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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
Fair Share for Our Schools: A Multidisciplinary Curriculum:
How can we explore and better understand the different perspectives of the CFE issue through classroom debate?
View the Short Video: Campaign for Fiscal Equality: Students Speak Out

Lesson Materials (word document)

How can we explore and better understand the different perspectives of the CFE issue through classroom debate?

This lesson is intended as one in a series of culminating activities of the English Language Arts unit exploring the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. Once students have learned the context and facts of the case, this activity gives them a chance to synthesize what they have learned through debating the merits of the various perspectives on the case. Students will gain a better understanding for the controversy surrounding this case and the deep-seated beliefs that this topic stirs up in society. With the understanding that students gain from this lesson, they will be prepared to engage in letter-writing campaigns as well as public-speaking events for the benefit of members of the school and larger community.

Do Now:
Why do you think that many suburban school districts oppose the Campaign for Fiscal Equity?

1. Discuss the Do Now. Since by this point students will have already been taught the content of the CFE case and why it has not yet been fulfilled, many students will likely find it difficult to understand why suburban school districts wouldn’t want city students to have more resources (although they will very likely zero in on the racial politics)

2. Use this opportunity to transition into the debate activity by teaching students that issues like the CFE case are very complex and provoke strong emotional responses on all sides, and that an organized debate is a great way to understand different perspectives in a non-confrontational way.

3. Pass out the debate flow sheets or have students create their own.

4. Explain the concept of a spar debate – sparring means fighting with words, and this kind of debate forces you to focus on a topic very closely with two sides, the affirmative (which supports a particular statement) and the negative (which opposes a particular statement).

5. Explain the purpose of each speech and how it relates to the flow by using a silly example, such as ‘Yankees are better than the Red Sox’ or ‘Kanye West is a better rapper than 50 Cent’:

1AC – Affirmative team speaks first and gives three reasons why they support the statement. Each reason is written down in a box in the 1AC column on the flow. The speech is 2 minutes long and the speaker must explain and give evidence for each reason.

1NC – Negative team does two things: first, they attack the three reasons that the affirmative team gave with their own evidence and examples. These attacks are written in the three boxes next to the 1AC in the 1NC column. Next, they give three reasons of their own why they oppose the statement (i.e. why the Red Sox are better than the Yankees). These are written in the last three boxes of the 1NC column. The speech is 2 minutes long.

2AC – Affirmative team now does two things: first, they attack the three reasons that the negative team gave with evidence and examples. Next, they go back to their three reasons and defend them, refuting what the negative team said about them and reinforcing their points. It is important that the affirmative does not bring up any new reasons – they need to stick to their original three and expand on them in order to keep the debate focused. The speech is 2 minutes long.

2NC – Negative team ends the debate by doing the same two things: attacking the affirmative teams’ arguments one more time, and then going back to defending their three reasons against the affirmative attack. The speech is 2 minutes long.

6. Once you have explained each speech and students have used a silly example to figure out how to fill in the flow chart, you tell the class that they will now have their first debate. Without telling anyone the topic, get 6 volunteers to come to the front of the room and separate them into teams of 3. Also ask another volunteer to come up and take notes (flow) on the board.

7. It is often necessary for students to do a sample debate on a simple topic in order to get used to the structure of debate. If you find it necessary, tell the class who the affirmative and negative teams are and give them the topic of their first spar debate: Cats are better pets than dogs. Give each side a minute to prepare 3 strong arguments on their side. Begin the debate with everyone in the class flowing while the affirmative and negative teams state their reasons.

8. Congratulate everyone at the end of the debate and have the debaters face the board while the class looks at their notes and decides which team had the better arguments and answered arguments effectively.

9. Separate the class into two halves – one side will be the affirmative team supporting the statement, “The governor and legislature should provide New York City public schools with the money and resources needed for a sound basic education as determined by the CFE decision.” The other side will be the negative team opposing this statement. Give students time to work in teams developing the three most compelling arguments on their side, complete with proof and statistics.

10. The teacher can decide how many debates to do on this topic – each one usually takes a full 45-minute period.

11. Give students time to debrief the experience. Were they able to appreciate the opposing point of view? Now that they see what the other side thinks, can they think of persuasive ways to convince them otherwise?

12. Explain to students that their flow can now be used as a perfect outline for a persuasive letter to members of the state legislature and their community leaders. They would write an introduction, use the three reasons as their three body paragraphs, and then write a conclusion.

Subject Areas:
English, Debate

Grade Levels:  11-12

About the teacher:

Nicole Mirra is currently in her third year of teaching 11th and 12th grade English at ACORN Community High School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Nicole has created an Advanced Placement English course for seniors and won a grant that empowered students to select and purchase books of their choice for use in the classroom. She is also a member of her school’s leadership team and co-coach of ACORN’s championship debate team.

Nicole Mirra studied English as an undergraduate at New York University before earning a Masters Degree in Secondary English Education at Pace University through the New York City Teaching Fellows program. She has continued her involvement with the program by serving as an advisor for new Fellows and as a Lead Fellow at her school. Her research interests include alternative scheduling, non-traditional teacher certification, and non-standardized assessments.



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