Debate Topics for High School Social Studies

Americans like to complain that people do not vote in the mid-term elections. While that is generally true, at least compared to the presidential election years, the off-year elections have even lower turnout.

The United States has an election every November. Not every other. Every November.

But why would people participate in an election of local officials when they don’t even get a chance to discuss or debate local topics?

Local topics are not sexy. No celebrity is going to weigh in on a local issue and the mainstream politicians do not know about or do not care about the issues. Sometimes, these issues are not hurting people but the issues do have impacts on the lives of the people living in the community.

Whether the issue is as simple as selecting a new garbage collection company or as impactful as the building of a new mall or office building, locals do not always have an educated opinion because they were never asked to consider local issues. Let’s change that.

Here is a list of topics that students could conduct mini-research projects or papers on and participate in classroom discussions/debates:

School Related:

  • School boards are made up of community members rather than educational experts. Good or bad thing?
  • Should schools switch to digital textbooks?
  • Are schools required to supply students with basic supplies (pencils, paper, crayons, etc) or should that be the responsibility of the parents?
  • When a school board gets embroiled in a lawsuit, is that a waste of money?
  • Are teachers underpaid?
  • Should schools be shifting gears from college preparation to vocational training?
  • What is an appropriate amount of homework and should schools require it?
  • Should students be required to pay to play?


Government/Election Related:

  • Who are our local representatives and how long have they been in office?
  • When was the last time a person challenged an incumbent for office?
  • Should a candidate for local office accept the help and support from a SuperPac?
  • Are garbage collection companies treated unfairly by being forced to collect recycling?
  • Who decides what cable and internet companies operate in our area?
  • Should political candidates be allowed to place signs on public land?
  • If a township gets embroiled in a lawsuit, is that a waste of money?
  • What is the current tax rate and do we have a balanced budget?
  • Should all local government vehicles be made in America?
  • Is it fair to have cameras issuing traffic tickets?



  • If a builder promises to build something to a specific code (i.e. green building) and does not comply, should they penalized by the local government?
  • Are environmental regulations a good thing for the community?
  • Should townships mandate that playgrounds be built in new housing communities?
  • How much green space, if any, should be set aside in a community?
  • Are public parks a waste of taxpayer money?
  • Should local governments give tax breaks or incentives to entice new business?
  • If new development has to have government permission, what is the process and does the public have a right to weigh in on the matter?


Science and Technology:

  • Should local government be upgrading public buildings to use solar or wind energy?
  • Is it a monopoly to only have one option for public water?
  • Should a utility company be allowed to charge more to go green?
  • Are pylons and electric lines the most efficient method of providing electricity, telephone, and internet? When was the last time they were updated in my community?
  • Should every new building or major renovation be required to upgrade for solar energy?
  • How does the local electric company produce power? Is it safe?
  • How is water deemed safe to drink? Is my local water source safe?
  • Where does my local garbage company take the garbage? Is it safe for my community?


Strange Local Regulations:

  • Should a community be allowed to outlaw music? Is it a violation of free speech?
  • Should a community be allowed to outlaw the sale of alcohol? There is a constitutional amendment allowing the sale and consumption of alcohol.
  • Should a community be allowed to outlaw sorority houses? Is it gender discrimination?
  • Should a community be allowed to outlaw public profanity? Is it a violation of free speech?


These questions/prompts are just examples and of course can be changed to shape to your specific community. But please be part of the change in social studies classes! Do not just focus on national issues. Local politics, local issues, local news is important because you actually live in your community and people need to learn to be curious about where they live and HOW they live.


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