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Defining a high school debating topic – 09. With Hugh Bartley

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HUGH BARTLEY: Hi, how are you going? My name's Hugh. In 2015, I was the state champion of the New South Wales Premier's Debating Challenge, and now I work as a debating coach at Sydney Boys High School. Today, we're going to be defining a topic together, and the topic is that we should have mandatory parenting classes for all new parents.

This was a very popular topic in the Premier's Debating Challenge last year, especially for Year 8, and it's quite a complicated one. So there's a very detailed and useful definition which we can figure out together that's going to help you start the debate from first affirmative as productively as possible.

So the first thing we have to think about when thinking about defining any topic in debating is what is the problem that we're trying to fix with this topic? Well, it's probably not so much about parents being able to help their kids with maths homework, is it? It's more about more serious things, like kids being neglected. Sometimes they're being abused. The parents don't understand them and what is good for those kids.

Sometimes, it might even be parents misusing drugs or alcohol in front of their kids, or not understanding if their kid has a mental illness or something like that. So we're talking about quite serious problems here. And so we want to go through step by step and define this topic and aim to craft a definition that goes towards those failings in the status quo.

So I think the first step in defining any topic is asking ourselves where? Where is this topic going to apply? Now, the answer to this question is usually inside Australia, for all parents inside Australia in this topic. Because in terms of jurisdiction, we know about parents in New South Wales because we grew up with them, I hope.

And we probably know enough about parents in Queensland and Victoria too. They're not too dissimilar. But parenting in the United States or in Finland or in Botswana might be a completely different thing, so we won't try to make any rules about that. We'll just say that this new topic applies to parents in Australia.

The next question is, well, do these parents have to keep coming back to this class every time they have a kid? I don't think so. They're probably going to learn the same thing, right? So we can say they'll only have to do the class once before they have their first child. And that's where the parenting class rule is going to apply.

Second question, then, overall in defining any topic is what are the details? How is this topic going to work? Well, you can say I think for these parenting classes would probably be semi-regular for at least a couple of months, maybe once a fortnight or something, so that the parents are coming back a few times, and they're being able to revise the content that they're learning. But it's not so long that it's overly onerous, and people will be really frustrated that they have to spend so much time doing this. Just enough so that they can learn the most important things.

What's going to be in the classes, though? This is a bit of a difficult question. I would say don't tie ourselves in knots trying to be too specific about it. But I think, generally, we can say that the content will be decided by academics and experts in parenting. We might include some research about what's really good to do when you're raising kids and what's good not to do.

We might include strategies for dealing with problems with your kids or communication techniques. And within all of that can be the more specific things about how much you should drink in front of your kids, how much you should let them play with their friends or use their iPad and things like that. So don't be too prescriptive, but it will be sensible, evidence-based things in this course.

And then, how are we going to enforce it? Well, the parents obviously-- you wouldn't want to lock them up immediately. But I suppose you could take a pretty hard line and say, look, we think these parenting classes are very important. Every parent should have to do them. And so if a baby is born and their parent or parents at the hospital haven't done the classes, well, they unfortunately won't be able to take that baby away until they've got that certification. And then the government can check it off. All good, it's done and dusted.

So I think that's how those are the details of how this topic would work. The classes would be semi-regular. The content would be evidence-based. And it would be fairly strictly enforced.

The third and final question, then, in defining any topic is when is this going to begin? Well, I think you could probably say we would be able to have this up and running for all babies that are born in 2021, I suppose. So in six months' time, we would be able to make sure that every new parent is doing this class.

So I think those are the main details of the topic. It obviously would be very tempting to get caught up in trying to say exactly what's going to happen, exactly how long the classes are going to go for, how often, what is going to be taught in all of them. You don't need to do that in the debate. You just need to prove that we should have the classes.

And so if you've thought about the problem of neglect and abuse, and you've thought about just the simple, broad structure for how we would introduce a class that aims to ameliorate that problem, then we've done enough in our definition. So I think those are some of the broader points.

Why don't I give you an example, then, of what this might look like if I was the first affirmative in this debate and I started with this definition of our topic? So if I was the first affirmative, I might start my speech a little like this.

Ladies and gentlemen, children in our society are innocent. They depend upon their parents for everything. They haven't been on Earth very long, and their parents provide the food, and the shelter, and the education that keeps those kids alive, happy, safe, and well.

It is of utmost importance that the parents of children are well-equipped to care for their children. But so many times, we see parents let their kids down. This can be in small ways, by not putting in healthy rules and communication techniques to enable that child to grow and learn.

But often, it's also very serious. Children are abused or neglected and end up in a really bad way because their parents simply haven't been taught or shown what is a more evidence-based and beneficial ways to bring up that kid. Obviously, in this debate, we don't want kids to have terrible mental health issues and end up being victims of these sorts of criminal things. That's why we think that parenting classes are so important.

Moving to our definition on the topic, then, how are we going to define these parenting classes? How will they work? Three things-- one, where is this going to happen? It's going to happen all over Australia. Every single new parent has to do it once. They don't have to do it for their second and third child, but every new parent has to do the course once.

Secondly, how is the class going to work? It's going to be semi-regular over a couple of months. They'll be coming back and doing revision, but it won't be too onerous. The content will be decided by experts. It will be rigorous and evidence-based, and it will allow parents to make good decisions with the new framework of understanding what exactly is going to be best for their kids.

So things about research, what's good for those kids, strategies for dealing with problems with your kids, how to communicate with them, those sorts of things. And then, those specific rules can come underneath that, so how should we deal with technology and alcohol and things like that with our kids?

How is it going to be enforced? Well, if you haven't done the parenting class by the time you give birth to your child and you're taking it out of the hospital, well, we want that child to be safe, so we're not going to let you take it out of the hospital until you've done the class. We think this will definitely be enough to make sure that all of the parents do the class.

Third question, then-- when is this going to start? We can probably get it up and running for all children born in 2021, so four to six months or something, I think. I think that's pretty reasonable.

All right, and then I would go on to state my arguments. And that, I think, is how it should start the first affirmative speech on the topic that we should have mandatory parenting classes for all new parents.

So I hope that made sense to you. Thank you so much for tuning in. Good luck with all your debating.

Again, my name's Hugh. And I hope you have an excellent week. So thank you very much. See you later.

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