[eDebate] ans Elliott

Beth Skinner beth.skinner
Fri Jul 13 16:48:50 CDT 2007

An important part of the dynamic between high school and college deserves
further attention.  If your college program wants to get successful high
school debaters then recruiting them from existing successful high school
programs is one way to do it.  In Towson's case, and I believe this is
likely true for a good number of other colleges, these already successful
debaters weren't interested in attending our school.  It's didn't have name
recognition, wasn't seen as a 'good school' (though like many colleges there
are excellent programs within the university) and so high school students
from the existing CFL programs around Baltimore (reasonably) decided to go
elsewhere.  For a period of time, our program tried to recruit good high
school and community college graduates from elsewhere as a way of building
the team.  That wasn't an ideal solution because these folks often had to
pay out of state tuition rates and just getting out to talk to them was
something we didn't have a lot of resources for.

We couldn't attract already local successful debaters and we couldn't import
talent so we focused on growing high school programs in the city where they
didn't exist.  Chris Baron and Ken Broda-Bahm wrote a proposal to start the
Baltimore Urban Debate League.  That was 10 years ago.  Now there are dozens
of high school and middle school debate programs in Baltimore; hundreds of
kids debate at tournaments, thousands participate in the league over the
course of a year.  Debate is one of the big success stories that the
Baltimore school system talks about in its public relations - they are
invested in its continuation and success.  All of this wasn't easy and I'm
not saying the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps is the only way to meet
the challenges folks have been identifying in this thread.  We were
privileged to be located near a huge pool of incredibly smart, funny and
good people who were hungry for opportunities like debate.  Growing your own
team takes a ton of energy and resources whether its based on getting folks
in novice frosh from public speaking courses to try debate or getting more
experienced debaters into your program.  I'm not trying to undercut anyone's
choices about how to deal with these challenges.

Some BUDL grads go on to debate at Towson but that's not the only measure of
success from my perspective.  Some have competed for Georgia State, Whitman,
Pitt, Michigan State, Texas, Louisville, etc.  Some have gone to colleges
with debate programs but decided not to debate.  Lots more of them go to
local and regional colleges where they don't currently have debate programs
(hence the Baltimore College Debate project www.baltimorecollegedebate.org).
I think that a good measure of success is do you have a lot of people doing
good debate.  The topics we choose are an important part of recruiting and
retaining people but to paraphrase our friend Philogelos debate (at
tournaments) is not (the only form of) activism.  So, come out to the
Baltimore College Debate Coop August 6-10 or better yet, start your own.
Just don't think of the pool of good debaters out there as some zero-sum

Beth Skinner
Towson Debate

On 7/13/07, Michael Korcok <mmk_savant at hotmail.com> wrote:
> 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 debater
> population..."
> 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
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