[eDebate] Debating debate

Jason Jarvis debatekorea
Mon Nov 12 00:42:43 CST 2007

The first time I read this post it made me angry...not for the same reasons as Ross, but because it is amazing to me that people in the American policy debate community can be so myopic and self centered that they could arrive at a conclusion that would result in such a debate.

1) Style: The American debate community is the ONLY debate community I have found ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD that allows you to critique the rules inside the activity.  These debates dont happen at any international competition I have ever seen.  I think most of you would be shocked by how authoritarian and unforgiving the rules structures are at non-american competitions be they in europe, asia, australia, etc.  In short your objections to a dominant structure seem silly.  In reality there are very few rules in policy.  However, there are a lot of conventions, but even those seem to change or be flexible.  At a minimum, your community is so liberal that they allow you to debate the rules.  Singing at a debate tournament? Sure its argument, but the fact that "debates" are won or lost this way would be pretty shocking to most people who arent in American policy.  I've also never been quite sure why this helps the educational process, or more importantly, why its a more valuable form of education in comparison to the benefits I personally received by being forced to cut cards.

2) Resources: so what?  Its true budgets are different. . . .and? This seems to me a bit like pointing out that the sky is blue.  Strap in as you find out that debate, in this case, is just a microcosm of the rest of life.  Resource inequality is a fact of life everywhere and in almost everything and refusing to debate wont change it.  

In fact refusing to debate trivializes the activity as a whole and the struggles of debaters globally as it ignores the overall resource inequality between American debate and the near universal lack of resources for debate at most schools outside the US.  Louisville, for example has a budget that debaters in China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Slovenia, etc, etc would drool over.  Am I supposed to believe that this isnt a privilege for them?  Most international debate societies are student run, and very few have strong functioning budgets that support any travel at all, much less even one coach.  Most of the debaters I meet from other countries, particularly in Asia pay their own way to tournaments, or they dont go at all.  

A change in your own goals for what you plan to get from debate seems a lot more useful than your critique.  Do you want education? new and interesting friends? or trophies?  I'd suggest that an overt focus on the last one will likely be the least valuable thing you can achieve.  I'd also point to the success of MANY debaters from smaller programs that success is possible.

I guess what irritates me is that (at least from your post) it seems that you are unaware of the privilege you have.  To even be able to participate in debate is a privilege (how many North Korean, Burmese, Saudi, etc citizens would like the opportunity to freely exchange ideas in an intellectual format with other citizens?).  To be able to debate in your native language is a privilege.  To go to a tournament with professional/grad student judges is a privilege (with tremendous educational benefits that most non-American debaters never experience).  To have a tournament with professional hosts (like the Shirley) is a privilege.  To get any funding at all from your school is a privilege.  

Debate tournaments are educational experiments that bring tremendous benefits:
critical thinking, public speaking, teamwork, new social networks.

So what if the structures are ones you don't like? Every game has rules, and the benefits of debate FAR outweigh whatever forms of social oppression are replicated within the activity.   If you can't find value in an activity that is the shining social example of free speech then maybe you have missed the whole point.


Jason L. Jarvis

Assistant Dean and Lecturer,

Korea Development Institute Graduate School of Public Policy and Management


> Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2007 13:09:40 -0500
> From: brian.huot at gmail.com
> To: edebate at ndtceda.com
> Subject: [eDebate] Debating debate
> In round 6 of the Shirley Classic at Wake Forest, Leon and Phil from
> Illinois and Brian and Rosie from Louisville, as well as Beth Skinner
> from Towson reached an agreement not to participate and legitimize the
> dominant structures of debate. Both teams and the judge agreed to
> either a double win or double loss ? that neither team deserved to
> solely lose because of the fundamental inequalities in today's debate
> community.  The tab room at Wake Forest was understanding of our
> concerns and responded with a positive attitude.  However, they were
> obligated to decide the round for pairing reasons and did so with a
> coin flip.
> Among the inequalities:
> ?	Stylistic marginalization:  This community is accepting of judges'
> ability to vote against dropped arguments presented in a traditional
> style ? usually with cards only, while ignoring when the stylistic
> majority drops arguments presented in the non-traditional manner.
> Sometimes this is intentional, sometimes it's not ? judges often don't
> feel that they know how to evaluate those drops. We must find ways to
> evaluate these differences equally, beyond the acknowledgement of a
> speaker's singing skill, ignoring the argument within.
> ?	Financial inequalities:  This community privileges the larger, more
> expensive tournaments. The institutions with more money are then able
> to compete more at these tournaments, and gain the prestige that comes
> with hosting these tournaments. We find also that there is often a
> direct correlation between available finances and team success ? such
> as Northwestern and Wake Forest, among others.  This creates an
> educational disparity at the point where these teams are able to hire
> more coaches and assistants to cut cards ? debaters are functionally
> turned into machines.  In addition, the debate experience at these
> places is much different than one found at a smaller or less
> prestigious debate program, who have to deal with tenuous budgets and
> lack of resources ? affecting the feelings of comfort and security.
> These are clearly not all of the inequalities within this debate
> community. However, we believe that these, along with other
> inequalities, highlight the necessity for change and a global
> harassment policy.
> We send this e-mail as an attempt to garner the support, feedback, and
> criticism of the entirety of this community. We stress, though, that
> this criticism must not extend to collective punishment of coaches,
> debaters, and/or affiliates of our respective schools. We all accept
> personal responsibility for this choice.
> Brian Huot
> Rosie Washington
> Beth Skinner
> Phil Hoffman
> Leon Eydelman
> _______________________________________________
> eDebate mailing list
> eDebate at www.ndtceda.com
> http://www.ndtceda.com/mailman/listinfo/edebate

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