[eDebate] The Best of Both Worlds - Ans Elliott/Korcok

Ede Warner ewarner
Fri Jul 20 15:39:39 CDT 2007

Scott, Mike, and anybody with some, no, a lot of time on their hands,
The skinny:  I believe that there is value for my students participation in the NDT.  I believe that there is value for my students participation in CEDA.  I believe neither organization is fully achieving their current mission or purpose so  I choose to advocate solutions in the best interest of both organizations so that my students can have the best policy debate experience possible.  If someone sees no value in one organization or the other, they would likely believe in separation.  But I do, so I push for a world that allows me, my students, and my institution the best of both worlds.
Participation in the NDT
The single goal of the NDT is to find the best intercollegiate policy debater in America.  I was born and raised in the NDT.  I gained benefits of not only that training but participation with NDT schools that I believe are valuable for my students to have.  I have also criticized the NDT for problems I see in their training and their methods of participation, which in my opinion, prevent the NDT from achieving it's goal of determining the best intercollegiate policy debater.  The fact that their mission is to determine the best intercollegiate policy debater in the country, doesn't mean they are achieving their mission.  The fact that others believe that the NDT achieves that goal doesn't sway my belief that they do not.  And just because I believe it is to the benefit of myself, my students, and my institution to stay connected to the NDT doesn't mean that my proposal sells-out to the organization.  Instead I choose to engage the organization in an effort to fix the problems because I believe doing so has important benefits for me, my students, and my institution.  What are those benefits?
For me, I like the many of the people that I met through NDT debate. My friendships with Jon Bruschke, Ross Smith, Melissa Wade, Gordon Stables, George Ziegelmueller, Dallas Perkins, Sherry Hall, Ken Strange, Mike Klinger, Karla Leeper, John Katsulas, william shannahan, Ed Panetta, Mike Hester, and a host of others occurred while I was in the NDT.  I believe they are good, smart people who contribute to my life in positive, productive ways.  Second, I believe in the importance of having the goal of being the best.  I, as a Black male, teach students to challenge stereotypes of inferiority, so participating with a group of people that make it their goal to be the best is both educational for me, as well as worthwhile.  Finally, I appreciate the competitive challenges of the NDT. The experience of our 2004 run was one that I will never forget.  I just finished the chapter of my book about my life on my time at Wayne State and reflecting on what George has accomplished and the significance of Wayne's accomplishments while I was there amazes me.  An academically average urban public school finding a way to put two teams in the octas in 1991, one team in the quarters in 1992, a semi's and octas in 1993; and two more quarterfinals in 1994 and octas in 1995 is one of the most amazing runs in the history of debate.  How much my time at Wayne State prepared me for Louisville, I could never have known.  What I learned from George about learning to balance the evolution of a changing activity but yet fighting to preserve things you find educationally valuable from the past is priceless!  So for me, I have and will always have a lot of loyalty to the NDT.
For my students, the opportunity compete against a population of students from a different world is valuable.  The opportunity for Louisville students to see how students from Dartmouth, Harvard, and Northwestern see and engage in debate is a valuable one that they learn from.  The opportunity to engage these students in dialogues about a topic from truly different perspectives is valuable.  Winning against these programs is valuable for our students as well as those from the opposition.  The 17 students and coaches that went to Washington for the 2004 NDT received a life changing experience from the NDT.  Learning how to lose against this population of students is important for our students as well.
As an institution, it is important for my school to see participation and wins against those NDT programs, several of whom are the history of debate in America.  As an institution, my school values those debates and the educational opportunities it gives our students.  Our institution can't say that it often is academically competitive with those schools very often so it has public relations value for them.  Our program uniquely is a diversity initiative for the school, so debating in the NDT becomes part of our rationale for expending the level of resources we do.
Now that said, do these benefits require continued participation with the NDT?  Of course not.  But there is enough there for me to fight for continued participation. My job as director is to try to put my students in the best possible situation regarding their involvement in the NDT.  Sometimes that requires challenging the practices of the organization, sometimes that requires sitting in a room until the wee hours of the morning with Ross and Shakira asking for their perspectives on my program, sometimes that means not attending a tournament or not debating the topic as a means of protest for a problem I see.
CEDA's mission lines up perfectly with what we embrace at Louisville.  However, if the organization has moved towards just being like the NDT, then we don't get the unique benefits that a CEDA which embraces it's mission could provide.  Nothing I'm proposing would make CEDA more NDT-lite than it has already become.  CEDA became NDT-lite when it's members abandoned it's roots to become more like the NDT, which in fact as I understand it, started long before the actual merger.  It likely started before the abandonment of non-value resolutions and the ending of 2 topics per year.  Instead of supporting the movements by Scott and Mike of moving "back" to strategies that have failed once already, I attempt to understand why those failed and offer solutions that move us forward.
I believe they failed because an overwhelming majority of the debate minds in this country believe policy debate offers some intellectual rigor that can't be duplicated in other activities.  I believe that the benefits provided by other alternatives like non-policy resolutions, can be found in other forensic activities, but that most who believe in hard core debate, believe in some version of policy debate.  Does that mean they all believe in the NDT's version?  No, but history keeps repeating itself and we must notice that in organization after organization, no matter what they try, these groups seem to gravitate back to the same spot, something that looks like the NDT practices.  Starting in the sixties, CEDA's split ended back at NDT practices, and rumors seem to suggest that parli has started their regression as well.  Why do we keep ending at the same place?
Probably two reasons.  First, because the practices embraced by the NDT are superior in one way: they are a superior way to compete in any form of debate.  They gain the largest competitive advantages when embraced in debate.  Since the one common denominator in all of these debate organizations is competition,  I suspect the human nature of those trying to compete repeatedly drives the activity back to the same spot over and over again.  Second, we haven't developed a real alternative to this model of policy debate. So a cycle repeats: organizations split over differences in stylistic and competitive practices, but soon the new organization begins to replicate those practices until they reach a new breaking point and split again.  So how do we break the cycle?
Two things seem relevant.  We need to create an organization that balances or regulates the competitive urges of human nature by prioritizing other educational objectives over competition.  For me, the CEDA mission statement in theory does this, but the pragmatic decisions made by the organization doesn't.  We also need to acknowledge the educator preference for policy debate and embrace it.  Finally, we need to development of a new body of theory that challenges the NDT.  Why?  Because the current theories are monocultural in nature.  
What does that mean?  The current theoretical body of work stems from a time when policy debate was an extremely homogenous activity and that homogeneity got replicated in how the game was too be played.  The growth of specialized, technical debate occurred in the 1960s.  That homogeneity produced a very rigid set of norms and were driven almost purely from competitive urges within a homogenous group.  Did that produce the best form of debate?  No.  Did it produce the most competitive form?  Yes.  
Although, the activity is no longer homogenous, debate forces more homogeneity as the solution to the competitive problems that growing diversity presents for standards grounded in homogeneity.  For me, the best form of debate can't exist in a world that pushes homogeneity as the answer to more diversity.  We don't want different things because we can't prepare to compete with them, so we will legislate them out.  The problem is that you begin to legislate out the educational, motivational and information value of the game as well, especially to participants who embrace diverse approaches.  That becomes the point:  to force those desiring to be different to assimilate or leave.  And therein lies the problem.
More narrow topics, more judge preference are all attempts to preserve homogeneity and we have learned that those attempts fail.  But it's bigger than that as the notions of how to speak in the first affirmative, how the terms we use become absolutes to define "good" debate begin to ignore what is really being said is that these things are needed for the most "competitive" debate, not the most educational debate, nor the most interesting debate, nor the most informative debate.  Counter plans, plans, topicality, advantages, permutations, kritiks, have all become code for good when they really are code for preserving competitive equity.
So I think the theory has to be rebuilt from the ground up and that will take time.  I think currently that the only way to do so is to create something different and give it an opportunity to develop.  A CEDA leadership committed to building the field of dreams, and nurturing and protecting it while it develops, has the possibility of transforming the whole game.
Other Proposed Political Strategies
You are right Scott, one way of doing so is to just cut and run.  I am certainly a guy that has advocated for a little segregation in my life.  However, to segregate now has several problems.
Unsure what it will look like.  The fact that the CEDA membership has fallen into the competitive practices of the NDT means that separation likely will produce similar outcomes.  For example, I don't that you and Korcok's proposals could win right now, even with all traditionally CEDA representation on the executive committee.  Additionally, I'm not sure why it wouldn't evolve in the same way as it did when these things were tried before.
Too weak to separate.  Today's topic vote of 73 schools is the smallest number since the late 1990's.  I've attached the numbers of schools voting for the general area, the topic and the membership numbers from the last decade or so.  The numbers are showing slow but consistent deterioration.  If a split happened today, one of two worlds would occur:  a large number, more than 50 schools go to NDT and CEDA dies immediately.  An extremely small number of schools, those ten schools getting the bids and in late elim's go, leaving CEDA with 60 or so schools.  Either way, splitting is a huge step backwards for both.  The 10 NDT schools have the potential to keep debating, at what would functionally be a round round season for them, however, regionalization would immediately become even tougher for those 60 schools.  Could it work? Perhaps, but is it in CEDA's best interest to slash it's membership right now, I don't think so.
Nothing to run to.  Because the new model of policy debate in a diverse society has yet to be created, it requires that folks from diverse perspectives participate.  
We need the NDT perspectives on debate.  The NDT folks are an important part of figuring this out.  The are part of the diversity.  The goal is to take the good stuff and meld it into something better.  That process will be difficult the product is always better than the alternative.
How to Create A Different Organization
It's got to be incremental and within the comfort zone of the current CEDA membership.  Right now, the membership believes that the practices of the NDT are the best, if not the only way to conceptualize policy debate.  Any new policy has to acknowledge this and move in a way that allows them space to grow and develop.
Leadership says to it's membership that we won't affect your present interest in NDT participation, in fact, we will facilitate that option if you so choose, consistent with our mission of supporting other debate organizations.  But what we will do is create an alternative to the NDT based in part on the historical models of the past.  Controlled cross-pollination is great and needed.  If the CEDA's model grows and works and NDT folks come over, the pollination occurs on a different playing field than it currently happens, which is a better test than what we currently have.  Diverse perspectives are always evaluated in the NDT house currently since the NDT house runs CEDA and the NDT in terms of debate theory.  
What will make CEDA different from NDT?  The leadership's job is to protect the big-tent ideology as much as possible.  How does it do this?  Two primary venues: the topic process and the tournament sanctioning process?  CEDA can also ensure that the topic is different than the NDT, that becomes one difference.  A second difference is only sanctioning tournaments that use the CEDA topic.  This creates a different debate experience than the one that NDT embraces.  I believe that change will come from difference.  CEDA could also decide to creaet differnence regarding other tournament practices.  They might announce that they will only sanction 3 tournaments with preference judging or give double CEDA points to a tournament that doesn't use preference to encourage more difference.
How does this change the perception of NDT superiority which drives these excesses? This evolves in the same way NDT took over CEDA, slowly.  Maybe the first year, there are few CEDA sanctioned tournaments with a limited number of teams attending them.  The flexibility of the system allows the seed to be planted.  Over time, schools who need competitive success or can't afford to travel start hosting regional CEDA tournaments.  At the same time, some schools, get sufficiently frustrated that enough of their debaters aren't getting elim debates at the 10 or so NDT national tournaments where elims are dominated by 10 or so schools.  So 10 schools get together and start creating a national CEDA tournament schedule.  Other schools want more affirmative flexibility so they create CEDA tournaments.  Other schools want points championships and knowing that CEDA has less members, they see an all CEDA schedule as a way to win the points championships.  Other schools see that the broad topic doesn't explode and there are plenty of teams winning with generic arguments, so they start going to CEDA tournaments during the season.  Different reasons will produce different motivations for new and innovative decisions regarding participation, as well as in-round practices.
What will all this produce?  I don't know, but it produces something different and I guess that is the point.  It certainly seems like the point of the mission statement.  CEDA leadership fights to protect difference but also fights to save the most fundamental aspects of debate to a majority of the members, past and present, which seem to be: 1) policy debate good; 2) many NDT competitive urges are excessive and exclusive; 3) diversity in education is good.  So our new playing field tries to preserve policy debate, provide incentives to reduce competitive excess; and tries to promote diversity in the debates.  Whatever is produced, I think it will look a lot more like our educational system (hopefully better) and a lot more representative of our multi-cultural society. 
It is my personal belief that as long as the NDT lacks diversity, the value of their policy training is substantially weakened.  I also believe that if CEDA can operationalize their mission statement in a real way, it will create a product that will be quickly received in society as the best debate.  But it requires a commitment to be different from the NDT and on that I think we agree.
I believe in dualism and using the master's tools.  The fact that my compromise is a compromise doesn't mean that it is a sell-out.  I can simultaneously believe in a productive vision of the NDT for all of us while understanding the current problematic nature of those practices.  I would hope you would see me as uniquely qualified to understand that challenge given my track record on challenging NDT practices.  But maybe not.
I sincerely believe that if this is executed correctly, in 10 years we will be discussing the death of NDT in a positive way because CEDA practices have become entrenched in their organization.  Why?  Because an organization that supports policy making in a multi-cultural society will win in the end against an organization that can't move beyond making policy in a mono-cultural one, which is where I believe the NDT is terminally stuck.  I see CSTV coming to CEDA instead of the NDT.  I see adminstrators bringing institutions back to CEDA because it espouses a diverse approach to policy debate.  If we build a policy debate activity that doesn't allow its norms and procedures to gut the educational and interest value in lieu of competition, we can transform the game.
Your bandstand example Scott.  I see it like this.  Some Blacks will decide to go to Bandstand on Thursday nights.  I can choose to criticize that or not.  BBut other Blacks responded by creating Soul Train, which is want I think you are offering.  The problem is that neither will last because they both are too limiting.  MTV on the other, created the best of both worlds and allowed for you to watch Yo! MTV raps or I can't remember the name of the hard rock show, both on the same channel.  MTV functionally killed both Bandstand and Soul Train (soul train lasted a while but lost street credibilty and ability to get good performers).  People are going to go to American Bandstand until they see something different or better. So CEDA trying to stop it's members from engaging in NDT practices won't be effective.  But if CEDA can create something that the members see as superior, then they will move.  My proposal is definitely an attempt to build MTV and not Thursdays at the Bandstand, you got no warrant for that claim. I'm not sure why moving backwards to failed policies of the past isn't more like Thursday nights at the Bandstand.
Now perhaps you would argue that broad topics failed too.  And perhaps by them self they are insufficient.  But their popularity justifies starting there.  And if leadership makes a commitment to a big-tent policy debate philosophy, the possibility of finding better ways to participate and evaluate debates are just around the corner.  But the space must be protected by CEDA leadership for that to occur.  And a big topic is the starting point for providing the space for innovation to thrive.
I believe in the best of both worlds.  A vision of the NDT that really produces the best team in the country, but the country that we live in today, not the country that represents debate in the 1960's.  I also believe that if CEDA is willing to nurture and support a diversity driven alternative form of policy debate, the participation numbers will turn around in a hurry.  This can be sold to those who left and addresses many of the concerns held by those doing parlia but really wanting to be doing policy.  <This is not an endorsement of R Kelly or dating 13 year olds if you are 35>.
I want a stipend from CEDA leadership and a protection order from my wife,
Ede "Big-tent" Warner
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