[eDebate] The Big Picture

Jason Russell jasonlrussell1
Sat Mar 22 08:02:15 CDT 2008

Speed as explanation for the decline of debate participation is another
example of correlation without causation. A lot of other intervening factors
occurred during this time period. The time required for students to
participate in debate is an immensely large entry barrier for many. Costs to
attend school combined with a declining amount of available funding for
students requires an increasing number of students to work while attending
school. Even privileged students who have the time available are unlikely to
be willing to commit full-time job type time to debate preparation. Research
and argument training are time intensive. As debate became more focused on
research and evidence as opposed to elocution and persuasion, time required
to intensely interrogate those topics increased. This also explains the rise
of parli and IE's, activities that are admittedly less evidence intensive
and as a result less time intensive. Personally, I think that the time
involved is worth it for those that can participate and that we coaches can
help defer some of those time-based opportunity costs by being willing to
pull some of the research burden and argument preparation requirements.
Students, quite frankly, can not afford to do it on their own. That said, I
personally do not want debate to be any other way. I believe that research
ought to be allowed and encouraged and that sophistry ought not to defeat
evidenced argument. Once we open those floodgates to favor research over
communication skills, the logical end of this is that many students,
coaches, and programs will spend a lot of time preparing these arguments.
And, some will have more time and resources than others. Some disparities
will exist. Modern debate did not die bc of speed, but became more naturally
specialized bc of the largely intentional decision to prefer researched
argument over elocution and delivery. Speed is a part of this process, but
it is hardly the only part of the process. And, we as educators, ought to be
interested in training our debaters how to maximize the interplay between
speedy and smart debate and how to overcome speed differences. Let's be
clear: the best teams are not the fastest, but are some combination of quick
and smart, usually favoring the latter. Debate is hard, but that's what
makes it worth it for those students and schools willing to invest the time.

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