[eDebate] debate and public speaking

Jim Hanson hansonjb
Wed Apr 25 15:52:24 CDT 2007

while I definitely lean toward a more communicative model of debate, having written ballots and 'parents' and 'professors' does _not_ provide the same educational benefits that the ndt-ceda model with debate expert judges does.

our parliamentary debate teams often get those parents, professors, and coaches who have the same kind of model you advocate below. those judges are the source of all kinds of frustrations for our students--sexism and other biases unchecked by an ability to mpj such judges out, random decisions, inability to articulate the decision, inability to offer meaningful comments for improvement, and a lack of understanding of the topic and arguments being discussed (making specialization and expertise coming from intense research irrelevant and at times even harmful to the debaters). plus the handwriting on the ballots is often illegible and since you can't ask questions of a ballot, you don't get any way to check misunderstandings nor to seek clarifications.

and as for "the students don't benefit from ceda-ndt debate"--I totally disagree. alums I speak to attribute the intensity, research, and difficulty of the fast paced rounds against opponents who know what they are talking about as A CRITICAL educational experience that has directly, day in and day out, benefited them. I mean you would have to listen to them talk about it--their views are far more intense and adamant about it than I am.

jim :)
hansonjb at whitman.edu
----- Original Message ----- 
From: JeChrist at dwu.edu 
To: edebate at www.ndtceda.com 
Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2007 1:03 PM
Subject: [eDebate] debate and public speaking

Mr. Massey,

Your recent success, which I congratulate you for, infuses your analysis with tremendous ethos; yet, I still find myself compelled to reply. My reply is not to you Mr. Massey, but rather a reply from the fringes of debate. No doubt I'll get flamed for posting this, but I could care less.

The advantages of competitive NDT/CEDA debate that you list frankly do not apply; or, as you might say, "No link."therateofdeliverywhichsoundsintheearasthislooksonthepagefor thelaypersonorfirsttimedebaterisafarcryfromthepubliccenteredforumthatgovernsapublicspeakingclassesandprovidesstudentwithberintroductiontopubliccommunication. 

I don't begrudge policy debaters having a little fun; the endorphin rush produced by a lack of oxygen to the brain when one speaks at 375 wpm or more is, without a doubt, addictive. And, with the number of repetitive positions, it is interesting to watch someone jam a new piece of evidence into an overcrowded block in a subtle way. Looking for the perfect card, the "supercard," that eviscerates someone else's claim is great, like playing Indiana Jones with Lexis-Nexis. Hauling enough research (I'll reserve the term evidence for more specific applications) to overburden a pachyderm displays the accuracy of Marshall McLuhan's dictum that "the medium is the message." Certainly these performative effort should be applauded; although, I'm not convinced that these behaviors promote the education of an enlightened citizenry as you claim in your analysis.  

Periodically, I see posts, usually before the fall term, on the listserve from folks wondering where the debate teams have gone. These posts are typically interspersed with politically correct rants about the overt phallocentricsm of the pen which is used to write the ballot, or some other matter of that sort. (Is this phallocentric concern the reason critics do not write out ballots for coaches to read and review; or is that practice impossible because teams must meet in the hall for an hour to hash out the debate before they begin debating, which prevents the critic from having enough time to write out a decision?) Just a thought, but it is possible that those teams have fled the field because they found the issue at hand of greater significance than the politically-correct fashion in which that position was presented. And, for just a moment, let us apply the Foucauldian (although Laclau and Mouffe may be better suited for such a socialist argument) implications propounded in a debate round - ala, language is power - and consider the discursive production within debate that implicitly excludes alternative interpretations and practices. The 1AC must be fast. Speed is a weapon and those who cannot incorporate that technology and the attendant technologies - obsessive, terse, reductionist note-taking, exhaustive research, and speech patterns that truncate the most poetic phrase to the eloquence of radio instructions - reduce debate to a series of efficiencies. Worse yet, the other speeches follow suit; each person spinning another scenario, another turn, take-out, flip, setting  rhetorical bear-traps to be sprung upon the slow and weak.  

            These practices are justified as rules of the game. That is fair. If I don't want to play that game, which I no longer do (and I suspect that I never did) then I shouldn't show up to the event. However, I also would rather not try to elevate debate, as it is practiced, to a stage that would not bear its weight. 

            The two advantages of attentive judges and research are the last two advantages to the activity, and I fear those lack the weight to win justify a proposition that states: Policy debate as practiced is good. 

There is a difference between attentive, tabula rasa (not to be confused with tabula stupid) judges, and politically driven critics. The former are interested in the team's ability to demonstrate the truth or falsity of a proposition in a given debate round; the latter hope to enforce their truth on the debaters until the debaters acquiesce and comply or quit the activity altogether. Additionally, those attentive judges, borne by the memory of their own successes or failures, hand out their trauma to another generation of students in a genealogy of perversity until, at last, no one remembers what a debate looks like. Instead, a simulacrum of debates that went before, populated by  politics disadvantages, warism kritiks, and warming evidence from the 1996 resolution, stretch into oblivion, ever repeating the promise of a great debate that, if it could be replicated enough times, could be perfected. A lying promise at best, because the idea of perfection, of a good debate, is far too subjective under the new paradigm. 

Worse yet, is the assumption that only trained critics can be good judges. Again, this assumes that the debate is secretly about more than the practice of persuasion as it pertains to the resolution. "We are too sophisticated," we say, "the layperson could not possibly understand the implications of Lacan's graph of desire as it pertains to Iranian politics." In fact, even those trained judges who have not figured out a team's position and read most of the literature about the position before the round are not preferred. With those conditions in place, it would be impermissible to allow the parents of the debaters to judge a round. After-all they've only shelled out, in many cases, tens of thousands of dollars from their "petty bourgeoisie, sexist, racists, whateverist" in the hope that their students will learn how to convince other people to do the right thing. God forbid they find out that little Sally learned how to "cut cards" rather than articulate a defense to a jury. 

            At this point in the argument, people usually like to list all of the debaters who went on to do super-wonderful things. They are there, but they are there in spite of, not because of, these practices. Sure they learned to research and yes they learned not to be afraid of criticism and perhaps they learned how to hyper-dissect an argument, but are these unique advantages? In other words, is there anything more than a correlation? How many people have gone on to do extraordinary things without having debated? Is it possible those who debated would have succeeded without the activity? Is it likely, that debate, once every ounce of creativity is wrung from it, will cease to provide any of these virtues and will only perpetuate the problem? Maybe.

Last weekend, I host a very small tournament in which we reduced the NDT proposition to Milliken and dropped the times to 8 minutes and five minutes. We ran four rounds starting at 8 a.m. and finishing at 4:30 p.m. and took an hour and a half for lunch. The teams could run any case they wanted, use every kritik, counterplan (PICs PECs whatever), disadvantage, critical or performative position that they desired. The only catch was that in the back of the room would be a professor, a professional or, most awful of all, a parent who cared about the activity. Here is the most dreadful part: the students applied what they learned in public speaking - stand up straight, dress as well as you can (we are a poor school so the Salvation Army helped us out there), use hand gestures and eye contact to demonstrate your conviction and to accentuate a point, and most of all if you are affirmative defend the resolution and if you are negative say no to the resolution or prove the affirmative does not say yes - presumption still works with lay judges for some weird reason. Things got much worse. Debaters who lost to each other still respected one another and didn't take personal offense to someone responding to their argument. Then, and this was the terminus of terrible, students, who never say a debate before but who were asked to attend as part of their Expository Writing class project, asked me if they could sign up. Oddly enough, we didn't have money for awards, so I made an announcement, congratulated the teams with the best records, and sent them home with ballots, their evidence of a job well-done (or advice for more improvement). 

It seemed to me, their coaches, could help them decipher what went right and what went wrong and that every round didn't require a coaching session from someone else.

Certainly though, if only a few college coaches and ex-NDT/CEDA debaters could get their hands on these aspiring students and force them to puke words out of their mouth while ranting about various forms of persecution, they would be much better off. For now, I would like them to learn that argumentation is about proving a proposition, about providing good research for scientific and historical claims, and about organizing a position so that a reasonable person of good-will can understand it.

In the end, I have not met the coach or debater I didn't like; that is until they wanted to make things better instead of just allowing the students to debate. I don't think policy debate is bad, in fact I find it to be the best most reasonable way to coach and learn debate. I don't think researching is awful, but I do find the obsession with believing every bit of testimony because it is found somewhere besides someone's head troubling. I don't think teaching people to be passionate about a position is immoral, but I do find that an oppressive aura of disapproval for anyone who merely wants to learn how to reason troubling. 

I'm sure I sound like an ass. I don't play the game. My college can't afford to, and I'm too tired to try anymore. (After debating the "red-spread" it all seems all downhill anyway J) I just hope these comments, sarcastic and snide as they may seem, might give you some perspective on the state of debate from someone who loves the activity, but who does not play it the way you all do. 


Jeremy Christensen

Jeremy Christensen

Assistant Professor of English

Dakota Wesleyan University

Mitchell, SD 57301

(605) 995-2635


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