[eDebate] Coalitions, Conflicts, Power

Andy Ellis andy.edebate
Fri Aug 8 12:45:37 CDT 2008

A new day indeed, and with no mention of body bags, perhaps there is a
possibility for peace after all...

Dr Warner's post today was good and made me remember why it is that despite
the difficulty of being in coalitions its worth it to try, even if somedays
there are battles about the shape, direction, and control, battles that are
on occassion so bitter and anger filled that those that hope for peace are
saddened and those that hope for conflict amongst the opposition are poised
like vultures to pick on the carcasses we leave, but to borrow a phrase from
shanahan...this is huge...we did this..

By we i don't mean towson, baltimore or the UDL's, but i mean all of those
students, scholars, educators, and youth workers who have worked tirelessly
over the last decade plus to build a new structure of debate in and out of
the rounds.

This without a doubt includes Dr. Warner and the Louisville project. Dr.
Warner's effect on the growth of a new debate entity sometimes is so obvious
to me, that i assume it is to everybody. Some of the effect has been in
obvious ways that he outlines, but some of it is in more subtle ways, that
perhaps he doesnt even know about. None of what has been discussd so far or
will be discussed is meant to diminsh the influence he and his work over the
years has had.

This does not mean there are not disagreements, about the past, present, and
future, without disagreement, even sharp disagreement at times a coalition
is really not a coalition, but merely a leader and some followers.

Ok lets talk about some issues.

In the last post i sent i out i asked Dr. Warner a series of questions.

"What are YOU doing to increase meaningful black participation in the
What are YOU doing to decrease meaningful black participation in the
What are YOU doing to increase meaningful black participation in the
What are YOU doing to increase meaningful black participation in the
education system? "
These questions where not to imply that Dr. Warner needed to be in the
streets marching or organizing, nor did they imply that he doesnt do enough
for black people, in fact i believe his answers to these questions probably
sells a little short the work that has been done at louisville, but none the
less he answered with.

"What I don't do for Black folks in the prison, economy, workforce,
education system, middle class
I don't march. I don't organize. I don't protest. I don't work at soup
kitchens. I don't teach debate in prisons. I don't volunteer at a homeless
shelter. I don't do anything that I suspect Andy would respect as actively
contributing to all of these causes. Let's be clear: I think all of these
are noble, I just don't do them. I don't directly contribute to any
questions in your list, save perhaps education."
At first i read this as he is missing the point, perhaps it was the tone of
the day, but upon rereading i found the following answer which indicates he
does get what i am hinting at.
"And you call this minor because UDL's are doing non-debate things too? "

So Dr. Warner gets that the UDL's do non debate things as well, but for
those of you who don't fully understand that let me provide you some

The UDL movement uses debate in a variety of ways, first it is a competitive
league, people are on teams and they debate for trophies, but for those
students involved a host of other services are provided as well, services
that are often lacking for urban public school students. These include but
are not limited to:College Counciling,Scholarships, SAT
Preperation,International Exchanges, finacial management, youth employment,
internships, technology and job training, and in many instances college
continuation and completion assistance. These additional services are a
means of ensuring that some of the best potential policy makers and future
leaders in their community have not only the argument and advocacy skills
they need, but also the resources which are most often absent in urban

The regan era rollback of great society and civil rights gains took the
provision of these services out of the hands of state and local governemnts
and through the creation of the tax exempt non profit outsourced them to
private organizations. This move cannont be understated, direct service
fufilment of civil rights intiatives are now seen not as an affirmative duty
of the state, but instead as the responsibility of those who care enough to
fund and support them.Luckily debate has enough appeal to those that fund
and support post regan civil rights work that the movement has succeeded
in helping thousands of students to receive educational and social services
that should be equally provided to all people living in America, but that
requires a constant struggle to make sure resources are in place.

In order for this to occur there must be students and educators willing to
partipate and other folks willing to support and fund these intiatives.
Thats no easy task, and the public debates we have as debate educators in
this forum have the potential to have drastic effects on both student and
educator particpation and outside funding and support. Volunteers who are
convinced that the UDL's are going in the wrong direction or are hurting
urban youth are less likely to particpate and that takes direct resources
out of the donation column and shifts things like judging and coaching into
the cost column. In an economy like ours, any additional cost associated
with running the debate part of programs shifts resources away from a debate
organizations ability to provide additional support services and has
a potentially serious effect on the bottom line. Not to say we shouldnt have
pedagogical discussions, but more to say in doing so we have an affiormative
responsibility to reflect on the material consequences those discussions can
potentially have.

Dr Warner talks about how he focused his team building on middle class black
students from two parent families, most of whom i assume had already
envisioned a college education as a key compoennt of their future and if
they where at louisville had already acted to fufill those life goals. I
know for a fact that while louisville may have focused there, Dr warner has
perosnally taken students not from such a background into his home, and in
to his program, so while i will argue with the middle class an exclusive
focus my argument is not with him as a person. But nonetheless he has
outlined a strategy and i have some disagreement with it. In Baltimore we
focus at least a signifigant part of our effort on students that the school
system and the larger society deem "at risk". These students may not strike
educators as the best person to be on the sterotypical debate team, after
all many of them have become disengaged from the educational process and
 express little interest in engaging in "productive" educational practices,
many such students may be from less intact family structures though many may
actually be from stable two parent families, that part is less relvant in
our efforts, than the fact that if something does not engage them we know
the effect they can have on themselves, their communities and their schools.
If a student has a hard time at school and the school has a hard time with
them the likelyhood that they will be incarcerated increases drasticly.
Incarceration destroys family structures, economic viability of individuals,
families and communities, and contributes to climate in which the broader
american public is willing to sanction draconian practices that roll some
communities back to a jim crow era or worse. Simply put if debate is a means
of training new leaders and policy makers we cannont afford to only engage
those that already accept the notions of structure and heirarchy that dr
warner points out.

Baltimore's efforts and other UDL's efforts in this regard have not solved
the problem of "at risk youth", not by any means, but they have effectivly
interupted the process of warehousing students in schools until they are
ready for the prisons and for at least a few students and families have
provided the spark necessary to engage students in less destructive and more
positive life choices. Its impossible to say how many students have been
diverted from the cradle to prison pipeline that the regan era created
in americas cities, but it is also impossible to say that debate is not one
of the forces that has put signifigant power against the sociatal notion
that these youth are expendable, imprisonable, and destined for a life in
the criminal urban underclass.

For some of the students, the notion of a free space, with less structure
and less rules than the typical militarized classroom or city block gives
them the ability to express them selves in a setting where the consequence
is not suspenison, expulsion, incareration, or death but often at worst a
ballot lost. For others it is the ability to speak on what ever issue they
want and have for at least the duration of the debate someone who is
compelled to listen to them. For others it is the "family" setting that a
debate community provides.Whatever the case(and different students feel
strongly about what it is that debate should be for them and what it needs
to be to them) urban debate at the high school level (and more recently at
the college level) despite some flaws, provides a space for students to
engage an educational process that has either pushed,kicked, or squeezed
them out in many classrooms.

A caveat here. Not all urban debaters are at risk students, many of them are
acdemic and educational superstars before entering the debate setting, all
too often the students in urban public school systems who are doing the
"right thing" are racialy and spacially coded as at risk, nothing could be
further from the truth. But given the social structures that exist in
america there are also students who are at serious risk and engaging them in
the debate process has always been a key goal of most UDL programs.
The above explanation still creates a debate/non-debate divide as it relates
to the questions i asked, let me for a minute close that divide and talk
about how what we know debate as as a college community also has direct
implications on the social forces i outlined in my intial questions. Hicks
and Greene point out how the education process intiated by debate is a means
of teaching people how to be citizens, they also rightly point out that such
a notion is problematic for several reasons. While not ignoring the
criticisms they level i want to focus on the intial claim. With
the rollbacks in social services and the deteriorating social conditions
that have followed a unique form of pathological nihilism has been ingrained
in the urban landscape, not only are urban public school students led to
believe that they have no power to make the changes necessary to revitalize
their communities, but they are activly disconnected from the political
life and tools often provided to those seen to be the next generation of
change makers. This nihilism is not unique to urban communities or to people
of color, all american youth are encouraged to accept the status quo and to
direct their efforts at materialistic self preservation, but for some the
impact is simply much higher.

Debate as we all know teaches advocacy skills which allow people to identify
problems and propose solutions, the combination of oration, research, and
argumentative engagement as has been proven time and time again link
directly to ones ability to function as a change agent. In the militarized
setting of american urban education draconian federal policies often make
such skills disapear in the process of ensuring the safety and effective
warehousing of students, after all if students are geared up and ready and
able to criticize the school or the city it often makes the educators and
adminsistartors who work in these schools answer for policies that theya re
simply the implementers and not the designers of, even teachers who are
fully supportive of these skills and these challeneges from students are put
into a situation where they are forced to deny students those skills because
if they effectivly utilized them in would highlight the crisis in a way
which would often carry with it severe fedeal and state sanctions. This is
not to state that federal law some how is policing the thoughst and some
NCLB police would come crashing through the schoolhouse door, no its much
more subtle than that. What does happen is dissent and argumenattion are
seeing as threatening and destabilizing to the school environment and often
times in settings where such skills have been denied the expression of
rage and frustration that students feel toward the school is counter
productive to the schools mission of trying to manage students. So debate
teaches students a means to effectivly engage these decison makers on
the larger societies terms.

All over the nation UDL students are using the skills that debate has taught
them to engage in real world advocacy efforts that effectivly challenge the
conditions in which they find themselves, in baltimore this year debaters
are negaged in amjor political effort to demand accountability from the city
council and the mayors office and to seek meaningful youth employment for
students who serve in roles as peer to peer mentors. Debate is not at the
center of this movement per se, but has been in alrge part in formulating
and identifying the arguments and strategies necessary to get the youth to
the bargining table. I would be remiss to say it has just worked like that
and that everything is great now, status quo interests are powerful things
and to amass the power to challenge those institutions takes time, skill,
setbacks, and effectivly constructed counter power. But the struggle is
under way and debaters are at the heart of it.

However Dr warner is right to point out that the predominant framework for
evaluation that currently exists for academic policy debate may not be
suitable to address such real world political battles because it operates
out of a globalized focus in which minority issues are relagted to well
minority issues. In baltimore one means for addressing this and shifting the
pedagogy of debate has involved the utilization of the in round innovations
that dr warner was a big part of creating. We have been engaged in a several
year process to challenge the framework of debates through debates and in
this process we have utilized some of the most effective college debaters on
these questions to foster just such a shift. This has taken the form of
hiring in one capacity or another many of the most successful debaters and
coaches in the country (many of whom have a direct connection to the
louisville program) to teach the students to craft a new pedgogy one
which allows them to utilize debate tools in order to shift the focus of
discussion away from the macro political global focused impacts to a
framework in which minority focused impacts have an equal ability to win
debates. In fact it is the very challenge to the rules that he stepped away
froma  few years ago that has helped the pedagogy here to shift toward one
in which students get to set the framework for evaluation and debate it out.
This process is not without its pitfalls, and mistakes, and its not done
yet, but at the various ummer camps that have kept udl graduates empoyed and
activly working in teaching all summer a debate has raged about what the
focus of pedgaogy and politics should be. Nick brady pointed out a few weeks
ago some of the problems that have come from this, but without a doubt the
shift over the last several years to utilize the greatest debate minds in
the nation on these questions have produced a level of interrogation and
questioning of status quo frameworks that will better prepare students for
the political battles they face as they aim to be leaders of this and other

Furthermore when i was helping get the middle school league off the ground
in this city we intially started the topics focused around national level
high school topics and often taught with a focus on global level policy
making and global level impacts, but over time based on studnet and educator
input we shifted topics to address things that allowed debates to be framed
around debates that addressed minorirty and localized impacts, policy
debates for examples about policing practices and education practices, where
global level impacts where possible to get to, but only by looking at it
through the perspective of local concerns. Its hard for example to shut out
minority impact calculations in favor of macro political concerns on a topic
that asks students to debate about wheter police surveileance cameras should
remain on baltimore street corners. There is no nuclear option in that
debate to silence a meaningful debate about how urban communities relate to
crime and vioelnce and drugs.

All of this is to say that at least some in the udl movement hear your
criticisms, and act to build institutions, not simply teams which address
them. But it is not to say that we never address issues of global
importance, because sometimes debating about baltimore and baltimore
xclsuivly recreates a pattern where baltimore students are expected to have
no conern for anything outside their neighborhood or their city. Its a
question of balance and one that is being worked on pretty extensivly by
debate professionals, students, and educators with a vast array of
experiences and perspectives.
Dr. Warner points out my white skin privilage and reasonably questions my
interrogation of what he does for black people.
"Let's be clear Andy, privilege operates differently for the two of us."

Indeed it does, and to often i fall over my uncomfortability with my
privilege to seek dr warners advice as a black leader in debate, while
ignoring black leaders in baltimore, or in the direct youth service provison
community, because after all i am a debater, the danger in the defferal to
his blackness is that i often put the burden on him to make decisons that
effect baltimore when he has no direct self interest or knowledge of the
climate here politicaly or socially, this is not to say such advice is not
and has not been valuble, but that to seek it puts an undo burden on him,
and other black debate leaders to speak to very real situations which i
should based on the nature of my work be able to speak to. I think many of
us especially those of us who have excitedly embraced the louisville project
fall into this trap, the irony of this of course being that those often most
concerned about white privilege and most sensitive to its implications make
the worst decisons because they believ that their privilege marks them so
much that they shift the burden of difficult decison making to black leaders
who they wish could be working on the projects they dont feel equipped to
work on.

Perhaps the ultimate marker of this privilege is not respecting someone
enough to disagree, and for the times i have fallen into that trap i

One place where we disagree (and there are a lot) is about the centrality
one team can play in this process, while i think louisville can be an engine
of innovation and progress toward the common goals, i dont think that one
college debate team can effectivly shift debate enough to allow it to play a
signifigant part in the great struggle for humanization. This does mean i
dont think it has a role to play, it has played a remarkably huge role and
will under either dr warners or tiffanys or someone elses leadership
continueto do so, but it can hardly alone address the material and
structural changes that need to occur outside of the debate round to be able
to acheive its goals, and thus becomes teh necessity of coalitions.

The coalition with lousiville has been tough because it often requires white
youth workers to challenge the occasionaly sweeping claims of a prominent
black educator and privelege no doubt palys a part in that interaction, but
privilege cant become defferal because dr warner is only one man and between
his two sons his wife his team his scholarship and his community we cant
also ask him to take on our massive social infrastrucure projects. But it
hurts from this side of things to see the work you do outside of his
leadership and influence to be described as his especially when he is in one
sense so critical and in another so helpful.

Coalitions require shared interest, and with dr warner many of us have
shared interst, but thats only the starting point...once the shared interest
is established then there is a whole world of material and emotional work
that is needed, and i believe we all try at points to enagge that question,
sometimes effectivly other times not so much.

Just as much as i wont let Dr. Warner destroy deven, i also wont let our
disagreements derail what could be a useful coalition, because what we are
all collectivly fighting for is the realization of civil rights and a better


Its easy for Dr. Warner and i to get caught in a black white binary. I am a
white man who works in a predominatly black urban center, he is black man
who works and lives in a predominatly white campus and america, but this
discussion goes beyond that and we both know it. UDL's as jillian pointed
out are not per se about race, but also about place, and place is
encompassing of a variety of scoail locations channeled into one geographic
location, urban areas in america are often times a ignored forgotten about
and targeted space, they are different from cosmopolitan areas and rural
areas and suburban areas, race is a predominant factor because of the
stratification of life in america, and for many students and educators in
this environemnt it is an apriori issue, but below the surface is a much
bigger question that effects the worlds ability to assess localized minority
impacts. Our coalition if it survives is in my mind a way to transform
politics to provide resources and tools to those who are supposed to have
decisons made for and about them to make decisons for themselves, this
expands beyond the city beyond race and beyond class to provide a
fundemental challenge to the way democracy is supposed to work. I want
debate rounds that can be won or lost on an impact that effects a person and
a place, a village in mexico that has lost its corn and can change global
policy as a result should be able to effect poltical decison making as much
as a west virginia community that has a cafo in it just as much as a urban
center that has a civil war waging within its closed of militiarized
boundries, and only by forming a coalition of common interest can we get
there. Maybe thats possible around this conversation, yesterdays message
indicates it might be, maybe its not, wednesdays indicates it might not be,
but despite all else we will meet here sometimes in battle and sometimes in
agreement because a better world wouldnt just be a nice outcome but its an
absolute necessity.
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