[eDebate] Bad Publicity & Reply

Jason Russell jasonlrussell1
Wed Oct 1 13:23:19 CDT 2008

I received an email from a faculty member yesterday re: the Chronicle
article Tuna was talking about. I've maintained that I dont think that these
accusations are that hard to reply to. Here's me putting my money where my
mouth is:

Yeah, I think I can defend it. First, keep in mind that what this article is
discussing is an isolated incident at a specific tournament with particular
judges. The quality comparison of the talent of the two teams, the
experience of the judges, and the execution of the arguments is obscured in
this article to the point where no reasonably intelligent person could make
any decision from this snippet of 15 seconds of a 2 hour long debate round.
Second, judges in debates are not called on to make decisions about the
truth of an argument, but about its relative execution, as truth, by the
teams in the debate. Debate would be stupid if we judges just ratified our
opinions in each debate. The educational value of the 2 hour long
competitive round would be limited under those conditions. Judges in debate
offer advice before rounds as coaches and after rounds as observers, but
attempt to disconnect themselves from the round as much as possible. Third,
the vast majority of these arguments are not directed at debate as generic
but at argumentative forms or practices employed by particular teams. For
instance, the suggestion that speed reading in debate rounds is not neutral,
but is an attempt to favor quantity over quality and to isolate debate to an
expert audience as opposed to improving its accessibility for all is an
attack on a specific practice employed by a particular team, an attack on
their methodology. These arguments "clash" with their opponents on form and
implicate content in a way that is relevant to questions of advocacy, a
potentially crucial debate skill. Fourth, what debate is for is up for
grabs. Debate could be just a competitive game, an educational forum, a tool
for training future policymakers, a device for actualizing social movement
activism, or some or all of the above. Debaters need to know what they're
debating for and why. Part of what these arguments do is to unpack the
simplistic assumption that debate is a neutral conveyor of policy knowledge
and to reveal that it is simultaneously a part of implementing an
educational agenda that is contestable and a potential tool for improving
social justice. Finally, as an outside observer, what do these practices do
for debaters? They force them to be able to defend their epistemological
choices rather than simply executing them. They expand the amount of things
that debaters need to know about, which is good. The expose debaters to
ideas that are not frequently shown to undergraduates or especially high
school kids that get them thinking. And, they hone panoramic advocacy
skills, teaching debaters to defend their ideas from the far-right and the
far-left. The alternative is obviously inferior: a debate with deeper
content restrictions, carving out exceptions for legitimate knowledge and
paternally dictating the best ideas, either from judges, the organization,
or self-regulation. As a final aside, few teams are successful on arguments
like this. It requires a great deal of "against the grain persuasion" and
immense talent in execution. Those that do are to be applauded precisely
because these ideas are so counterintuitive. Debate has for a long time been
a forum where unpopular ideas can get a fair shake, and I hope we keep it as

I received a prompt reply back stating:

Thanks for your insightful response. I can see why youre the debate coach.
Keep up the good work.

Yes, these conversations are happening and will continue to happen. No, they
are not the end of the world. We've always had to fend off accusations that
our content should be more "real world", that debaters talk to fast and are
messy and gross. That's nothing new. Unconventional debate is good because
uninterrogated conventions are bad. Allowing profanity is good because the
alternative to allowing it (speech codes) is so much less desirable.
Debaters can and have successfully challenged the use of profanity in
debates without the assistance of judges, team policies, or the organization
for years and should continue to do so.

Ultimately, the open contestability of debate content and practices is a
strength of our game, not a weakness and convincing administrators as such
should be less hard than people make it out to be. The sky is still not

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