The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Pointers on how to triumph in class debates

So you’ve reached your fourth week of classes. Congratulations. By now, you are already feeling the effects of sleep deprivation as you attempt to simultaneously take 18 units, hold down a job and promise your significant other that you really will spend some quality time with him or her this weekend. The last thing you need is to get into a philosophical debate in your class about some pressing issue.

Sadly, such debates have an unfortunate habit of sneaking up behind you and biting you in the posterior area when you least expect it. Often, they involve some matter in which you have a deep, passionate and personal interest. Inevitably, they involve religion, politics or both, subjects tailor-made to stoke the fires of dissent, no matter what the setting.

Finding yourself caught up in these types of arguments can be an awkward situation, with the desk-pounding, shouting and general pontificating which naturally accompanies them. Luckily for you, Right as Always is a many-year veteran of the classroom debate (our modesty and embarrassment at our length of stay in college precludes us from stating how long). As a public service, we will be happy to share with you some helpful strategies to survive and thrive in the classroom debate.

It is important to affect the mannerisms proper for an intellectual discussion. Undoubtedly, you have just heard someone with questionable cognitive abilities articulate an opinion which you feel to be particularly absurd. Your first impulse will be to laugh out loud, certain that it is a joke since after all, no one could be that stupid. After finding out that the moron, er, gentleman in question is not joking, you proceed to give the desk a thorough pounding, outraged as you are that anyone could take such ideas seriously.

This approach is a mistake. Not only does it fail to address the merits of the argument, but it makes you seem less credible to those around you. People are not likely to put much stock in the opinions of someone who has veins popping out of their heads and spittle flying from their mouth. People are shallow that way.

The proper demeanor is one in which you calmly rebut the ridiculous assertions of the clueless oaf sitting across the way with your own flawless analysis and unimpeachable facts. Your attitude should say “Sir (or Madame), I thank you for your intelligent remarks and I would like to add my own humble store of knowledge to the important question at hand.” You should then proceed to rip their argument to shreds like a piece of top sirloin at a pit bull breeders’ convention.

This emphasis on appearances may seem a bit beside the point. After all, you might say, isn’t the point of an argument to win it? Well, yes and no. You can win a battle but lose the war. Take Iraq as a handy war metaphor. We could easily wipe out the insurgency there with a few well-placed nuclear weapons. But that would defeat the whole purpose of our being there. Plus, what with the bad press and the war-crimes tribunals in absentia, we would come out looking like the bad guys.

The same is true for your standard classroom debate. You could win the argument easily, but come out looking like a jerk. At that point, no one wants to be seen near you, much less be seen in public agreeing with you about anything. Anyone still sitting on the fence will see the growling pit bulls and the messy remains of the top sirloin and say to themselves, “Hey, really, this fence is pretty comfortable after all.”

In reality, it is this fence-sitter who is your primary audience. Neither you nor the person that you are arguing with are likely to be swayed by the arguments of the other. You are arguing for the benefit of those who have not decided on the issue or are hearing about it for the first time. In such a situation, the person with the best manners wins. So stay calm and bear in mind Teddy Roosevelt’s paraphrased saying: Speak softly and carry a hungry Rottweiler.

Sean Paroski can be reached at

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