[eDebate] Ethics, Love, Boondocks, and a New Day, part 1

Ede Warner ewarner
Thu Aug 7 13:00:30 CDT 2008


Dear Community,
 
Hey, Red Jones, thanks for posting the Boondocks clip.  That was really funny, but if you are using that clip to analogize what we've gone through the last couple of days, then I offer a different episode, called the "Return of the King" http://video.aol.com/video-detail/boondocks-episode-9-the-return-of-the-king/300715428.  
 
I'm sure you remember it - where Martin Luther King, Jr. lives for forty years in a coma, instead of dying, returns in 2000 to find a very different world than the one we live in.  He gets discredited after 911 for not supporting the war, and his attempts at organizing leave him at a meeting in his name that is a party.  The one thing that remains true throughout is MLK's consistency as he engages the more nihilistic, self-serving, and wayward society removed from his Civil Rights struggle.  At one point to describe the future when Martin asks why did this happen, the young boondock character responds, "we were waiting for you."
 
Now I'm certainly no MLK, not trying to make that comparison, but I have used this forum to develop a relationship with this community.  My credibility, while perhaps tied in personal issues related to Shauntrice's list, is most certainly also tied to how I address and respond to such criticisms.  I made the decision a long time ago to make my life an open book for review on this listserv and that doesn't end just because someone makes that challenging by their choices.  I said two things about Deven's criticisms: they needed to be answered (while I suspect these criticisms aren't very impactful- those who know and care about me will dismiss them, those who don't like me will use them to further justify their dislike) and they need to be put in context.  
 
When I read Shauntrice's words, I had three immediate reactions: shock, sadness and anger.  For three years, this justifiably disgruntled group has vented their anger about me in various circles: to each other, administrators, on Facebook; in the debate community, and who knows where else.  None of these allegations have ever been brought to my attention so they were truly shocking.  I thought the dictator and silence voices arguments were the main ones given the what has brought to me from administrators.  I now realize that administrators, likely very concerned by them, didn't have anything close to sufficient evidence to move on them so they were never brought up to me face to face, but I now have a better understanding of some administrator decisions.  There isn't much context that can be brought to these innuendos and rumors as they exist right now in vague general form, I'm not even sure what one of them means.
 
Honestly, I had to take a moment ,  Her words hurt just enough to force me to reflect on what occurred.  Upon reflection, I figured Deven likely felt the same way when he read my accusations of him, as did perhaps Andy and Adam who both responded quickly and harshly.  I've understood for a while that people revealing things that you didn't expect them to say can have that paralyzing affect on a person, so those responses don't come as a surprise.  I thought about how Deven and I also likely suffer from a similar issue:  we spend a lot of our time, in our own way, building our credibility on edebate for what we do, in an effort to persuade an audience that we best understand how to create changes for that audience.  As much as people want to complain that edebate is dysfunctional and unproductive, we both know that edebate provides an important, almost unparalleled opportunity to express minority perspectives to large numbers of people in an instant.  And so we both utilized that forum strategically most of the time and unstrategically in others.  In fact, as you all know, I have been using this forum since the advent of the Louisville experiment, to defend, advocate, clarify, justify, and connect with the a group of people that I believe share one very important experience: the love of debate.  And although I joked earlier about "reality TV", the truth is that in many ways, that is what this forum has become for me, an attempt as I have evolved over the course of the last ten years in NDT and CEDA debate, to share my life with you so you could "see" the things I see.
 
Deven loves debate too, as demonstrated by the time and commitment he puts into it.  However, Deven chooses to engage edebate very rarely, usually as an act of protest to vent his frustrations with the community or with me, something I have certainly done more than a time or two, but obviously not the only reason I write and write and write.  So we are very different in that regard.  
 
Tiffany Dillard, the squad, and I have spent the better part of the last three years, trying to figure out how to address the community concerns, issues and problems of our general criticism of Black participation in policy debate, with varying degrees of success.  During that time frame, there wasn't much fanfare, nor much notoriety, and there certainly wasn't much competitive success for Louisville students.  That's the single biggest problem: when students are used as part of experiments, they are subject at any moment to utter failure or extreme levels of success, and those experiments can take a heavy, heavy, heavy emotional toll.  High risk, high reward I guess.  Perhaps this helps explain why my decision to stop using the strategy has created just as much backlash, as many tears and frustrations, as did the criticism itself did on the rest of the community.  
 
That day after the fall 2005 Kentucky tournament, when I announced we were walking away from the increasing Black participation strategy paralyzed the past and current members of the Louisville project at that time in ways that I could never have foreseen, understood, or predicted.  But for different reasons: Deven saw a competitive strategy that he made a college career decision based on that strategy being randomly and unfairly taken from him.  Shauntrice, a walk-on without debate experience, was a throwback to the original 2000 crew: she wanted to talk about Black humanization, nothing more, nothing less.  For both, the loss of the strategy paralyzed them.  Had I ran a program where students could do what they want, when they wanted, it wouldn't have been a problem.  In all likelihood, most would have kept doing the strategy and a few would have followed to new initiatives.  But of course, that wasn't what created the project nor how I expected to continue, so that wasn't an option for me, anymore than it was in 1999 when I made the change that in part ran off several traditional debaters.
 
In the beginning of the Boondocks episode on King, there is a paragraph on the screen: "I want young men and young women who are not alive today...to know and see that these new privileges and opportunities did not come without somebody suffering and sacrificing for them." - Dr. Martin Luther King.  And I hope it is remembered that the suffering and sacrifices made by those involved in an 8 year experiment produced new privileges and opportunities for many, many others.  I think it will.  It's really too bad that neither Deven (a championship) nor Shauntrice (a debate job) are able to see that their current successes are directly related to my sacrifices.  Shauntrice debated varsity her first year of debate, something that has likely never been done, at least not at the levels she competed and could never have been done at any school or at Louisville before 2000.  
 
Deven's options would have been extremely limited without Louisville, especially given the repeated refrain that the purpose of the UDL's isn't to get high school students who want to debate into college.  No one has given more scholarship money or a higher percentage to UDL students, not even close.  But their anger won't let them respect those privileges and realities, and that is too bad for two people so down with issues of confronting privilege.  And hence, that justifies their acts of lashing out, intimidation and violence against me.  And all of that is a direct result of my decision to change the direction of the program and I must assume all the responsibility for that and the consequences that grow from it.  And I do.  And I have empathy for them, even when they attack me publicly or privately.  And whether he sees it or not, my attack on him was an act of self-defense.
 
Immediately after such a powerful quote, comes a new screen with the words, "Whatever nigga."  In the episode, these words serve to illustrate the times we live in, with no time for respecting the past or sacrifices made by ancestors.  But for me, the quote reminds me that my decision to create almost a decade long experiment, produced suffering that sometimes I didn't sufficiently acknowledge or respect, too caught up in my own suffering and pain produced from the experiment.  I look back on my real transgressions--not the ones Shauntrice reveals, which again lack context and in one case, I literally don't even know what she is talking about--but the decision for example, not to get IRB approval back in 2000.  The rhetoric of the Louisville experiment instead of the project or MPOWER or any other name, might have reminded me that no matter how idealistic the collective became, at the end of the day, it was a scientific inquiry designed to challenge debate conventions.  No more, no less. "Whatever nigga."  And that was very unfair to true believers, whether believers in competition or believers in fighting for Black humanization.  So to that extent, I will always remain indebted to both Shauntrice, Deven and everyone of the almost 100 scholarshipped students that have represented my experiment in some form.  Thank you all for your sacrifice and dedication.
 
To objectively and critically answer Scott's arguments about effectiveness of our program, my experiment succeeded in some ways and failed in others.  It definitely succeeded in spurring critical thinking about who we really are as a community and perhaps to a much lesser extent even what we could potentially be.  And one should never apologize for creating critical introspection, that is always a good thing.  It had some material success and it certainly has created some small impetus for new methods and styles and UDL participation at higher levels in college.  Of course, Towson's success takes that to a whole other level.
 
The flip side however is also true: it had the affect of further dividing us, in large part by introducing new populations to competitive success through new arguments, theories and methods of debate.  And that was often ugly, divisive, and painful.  It didn't result in social change like structural reforms because there still isn't full agreement on what the problem is, and even less agreement on effective solutions.  Moreover, lives were hurt from the fluidity of all, and the inability to overcome several roadblocks along the way.  Can the strategies that have grown from the experiment win?  Certainly, as proven by Towson 2008.  Do those strategies come at a cost?  Just roll the tape or read the emails.
 
That said, it is still wholly unfair of this community to blame Towson or whoever else runs these strategies.  These were not developed as long term methods for changing debate, these are protest strategies designed to address structural problems in the place where they have to be addressed: the competitive framework as there IS NO OTHER PLACE.  That's what we created to address the procedures of the game: we say debate it out.  The strategies only work because no one fixes anything.  The strategies can go away overnight if the community is better equipped to self-diagnose and act on it's problems.  Should not a policy debate training ground, not have the ability to culturally evolve as needed to support changes in technology, social climate, etc?  That seems like an obvious deficiency in our structure that needs addressing.
 
Had the community helped more in finding solutions once we all could identify the problem, a lot of this could be avoided, and everyone must take some responsibility for that.  Now that said, perhaps there isn't an easy answer, so maybe that is why there hasn't been much movement.  And let's not hear, but there is always a grip or criticism that could be brought up next if these protest strategies are successful?  Yes, but that's the point: a strong democracy protects minority interests by substantively addressing them.  Good minority interests should win because majorities recognize the need for that protection to occur in well functioning democracy.  
 
But in our game, minority interests are evaporated in numerous ways.  So no, Towson, nor Deven should get the blame for this.  And the more competitive these strategies become, the more the community should look for both competitive and non-competitive measures to address these issues.  My decision to challenge Deven's credibility doesn't mean they aren't right about the arguments.  I just want him to be a little more respectful, that's all.  It would be nice if he were more appreciative, but baby steps I guess.  He still doesn't get it: professionally I am and have been his most loyal supporter, and that has little or nothing to do with how much you personally like someone.  Just don't disrespect me professionally and we'll be cool.
 
My biggest regret over the decade: that my students didn't learn enough about ethics from me, apparently from my lived and personal experiences, nor from my training in argument.  Whether they see it or not, there were clear and distinct differences in what we chose to reveal, how these things were connected to the arguments, and the type of rhetoric used to surround the arguments.  And that's the education that NDT/CEDA is missing: some ethical foundation that guides those choices.  Now perhaps that is easier said than done, but that's got to be our collective goal as we move forward.  
 
When this population of policy makers move into their positions of the world, whether as activists, corporate employers, or government officials, the common bond they take from this activity should be whether they agree about kritiks or policy frameworks, but whether or not they have a common methodology for making good policy decisions that respect and understand the challenges and responsibilities we face for those decisions when living in a multicultural society.  
 
The two factions must come together to produce a combined outcome that is superior to the different educational emphasis that currently exists.  And if you assume that policy decision making operates the same in a monoculture as in does in a multicultural society or you haven't thought much about it, then you are definitely one of the impediments to making a transformation for our activity into the 21st century.  Don't underestimate the question: how can we have policy debates about minority issues (aka how do we make minority impacts more strategic)?  Finding that answer is really, really, really, important to the value of this activity as it relates to the world we live in.  FYI - It's not easy or readily apparent.
 
I would like to speak more concretely to this debate notion of coalitions, but I will likely take a break.  Thanks for the phone call db, your voice is always welcome as we continue the struggle.  You still are the finest debate coach I've ever known...and that includes me, but keep an eye on Tiffany, she's on the come up...
 
With love for all the participants in this community,
 
Doc
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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