At Swarthmore we participate in Parliamentary debate. A debate round of Parli consists of two teams of two people each debating for 40 minutes on almost any debatable topic. The team proposing a resolution, “the Government,” meets for ten minutes before the round starts and comes up with a topic to debate along with several reasons for the side they choose to argue. (Often, preparation begins far earlier.) The first Government speaker (the Prime Minister) must then speak for seven minutes about why the resolution they are proposing is a good idea and ought be adopted. The other team, “the Opposition,” has no idea what the Government is going to propose before the round starts; nonetheless, the first Opposition speaker (Leader of the Opposition) must not only come up with a counter-argument during the Prime Minister’s speech, but should also introduce several new points as to why the Government’s proposal should not be adopted. The debate proceeds in the following manner:
Prime Minister Constructive – 7 minutes
Leader of Opposition Constructive – 8 minutes
Member of Government Constructive – 8 minutes
Member of Opposition Constructive – 8 minutes
Leader of Opposition Rebuttal – 4 minutes
Prime Minister Rebuttal – 5 minutes
The only planning time during the entire debate is the 10 minutes the Government has to prepare a case before the beginning of the round; each debater must give a speech as soon as the previous speaker is finished.
The time constraints placed on speech preparation time force you to think quickly and creatively as your speech is improvised and no outside research is allowed in the round. In Parliamentary debate, good rhetoric, quick thinking, and a sense of humor are just as important as sound reasoning. The goal of Parliamentary debate is to develop all of these capabilities in the participants.