[eDebate] The Educational Goals of Policy Debate

Ede Warner ewarner
Fri Apr 11 06:41:16 CDT 2008

You make some strong points Eli.  And if my purpose was as simple as a search for a compromise looking to allow current debate teams to do what they currently do, yours might be the exact standpoint from which to begin.  But I feel that Mr. Brady, whose post I'll answer in a minute, has a good central point about purpose and method.  My purpose is to see if there is a commonality amongst "educators" in debate.  My purpose is to reflect on whether the educational mission of policy debate sits close enough to the educational mission of my class room, and of my academic institution.  Right now, I'm way more comfortable with the way I teach debate in my Communication Debate class than I am in the NDT/CEDA community, and I believe that the difference has been my personal ability to find a balance between education and competition that serves me better, as an educator, than currently exists in CEDA/NDT.
In my mind, much like building a course from the ground up, we need a primary objective for the course, a series of tools to objective that method, and an assessment plan.  You too, as a young educator - can I get away with that one since I judged you :-) -share that commonality with me.  So, in deference to Mr. Brady's post, and in deference to my discomfort using plan or no plan as the starting point, are "we" willing to shift the dialogue just a little towards an earlier starting point?   It seems to me that policy debate knows how to compete, but we haven't really figured out the educational mission of our activity.  In that kritik language you use to use that I sometimes struggle to understand, I'm trying to deconstruct a little more before we begin to reconstruct.  It's my hope that if people put away their political identity with regards to the political agenda of what and how they want to engage in policy debate, where huge difference currently exists, that we can build a foundation focused on some central similarity.  And I just think we have to find an educational central as the justification for our activity, and I hope, I wish, and I pray that as silent as most are on this list, that there is a coalition of the willing, that crosses the politics of debate ideology, who agree.
Can we start with people sharing definitions of what they believe policy debate to be, even recognizing that some may be leery of starting there (with "policy"), but I'm willling to start there since I think that makes our organizations (CEDA/NDT) unique, we have debated policy for a debate, although I'm willing to recognize that CEDA's mission certainly wasn't policy debate.  I start there because I believe that the current participants believe there is a unique value to policy debate or they would likely have left. So I'll start there. I've shared my definition Eli in the last post, which I'll share again when asked, but I'm really interested in hearing others.
As an aside, I think this discussion should occur on the CEDA-L listserv, not here.  I will defend my position in my response to Mr. Brady, coming soon.
With Love,
Ede Warner, Jr.
Director of Debate Society/Associate Professor of Communication
University of Louisville
308E Strickler Hall
ewarner at louisville.edu 


From: "Eli Brennan" <elibrennan at gmail.com>
To:"Ede Warner" <e0warn01 at gwise.louisville.edu>
CC:<edebate at ndtceda.com>
Date: 4/10/2008 10:39 PM
Subject: EXTRA- Chicken or the Egg
Because my dialogue sucks (just trying to great form with form)... to be clear: 
What if plans MAKE MEANING... and not just SOLVE PROBLEMS?

An aff I wrote (that was never run) last year defended banning Gtmo with Kafka's Penal Colony... where the action of the plan is a Tragic maneuver... akin to The Traveller's decision to intervene. (and moraqlly ambiguous in interesting ways). This is not a "plan to solve nuke war."  It was an attempt to use a wide range of wisdom to REFLECT on policy.  Under my interpretation it's legit... how does this show a different way of planning?  Not everyone would reach for Kafka... but that's what's sweet... there's lots of wisdom to go around.

On Thu, Apr 10, 2008 at 9:30 PM, Eli Brennan <elibrennan at gmail.com> wrote:

Wino: "Is there anything about the topic you believe you are especially equipped to talk about?"
Debater:  No.
Wino: Then think about it more.
Debater:  Wait... Yeah... there's a LOT about this BS topic I have to say.
Wino: Cool... I'll do my best to help you persuasively say what you want to PLUS what you learn through the research.
Debater:  They'll just outweigh it with nuclear war.
Wino: Outweigh slam poetry with nuclear war?
Debater: How is slam poetry topical?
Wino: You tell me.
Debater: Uhm... it's the means by which i fuck up a status quo policy.
Wino: Nice... don't forget... tragedy, comedy, RANT, auto-ethnography... and a bunch of other perspectives we can look into.
Debater: Shit.  They would really have to debate us on our own terms?
Wino: If you win that your approach is better--- and that it shouldn't be excluded... I can't see how not... if they try to weigh that BS--- prove it doesn't fit your THEME... which is more important.  Then school them on the necessity of appropriate theming.
Debater: But won't they just whine about how I violated "should."
Wino: Prolly--- but fuck 'em... we'll win that our education is more important.  Listen: a lot of people still think of plans as they were used in the 80s... but a plan is a marvelous thing... it is a Policy we can use for whatever purpose we can think of.  Remember:  rules aren't always oppressive... sometimes they inspire the most sublime genious.  Poets choose Meter not to dampen their insights- but to Polish them.  Basketball was conceived by, for and about whites... but is now dominated by nonwhites.  Moving the lines around was not the key... they key was availability of venues, coaching and resources.  Contraints can be very bad... but sometimes they are more than that... it games, comstraints inspire unique ability... soccer teached things football cannot precisely because hands are disallowed.  Debate groups choose topics as a catalyst for creativity.  Or they should.  Even if we go to improv tonight, there will be Topics.  You just have to find your voice and use it.  If someone says that their Lexis ev trumps, we'll school them on the epistemological question.
Debater: What do you know?
Wino: I don't.

On Thu, Apr 10, 2008 at 9:02 PM, Ede Warner <ewarner at louisville.edu> wrote:

Doc:  "Start writing the 1AC, discussing your identity as it relates to the topic."
Liz: "But we can't because the standards of evaluation won't evaluate our approach fairly, especially if the negative uses the conventions of the judging philosophy that doesn't include a method for evaluating our position."
Doc:  "So what 'cha gonna do in the 1AC?
Tonia: "We're going to run that our Exclusion argument comes before the topic."
Doc:  "You can't  do that, the judge can't evaluate that."
Corey:  "Why not?  Why is this any different than topicality?  Doesn't that decide whether or not the affirmative is legitimate before we ever have a topic debate?"
Doc:  "But that's the negative moving the debate away from the topic.  The affirmative defines the ground.  You take away the negative's predictable ground."
RJ:  "So what?"
Doc: "So that's what Eli said."
Tonia:  Does that mean the judge is voting for or against the color of the debaters?"
Doc:  "Of course not, it means you are voting that their are forms of argument that debaters of different colors want to use, currently not part of the evaluation process created by judges of a different color.  Proof is identified in the judging philosophy."
RJ: "Like what?"
Doc:  "Like we what to share our different experiences through stories, songs, and examples in addition to more traditional uses of cards.  But the community trains judges to use solely cards.  While they will "let you" use your evidence, there is method of evaluation that keeps the playing field if the opponent chooses not to.  In fact, you are put at a competitive disadvantage if the opponent decides to just read cards, and the judge holds you responsible for answering all the cards."
Jennifer: "
Liz: How will they evaluate the impacts of racism like dehumanization and poverty and crime against a risk of nuclear war, Doc?
Doc:  "Better find a nuclear war from racism I think."
Tonia:  "Do we need a plan."
Doc: "I went around and around with shannhan about this.  He's adamant that we don't.  I guess I'm more like Plato who said that persuasion wasn't the problem, how it got used was.  Eli's right on here, having a plan isn't the problem, but how it gets used has got to have some ethical standards for engagement."
Tiffany:  "Got any idea what those ethical standards are?"
Doc:  "Naw, but I got an educational and competitive purpose.  Policy debate should be a competition about a public policy controversy involving advocates who share ideas and perspectives over problems by offering solutions, then engaging other ideas and perspectives towards a goal of finding the best policy."
Ebony: "That seems like a good place to start building norms and procedures to operationalize your goal."

From: "Eli Brennan" <elibrennan at gmail.com>
To:<edebate at ndtceda.com>
Date: 4/10/2008 06:03 PM
Subject: [eDebate] In Defense of Topicality as Non-White-Supremacist
I think there's a limit to a strategy to reform debate through identity politics IF there's no topical content to the political appeal.  There a couple main reasons: 

1.  The Reductio: Someone else (sorry dont recall who) noted this central problem--- and I want to expand on it.  We need an answer to the reductio that you are voting for or against the blackness of black debaters, or the whiteness of white debaters (not to mention all the "others"- these are the terms of the current debate as far as I can tell- so I'l leave them be).   This is important for many reasons, both conservative and radical.  If people are voting up or down simply on skin color (or the aesthetic codes that often overlap with skin-color-categories), this is not a path to a community we can love.   LET ME BE CRYSTAL CLEAR: I don't think that's the argument being made.  The argument I'm hearing is that we shouldn't exclude or devalue various styles of performance becuase to do so creates/maintains a structural racist barrier to fair play.  I am FERVENTLY in favor of judges being open to different kinds of judgment calculus... debated out and warranted within the debates.  The difficulty is that if that's the ONLY reason to vote aff... we're in a shitty strategic position: the aff has defended a style... which is in principle compatible with every negative argument except exclusion [which we don't want to defend for good reasons- losing over and over among them].  SO- if I agree that debate should be open to literary, policy, pop-cultural, religious, and other modes of thought and presentation... TO WHAT USE DO WE PUT THESE PERSPECTIVES?  The answer our community has provided has been "the topic."  If the diverse styles we want to encourage in debate are addressed solely on the question of whether they are legitimate--- we have a self-referential debate... one where the FORM IS the CONTENT.  This means that the ground for the negative is limitted to debating the legitmacy of our opponents' mode of being.  This, to put it mildly, is uncomfortable for everyone, strategically unfair, and incentivizes the worst kind of personal attacks on both sides.  In that we want a community where everyone is comfortable to do their thing (this IS what we want, right?), having a common topic gives everyone a PLACE (topoi) to do their thing.  The style needs a content OUTSIDE itself.  A debate about racist assumptions in US iran policy from a unique siutuated perspective may be prefereable to a spew-down of cards for very very good reasons.  But this is a comparison of styles ABOUT an issue.  

2. Standpoint epistemology: Our diversity of social locations helps us bring more knowledge to the table... the question is where is the Table.  At it's very best, a strategy with no topic, and only competing styles, would not make the most of our community because it denies the ABOUT WHICH that makes peoples' unique experiences valuable.  We are all unique and valuable... but THAT is not much of a topic for debate... We can imagine the native american explaining their experience of oppression "AGAINST" the young black man explaining his, etc.  This is a caricature of identity politics/hierarchy of oppression.  The key to mobilizing our diverse experience is to embody it in contexts.  OF COURSE our experiences give us unique insight to USFG policy... and those insights should not be abandoned to a spew-down of cards. Some of us wanted to oppose the Iraq war... and we did it WITH our perspectives.  The argument that oppressed people need to avoid all consideration of policy strikes me as stunningly short-sighted.  Practically speaking, a common topic approaches an ethical ideal for the embodiment of difference in a collective.  Any answer to this is an insult to our creativity... we all bring knowledge, perform it, get push-back, and in ideal cases an intelligent resolution by an expert critic.  I have seen high-schoolers bring their knowledge to African 

3.  Opponents of Sharing and Issue of Debate don't have much game:  Every argument I've heard against having a topic assumes: 
a. that we keep the USFG as the agent... this is a practical problem, i realize, but more appropriate to change the rules, ethically, than to punish people who support alternative topics but who also have to submit to the collective judgment of the community.
b. that plans are only have one value orientation (pro).  obviously plans of action can also be tragic, comic, artifacts for genealogy and so on and so forth.  [Shakespeare didn't think Hamlet's plan would SOLVE- but he HAD to present it]. If the STYLE is open to debate, then the CONTENT is almost entirely beholden to it.  this would have the benefit of maximal inclusion (as inclusive as minds are original) as well as using artificial constraint to inspire our imagination.  topicality is no more totalitarian than genre.  Actually, if you free up the genre of the discourse, topicality is a very very loose guide- not in principle exclusive of any specific perspective.  BUT, it IS something the neg can argue besides the illegitimacy of their opponents' political being.  Remember, right now it's almost impossible, structurally, to win against anti-debate affs with an alternative political strategy... the PERM is a killer... largely because only Form is being asserted, leaving the Content to be aff perm ground.  So people go for framework... or grab another ideology and compare them- which sidelines race (depending on who wins).  This situation is less than ideal socially and politically.
c.  that we need to purge all tradition.  This is just not true if the style of performance is open.  We don't have to purge all of our history... including the policy-making bias of topic selection.  Debate isn't any more racist for having white aesthetics involved than Spike Lee is racist for portraying racist whites in film.  A "plan" could easily be a plot device for a larger argument that has as subtle an ethical position as its author(s).  Hell- our very nouns and verbs are constraining... and the product of a bloody history--- but many, certainly including our Reigning CEDA Champs, can bend and mold into powerful blasts of freedom. [Huge Congrats to all involved by the way- this post isn't really "about" that achievement as much as about the broader discussion].

I don't think any of this is controversial... and I know it's not original.  But this debate always seems stale to me largely because these ideas seem easily agreed upon.
I'm sure I'll be corrected if I'm wrong.

eli brennan
minneapolis [35/freezing rain and snow]

PS- I know this post may be terrifying to "policy" people... But it's basically the SQ with clearer research burdens.  There's plenty of ground to argue more limiting interpretations than this, or within this, but As Always, these should be negotiated by 4 debaters and 1 or more judges on a case-by-case basis.   The problem for policy teams now is that by trying to defend an ad hoc exclusion, they are having their limits argument impact turned, and need to be able to (coopt the offense) give their diverse array of opponents a safe place to do their thing.  So I think it's best for everyone.  This is ethically and strategically preferable for all.

Eli Brennan

"So it goes." - Vonnegut 

Eli Brennan

"So it goes." - Vonnegut 
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