WHICH DEBATE SHOULD I DO?
So, which debate should I do? Thatâ€™s an important question that faces aspiring debaters that are just beginning their freshman year. This post is designed to help you make your decision. Letâ€™s begin by looking at all the options.
Policy debate is intense. One topic is given year round and by the end of the year, students acquire knowledge equivalent to a Masterâ€™s Thesis. Each team has two people, and to be successful you have to be very comfortable with your partner. Also, debaters do whatâ€™s called â€œspreadingâ€ in the upper echelons of debate. They speak extremely fast to get out as much information as possible. This practice is considered good by some and bad by others; itâ€™s a matter of personal opinion. To be successful, youâ€™re going to have to go to camp, have a few good coaches, and do a lot of work.
Good for people who:
-Are looking to be very competitive
-Are prepared to spend thousands of dollars on debate camps in summer
-Are willing to do work (especially for schools without large policy teams)
-Are OK with debate being more of a game than a public discussion
Our school does not have a very strong policy team so I won't go in depth here, since I don't know enough about it.
LD is similar to policy and growing more similar. However, its main difference is that it involves one-on-one debating and the speech times are significantly shorter. Like Policy, you have to be very dedicated. Iâ€™ve noticed that the LDers on my team end up doing more work than Policyers because the standard of evidence quality is extremely high, understanding dense philosophy is required, and recycling generic evidence found years ago is useless.
In fact, even the academic â€œstar studentsâ€ struggled with keeping up. I had a kid once who was very bright. As a middle schooler, he did Parliamentary debate in SoCal and had straight Aâ€™s. He was ahead of the game in middle school, a grade ahead in science, and all without trying. Even high school was a breeze, and in his freshman and sophomore years he excelled in LD. But in his junior year, he just couldnâ€™t keep up. His performance in LD dropped â€“ he stopped â€œclearingâ€ into elimination rounds, and though his GPA stayed above 4.0, it still dropped half a point. It was sad. So I encouraged him to try Public Forum, which is what Iâ€™ll get to next. He did pretty well in Pufo, but it would have been much better if he had just started with Pufo, in which case he would have had 2 more years of experience. If you want to be a top debater, starting as a freshman and sticking with one activity isn't just an extra advantage; it's necessary. Any later, and you've fallen behind the curve.
LD is good for people who:
-Are looking to be very competitive
-Are prepared to go to summer debate camps
-Are willing to do LOTS of work
-Are academically very strong (Balance is important, and itâ€™s not smart to let your grades suffer for an activity that is, after all, an extra-curricular)
-Focus more on your knowledge of the topic than your speaking skills
-Are OK without a teammate to work with
-Are OK with the judges being a little counter-intuitive. LD is a philosophy debate, so if you would hate to have a judge not understand why sadistic torture is bad because your philosophy didnâ€™t say that, itâ€™s not right for you.
Public Forum (Pufo)
Pufo is my personal favorite. Although the speech times seem a little weird, they end up making for fun and interesting debates. Topics switch every month and are about current events. Speaking skills matter, but judges donâ€™t seem to be arbitrary; they consider the arguments each debater made to evaluate who won and lost. There are teams of two, but Iâ€™ve seen very successful teams where one was clearly better than the other. Pufo is great because it keeps kids up to date with current knowledge. It involves enough work for students not to be bored but not too much where you're in over your head.
As for the team problem, most coaches donâ€™t force their kids into teams. Thereâ€™s always that one kid whoâ€™s also looking for a partner. Also, a lot of successful Pufo teams involve an underclassman paired with an upperclassman. After they graduate, other people get better. Thatâ€™s the system my team uses for incoming freshmen we expect to be very competitive and successful. Also, a lot of people who don't like teams say that because they think everyone is worse than them. But trust me, as a freshman there are going to be plenty of people better than you. Even if you did great debating in a middle school league, there are sophomores, juniors, and seniors who would be willing to team up with you if you're really that good.
Also, in the LD and Policy circuit, Pufo has taken on a reputation of being inferior. By no means is this true. Pufo is just as good as LD and Policy, if not better. Elite Pufo rounds are just as nuanced as elite policy rounds. Also, topics are more current, so they are more relevant, interesting, have better evidence, and all in all makes for higher quality debate.
Good for people who:
-Are looking to be competitive (It's basically just as competitive as LD and Policy - there is a TOC for it)
-Are good at speaking
-Have time to do some work but do not have unlimited time
-Prioritize academics over extra-curriculars or want to find a balance between them, and may struggle with academics later on in high school
-Work well in teams (which ends up being not that important; I've paired antisocial kids before and they succeeded)
-Care about current events
The last bit of this I noticed after seeing how successful my different students performed in debate. Iâ€™ve taught many students and seen several classes of students go through their entire high school career.
-Kids who dislike mathematics tend to be more successful in Public Forum. LD and Policy are very technical and people with more analytical and less creative minds succeed in them.
-Kids who have activities they do for fun are better suited for Public Forum or Parliamentary (this only exists in California and Oregon, so I won't talk about it here). Here I mean doing activities actually for fun, not for college, like playing video games, hanging out with friends, biking, paintballing, cooking, etc. You won't have time to relax by junior year if you do policy or LD. Even some PuFo kids are crunched for time in junior year.
Making the Choice
For most people, I'd suggest Pufo. If youâ€™re not breezing through middle school, it's right for you, the rest will be too much work. If you are better at speaking like a normal person, it's right for you, LD and Policy rounds require you to spread.
As an added benefit, I think colleges view success in Pufo as more important than equal success in Policy or LD. College admissions officers probably don't care that you can spew 500 words a minute, but they do care if you are a good public speaker and can communicate well. Sure, critical thinking skills are important in Policy, but they're there just as much, if not more, in Pufo. Since you have less evidence, the debate becomes less of throwing lots of statistics at each other, and more of trying to convince the judge. That means Pufo fosters more critical thinking than Policy as well. Sure, you might be losing out on learning a different Master's Thesis every year, but the benefits of doing Pufo definitely outweigh that.
I think Pufo is right for most people. For kids on California or Oregon, Parliamentary is another great option that you should look into. LD and Policy are right for students who are not good at connecting with the judge, or students who have plenty of time on their hands and breezed through all of middle school. For these kids, Policy is a great option for kids who like to work in pairs, and LD is good if you like philosophy more than the topic. Again, I'm no expert on Policy so choosing between the two can be difficult. All in all, people should do Public Forum, with a few exceptions.