Debates in the Classroom: Disagreeing with Respect

As many scholars have agreed, the classroom is one of the best places to explore your beliefs and theories. However, educational discussions can often become contentious when controversial topics are being discussed.

When these conversations do begin, it can be daunting to find your voice and speak your mind. Here are some tips that may help you to respectfully disagree with your peers or professor during class.

1. Structure your argument.

Step one to speaking out in class is knowing what you want to say. Usually, when I know I want to jump into a conversation, I will write down a general outline of my talking points on a Post-It or in a notebook.

Class conversations can move quick, so keeping track of your ideas is a great way to stay focused. Also, by taking down notes, you will be more prepared when you are given the floor to speak.

You also won’t run the risk of cutting off your peers, which shows respect. When building your argument, try to focus your remarks on addressing the main talking points of the alternate side.

2. Acknowledge the other side.

When beginning to deliver your argument, make sure to acknowledge the criticism or commentary of the other side. This will help strengthen your point, while acknowledging that you have listened to the points brought up by those with opposing opinions.

By showing that you’ve listened, you are showing respect to your classmates. Furthermore, you are strengthening the validity of your own argument by showing your acknowledgement of all options.

3. Deliver your side and add facts as needed.

Be confident in the stance you’re taking and try to add some facts if possible. If the classroom discussion was prompted by a reading or lecture, try to tie your opinion back to that.

Not only will this strengthen your argument, but it will demonstrate to the professor that you have been attentive in their class. Additionally, if possible, bring in outside knowledge: this will highlight your independent interest in the specific topic. 

4. If the disagreement gets intense, alert your professor.

While it’s great to observe all sides of an argument, there is certainly a fine line between constructive debate and insulting discourse.

If you endure a class discussion that makes you feel belittled or personally offended in any way, it is a good idea to bring this up to your professor. Often, a professor can help to moderate discussions. If you think that they can do a better job of this, it might be best to let them know.

If the professor is unreceptive, you might want to look into taking your grievance to the Dean, or a faculty member who can instruct you on how to file a grievance. Above all, I think it is most important that the classroom is a safe environment.

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For me and many others, disagreeing in the classroom setting can be difficult. Hopefully these tips can help you to find your footing the next time you find yourself in this situation.

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