[eDebate] Fixing debate

philogelos philogelos
Fri Jul 20 13:11:41 CDT 2007

Everyone has decided it is time to start reversing the slide of policy debate into oblivion. But what is amazing is that, for each person getting in on the planning, the reason new people/programs have a hard time getting into the activity also JUST happens to be their one pet peeve with debate! I'm just surprised no one has tried to crunch numbers showing that most programs leave because rounds start too early in the morning, and there aren't enough donuts and coffee provided. Anyone who thinks that the length or policy-ness of the resolution is anything close to the main reason why numbers are dwindling are deluding themselves! While there are uncontrollable causes (high schools increasingly turning their focus away from anything that isn't easily calculable and weighable by nationwide assessments), the only extent to which CEDA/NDT can change (or delay) its own destiny in this regards is to make some much harder changes regarding the style of debate itself.
Debate has essentially priced itself out of the game; the evolution of argument complexity, research quality, and mystifying delivery to the average person make it exceptionally difficult to seem like an attractive way to spend 90% of one's waking hours.

Even if a mulligan was called in the merger, and CEDA schools (whichever those are; I belonged to a "CEDA" school, but have no idea what side that school might fall on if people were to try and redraw a bright line in a muddied picture) went back to two resolutions per year that weren't hyper-policy-esque and specific and whatnot....you wouldn't see programs magically reappearing (I doubt the downward trend would even halt).

That the merger and resultant changes are not the culprit for the decline in debate is evident from looking at the high school scene, where the VERY same decline is happening (and is fueling the college decline, in large part. Actually both are fueling each other). Due to the understandable increase in argument sophistication, it becomes harder to compete. Every trend in debating arises because it is strategically useful; in such a world, one's sum of available work and assistant coaches play a larger role than it used to. If there isn't a high chance to win, then there is little desire to compete. This is true with every tournament, not just the NDT.

Thus, there just might not be any top-down solutions that can try to change the style of debate so as to be something a non-insider - aka, someone who didn't happen to end up at a CX high school - would *want* to participate in. People are going to debate however they can get the most advantage, and the resulting increase in complexity and sophistication means that only the rarest handful of people will be masochists enough to want to do this. 

The only potential solution (or, perhaps more likely, stopgap measure) would be to ban the reading of evidence in rounds, and yet ensure that judges still give strong weight to specificity of information. When people give facts, they should supply a footnote (maybe after the round or something) that signals where that claim comes from. It would end policy debate's reliance on incomprehensible delivery, and also improve argument quality across the board - if it isn't a position you can't logically argue for on your own terms, you won't be making it. it is a lot easier to pass off absurd positions when you're just reading snippets of cards...one is barely intellectually "responsible" for those arguments in such a case. If there existed anything close to a sense of intellectual responsibility, people would be less interested in Agamben and zany disads and other generally useless positions, and more into delving into the nuances of issues pertinent to the resolution. 

But, I suspect that no one would really take the notion of changing *how* they debate seriously. In the end, the desire to get more people in the activity exists only partially because you think it is an educational and beneficial thing to do....mainly, I think, people just want to feel less pathetic and weird showing up at tournaments with a handful of competitors. Winning those trophies might mean something more if it is over more than 8 other teams. So you'll gripe about how large of a majority it takes for the Executive Committee to pass a measure, or the scope of the resolution, or any number of other irrelevant things. Meanwhile, a slew of people seeing a debate for the first time will wonder what the hell is going on and why the people are doing it. Parli will continue to grow and become more policy like, and soon enough people will have more or less CEDA reborn anyways. 

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