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Alternate Activity 1: Role Playing the Taft-Holmes Debate

Activity time: 15 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Copy Handout 4 for all participants.
  • Assign roles for the debate. Co-facilitators may want to play Taft and Holmes, or especially enthusiastic group members may be invited to take on this challenge.
    • Give actors copies of Handout 4 well in advance of this workshop.
    • Invite the person playing Taft to read his biography on the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography website and become familiar with the bullet points for the debate.
    • Invite the person playing Holmes to read his biography on the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography website and become familiar with the bullet points for the debate.
  • Set up the space with two lecterns or tables for the debaters to use.
  • Optional: Feel free to incorporate props or costumes!

Description of Activity

Explain that you (or two volunteers) will present a mock debate between John Haynes Holmes and William Howard Taft about the United States' response to World War I. The focus of this debate is not necessarily historical accuracy, but to present the main arguments from each side with passion and sympathy.

Assign participants in the audience to act as pro-Holmes, pro-Taft, or neutral listeners.

Give the debaters three minutes each to make their case. Then allow five minutes for questions and rebuttals from the "audience." Encourage audience participants to ask questions of the debaters. Direct the debaters to supply their own answers in support of their assigned position. Afterward, ask participants to reflect:

  • What insights did you gain into the characters of Holmes and Taft?
  • Did one side make a better argument than the other? What were the most persuasive parts?
  • What did it feel like to debate the issue of pacifism? Did it seem like a familiar debate? What emotions ran through the group as the ideas were discussed?
  • If, as part of the role-playing, you held a position with which you disagreed, was it difficult to take that stance?

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