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A Giant Thread About Michigan Debate, etc.

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what ever happened to the perennial powerhouses in michigan on the national circuit?

 

Groves

DCD

Brother Rice

EGR

Lansing

 

any others that i cannot remember

 

But

 

these teams used to be more than just 'instate powerhouses' they used to be constantly in TOC bid rounds, and winning national tournaments...

 

all due respect to warsh at Groves... what the hell happened to everyone in the past few years?

 

my freshman year, my 2 senior teams went to more national tournaments that year than i did the next 2 years combined.

 

what happend to michigan debate?

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[initially, Note: I am thoroughly unaware of the history of Michigan Debate, I am only speaking to what may be the causes of what Marc outlines - - I assume he's right.]

 

At the risk of sounding slightly conceited,

 

I believe there is two structural reasons that Michigan has become slightly less competitive

 

1. Budget Cuts - the public education system has suffered increased strain on a yearly basis and Debate, with its low number is one of the first programs to be cut.

2. In-State Competition - the better the teams are around you, the more incentive you have to do better. As soon as some of the greats from Michigan graduated, the competition decreased. I know that when Portage Central's Rocky and Joque graduated, the quality of that programs declined. In fact, once the Portage Central administration stopped seeing continuous TOC bids and national tournament victories, they terminated the program. Even in general, when Calum graduated, people in-state had less to compete with and therefore less incentive to work their butts off.

 

Also, I'm not quite sure that Michigan has become less competitive than other States having become more competitive.

 

Case and Point: Two years ago, 3/4's of the Semi's of the TOC was from Atlanta. And generally, TOC outrounds are dominated by teams from CA, GA, IL, and TX [Greenhill, CPS, Notre Dame, Woodward, Westminster, Highland Park, Chattahoochie, Kinkaid, GBS, GBN, New Trier, St. Mark's etc. etc.]. I'm not sure if this was always the case, but that's definitely what I've observed.

 

Regardless, I don't believe Michigan debate has declined that much. Last year, I know of three teams from Michigan who attended the TOC and two of them broke.

 

I am sure I am missing many points and am more than likely off the mark, but those are my two cents.

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I think recruitment of novices is also very low, meaning programs keep getting smaller and weaker. Okemos specifically had ONE year of really good recruitment when everyone was a freshmen, and we haven't gotten many people since then. Also, everyone assumes debate "is for nerds" (which I probably am), and thus nobody's willing to join because they're afraid they'll sound lame.

It's also hard to KEEP people in debate because you have to get really into it or it becomes really boring. Also, for some reason, most parents (at least in Okemos) are very anti-debate (probably because it takes up a lot of time).

...and I agree with everything Aakash said.

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There's actually a discussion going on about regional decline in the coaches forum if any of y'all are interested.

 

 

2. In-State Competition - the better the teams are around you, the more incentive you have to do better. As soon as some of the greats from Michigan graduated, the competition decreased. I know that when Portage Central's Rocky and Joque graduated, the quality of that programs declined. In fact, once the Portage Central administration stopped seeing continuous TOC bids and national tournament victories, they terminated the program. Even in general, when Calum graduated, people in-state had less to compete with and therefore less incentive to work their butts off.

 

I agree that regional strength supports regional strength because it's easier and cheaper to get good debates. I think Justin and Rocky are a suboptimal example though. They were very successful and talented, but

1.they had virtually no institutional support even when they where competing and

2.their senior year they didn't debate in state at all, except for u of m and egr.

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I think recruitment of novices is also very low, meaning programs keep getting smaller and weaker. Okemos specifically had ONE year of really good recruitment when everyone was a freshmen, and we haven't gotten many people since then. Also, everyone assumes debate "is for nerds" (which I probably am), and thus nobody's willing to join because they're afraid they'll sound lame.

It's also hard to KEEP people in debate because you have to get really into it or it becomes really boring. Also, for some reason, most parents (at least in Okemos) are very anti-debate (probably because it takes up a lot of time).

...and I agree with everything Aakash said.

 

couldn't possibly agree with that more. There is such an anti-debate feeling around my school. part of it obviously has to do with everyone assuming that groves is the school for forensics and debate and all that junk. generally it's just an apathy about public speaking and political issues. not many people care about those things anymore, which I think is a terrible tendency throughout high school and society. At least Okemos had one good year of recruitment. I've never experienced one. I also agree with Aakash.

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Middle school recruiting was time-consuming but somewhat effective when we did it in the past at Okemos. Fun to put together too - the principals are often looking for something interesting and different to do with the 8th-graders, and we put together a little 20-minute session including a mini demo debate and some minor discussions of what debate is.

 

Something that took me forever (literally probably over 60 hours) to put together but has had a lasting positive effect is our recruitment website, which we also put onto a CD and gave to prospects. On our website this can be found by clicking on "Join OHS Debate" in the navigation menu. It's dated now but shows some of the possibilities I was able to achieve.

 

Have other people put on public debates at their schools? What was that experience like? That's one avenue I'm considering for increasing our future visibility.

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starting a program from scrathc is somethign that alot of schools dont' seem willing to do. when i was at rice, i worked for a few months to expand our program back to marian highschool. the administration wanted to put 0$ into it and they wanted results. there woudl be veyr little support

 

how dose michigan debate survive the poor economy?

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The single largest obstacle in the way of debate recruitment is what kids THINK debate is and who they THINK debate is for. Recruitment becomes MUCH easier when that initial thought is broken and people are actually exposed to what debate is (i.e. not just the debates themselves, but the community around it, the research, the fun, etc.). It's almost impossible to convey all of that in a single recruitment effort.

The most effective way I can think of showing people what the entirety of "debate" is by putting them in it (which is obviously impossible if they don't want to join in the first place because they think it's for nerds). This means the only REAL way of doing so is through some sort of class (which Orion tells me Groves has, which explains their high recruitment and strong team-- not just their money, as I read in another thread). If there was a way to get people to experience what the activity actually was, it would be much more effective than putting posters up on school walls.

Personally, I don't have much of an idea of how to increase recruitment other that doing something like that.

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all due respect to warsh at Groves... what the hell happened to everyone in the past few years?

 

And Sara.

 

I will say sometimes debaters do well despite their school, sometimes they do well because of their school.

 

Sean Smith and Susan Sobatka did well despite where they went to high school.

 

Brother Rice debaters pre 2005 did well because of where they went to school. (Not saying these werent great debaters, I mean one went on to win the NDT and the other was a semi finalist, but I would say they didnt have to go through the same hardships as other debaters)

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As someone whose program was started from scratch, I can say that a very important thing for new programs is stable, patient leadership. It's important to know that your new squad isn't going to be very interested in the activity initially; despite whatever your record as coach was when you competed they have no idea yet why debate is interesting and also have no peers as role models. Cultivating that seed takes a lot of time and a lot of willingness to move past disappointment. It probably doesn't take 7 years to build a state finalist team; just don't be too surprised when they're not ripping it up in year 3. What your kids will expect out of the activity will change over that period as well; I remember many of my past debaters who just were happy to come to meetings and play frisbee with us, and then occasionally attend some tournaments. And to keep the program going, sometimes frisbee was the answer instead of cutting cards. Those kids will keep showing up no matter what stage the program is at, but I have more leverage now to push them because I think they can take it farther.

 

I completely agree with Darren's point about the class being great for recruiting. As a program with no class, we expend a large amount of energy each year keeping ourselves alive with new recruits. I'm sure the debate class has downsides, such as the constraints it places upon the coaching/teaching staff to actually make it "class-like;" but the longevitiy it seems to impart is a major reason why both my assistant Aaron and I want to become teachers.

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starting a program from scrathc is somethign that alot of schools dont' seem willing to do. when i was at rice, i worked for a few months to expand our program back to marian highschool. the administration wanted to put 0$ into it and they wanted results. there woudl be veyr little support

 

how dose michigan debate survive the poor economy?

 

Say Marc, what is your current involvement with the activity? I ask not to single you out but because it's common knowledge that there is a pool of potential coaches hanging out at colleges around the state. Many area schools would be happy to see a "debating club" start up, even if they didn't know what it might lead to. It doesn't matter that there's not much money for travel initially; the kids aren't going to go very far to begin with anyway. That's how Okemos got started, my college partner Tara started the program as an individual project for herself during her senior year at MSU. Very low-intensity during her year there, but a start is a start.

 

Also:

Mentorship mentorship mentorship - you have but to ask and established coaches will usually do whatever is in their power to help you get started. Free evidence, sharing travel resources, having kids come over to help teach, joint practices, scrimmages, you name it.

 

In fact I will make a standing offer: any program that has been in operation for less than 2 years can have a free debate website like the Okemos site, for at least 2 years. I haven't paid as much attention to our website this year as in years past, but it's still a powerful tool to overcome organizational hurdles and communication barriers.

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I think its cool how much support there is from the established coaches on the circuit to help out newer programs. Northview definitely survived this year because of some of the benefits provided to us because of other program directors.

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at this point, I'd just like to say thanks to some of those folks-- in a way, East Lansing's program has started over (only one returning debater and mixed support from the administration)

 

"Uncle" Guil Northrup-- even though you'll never read cross-x

 

Orion Moria Smith-- your continuing support of East Lansing has always been a boon

 

and of course Lew "The Rev" Vandermeer-- who still uses 160% of his time teaching at two institutions and pastoring 2 churches... gardens too, grows great tomatoes.

 

 

 

But I'd also like to mention what I (and maybe Joe) think could be an elephant in the room on this point-- MIFA

 

I don't think that a discussion of costs or coaching support could be thorough without discussing how that organization should (could?) change... radically. The costs of membership for our program were outrageous. The information provided to me on it, save when I was late for turning in some 'vital' form, was wholly absent (admittably, it was all online and I do bear some responsibility for turning in forms late, although, at a minimum, a 'welcome to the club' at the beginning of the year could have sorted a few things out.) Why not turn this organization (the debate part of it, anyways) into something that fosters programs with things like mentoring, advice on how to deal with administration/parents/students/etc, lesson plans... or a host of other things. Opportunity costs matter. Our program won't be in MIFA any more.

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Jackson---

 

An easy and logical place to start improvements would be for the Michigan Big Three speech non-profits (MIFA, MSCI & MASC) to anounce, not just in a timely manner, but announce PERIOD, when and where board, council & general membership meetings are to be held (not to mention agendas), and to post on their respective websites minutes of those meetings afterward.

 

I'm afraid it's going to take a lot more than that. As someone who's been to the same MIFA meeting for three years in a row, I think it's pretty much like rearanging the deck chairs on the titanic. Everyone has the same complaints every year, and every year Deb Marsh takes notes and says she'll let everyone know. And then everything gets swirled into a big ball of ether.

 

The organization is completely unresponsive because it can be. There's no alternative. The cost/benifit of what debate teams get out of MIFA is a total joke. "ohhhh...a $2000 state tournamement? Sounds great!"

 

From where I sit, they do virtually nothing productive. They have definatly outlived any usefulness what so ever.

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So now I'm the chair of the Debate Committee, i.e. now instead of Deb Marsh taking notes I take notes. I'm new to the position and haven't taken too many opportunities to promote dramatic change, but as an insider I feel I've learnt a few things from observation.

 

I perceive MIFA to be an organization that provides several services to the debate community. Mind, I'm not going to talk about negatives in this list, and it's not meant to be exclusive. But it's a side of the discussion absent from prior posts.

 

MIFA provides legitimacy to certain debate events. It's difficult to hold a state tournament without an organization that is distinct from the competing schools. Granted this year the Debate Committee has stepped up its efforts to find ways to run the State tournaments that involve MIFA staff less, but still I would suggest that many schools perceive the tournament as much more fair because Linda was there in case a dispute arose.

 

MIFA promotes the activity to policymakers. I don't think many people realize how much advocacy Fitz engaged in at various levels of government, promoting speech activities and getting involved as much as possible in discussions about the relationship between speech activities and education. Ask a teacher of a debate class whether Michigan's interaction with No Child Left Behind has affected their debate class; many will say it has made teaching debate more difficult. Debate doesn't have an official lobbying organization, but paying MIFA dues does promote this type of effort which cannot realistically be ignored when government is doing so much fiddling with education.

 

MIFA is the keeper of record. Debate and other speech activities in Michigan have a history, and someone should be the guardian of that history. The weight of that history can sometimes stifle needed change, but it is also a compelling argument in itself in favor of debate and related activities.

 

and finally the biggest item on this list, to my mind:

 

The inertia of bureaucracy represents long-term commitment. How many of the people that coached debate at MI high schools ten years ago are still around? Having people whose job description includes "make sure this activity doesn't die" provides longevitiy to debate. Look around the state; how many young teacher/coaches are there that will be around in 20 years? Of the teacher/coaches now present, how many are within a decade of retirement? An alternative to MIFA (really, any serious discussion of the future of debate in the state) must address the concern of how to get more people installed in permanent positions. If you are in college and helping a team out that is very cool and they will love it for the duration of your classwork, but if you are not replaced by another college student when you graduate the program you helped will suffer. In any case, what I'm saying is that some bureaucracy and inefficiency may be the price to pay for one of the few remaining ties between the present and the future.

 

Feel free to rebut, deny, what have you; I am The Man now after all. Here's the one-sentence summation of my above arguments: now that I am a little older, I have a greater appreciation of the long-term and that's one thing MIFA is still helpful for.

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What authority do you have to change MIFA? What is the political process? What decision makers do you have to convince that change is good / beneficial, and based on what criteria? i.e. How can MIFA be changed?

 

Now we're talking. The fact of bureaucracy is mostly what I was suggesting we be willing to accept; the particular shape of that bureaucracy is something that can be molded.

 

Inertia being what it is that change may take time; but it is demonstrably possible. In one year we accomplished dramatic revisions to the procedures for operation of the State debate events, and I am a big fan of the results so far. This was done in somewhat of a ramrod fashion because we were in a severe time crunch, and all of the people on the Debate Committee expect that refinement and discovery of what's good/bad will come with perspective. Thus some democracy was squashed in an effort to avoid catastrophic last-minute breakdowns; the community was not consulted, but by and large my observation is that the community is OK with what's changed.

 

For future changes, it's important to be aware of some timeline issues. The earlier one can get a lot of momentum behind one's changes the better, because plans for MIFA events are made a long time in advance. Already the Crowne Plaza Hotel is asking Linda Martini about next year, which means the next month will be an important period to decide on venue-related issues for next year's event.

 

Generally I suggest the following three guidelines for those of you that wish to instigate change:

 

1) Gather support, and demonstrate it. Lone dissenters will usually be listened to but their ideas are unlikely to go anywhere unless they persuade others. This is why the Debate Committee meeting at Varsity States usually contains many issues that go nowhere; one person raises them, other people may nod but do not speak out in support.

 

2) Be civil. The reason I ask this is not because I am old and wish to hark back to "olden days," it is because I increasingly realize that the people that run the statewide activity of debate are doing so in precious spare time. Clearly nobody but MIFA staff gets paid to make MIFA's decisions; this includes the Forensic Council, the decisionmaking body of which I am now a part. So if you feel all hot-tempered because you didn't like the judging at States, approach the people who can effect changes the way you would approach any other volunteer for a good cause.

 

3) MIFA likes to presume for the status quo. It really is true; if it works "well enough" it will not usually be changed, and usually proposals for change must demonstrate a problem with the squo in addition to an advantage to the change. There are all sorts of good reasons why this happens the way it does and probably a few bad reasons too, but it's generally the way the world works so I don't think anyone should be all that surprised. People will muddle through and accept a level of mediocrity to allow them to focus on other things. Plus the "hidden DA" arg does make sense in this context; changing large interscholastic events is a complex process, and there will usually be unforseen consequences. Foresight is thus an appreciated quality in suggestions for change.

 

Who do you talk to? Talk to me, or anybody else on the Debate Committee. Attend a Debate Committee meeting (not sure but I think the next one might be in the summer, at the SDI). Build consensus and ask questions.

 

Generally the political process for instituting a change to debate activities involves the Debate Committee first. We will discuss the suggestion and then formulate it as a recommendation to the Forensic Council, which meets several times per year. The Council generally accepts all Debate Committee recommendations unless they are potentially detrimental to other activities such as theater/IE/etc. or would be difficult for the organization to undertake, or cost money. In those cases there will be further discussion. Still, the Council is a friendly body and votes are often unanimous because we can usually reach a consensus after talking it over.

 

As chair of the Debate Committee I do not have special authority within the Committee itself beyond helping to set up Committee meetings. I will sometimes perform extra duties for which my title grants an added legitimacy, such as handing out trophies at the Novice Finals event. As chair I do have special authority as a voting member of the Forensic Council, able to introduce and decide upon measures when that body deliberates.

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Orion---

 

You may not be in a position to answer this, given that you are new to the debate committee and not on council, but, are meeting agendas announced anywhere? Can MIFA member institution representatives get things put on agendas (MIFA's members are THE SCHOOLS, not the Directors)? How are the agendas for meetings determined? Are they always adhered to? Can staff and/or council members or EDs unilaterally and unannounced strike things from the agenda?

I am in fact on the Forensic Council. But I'm also new, so my intel won't be perfect. That said here are some answers:

 

-Meeting dates are certainly announced, and agendas/minutes could probably be published on the website. They might be already, I haven't looked because I get them in my email. Don't quote me on that though, I suppose it's possible that there are information security issues. But I'll ask.

 

Find meeting dates here:

http://www.themifa.org/html/event_calendar.html

 

I think there's not a ton of lead time before the Council meetings during which the agenda is available (probably about a week or less), but if you email Linda Martini she could almost certainly give you an update on what she knows will be covered.

 

-Meetings are run with a loose, but structured adherence to the agenda items. Jim Telfer is pretty good at making sure this happens. Sometimes we'll skip around due to constraints (someone has to leave early, say) but the agenda does get followed.

 

-Meetings are also recorded, on audio tape. I don't know what the policy is for sharing this information, it's doubtless done to satisfy a legal requirement. But if you are curious, you may be able to ask Linda for a copy or other form of access to the recording.

 

-The ED is not the chair of the meeting, that job goes to Jim Telfer. Linda will be there and we value her input, but she does not vote as far as I know. Barbara Eberling is the secretary, she records the minutes about parliamentary procedure, who made what motion, whether they passed etc.

 

-I'm not sure what it would take to get something on the agenda for someone not on the Council, though I would guess that with some persuasion it could happen. There's clearly a threshold of reasonability to the process, as the Council does meet for a limited amount of time and often has critical financial matters to get to. I think that someone on the Council actually has to propose a motion that the body would vote on.

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I will say that this year's state tournament was by far the most efficient of any of the tournaments I have been to in my years as a debater and coach. There certainly are still kinks to be worked out, but it was a fantastic system.

 

I do think that MIFA is a vital part of debate within the state. There are many programs, particularly the smaller ones, which would be drastically affected if we were to eliminate MIFA. Would debate leagues continue to function without MIFA? As the coach of a team who debates predominantly in leagues, I would hate to see what would happen to the league circuit.

 

In fact, I feel that perhaps if there were more support of leagues it would help support the debate community. Let me explain: When I was in high school, the Holland Area Debate League was a big deal. This past year, however, the league was only 4 teams. For some smaller programs (I can only speak on behalf of my own experience here, but I hope it counts for others too) the costs and time commitment of weekend tournaments are more than our small program can handle.

 

How do I think that we can better support leagues? MIFA already does their part. I think this has to be something we do--make a commitment to debating during the week, not just on weekends. This makes debate more visible and more feasible for the smaller programs.

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