Debate – along with drama, music, speech, and dance – was a mainstay of the MIA program during much of the 20th century. In today’s atmosphere of political and social incivility extending even into the ranks of the church, it seems a little unreal that in ward after ward, year after year, with apparently few exceptions (too few to draw public censure from the General Boards), Latter-day Saints were expected to have honest but friendly differences of political opinion. Not only that, but they were actually encouraged to discuss those differences courteously and intelligently, and not to allow their political differences to carry over into daily life. What would that be like?
Below are the debate rules and the choice of topics to be debated by the MIAs in January, 1923, after a period of preparation and study:
Purpose. – Debating as practiced in the associations should have two main purposes: First, to train the young men and women in public speaking, and, second, to train them in clear, logical thought based upon accurate information.
Before a debate, the two teams, or associations, or sides, should formulate a written agreement covering the following points:
1. The time and place of the contest.
2. The time for submitting the question and by which team it shall be submitted.
3. The time for the team receiving the question to return its choice of side.
4. The number of debaters on each side and the length and order of their speeches.
5. The method of choosing judges. Three judges should be chosen but no person should be retained as a judge who is not acceptable to both sides. Judges should render their decision without consultation.
Points for judgment:
1. Development of argument, 60%.
2. Delivery, 40%.
In selecting a question for debate care should be taken to choose a subject upon which difference of opinion may fairly exist, in fact one upon which public opinion is divided. Questions should be chosen, the study of which will be worth the while of the debaters and the discussion of which will be beneficial and enlightening to the hearers.
Each team may consist of either two or three debaters. The contest will probably be long enough with two on a side.
Principal speeches should be from ten to fifteen minutes in length. A good order is as follows: first affirmative speaker, 15 minutes; first negative, 15 minutes; second affirmative, 15 minutes; second negative, 20 minutes, 15 for his principal speech and 5 for closing rebuttal and summary for his side; followed by a five-minute closing rebuttal by one of the affirmative speakers. If desired the five-minute closing rebuttal may be given as a second speech to the first negative speaker instead of adding it to the time of the second speaker, but the affirmative must always close the debate.
Another plan which has some advantage over the first is to give each man a principal and a rebuttal speech.
It should be the primary purpose of each team to present clearly and fairly the arguments for its side and to defend its position with as much information and logical argument as possible. This requires much careful study and preparation.
Mere assertion of one’s own opinion has no argumentative force and should be avoided. Attempted flights of orator should also be omitted.
It should not be forgotten that there are two sides to every controversy, and that there is room for perfectly honest and friendly differences of opinion on most questions.
The debates should be opened and closed by music and prayer, and conducted in an academic spirit of fairness and with a view to getting at the truth. It is no disparagement to be defeated in a contest so conducted.
Respectful courtesy should be shown on both sides, and all personalities avoided. In referring to the debaters on the opposite side, no names should be used, but rather the expression, ‘the gentleman, or speaker on the affirmative,” or “negative,” as the case may be.
Improper motives should not be attributed. Only small petty minds do that. A debate should never degenerate into mere contention. It is held to get information, gather knowledge, and ascertain the truth, and not to gain personal advantage.
The wording of the question should be agreed upon by both sides, and a definition of the terms should be thoroughly understood. The debaters should confine themselves to the points of the question, and not permit themselves to treat topics not germane to the issue. A chairman should be chosen to conduct the debate, who will announce the subject, the names of the judges, the respective speakers, and the decision of the judges, and see that the debate is carried on in fairness.
Let the discussion close with the debate, and not be carried on later, nor on the outside. In regard to the judges, let it be remembered that their decisions are only the opinions of three out of the many who have listened, and that their decisions do not necessarily settle the merits of the question – only the points of that debate – in their opinion.
Officers desiring to debate other questions than those suggested, should submit them to the General Boards for approval.
Questions for Debate
1. That life in the country is more favorable to human development than life in the city.
2. That universal peace is possible by arbitration.
3. That the horse has done more to promote civilization than the locomotive.
4. That the initiative and referendum should be adopted in State legislation.
5. That for American cities, the municipal ownership of those public service corporations, which furnish water, light and transportation is preferable to private ownership.
6. That state, county and city officers should be nominated by direct primaries held under State regulation rather than by delegate convention.
7. That all immigration to the United States by people of the yellow race should be forbidden.
8. That the United States government should own and control all railroads.
9. That it is more profitable to grow hogs than it is to grow cattle in this community.
10. That poultry is the most profitable business for this community.
11. That fruit culture is a profitable business in this community.
12. That boys and girls have a better opportunity in the country than in the city.
13. That universal physical training should be required in all public schools.
14. That immigration to the United States should be prohibited for five years.
15. That the government should control the price of wheat.
16. That every able-bodied man in the United States should be required to perform one year’s military service before attaining the age of twenty-five years.
17. That it is not best to pension teachers.
18. That an old maid is of more benefit to a community than an old bachelor.
19. That women are as brave as men.
20. That the broom is of more value than the dishrag.
Caution to visitors: Regular participants at Keepa know that it is fine to admire or laugh at the specific debate topics, to wonder why a given topic was included and to speculate about arguments that may have been made in those 1923 debates. What we don’t do is record our 2010-era opinions about these 1923 topics as if we were holding those debates today.