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A call to Coaches

TheBigDA

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My most recent Saturday tournament (Varsity CX at Paris North Lamar in East Texas) consisted of three debates in which neither competitors nor judges knew exactly what was going on.

 

Why?

 

Because every team I competed against read a complicated advocacy of which they could not explain paired with a RoB (Roll of the Ballot) framed specifically around their advocacy. The case debate was non-existent. My case was freaking drones.

 

Now what is the problem with this? Its bad debate! If you can even call it debate.

 

After one such round, I talked with my opponents. They told me they had been doing debate for three years (both were juniors) and that they did not understand what they had read- a psychoanalysis K. Confused, I asked why they had decided to run thee K, to which one replied "My coach said it would win, he talks about this type of stuff all the time but it goes a bit over our heads".

 

And here we find the fault.

 

Psychoanalysis is a complicated critical theory that is hard to grasp for even the most educated political scientists, philosophers, and physicians. So why, may I ask, do we put it in to the hands of high school students to discuss, debate, and overall butcher? My thesis is that winning has overshadowed education in what is supposed to be its one last stronghold.

 

We write blocks and put them in to student's hands so that they win.
Why? Why can we not prepare debaters to think? Teach students to respond to arguments in their way, in a logical way that makes sense to them? We must remember that it is our students who are supposed to be learning to form argumentation, not us. It seems that with the "Golden generation" of high school debaters growing up and coaching, they can't let go of the fact that its not about them anymore. This appears to be the case with judges as well. The fad of "doing work" has appeared. Filling gaps in argumentation with a judge's own knowledge or opinions is not the point of debate (YOU WILL ALWAYS BEAT THE CHILD YOU ARE JUDGING, don't worry-we know that. You don't have to prove it), a good educator should judge on whats given to them, no more and no less.

 

Why do we tell our students they can't do something or that they must do something?
"You must put uniqueness first in your disadvantage."
"You can't run new arguments in the 2NC"
"You must spread." "You can't spread"
No, your regional biases and trends do not dictate what you MUST do in a debate round. The whole point of debate is to provide a structured round (speech length and order) while not limiting the student's creativity and argumentation i.e. if I can persuade the judge of it then I can do it. There are no rules in debate other than these (provided a few in certain circuits that dictate evidence rules and the like) and that is a good thing. It keeps debate what it is.

 

Coaches and judges alike need to realize, debate is about the students and their education. Winning is a side-effect of good debates.



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It's not like you're robots designed by your coaches to run only the arguments they think are good e _ e; you're an autonomous individual and you can choose what you want to do (isn't that why Varsity is also called "Open"?); I think the problem originates in the adulation brought by winning: when you win you're congratulated, when you lose nothing happens. Coaches and debaters are at fault here; both love the sensation of winning; did you ever feel good after losing a round? Probably not (#semiocapitalism). If there needs to be a change; then it has to start from the debaters and work it's way up the coaches (#micropolitical change). 

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I would agree with you, but only partially. The thing is that students will always be kids and therefore not have the power. If they are told by an adult not to run an argument because its dumb or worse- that they "can't"- that student is much less likely to run that argument.

 

I know first hand (sorry for the anecdotes here), being told kritikal arguments were against UIL rules by a very conservative coach (bless her soul, she is the most wonderful woman I have ever met). Another time I ran "new in the 2" and new ev in rebuttals and was told by the judge I couldn't.  At camp my teachers constantly beat down STOCKS and debate and at nationals I was screamed at for running a planked plan.

 

As far as complicated argumentation that is over many debater's heads, I believe it is the educator's job to foster an atmosphere where students may develop their own arguments even if the are more simple. Instead some coaches encourage lazy debate by either writing debater's affs for them or giving them open ev because those arguments might be better than what the students could write themselves.

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