[eDebate] FW: Debating debate

Jason Jarvis debatekorea
Tue Nov 13 02:26:27 CST 2007

I meant for this reply to go to both Ede and the list.  

This is a bit long, but I support Ede's goals in principle and thought it was worth the time.  To answer Kev, keep struggling against the empire, let me know when you have practical solutions. . . a double loss wont change resource inequality or much else (imho).  Makings societies more egalitarian is a brilliant goal....ironically one that the process of debate creates because it opens space for critical thinking and dialogue.  Only in an ivory tower does your response make sense....which appears to be the place from which you are standing.  

On to Ede's dialogue:

Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2007 20:05:13 -0500
From: ewarner at louisville.edu
To: brian.huot at gmail.com; debatekorea at hotmail.com; edebate at ndtceda.com
Subject: Re: [eDebate] Debating debate

I'm just wondering.  How many of the international education systems you speak of are products of a legacy of slavery and segregation?  The style of debate that currently exists was produced without Black debaters, Black coaches, or anyone with lesser privilege.  


In all honesty, I think that all of them came from similar sources....perhaps its a question of where debate actually comes from, and I am not enough of a historian to truly answer that question.  Some have suggested that China was the source of the first debates that took place in Buddhist monastaries (ask Tuna about this).  It appears to me that debate competitions all have their roots in Western society.  This would suggest that your critique would be applicable in some form to all formats.  What I do know is that Worlds (which will be in Bangkok next month) uses the "British Parliamentary" format....taken from the folks who taught Americans how to be imperialists.  The format used in Asia and Australia is similar to US parli with a 3rd person....and more importantly all of these tournaments take place in English, which inherently privileges native speakers, with "approved" Native speaker accents (IE: British, Irish, Kiwi, Aussie, North American: as opposed to other dialects of English such as African continent English accents, Singaporean English and Indian subcontinent English).  

>I will say that anyone who goes to Worlds will see rather quickly that it is largely the "Commonwealth Games."  Linguistic privilege is RAMPANT, and it is my perception that when there is a Euro/Aussie/American judge in the back of the room, non-white or non-Commonwealth/non-native English speaking students have a very low chance of doing well.  This is based on my experiences as a judge and also by looking at results:  there has only been one Asian team to ever make it to the finals of Worlds (where they lost).  I could continue to add examples about Worlds, as I have largely given up on this tournament, but I think this paints the picture enough.

>I really didn't/don't mean to suggest that debate anywhere is perfect.  It isn't, and efforts to expand the diversity of debate in any country and format are to be lauded (this is exactly what we have been attempting to do here in Korea). 

>Nonetheless, I see students utilizing these formats, learning from them and changing their own societies for the better.  I have a Kurdish student at my school who has gotten jazzed about debate.  He has attended 3 tournaments now and feels that he may be able to help his country by introducing debate to Kurdistan.  He feels excited by the idea that there is a way to teach folks the value of free speech and critical thinking through this game, regardless of how it was created.  I guess I am unpersuaded that the origin of the rules means that the students dont gain valuable knowledge through the process.  The key question is how you harness what you learn and what you do with that knowledge.

Given that legacy of unjust enrichment which created the contemporary style, why do I, my students, or anyone else, lay equal claim to challenge how the current style was created?  

>I dont think that the rules of the game require a particular style.  Style is convention but it isnt a rule. It strikes me that this is the beauty of the American policy game in particular.  International tournaments actually require judges to provide scores for "style" which for many judges means English fluency (see above).

And since debate empowers students to debate the rules, why would the governing organizations not be the right place?  Are you saying that students shouldn't debate any rules like topicality or counterplan theory, or just the ones you disagree with?

>Debate the rules, but what project does a double loss serve?  My point is that you have the luxury to debate those rules (thats a privilege).  More importantly,  my gut reaction is that an over-emphasis on the "evils" of American policy debate as a community seem to obscure the fact that EVEN IF the critique itself is true then so what?  Do we conclude that there are no valuable benefits to learning to operate within those structures?  It strikes me that most of what is objected to here is not "dominant structures" but just the attitudes of other people.  Undoubtedly there is racism, sexism, etc in American policy debate.  Is this actually worse than what exists in society generally, or is this just a mirror of the struggles that face minorities generally? If its a mirror image, then what?  a double loss empowers the students who want to make change?  I believe that learning to operate within those constraints (and manipulate them as many of your own teams have done) is probably more likely to create change in the long run (and there are other options, below).  
>I think the debate community is composed of citizens who are just as flawed inside the community as the normal folks that dont participate in it.  I would even suggest that the debate community is a little better...at least its a community that is based on the premise that asking questions is a good thing for individuals and democracies as a whole.

As far as what's educational, is it likely that folks get different things out of debate, which makes "education" relative?  Or should all students get the exact same benefits from debate?

>I think that people ultimately get what they want out of debate...it would be impossible to dictate what people learn (but I do think that education is a benefit for almost everyone who participates for even a tournament or two).  

>However, there is a tremendous amount of privilege for all participants in American policy debate.  I think that the source of my frustration is that it appears folks have forgotten or perhaps are unaware of their own privilege, and that the project being offered here seems to discount the educational and social privilege that American citizens have generally, and that participants in the American policy community have uniquely.  I am also skeptical that the result of the double loss will really be to change policy debate....if so that would probably have already happened.  Policy debate will change when society itself changes, or when participants like your students grow up, become coaches and make their own changes (not unlike you Ede). 

> Here's a question that I have been wondering about quite a lot...why haven't HBCU's or women's universities, etc started their own debate community?  I don't ask this to suggest that people should "love it or leave it" but to raise the prospect that there are other alternatives.  For example, the Austral-Asian tournament has an affirmative action rule on entries: a certain percentage of team members/judges must be female to enter the tournament.  They hold a women's forum during the tournament to address the issue of gender inequality directly (I think that this forum is open to many of the critiques of feminists in developing nations, but that is a different story and one that may change since the new Women's officer is Singaporean).  

>Australian and Bangladeshi students have developed a Women's Only tournament in their countries (http://www.awdc2007.com/  and http://debatebangladesh.tripod.com/).  There is also a Women's Intervarsity tournament in Malaysia...hardly a bastion of free speech or democracy, or a particularly progressive society for women's rights.  I don't know if these efforts are the answer, but inevitably it creates space for growth, and the tournaments raise awareness just by existing.  Honestly, if students in Bangladesh or Malaysia can put that type of tournament together in a Muslim country where women have not so much stature in society, why not the US?  With everything Louisville has done, I am surprised that some form of tournament for minorities in debate hasn't been hosted by you all or another school (charges of reverse-racism from reactionaries be damned).

> At the end, I think that the process of debate will create change, but a ballot is probably not the answer.  Build new structures, represent alternate styles, but dont lose sight of the tremendous benefits within the structure that exists.  Debate in all its forms is a good thing (even parli).  Use it and make the world better for it.  Good luck!

regards from a lurker,


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