up for the girls' team, and they're all girls, particularly if it was a sport like netball, for instance.

So, while you've made the change, and the teams are notionally mixed gender, they might not actually mix. They might opt into their different sports, and different teams, still. That's not so bad, right? It just means that in the debate I'm going to have to argue that there will be mixing, before I start to win the argument about why that mixing is good. So, that's one option. We just get rid of all the boys', and girls', teams, and say there's only 1 team now, and hope they mix. And, in the debate, we describe why that mixing is likely to happen.

The other option we might try is a more active version of the topic. So, we'll call it the bigger change. Not only will we get rid of all gender divisions, so there won't be a boys' team and a girls' team. There will just be 1 team. We'll also introduce a rule that every team has to have at least 2 boys and at least 2 girls in it, so we're forcing the teams to mix.

Why 2? By the way, that's a really good moment to pause. The answer is that, in my experience, whenever I've played in a mixed league - a mixed football league or a mixed AFL 9's league - the rule has always been, if you want to be a team in that league, you need at least 2 girls and at least 2 boys. So, that's a great tip when you're trying to come up with what your models should look like. It's a good idea to just look at your own life, and look at your experiences, and be like, 'How do people do this stuff already?' And, I think, requiring there to be at least 2 girls and 2 boys is one of the most common ways to put together a mixed gender team.

So, that's another way to go, but it comes with its own problems, right? You'll definitely make the change happen, so there won't be a problem with that. You won't have to argue about it. But, you might have lots of side effects because you've gone so big. You could easily imagine that some teams might fold, because they can't find any girls or boys who are interested in playing. What if they eventually do recruit 2 girls to their rugby league team, but one of them is sick on Saturday all of a sudden, what happens then? There are lots of situations where this might make it harder for teams to actually form and take the park. So, I'm going to need to argue about why those things aren't going to be a problem.

So, I've got, on the one hand, a smaller model where I'll need to argue that it will actually make a change, before I can go on and win the debate, or a larger intervention, where it's definitely true that the change is going to happen, but it's so large there might be side effects. And, I need to choose between those 2 positions. And, this won't always be true, but I think that, in general, you're going to want to go with the larger intervention.

So, if you think about that smaller intervention, just getting rid of the categories, I'm going to have to spend some time explaining why people will actually end up mixing, and they won't just stick to their old groups. I don't think that'll be too hard to do. I could do it. But, at the end of all that explanation, I won't actually have gotten that close to winning the debate. It's mostly going to be me defending my plan.

Whereas, if I intervene in a bigger way, and impose this rule that might have side effects, I feel like me arguing about those side effects will be more attacking. It will be more aggressive. Because when the other team says, 'What if you can't find 2 girls to play in your rugby league team', I'm going to be like, 'That is outrageous. How dare you underestimate those girls? They're champing at the bit to have a go. It's just that you're not letting them right now.'

See? So it allows me to be more attacking. When they say 'Whole competitions will fold,' I will just be like, 'That is ridiculous. First of all, plenty of girls are excited. It's just your attitude that's keeping them out of the sport. And, second of all, the lessons we're teaching kids are way more important than whether 1 team fails in Australia.'

So, I think I want to go with the more attacking option, because when it comes time for me to explain why those side effects don't matter, I can be more aggressive, and attack the other team's position, and actually make some headway in the debate, instead of just having to go, 'No, no, no, they'll totally be mixing' and be really defensive about it, before I then go on to explain why that mixing is a good idea. So, I think that's what my definition would be. I would be like, 'All Australian teams, start of next season.' And, I would say, 'Not only will there no longer be a boys' and girls' team, but if you want to take the field, you've got to have at least 2 boys, and at least 2 girls.'

The last thing I need to do, before I get up and give the speech, is I need to think about how I'm going to open the first affirmative speech. I need to open by pointing out what I think the biggest problem is that we're going to be pointing back to again and again. I think that's pretty simple today. In Under-12 sports, I think it's really easy to explain that winning and losing, or whatever, isn't actually important, and that the lessons you learn about team skills, and teamwork and life skills, that stuff is what matters.

So, I think the problem is, 'We're denying kids the right to learn to cooperate together, and we're teaching them that genders somehow naturally belong in different roles at a very young age.' So, that's what I think the big problem is that I'm going to hate on today. And, I really like that problem because, even if I screw up sports a little bit - maybe the odd team folds, or it's less competitive, and as a result, kids get slightly less exercise - that sounds bad. But, I can say, we told you at the beginning, the most important thing in this debate were the lessons kids learnt through sport. So, if their team sucks a little bit more now because they don't get along, or they're learning to cooperate instead of learning to score goals, I just don't care, because those lessons are more important than that score.

So, that's what my planning would look like. I should very quickly finish up, and I'll show you what it would look like when I stood up in the debate. So, I'd get up there, as first affirmative, and I would go, 'Ladies and gentlemen, when young people play sport, what matters isn't the score. It isn't the skills that they're picking up. What's important are the lessons we're teaching those young people that they can apply for the rest of their lives.

And, when we separate boys and girls at such a young age for sport, the message we send them is that different genders have different natural roles that they fit into. That is an appalling message to be sending those kids. Furthermore, we fail those kids because we deny them the chance to learn how to cooperate with each other on the field, and then presumably in their diverse high schools, and in their diverse workspaces, where we're going to need them to work together later. That's why we're here today to argue that all Under-12 teams should be mixed gender.

Our definition today is that 'In every Australian sporting league where there's a team, every single one of them across Australia for the under-12's, the Under-11's, and everyone younger than that, you will have to be on a mixed team.' That means there will be no boys' team or girls' team, or boys' competition or girls' competition. There'll be 1 competition. And, more importantly, we're going to require every team to have a minimum of 2 boys and 2 girls on it, so that we know we do get those genders mixing. This is going to start whenever the next sporting season starts. We know that's a little bit different for different sports. The next season to kick off, that's the one where this rule applies.'

OK? So, that's my opening. Hopefully you find that a little bit helpful. And, the main lesson, I think, is when you are talking about your plan, and you find yourself faced with a smaller, slightly easier option or a bigger, slightly more interventionist option, it's often the bigger option that puts you in a more attacking position. Not always though. Obviously, don't just go out and apply this to every single topic.

Even in a similar topic like 'That we should ban gender categories for awards' - that make sense. Banning the men's best actor, and the women's best actress, at the Oscars and that kind of thing, even in that situation, if you went with the larger one, which was kind of like, not only will there be no gender categories at the Oscars, but also every second year a boy or girl has to win, you've just made a mockery of the Oscars. So, the correct answer in that situation would be, there's just 1 category now. Whoever was the best actor that year, man or woman, is going to win. If you do it the other way, you're just going to end up with presumably Meryl Streep being screwed one year because it's the boys' turn. And, they'll just hand it to some idiot like Leo DiCaprio, who's actually a really good actor. That was unfair.

So, you do have to think it through a little bit. You have to think about what's going to happen with each one of the different plans. But, if you find yourself having to pick between two, and you can't quite tell, go with the slightly bigger intervention, the one where you can be more attacking and say, 'Sure there'll be side effects, but what matters most is that we're making this change for our young people.' Cool. Hope that helps. See you around, guys.


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