[eDebate] The Evil "Traditional Debate" Machine - NOT!
Thu Apr 15 13:10:23 CDT 2004
Here are some responses to Josh's arguments. Mine begin with MAX: to
distinguish my args from Josh's.
jbhdb8 at earthlink.
net To: Andy Ellis <dig at ndtceda.com>, edebate at ndtceda.com
Sent by: cc:
edebate-admin at ndt Subject: [eDebate] The Evil "Traditional Debate" Machine - NOT!
Please respond to
This is actually a repost of my arguments from September of 2003 modified
today in several ways.
First, let me mention that I realize 100% that Ede will most likely not
respond to these arguments. Over the time of our discussions I have come
to realize that Ede is fed up with the talk shop and cares only about
results. In a way, I admire this. In another way, I am inherently
suspicious of programs whose ends are used to justify all the means. As I
have said hundreds of times I agree with many of the things Ede has and
will say. I, in no way, want to discredit the majority of the Louisville
approach to debate.
MAX: Seems like this is directly incongruous with the comment below that
argues whether the "cure" is worse than the disease. Or the continued
fixation on the only dramatically successful program to retain black
students and succeed competetively.
I disagree with portions of it which I find to embrace certain tendancies
of other historical revolutions toward group think, scapegoating, and
anti-intellectualism. I do not think the "criticisms" of what I have had
to say take into account that I agree with much of the Louisville project.
I realize that it is not in vogue to speak out against any portion of the
current trend toward performance/topic ditching in debate. In many senses,
I suspect many of y!
ou think that adding your fingers to this dyke will not stop the edifice of
traditional policy debate from crumbling. Maybe true, but I suspect there
are real dangers to destroying policy debate as it was that are being
wholesale ignored based on shady and unproven connections between its
practice and a tendency toward exclusion in debate. I worry that soon,
academic debate will become very much like the public marketplace of ideas
in our pop culture obsessed society...A place where people know close to
nothing about the workings of government or the world around us.
When one goes to school one is generally given a curriculum. One of my
major issues with the current preformative/personal turn in debate is that
the idea of curriculum is thrown out the window. In other words, the topic
for any year forms a curriculum for the community of debate for the year.
In my time in debate, through debating a topic I have been pushed toward
learning about 100s if not 1000s of topic that otherwise I might NEVER have
encountered. In fact, much of my knowlege of issues of race, sex, and
gender in the US was driven by my desire to be prepared for debates. In a
world in which each student determines an independent curriculum on a round
by round basis the need to research whole new areas of the world that
surrounds us becomes secondary to each students connection to the issues
that are ALREADY important to them. Yes, I am making the argument that
traditional forms of education are good. Yes, I am saying the goals of a
liberal arts education are good!
. The traditional powers that be (or that were), wisely chose to put some
democratic checks on how we choose what we debate. These checks will never
satisfy Ede, however, I believe that it is a BAD thing to say that students
should ONLY discuss those things that seem relevant to them in their
everyday lives. For most Universites in the United States, one of the
reasons that they support academic debate is because it educates people on
a WIDE range of issues. I fundamentally disagree with the premise that
somehow performative/personal debates will be "more supportable" and easier
to explain to Deans etc. To go one step further, even were debate to be
"more supportable" in that form their are reasons to support debate that
centers around RESEARCH because that is an incredibly valuable skill that
is falling quickly by the wayside in larger society. We are one of the
only activities left that teaches and supports people supporting their
arguments with research.
Caveat...I know many performative/personal teams do extensive research.
However, one of the arguments advanaced is that debate should be about
things personally important....Taken to its logical conclusions research is
deemphasized and the person becomes expert in a world like this. In
addition, it becomes possible for that research that is done to be based
only in one subject (for instance race). I think this kind of education is
antithetical to a liberal arts education and that is what most of our
departments are supporting.
I believe that the United States is a very racist, sexist, and homophobic
country. I am in now way a pollyanna on race issues although often in these
discussions I end up seeming like one because I disagree with Ede's
conclusions. Some background, I started being interested in race issues in
the transition between being a young boy in Manhattan (very diverse) and a
young man in Chattanooga, Tennessee (not diverse at all in my neighborhood
or school). I wondered often where the diversity that had surrounded me in
NYC had gone. Ultimately, I realized that there was color in Tennessee the
problem is that it just wasnt in the neighborhoods where the good schools
or houses were. From this point on I realized that there was a race problem
in America. Over time I realized that at the end of the Civil War
unofficial racial apartheid existed across the country in many areas
because when Brown v. Board and the end of Jim Crow laws came down white
people complied with the legal regime !
change by moving to exclusively white suburbs and exclusively white
schools. Essentially, in the end result, rich white people got better and
better education and jobs and poor white people and people of color got
progressively worse education. Ironically, in many of the resulting poor
enclaves more money was spent to improve the enforcement of the laws than
on improving schools or jobs. For a more academic treatment of this story
please read the book American Apartheid (as I suggest every time I enter
Ede mentions that he doesnt care about my "race credentials" and I actually
agree with him. I do not say these things to get the "good white boy seal
of approval" but rather to explain that I think the genesis of exclusion in
debate is tied directly to the "white flight" phenomena and its effects on
property values and school funding throughout the United States. I believe
that Ede and Louisville have decided it is the fault of complicated policy
debate rules and that nobody cares what we are talking about. I think a
simple watching of the 60 minutes story about UDLs in Baltimore puts to a
quick end the myth that people of color cannot get interested in the
subjects that debate traditionally covers. Here is what really scares me -
what if the Lousiville solution is but one of many ways to increase
participation and one that is potentially destructive of some of the
educational benefits of debate? I actually understand why Ede responds
that basically until I have found a!
nother workable method he will stick with his. I feel that. I guess I am
just saying this: Yup to some extent, all competitive activities privlege
the trained.....This is true of the NFL, the NBA, even Cruise Ship
singing......Some people cant get in at the ground floor...some people cant
"get what we do." That does not make what we do "per se" bad anymore than
people who cant dunk probably cant be good forwards in the NBA.
We disagree about what debate "means" - Debate to me, and I will admit to
it being my opinion, is an attempt to start a discussion between four
people about a mutual subject. Much like signing up for a class when you go
to school we sign up for debating the years topic because it creates a
mutual strating point for an academic discussion about that particular
issue. I could care less what that topic is. Factually, Ede is correct,
there have been no race topics since title VII unfortunately but he is
wrong that there has been no space to "speak race in all discussions." On
every single topic there have been internal links and plan solvency
mechanisms for a topical discussion of race (I know because I look for
these things). The problem is that I flat disagree with Ede's seeming
conclusion that "changing the game" is critical to a more inclusive event.
In point of fact, I think it is literally impossible to prove that he is
right and there is a huge danger that if everyone st!
arted just running whatever t
hey wanted to on the affirmative that NOBODY would support debate anymore
or want to participate. I believe that this constant destabilization is
rarely producing more interesting debates. Frequently, what I see (and I
still judge a ton of these debates despite my predilections) is an
Affirmative team with a very interesting and well thought out Affirmative
case without a plan or anything more than a cursory relationship to the
topic. The negative then makes some arguments sometimes germane sometimes
not and then the affirmative responds be either entirely ignoring any
attempt at clash altogether or making "NO LINK" arguments or "critiques of
traditional debate." I would love to here how this - increases
participation - increases meaninful debate - or advances racial inclusion
in the activity.
Debate does not have much in the way of participation from people of color
or people from non-traditional backgrounds. I believe we have to do a
better job of making ourselves meaningful to these communities because
diversity is critical to the meaningfullness of an activity. I do not
believe there is anything but anecdotal evidence that ditching the
"starting point" and clash notions of debate are the cause of the problem.
I would suggest that the problem is that most high school programs that
have the money to have meaninful programs are not diverse either. I believe
we do not reach out for the most part. And I believe that we have only
recently begun in fits and starts to try to be more interested in these
pursuits. We must do better. I have a really really hard time believing
that encouraging clash and having a topic are at the root of our problems.
In fact, I am innately suspicious of this move to supplant "traditional"
forms of debate because it seems often to replace!
"researched and Academic"
ideas with naked persuasive techniques. I am not referring to excluding
"non-traditional" forms of evidence - I fully accept that as a worthy
endevor. I am referring to moving away from the whole "clash" enterprise
which is what seems to be happening. I believe racism became "legitimate"
in the eyes of many whites way back in the day precisely because people did
not require the highest standards in research and because academics dropped
the ball. The red scare happened for many of the same reasons. Naked
persuasion is often the handmaiden of right wing power and growth...Father
Caughlin and McCarthy were not winning converts from their well researched
arguments or facts...they won converts because they utilized NAKED
PERSUASION. I also think there is a danger of anti-intellectualism and the
rejection of research and evidenced. Many teams are making arguments about
privleging TEXTS etc. I made the analogy to the Cultural Revolution in
China last week for a reason......Rem!
oving the academia from academic debate cannot help our cause. This
country is already at a place where the majority dont vote, dont know their
representatives, dont understand how the courts work etc. I think what we
do is a VALUABLE EDUCATIONAL ENTERPRISE. We should not give in to the "I
dont know because I dont care" kind of thinking that dominates the cultural
scene in this country.
Last year there was a final round at WFU about snowball fighting. Meanwhile
the drums of war began to beat for Iraq.....Meanwhile many celebrated the
final round and talked about the stupidity of the politics DA. Let me tell
you something, the impacts of the politics da are usually crazy but
researching politics has alot more resonance to our lives that talking
about the poetics of snowball fighting. It is more important, for instance,
to discuss what the government is doing to roll back our rights and
freedoms post 9-11 than it is to talk about Poetics in relation to desire.
I am just really sick and tired of hearing how "out of touch" traditional
debaters are with meaningful and personal politics. Maybe some are too
cynical to connect the dots but being ever vigilant is the hallmark of a
In fact, Max just today posted asking people to put there voices where
there affirmative cases were...I agree with that call with one
caveat....Many of us choose to make our political choices based on what
debate has taught us. While that might not seem like activism or anarchism
not all of us are activists in the same way and not all of us agree with
anarchism. To say you do nothing if you dont join a movement is not
entirely true.....What we learn in debate frequently colors the candidates
we vote for and who we associate with and donate to. That said, I agree we
should find ways to apply our skills that are consistent with our beliefs.
What scares me the most is that nobody seems to worry that the cure could
be worse than the disease. Debate asks us to know alot about tough
subjects.....That is a strength and not a weakness.
Anyway, I respect what Ede is trying to do despite my disagreements with
him. I was moved by the affirmative case that his teams were running last
year and this year. I think most people who do these new types of debate
will admit that I vote for them all the time because I try not to place
myself in the center of debates I watch. However, I think there are REAL
dangers to the moves we are making and I authentically care about the EXACT
Authentic congratulations to Louisville and to Ede for an incredible year.
I know it seems like I am picking on you but I actually have a TON of
respect for your project as a whole.
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