[eDebate] My expectations and hopes for a debate topic

Ede Warner ewarner
Thu Apr 13 20:13:37 CDT 2006

As we move back towards a variation of our 2000 method, we have tried to
think about our purpose and what we want from a topic and why.  We have
been discussing these issues as we prepare for the fall and I want to
share with you some thoughts that facilitate some global thinking about
what we are trying to do:
1)  Who are we trying to recruit to come debate?  and why?
Our interest is in bringing under-represented groups to debate, with a
special emphasis on African Americans.  The why operates at a couple of
levels:  First, we think our students can become empowered leaders in
the Black community (this would be the Malcolm story:  preparation to
become Black leadership for the next generation--learning how to become
"gone on debating as a tool for empowerment").  But the why is also so
that a predominately non-Black debate community could engage with a
population of students that they may not engage with very often.  There
is an education to be had for both groups when this is done correctly.
2)  What skills do we want them to have to be successful (in varsity
intercollegiate debate) and to develop/hone while they are here?
We came up with five:  Critical thinking (defined as the ability to
identify an argument; think critically about that argument and engage
that argument; and be able to find support for that argument);
organization; committment (prioritization of debate); work-effort;
creativity(persuasion).  Notice that gather more information about the
world isn't necessarily one of them directly, although I recognize that
for others it is.
3)  How do we want to compete?
In the spirit of Malcolm, we gots (purposeful ebonics) to debate the
topic.  The question is can we come up with a way of debating in a style
that works for us (motivates and meets above goals)  that still creates
clash and communication with opponents, allowing for true engagement. 
We think we have at times and haven't at times, but with serious
introspection and inquiry, the answer is "yes".  
4)  What are we looking for in a topic?
Dale made an argument at CEDA Nat's that I remembered from an earlier
time in the Louisville Project.  Blacks don't have access/power in the
USFG, so we have to look outside the USFG for our arguments.  For him in
that debate, this was an agency argument, but for me it is a topic
construction argument.  One of the many failings of Black leadership
today is unwillingness to seriously engage in policy discussions about
the best interests of Black folks.  So topics that allow for broad
systemic discussions on the affirmative are important, and not so narrow
that folks have pre-determined what the topic is before we get to apply
our political perspective. That certainly doesn't mean just talking
about Black folks per say, especially on international topics, but it
does mean that when we debate Africa, Africa's trade bill should be in
play or when we debate Native Americans, Black support for land
reparations as a coalition move should be possible.  Or on China, an
affirmative that allows political support for China to access the
political literature of Randall Robinson, or Huey Newton, doesn't seem
unreasonable to ask for.  Discovery for our students is connecting all
of these topics back to their struggle and the ability to do that on the
affirmative is important.  Saying that is a negative argument (and
truthfully, usually a non-competitive one, doesn't seem fair or
educationally warranted).  Again, this presupposes that we as a
community can find "other" ways to create predictable ground.  And I
think we can.
Students should be able to find their politics on the aff., and that
certainly lessens the interest in allowing folks to deviate from the
topic.  I can hear James Roland telling Louisville, "why didn't you run
a pro-China affirmative and use some Black Panther stuff for the
advantage" instead of protesting the topic because you don't think it's
5)  Why this model of debate works for everyone: comparing Brad's
purpose to Liz Jones
Back to Brad's discussion of discovery:
Summary of Brad's words:  His convictions weren't in the topic, but he
found some new ones.
Brad may or may not have/find his convictions on the topic, but
consistently finds new convictions.  Liz, with a different set of life
experiences, wants to advocate policies that relate to those
experiences.  Both can benefit from that world.  Brad may find one of
his new convictions when debating Liz, because he is introduced to a new
set of experiences that may support or challenge what he has researched
about people that embrace Liz's identity.  On the other hand, Liz is
challenged by how Brad engages her, and Liz may get excited by Brad's
new discoveries, even if she didn't find them in research.  Then it's a
win-win.  I don't think this happens without angst, frustration, and
sometimes hurt.  I also don't think it always is evident in the short
term.  I remember Sara Apel and Michael Klinger sharing their positive
thoughts of debating Louisville at the end of their careers, although
those debates as I remember sometimes got quite nasty.  
This community moves pretty stronger on the belief that choice is good.
 Having choices above and beyond what my friends like on the affirmative
(friends being the topic committee- and I do consider them my friends,
and well-intentioned friends who serve the community well) seems a
progressive move for the activity.  That is my hope and why I've
invested this time communicating now.
And while I don't think we need to reconsider the entirety of the game
by any means, it wouldn't hurt to seriously think about why we've
allowed the game to prioritize competitive equity over the literature. 
And should we look for ways to become more literature-centered, with
equity issues being addressed around that, even if it means the old
school PMN becomes a round winner because we revalue it to serve the
literature instead of devaluing it to serve the bigger, badder impacts. 
Just some thoughts...
With love,
"Doc" Warner
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