[eDebate] [CEDA-L] The costs of a game, part 1: An unethical, amoral center

Josh jbhdb8
Fri Nov 16 10:25:21 CST 2007


Dr. Warner says:

Ah, back to old times.  Hi, my friend.

JBH Says:

I tried to limit the discussion in this instance to a very specific
statement and tried to make a bit different set of arguments...But yes, here
we are again...I guess discussing these things with you is very interesting,
educational, and meaningful to me....I also, obviously, like to try to find
middle ground between my belief in many of the structures of contemporary
debate as a meaningful academic tool for teaching students about the larger
world - and your belief that those structures have to change drastically or
preclude meaningful inclusion.

Dr. Warner says:

  Let's talk about experts pushing experts with stronger arguments for a
second.  Don't disagree at all.  Believe that the policy wonk who can push
another wonk, but can't relate to other fields or the public, is both
dangerous and ineffective.  I had a class in mortuary school from a chemist
who wasn't a teacher.  He needed a broader debate training beyond speaking
to other chemists.  Debate overly insulates students to one type of judging
and just like the chemist, that insularity is problematic.
JBH says:

There are two ways I want to address this:

1) The topic creates a meaningful insularity - if you spend a good deal of
your summer reading every single article that has been written on a
particular subject and discuss your conclusions with other people who have
done the same thing you have a pretty meaningful "think tank" discussion
between three groups (judge, debate team, debate team) and those elements
can PUSH and refine the meaningful public policy making process around these
ideas.  This discussion can bleed meaningfully into actual public policy
discussions.  For instance, I have had multiple long discussions with real
life policy making advocates on Afghanistan...In my experience, this level
of meaningful research and discussion with other educated folks makes for
really great ideas and discussion even with the most expert (I could give
tons of examples of relationships that have developed between myself and
policy experts on different topics - if thats true for me it has to be 100X
more true for debaters who do most of the work).

How this applies to the debate round is pretty obvious - two public policy
experts on a similar debate topic push each other and a judge who is also
knowledgeable in that subject pushes both teams to refine and make the
arguments better.  A lay critic cannot serve this function.

However, I agree that debaters should be exposed to MORE audiences and the
best debaters can debate in front of a wide variety of audiences. I
certainly have some suggestions for how this could/might happen but there is
a trade-off between the goal of not becoming too insular and the goal of not
becoming too insular.

In addition, there is a disadvantage, the true lay critic in the USA today
is horrifically poorly informed on issues of public policy and a majority is
reactionary enough to have felt that using gay marraige as a presidential
referendum issue was a reason to vote for George W. Bush.  I dont have much
faith in the general public's opinions.  Yes, we have to make our arguments
persuasive to exactly this group if we want to get "elected" as
politicians...But lets be honest, most public policy change at the
governmental level happens in administrative agencies or in think
tanks....The people that need to be persuaded are often politicians and
aides not the general public.  On issues of foreign policy its even more
important to refine and consider all the issues in a workshop environment.

There is another disadvantage which we have discussed a bit before.  Just as
my debaters dont learn enough about privledge and race I worry that your
debaters dont get much academic benefit from the actual topics we debate.
Is there a way for us to not exclude your debaters through style or content,
discuss and plan for meaningful diversity (race, sex, gender, orientation
etc), and still get the benefits of topic based education?  I mean this as
an honest question.  It is valuable for us to learn about the privledge we
take for granted.  It is important for us to include/welcome/debate your
students in ways that dont exclude them from competition.  It is also
important for your students to PUSH and be PUSHED by our students and the
communities judges on the topic.  Some of your debaters could be the
critical experts that end up fixing the massive problems our country faces
not just in terms of race but also in terms of foreign policy, legal reform,
or whatever.

I mean this with all due respect.  I mean this as someone who often agreed
with the statement that if we could not justify why we had made a diversity
difference (a claim your teams made) and couldnt prove it (a claim your
teams made) we shouldnt be able to beat your teams (it was a
prerequisite).....Although we had to start thinking very differently about
why we did what we did that was valuable for us in becoming a more serious
and involved debate team.  Obviously, Michigan debate has a long way to go,
but I can say that just this week I have had two fundraising discussions
based around meaningful diversity recruitment at Michigan and for Michigan
debate.  I have been shut out 100 times but keep on trying to find new
avenues within and outside of the University to accepting a call you sent
out for us as directors to work on being more meaningfully diverse.  I
understand you care only about results...So hold back but I am committed to
this...You will see it if it kills me.  Although, obviously, my diversity
interests are less purely race-focussed.

2) Judges are NOT monolithic - there is a huge difference between critics,
listening speeds, feelings about what constitutes meaningful education, if
debate is a game or not etc.  MPJ allows a team to make a pool more
monolithic...but that benefits your team and other critical teams as much as
it does my team.  I am not sure the diversity in the pool is as narrow as
you suggest.  Of course I am willing to defer to you on this as its
something you have studied for different reasons than I have.

A larger point is that almost all debate professionals (coaches/directors)
teach..and teach people who dont have an ear for fast speaking
communication.  In addition, the speak and present at conferences and write
papers etc.  All of this despite being former fast talking debaters.  We are
mostly all capable of both debate-style insular communication AND normal
persuasive rhetoric in front of lay audiences.  I think this belies both the
insularity of styles and also the inability of us to walk and chew gum.

Dr. Warner says:

>  As far as "taking it to the streets", I've never believed that debaters
> talking to untrained people is the only educational experience.  I believe a
> student should have debates in front of a diverse audience, including but
> not limited to: debate experts, experts on the topic not trained in debate,
> and groups with a personal interest or connection to the topic, like special
> interest groups, as well as lay judge's.  Preparing for the real world,
> means a debate career should have all those experiences, and I will defend
> that if competition is good, and I believe it is, it's good in all of those
> environments. That's a well rounded debate education.

JBH says:

I agree with this with the above caveats...so almost 100%

Dr. Warner says:

>  All of this is a diversion from my point, simply to say that when we lost
> the debates in front of lay judges, the community, in particular Ross and
> others, were publicly willing to hyposthesize that trained, fast policy
> debaters should beat less trained students, like mine.  However, when his
> hypothesis was disproven as Louisville consistently defeated the trained
> teams, there was no concession that it failed.  In fact, the smart, logical
> outcome should have been that the rest of the community continued to say
> yes, and they learned to improve their speaking skills to match
> Louisville's.  Instead, the lay judges were criticized as inferior, and
> justifications were made that the ability to win justified the choice of the
> community to stop having the debates.  Unethical and poor educational choice
> for the best interest of the non-Louisville debate community students in the
> name of "winning".

JBH says:

I started with the caveat that we didnt have any debates that I remember
with the lay critics...we didnt have a strong idea of strategy on this one
and I dont really necessarily disagree.

Hope all goes well,


> >>>
>   *From: * Josh <jbhdb8 at gmail.com> *To:* "Ede Warner" <
> e0warn01 at gwise.louisville.edu> *CC:* <CEDA-L at ndtceda.com>, <
> edebate at ndtceda.com> *Date: * 11/15/2007 5:55 PM *Subject: * Re: [CEDA-L]
> The costs of a game, part 1: An unethical, amoral center
>  Hello,
> I only have a small comment to one part of this email.  On the whole, I
> agree with much of the idea that it is more valuable to look at debate as an
> important academic exercise then just as a game.
> Dr. Warner says:
> "Or the suggestion that we'll "take you to the streets" because our
> students trained in fast rigorous policy debate are superior on debating a
> topic to your students "alleged" by you the community to only to be trained
> in style?  But when the Louisville debaters start winning all the debates in
> the time period between Harvard and Wake, everyone starts not accepting the
> challenge, keeping their insular judges to debate the question of whether
> the debate community judges bias certain privileges not relevant to whether
> the public, including experts, thinks are necessary values of good policy
> debate."
> I say:
> We never were in any of these debates - and I assume you are talking about
> year before last and not this year - so I can not speak to the strategy of
> how others approached this question.  However, I think you are conflating
> two different subjects here.
> Subject One: Should debate train debaters to speak primarily to laypersons
> Subject Two: Should debate be a game
> I will fully agree that speed, tech, insider language etc can be seen
> primarily as a gaming phenomena...But it also, alternatively, speaks to
> being able to reach a level of experience where you are using "technique"
> between people experienced in the highest level of public policy analysis.
> In other words, if you had a public policy discussion between three experts
> in a particular field - they would not see that conversation as a "game" and
> at the same time not speak in a manner that would necessarily be digestable
> by people "on the street" per se.  The advantage to that discussion is those
> experts can use that EXPERTISE to push each other to make stronger
> arguments.  Perhaps not more persuasive arguments to the person "on the
> street" but stronger arguments for those who ultimately try to craft policy
> for solving public policy problems.
> I think it is very dangerous to say debaters should only be able to make
> arguments that people "on the street" should be able to easily understand.
> If done with acadmic rigor debate pressures two teams to make public policy
> diamonds.  In addition, as has been said elsewhere, it creates an atmosphere
> where people can make arguments that they might not be able to make in
> public forums (about heteronormativity, about class, about race, about sex,
> about structures of government etc.).
> While I think debaters should be able to speak in front of a variety of
> audiences...The assumption that the only alternative to debate as a "game"
> is "taking it to the streets" is an idea I will never think is a great idea
> (all due respect to Dr. Warner who I do respect greatly).
> Josh
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