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The Socratic Club - 23rd January

Updated: Feb 4, 2022

We began our sessions with a focus on presentation skills - from posture, to eye contact, to gestures, we looked at what works best for speech making, whether in a debate or providing information in the classroom.

We then turned our attention towards two major topics: one climate related and one geopolitical.

Junior Socratic Club

With Christmas trees abandoned all around London on the sides of roads, and with trees at the heart of climate change discussions, we chose the Motion:

'This House believes we should ban the sale and use of real Christmas trees'.

Vote 1 – Y: 25%; N: 75%

Vote 2 – Y: 25%; N: 75%

What was meant to be just a warm-up debate produced a fascinating display of discussion, from economic arguments over jobs and farming (an industry worth c.£2bn) to religious or spiritual custom, to how best to protect the environment. In the end a via media was found with the option of a Christmas tree with roots to be replanted/or in a pot. Nevertheless, many of the group felt strongly that whilst the use of plastic was problematic, the long lasting nature of artificial trees worked effectively for those without gardens or in apartments. In the final vote, the 'no'/opposition lobby still had it.

We then followed this seasonal discussion by addressing the question of a possible invasion of Ukraine by Russia and what exactly the West should do?

The Motion:

'This House believes the West should intervene if Russia invades Ukraine'.

Vote 1 – Y: 25%; N: 75%

Vote 2 – Y: 50%; N: 50%

This was a very impressive session of argumentation, with points being raised drawing parallels with WWII and appeasement, to those desperately concerned about a potential escalation of conflict, leading to a WWIII or new Cold War scenario. The benevolence of NATO was focussed on, whilst the dependence of Europe on Russian Gas pipelines was also looked at. Even the lack of unity between Biden, his own secretary of state and NATO allies, such as France and Germany and their response to the UK sending weapons was also pointed out. The group was tremendously up-to-speed and it was hugely encouraging to see all members participating at length. The final vote was split evenly.

We ended the session by turning our attention to summary speeches and this will be our focus for debating skill for the next session.

Senior Socratic Club

As with the Junior group, our focus began with a Christmas tree debate:

The Motion, 'This House believes we should ban the sale and use of real Christmas trees'.

Vote 1 – Y: 80%; N: 20%

Vote 2 – Y: 25%; N: 75%

By contrast with the Junior group, the Senior group felt strongly that economic interests outweighed any climate change argument, and sought not to follow a middle way, but rather voted firmly in favour of real Christmas trees. The second vote saw a significant swing to reject the motion. The Senior group did not think that potted trees were a practical solution, particularly for those without gardens. The status quo was favoured by the majority.

We then proceeded with the conflict/geopolitical discussion of Ukraine.

'This House believes the West should intervene if Russia invades Ukraine'.

Vote 1 – Y: 40%; N: 60%

Vote 2 – Y: 75%; N: 25%

As with the Junior Group, the appeasement argument weighed heavily on the debate. Yet, it was also felt strongly that an as yet non-NATO ally was not a price worth/or country worth fighting for, or in turn creating a major global conflict over. Had this been a NATO member then the group saw that as a binary decision, but Ukraine was not seen in that manner. Most felt that tough sanctions would be the suitable response to any invasion or incursion by Russia. All saw the issue as significant, particularly when we examined the Gas pipelines supplying much of Europe. The majority felt intervention was key in the second vote, with ayes having it, but in the form of economic and political sanctions, rather than military 'boots on the ground'.

We also looked at summary speeches at the end of the Senior session and that will also be a skill focus for the next meeting.

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