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The Debate on the Iraq War Continues

Seventh graders in the second period social studies class at Bennet Middle School got to flex their debating muscles during a debate on the war in Iraq. Those who disagreed or agreed that the invasion was a good move had to try to sway their classmates who were undecided. Included: Tips for staging a middle school debate.

Members of Bennet Middle School's seventh grade Royal 7 team faced off in their social studies classes on the issue of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Students spent a week studying Iraq's history and culture and another week studying the life of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein before the debates.

In setting up the room for the debates, teacher Gary Tracey posted a sign on one side of the room reading AGREE, another on the opposite side saying DISAGREE, and a third in the center of the back wall that said UNDECIDED, so students would know where to assemble when the time came.

Debating students had the added challenge of trying to persuade uncertain classmates to side with their views on the war.

The undecided group was charged with filling out the debate rubric and scoring their classmates while weighing the pro and con arguments.

The debate ground rules were on the board at the beginning of the day:

  • You must wait to be acknowledged before you speak.
  • You must stand to present your argument.
  • No speaking while the other team is presenting.

After the first period class's debate on the war in Iraq, the students who disagreed with the war won over most of the undecided camp.

(See Debating the Iraq War to read about the first period debate.)

Now the second period class had its work cut out for it.

Mr.Tracey wrote the topic on the board: "The invasion of Iraq was good for the world."

"What if you're half and half?" asked Mark.

Mr. Tracey pointed to the signs on the walls showing the areas of the room for those who agreed or disagreed with the statement, or were undecided.

He also encouraged students to make their own choices. "I know many of you want to go where your friends go," he says. "I promise you we will all be in the same room and your friends will talk to you after the debate. Even if your friend goes to one side of the room, you need to make up your own mind. Be independent. You can talk to your friends at lunch."

After giving students five minutes to read a position paper on the war, they chose their sides. When the class dispersed, there five agreed with the debate topic, four disagreed, and six who were undecided.

Mark joined the undecideds in the back of the room. "I agree we had to invade Iraq to stop them from making nuclear weapons and attacking us," he says, in explaining his position. "But I disagree because there seems to be lots of innocent people being killed, because they are dressed to look like someone else."


Students who agreed with the statement win the coin toss, and Sean delivered their opening statement.

"The invasion of Iraq was good because they can't protect themselves and Saddam kills people for no reason," Sean says. "Plus, they blew up the World Trade Center so we had to blow up their oil fields. We had to put them in their placeBush also was trying to get oil."

"The war is wrong," countered Sharon. "People are dying for no good reason, and people are losing loved ones. Bush is the president, it's his job to find oil somewhere else."

Spencer agreed that it is sad that American soldiers are dying. "But they knew that [they could be killed] when they signed up," he said. "Now it's their responsibility [to fight]. It's a commitment they made."

A speaker for the disagreement side had a little trouble with event sequences: "Being in Iraq is very bad, we started this then the twin towers were attacked. If we keep this up, we'll just keep getting attacked."

Sean quickly jumped on the mistake. "They bombed us first, then we retaliated. They're hiding weapons all over the place."

The agree camp returned to an earlier point. "We didn't have to go there because their president was killing them," a student said. "They wouldn't come to help us."


After a break, John left the undecided group to join those who disagreed. "The ones who agree are wrong on some facts," he said. "They said Saddam Hussein bombed the World Trade Center, and he didn't -- it was Osama bin Laden. And we never did find any weapons."

John plunged in for his new side when the debate resumed. "Iraq and Saddam Hussein did not bomb the World Trade Center. We said we were looking for weapons but didn't find any. There are a lot of countries with bad governments, like communism, but we went to IraqWe wanted to get rid of a dictator, but there are other dictators, like China, so we have no right to invade other countries."

That argument didn't carry much weight with the agree side. "We chose to help this country," said Sean. "How would you feel if you were in Iraq and Saddam Hussein told you what to do, and if you didn't do it, you'd die?"

At the end, the students who disagreed again proved more persuasive, gaining three more of the undecideds. But the agrees swayed Mark, who shifted from undecided to the agree side.

"Their ideas caught my attention, and they backed up their answers," Mark said. "I like that they [the students who agree] want to send troops in and look for weapons. The students who disagree don't want to send any troops. I feel like I agree with the war a lot more now."

Education World Goes Back to School

Education World news editor Ellen R. Delisio is spending several days a month this school year with the Royal 7's, a seventh grade team at Bennet Middle School, a grade 6 to 8 school in Manchester, Connecticut. She is observing and participating in students' learning, and talking with staff about their strategies and perspectives on improving student performance. She is a graduate of W. Tresper Clarke Junior-Senior High School in Westbury, N.Y.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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