[eDebate] An open Letter to Dr Warner

LACC Forensics forensics
Sun May 27 19:22:02 CDT 2007

While I too am eager to hear Ede's suggestions for how to approach this
issue, I am also curious about how Andy thinks this problem can and/or
should be addressed. In fact, I am interested in suggestions from anyone in
our community who agrees that this is a significant problem in our activity.

For years, I have been banging my head against the proverbial brick wall of
the debate community trying to find a way to break down the barriers to
participation that clearly exist. But it seems that no matter which way I
turn, there is a significant portion of the debate community that stands
against me. 

I too am disgusted that once again, a topic that contained so much promise
for education as well as inclusion, was derailed by competitive practice.
Now, let me say upfront, that I largely disagree with Andy as to the reasons
this failure occurred. I do not accept for one moment that the structure of
the debate activity has anything to do with the missed opportunity of this
year's resolution. I do agree, however, with his argument that the topic was
colonized. However, I do not think it was colonized by the US legal system.
I think it was colonized by the overwhelming desire to win that drives
current debate practice.

This is where I get rebuffed on both sides. I receive public support from
those who, like me, support the structure of debate when I disagree with
people like Andy and Ede who support rejection of the structure of our
activity. But, I get attacked by those same people when I dare to say that
the problem lies in the ethics of those who participate in the activity.

I recently had a terrible experience at the Novice/JV national tournament at
WVU - not because of WVU, whose hosting was wonderful - but because of the
incorrect assumptions about my judging philosophy that I believe are caused
by the current polarization of our activity. As usual, I was not highly
preferred by those schools who identify as critical/performance in their
strategic approach to debate. I was, however, highly preferred by schools
who identify as "straight-up policy". The problem is that my definition of
"straight-up policy" is more theoretical than practical. I DO NOT think that
a negative strategy consisting of a 99% PIC with a politics net benefit is
straight-up policy. It is just another example of bad debate perpetuated by
bad coaching.  The current polarized distinction between policy and critical
debate is ridiculous and is simply making the quality of debates worse as
each year and topic passes.

We honestly have become no better than the archetypal definitions of
republicans and democrats within the larger society. The
critical/performance approach in debate has been co-opted by
programs/debaters who don't really care about social issues but simply want
to win and are going with what will enable them to do so. My debaters were
told repeatedly this year that they should switch to a performance strategy
because they would be more likely to win. By the end of the season the only
message they received from the debate community (specifically judges) was
that they (as racial minorities in the activity) are only likely to win if
they take the performance approach and abandon straight-up policy. I find it
interesting that the performance/policy dichotomy has reached such a point
of polarization that the only way to be black and win in debate is to adopt
a performance strategy.

I think it's time to reflect on our efforts at inclusion in recent years and
recognize that the experiment has largely failed. While certainly some teams
have found competitive success by trying to buck the system, it has
apparently created a new racial divide - one in which you are expected to
debate a certain way if you want to win and happen to belong to a
marginalized group within society based on the color of your skin. Now, I
know this was not Ede or Andy or Jon or anyone else's intent when the
performance turn began in our activity. But it is the result.

So, my question is, what do we do now? How do we achieve true inclusion in
the activity without pigeon-holing students and telling them that they must
debate a certain way to win if they belong to a certain demographic? 

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