[eDebate] ans Elliott

Michael Korcok mmk_savant
Fri Jul 13 13:34:36 CDT 2007

I don't do backchannels other than an occasional quip, so Elliott wasn't writing to me when he wrote:
"However, the resolutions that are being crafted currently are being crafted to serve an elite 10% of the student debaterpopulation..."
I think that claim is so but why is important...
In the mid 90s, the NDT was down to a few dozen active programs.  NOT qualifying to the NDT was harder than qualifying.  CEDA, although it's heyday of 200+ active programs was behind it a couple of years, was still humming along with large numbers.  The then-recent CEDA drop-off was because of rapid increases in the cost of debating:  skills to compete, research burdens, and cross-country travel expectations had all skyrocketed in the 90s and a bunch of programs had decided that it was too much for them.  NEDA and Parli were their lower-intensity alternatives...
Despite the grim conditions, the NDT had a couple of things going for it:  some of the most storied programs in college debate had stuck through it all including some amazing coaches and of course the NDT's 40-some year history on the verge of becoming a tradition was not trifling either.  But those paled in comparison to the edge the NDT had over CEDA:  the high schools.  The high school workshops, the high school tournaments, the high school handbooks, and the elite high school coaches were NDT through and through.  A decaying NDT more and more turned to its biggest strength, the high school system, and locked in:  the summer workshops made sure the campers understood that CEDA was "junior debate", that the NDT had the "best" coaches, that policy debate was the best debate, and the most successful kids were steered to the NDT programs.  The NDT could claim that it was higher quality debate than CEDA, a simple trick, since NDTdebaters came in with 3 or 4 years of high school debate experience.
CEDA, for the most part, hadn't done high school debate.  Its huge numbers were homegrown:  true, many CEDA debaters had some high school experience, but they weren't the TOC kids, until the early 90s when CEDA began pulling the occasional top speaker, the odd NFL champ and the circuit tournament winner.  Even then, CEDA's bread and butter was teaching debate to those with not much or no high school debate experience.  As CEDA began to play with policy resolutions, it re-discovered high school policy debate.  And I think a number of folks saw the endgame:  once CEDA made in-roads with the high school debate community, the NDT would be done.
The NDT adopted the CEDA resolution and the CEDA community largely welcomed the NDT, all parties preferring to call it a "merger" rather than either of the less diplomatic phrases "NDT surrender" or "takeover of CEDA".
Since then, the resolutions have been NDT-style policy resolutions.  The same resolutions that a fast-fading NDT had used to try to keep its high school policy debate monopoly:  catering to the most successful high school debaters, sometimes just rewriting the very same topics those kids had already debated,  making sure those kids wouldn't be challenged by new ideas or difficult argumentative environments in college.  How do you get the Barkley Forum winners to stick with it in college?  Give them the same context they achieved their big high school successes in, only this time in college.  And CEDA programs, or what is left of them, have gone along with some limited success breaking into the high school debate community.
>From the perspective of the NDT, debate has experienced a revival but that is only by looking up from a very low point.  From the perspective of CEDA, debate has experienced a long steady decline. That is because the CEDA constituency, the kids with not much or no high school experience, have been largely abandoned to the strategy a fast-fading NDT had used to survive:  cater to the elite high school debaters.  Not an especially honorable strategy to be sure, nor a pedagogically defensible one, nor a plan to expand and grow debate past a narrow constituency, but a plan to at least keep some of the successful high school debaters debating in college.  The, by almost all measures worthier, CEDA strategy of targeting the infinitely much larger student body with limited or no high school debate experience has been all but abandoned.
I don't believe it should be all non-policy resolutions:  policy debate is good, perhaps ultimately the most valuable form of debate, and watching a sharp debater who has been in the activity for 7 years can be an experience of art.  But just because I like cherry pie a lot more than I like other desserts doesn't mean I should only eat cherry pie for dessert:  tumtum will be happier with a nice variety of tasty treats.  And the marginal utility of the nth consecutive policy resolution went to around zero about 1999...
So yeah...  I think your observation is on target that college resolutions are being written to principally benefit a tiny percentage of successful high school debaters, but why is important too.  It isn't just that the college policy debate community enjoys pandering to elites or anything... 
Michael Korcok
Bakersfield College
Don't get caught with egg on your face. Play Chicktionary!??
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