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Standards:Public Debates

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IDEA believes that debate should not be limited to the setting of competitive debate tournaments in which only students take part, but instead feels that debate should operate within a broader context of public participation and should embrace different segments of a community. IDEA strongly encourages its members to promote and support public access to debate through the organization of public debates and by inviting the public to debate competitions.

In order to achieve these goals, the organizers of and participants in public debates should make a strong commitment to the following standards:

Public debates should be based upon extensive preparation.

The organizers of public debates must ensure that a public debate is appropriately advertised in a local community and that it is open to all of that community's members who are interested in attending it. In choosing a venue for a public debate, organizers should take into consideration public safety as well as make their best effort to provide access to disabled members of the public.

Participants in a public debate should prepare for a debate by getting to know the subject of the debate in advance and, if appropriate, by conducting research on the debated topic. In the process of preparation, debaters should ensure that they could provide reference to the materials they choose to cite, that they do not present the ideas of others as their own, that they clearly identify the sources of information they use, and that the information they present is not exaggerated and distorted.

Public debates should be carried out in a spirit of dedication to the public good.

In choosing debate as a format for examining certain issues, both organizers and debaters should commit to promoting the values of complete understanding and fair judgment. The choice and wording of debated topics should be balanced and fair in order to provide both sides with an equal opportunity to present rational arguments and quality evidence. Additionally, all terms used should be unambiguous and inoffensive.

Debaters should be committed to helping their audience understand the complex issue at stake, and to facilitating a reasonable decision based on the arguments presented. To this end, debaters should adopt a comprehensible style geared to the audience's level of understanding. Debaters should privilege content over competition, and should focus on demonstrating the merits of arguments and the value of exchanged ideas, rather than predictions and proclamations of victory.

In order to increase an audience's participation in a debate, organizers may want to provide special times and formats for members of the audience to express their view on the debated topic (though floor speeches, etc.).

Participants in a public debate should foster a respect for rational argumentation.

More than showcasing one individual's speaking skills and ideas on a topic, a public debate should emphasize the use of reason and solid evidence. Debaters should make their reasoning explicit, and should provide clear explanations for their support of a given position. Arguments, not persons, should be attacked, and appeals to fallacious reasoning should be avoided. The emphasis of the debate should be on the evaluation of arguments through measured reasoning and analysis of presented ideas.

Participants in a public debate should foster a respect not only for ideas, but also for people.

When engaging in public debates, debaters should set a high standard for appropriate behavior towards their audience and each other. It is the debaters' duty to respect their opponents, the audience and the practice of the reasoned exchange of ideas. Debaters should appeal to the best in their audience - virtues such as their intelligence, compassion and honesty. Debaters should therefore avoid behaviors unbecoming of a respectful communicator and detrimental to an open and free exchange of ideas. In particular, name-calling, personal categorization and stereotyping, and harassment are totally unacceptable.

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