[eDebate] Fall Out & The High School World

McNeil Debate mcneil.debate
Sun Aug 17 23:21:35 CDT 2008


As a former college debater and an active member of the high school
debate community, I've read this forum for years, and though several
of the discussions have evoked laughter, reflection, or anger, none
have ever made me want to jump into the fray and contribute.  I'm not
sure if that's because I felt like my contribution wasn't unique, or I
didn't want to get dragged into an unconstructive dialogue, or I
didn't have the time, but I suspect it's a bit of all three.  Until
today, I didn't even have an account, choosing to read everything as
it is archived on ndtceda.com.  I cross the breach because I haven't
seen my perspective expressed, and I feel at this point that it's at
least a relevant part, albeit a small one, of the discussion.

I run a high school program in Austin, Texas, and I debated, very
unsuccessfully, for a brief period at what was then Southwest Texas
State University in the late '90s.  I even had Bill as a critic on the
Title VII topic, where my partner and I lost to possibly the best 1NC
strategy ever ? a nine minute reader's theater featuring a children's
picture book about worms.  This will be my sixth year as a high school
teacher and a director.  My kids have had modest success; we do well
at local tournaments and consider clearing at big tournaments like
Greenhill a marked accomplishment for the program.  I'm fortunate
enough to coach in an area where some of my students can afford
national camps like SDI and Classic, which is to say that my students,
and their families, are well aware that policy debate exists on the
collegiate level.  To that end, I even have former students competing
in college programs.

I write because I feel like the perspective of a lot of high school
coaches like myself is lost in this discussion.  I empathize with
those who argue that the events that happened at CEDA shouldn't affect
college budgets, and on the larger scale entire programs, and to a
certain extent, I agree.  They shouldn't.  I find the arguments that
the CEDA video and media coverage have the potential to affect the
decision-making of those in power much more persuasive, however,
because of what I am witnessing on my level.

The thoughts of Ed Lee and others discussing the decision-making of
administrators is eerily similar to another group of people that
possesses a phenomenal amount of power at the high school level.  That
group is the parents of my students.  When I read the emails of those
that have posted here that try to shrug off the news coverage and
subsequent fall out of this story as insignificant, it's unfathomable
from my perspective.

What is that perspective?  For a recent example, let's take the high
school debate documentary, Resolved, that was widely released earlier
this summer.  One parent asked me, "Are students really allowed to
smoke at tournaments?  How in the world is that public high school
student smoking in front of everyone?  Do coaches not say anything?
Does that happen at tournaments that my kid goes to?"  Another parent
was concerned with the "hazing" in the film (Sam's choice to not
recognize Matt by his name and to constantly make fun of him) and the
fact that there might actually be cussing at a high school debate

Despite the fact that I live in the only truly blue community in the
entire red sea that is Texas, I still have parents that are concerned
with things like whether their students will have to advocate one
political party or candidate over another or particular issues like
the death penalty or abortion.  Three years ago a local team ran a
Nazi CP, and a very serious discussion with a parent ensued where a
kid's future on my squad was called into question.

If the parents of my high school students, especially freshmen and
sophomores, are concerned about a student smoking in a debate
documentary, how do you think they would feel the first time they saw
the now infamous video on Youtube?  Here's at least two reactions off
the top of my head:  1.  There's no way in hell I'm going to drop
thousands of dollars to send my child to a camp to be around people
like that over the summer.  2.  This is what we're preparing for?  All
of these lost weekends and hundreds of hours of research to
participate in that kind of activity in college?  My kid won't be
debating in college, period.

I say all of this to say, that from the "mid-level" high school
coach's perspective, what has happened in the way of the events at
CEDA, the pursuant media coverage, and the discussion here on edebate,
is not something that I can just brush aside.  The fall semester for
my students begins in eight days; my first parent meeting will follow
shortly thereafter.  One subject already on the agenda is the
discussion of this incident.  Every year I have a conversation with
parents about whether or not college forensics is appropriate for
their child; what has happened has certainly made that discussion
harder from my perspective.

In traditional debate speak, I'm of the school that believes there are
few impacts bigger than running people out of the activity, or in this
case, never allowing them access in the first place.  I have no hard
evidence yet that any of my debaters, or any other high school
debaters, will not debate in college because of the events that have
transpired.  I can say with some certainty, however, that the events
that have happened will certainly weigh on the minds of high school
students and their parents as they decide whether or not to join your
community next year and in years to come.  If what has happened in the
last week tips even one scale in favor of staying out of college
debate, then a real tragedy has occurred.

I sincerely hope that this adds something constructive to the
discussion.  You can dismiss the parents of my students as being
overly sensitive, or unique, or too involved, or argue that I'm not
good at my job, or say that it's not the responsibility of the college
community to think about impacts external to itself, but as I talk to
more high school coaches, it seems like the impact at our level is
going to be more widespread than one might think.  I attended a
preseason luncheon for Austin area high school debate coaches this
afternoon; the incident was brought up by a coach that doesn't even
have policy teams and didn't debate in college.  The comments that
ensued reinforce what I've said here.

Thanks for your time.

Matthew Murrell
Director, Speech & Debate
McNeil High School
Austin, Texas

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