Video transcript
Defining a primary school debating topic

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HUGH BARTLEY: Hi. How are you going? My name's Hugh. Back in 2015, I was the state champion of the Year 9 and 10 Premier's Debating Challenge. Now, I work as a debating coach at Sydney Boys High, while I study arts and law at the University of Sydney.

The topic I'm going to define with you today is a very fun topic. It is 'that every class should adopt a dog or a cat as a class pet.' So it's a fun one, and it was one of the most popular topics, actually, in the Premier's Debating Challenge last year.

When we think about defining the topic, we have to be very clear in basically setting the limits of the debate. So, there are three questions that are often useful ones to ask when we want to say, well, 'How is this topic going to work? What is the debate really about? What is our plan for implementing the topic.'

Those three questions are firstly - Where? Where is that topic going to happen? Where is it going to apply? Secondly - What are the details? How is it going to work? And thirdly - When? So how long is it going to take us to get the topic into place?

The first question is - Where? So when we're thinking about every class adopting a dog or a cat as a class pet, where do we think this should apply? In New South Wales? Sydney? Seems a little bit small because we can say that classes in Sydney are pretty similar to those in Melbourne or Perth. So, I think the best approach is to say 'classes around Australia will have the opportunity ... and will adopt a pet.'

There's another question though. Do we limit this to just primary schools, or do we include high schools as well? Personally, I think this topic works best for primary schools, because high schools are a little bit different in that you don't have one class with one teacher. You go around for different classes for English and maths and science, and so it wouldn't really work to have a class pet in that scenario.

So, I think the answer to the question - Where? - is probably 'In primary schools all around Australia, we will adopt a dog or a cat as a class pet.'

The second question then, this is where things get a little bit more complicated - What are the details? Well, the obvious details are - it will have to be a dog or a cat, no other animal. It will have to be one pet per class, I suppose. Who chooses what the animal is going to be? Who chooses the animal?

Probably I think the teacher is the most sensible option. These pets, they're going to live longer than one year. Many dogs and cats live for 10, 15, sometimes even 20 years, and so each class probably won't get a choice about the animal that they're going to be able to adopt.

So, it probably makes more sense if the teacher chooses an animal, and then they're the ones who maybe care for it in the summer holidays. And they can bring it with them, and that pet can then become the pet of the next class. So, I think that sounds pretty sensible.

Another question we have to ask ourselves is - How are students going to take responsibility for the pet? Well, I think probably we'd be looking at the students having some sort of collective responsibility, and I think this is why we're having the debate in the first place, right? So, the students will have to share responsibility for the pet, when they take the animal home, when they feed it, when they take it to the vet, or take it for a walk. I think part of the challenge is that the students will have to organise this themselves, under the teacher's supervision, and make sure that they're able to get that done and make sure that pet is cared for. So, there'll be like a roster of responsibilities, I think, makes the most sense.

And then, I suppose, when the pet is - when it's during school time - the pet probably will be at school for all the students in the class to enjoy. Therefore, it will fulfil its function as a class pet. So that's a very long explanation of what all our details should be, but I think that gives a good idea of what exactly we're going to be talking about - how is this topic going to work in real life?

And then, the last question then - when is this going to start? Probably it'll take a few months, so that teachers can each buy a pet for their class. Maybe they'll want to consult their class about what pet they want to buy, so we're probably looking at the start of next term, maybe in a few months time, I think, before we can introduce this topic.

Alright? So, I think those are all of the questions you have to ask when defining this topic. I think once you get to the end of that, we should know exactly what we're going to be debating. What is the affirmative team's plan for giving each class a dog or a cat to adopt as a pet?

So, if I were the first affirmative in this debate, basically, I think I'd kick off the debate with this definition, but I'd start, of course, with a bit of context first. So, here is how I think I'd do it. You ready?

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a massive problem. Primary school kids are not learning to take enough responsibility in their lives. They let their parents do everything for them - clean their room, cook their food, look after their baby siblings. And when these kids grow up, they don't know how to care for kids of their own. And that's why, to teach these kids responsibility, every primary school class should adopt a dog or cat as a class pet.

Turning to the definition - how exactly are we going to make this topic work? Where is this going to apply? We think all primary schools in Australia should be able to adopt a class pet. Not high schools because they don't really have one class for their whole time at school. So, it wouldn't really make sense for them.

What are the details? Well, we think the teacher should be able to choose which pet the class adopts and that pet will probably follow the teacher as they teach different classes over many years. The students will be the ones who have collective responsibility for that pet. They will have to make a roster and organise who's going to take that pet home, who's going to take them to the vet, walk them, care for them, things like that, and those are going to teach them those responsibility skills. During school time, the pet will probably be at school for all of the students to enjoy its company.

When is this going to begin? It'll probably take a few months for us to buy all the necessary pets for each class, so we're probably looking at a couple of months. I'd say by the start of next term, all the classes will be able to have a pet.

Alright? And so that's basically how you should start that debate as a first affirmative, telling us what is the context, why we're having the debate, and then a really clear definition of exactly where, what are the details, and when, that make this topic work in your favour, I suppose. So, a nicely set up topic makes for a nicely set up debate.

OK? I hope that made sense everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Thank you for listening. And, of course, make sure to stay safe. My name is Hugh again, and I hope you have a great week. Thank you.


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