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topspeaker70

The Deaf of Policy Debate

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Here we go again.

 

In the October 17, 2008 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Mark Oppenheimer becomes the latest in a line of critics to announce that academic policy debate, if not officially dead, has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122420084779742873.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

 

It is ironic, to put it mildly, to find myself in the role of opposing Professor Oppenheimer and defending academic policy debate. Indeed, I almost completely concur with the opinions he expresses regarding the current status of "scholastic debate." (I prefer the term "academic policy debate.")

 

However, like a judge awarding a "low-point win," I feel that I am ethically compelled to categorically reject Professor Oppenheimer's dreary - and alarmist - conclusion, i.e.,

"... cholastic debate today is very different, and its sorry state has consequences for the health of the republic."

 

In so doing, let me begin by making a clear distinction between my "personal preferences" re: academic policy debate versus my "judging paradigm."

 

 

PERSONAL PREFERENCES:

 

After almost ten years of careful study (starting with my observation of some elim round debates at the 1998 USC college invitational, and continuing through and including my judging a policy debate round at the CSUF high school tournament last Friday), it is my considered opinion that "the styles" - both in terms of "delivery" and argumentative substance - currently employed in NDT/CEDA debate at the college level, and in "national circuit debate" at the high school level suck. Big time.

 

Academic policy debate, as currently practiced, is obnoxious to my eye, my ears, and my intellect. In my opinion, the average "championship-quality" academic policy debater far too often looks like a transient, sounds like a fish out of water (literally), and argues concepts more appropriate to the restroom walls at the offices of the Berkely Barb than to a forum in the hallowed halls of Academe.

 

That is why I have, both de facto and de jure, recused myself from attending competemporary "scholastic policy debates." The only way I will attend such a debate is if I am instructed to do so by the officials at a tournament, as part of filling my school's Lincoln-Douglas judging commitment.

 

However...

 

JUDGING PHILOSOPHY:

 

I have never judged - and I never will judge - any single academic debate round on the basis of my personal principles, values, beliefs, morals, opinions. etc. And I apply this same standard to "judging" the activity of academic policy debate as a whole.

 

Just because I don't like contemporary academic policy debate, I do not jump to the conclusion - as Professor Oppenheimer apparently does - that policy debate is dead, or dying, or worthy of censure. Instead, I conclude that academic policy debate is dynamic and constantly evolving. (Life changes, Mark - get used to it.)

 

I suspect that the "rules" of academic policy debate are - and should be - made by a majority of people who actively participate in the activity... especially the coaches and judges who spend hundreds of hours per month at their work. I also suspect that the vast majority of the people who participate in academic policy debate are under forty-five years of age. The norms, mores, styles, and customs of contemporary debate reflect that. No more. No less.

 

Let me put it this way: I think contemporary music sucks, too. That doesn't mean "music is dying." I think it means I'm just losing my ear.

 

One last thing: accusing Larry Tribe of creating and/or promoting "the spead" and/or "postmodern debate" is just not factual. I knew Larry Tribe well - at least in a debate sense - throughout the 1970's, and I was present at the Georgetown Institutes Professor Oppenheimer is talking about. On this point, Professor Oppenheimer is plainly ill-informed.

 

Bottom line: Let the kids debate the way they want to debate. They ain't hurting nobody.

Edited by topspeaker70
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I agree with him, debate will be dead in a few years if we continue to go down the road that we're on.

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I agree with him, debate will be dead in a few years if we continue to go down the road that we're on.

 

Apropos of the title I chose for this thread, I think that those of us who love policy debate do not always hear everything we "should" hear.

 

I agree with you (and Professor Oppenheimer) on almost every point, subject to these caveats and clarifications:

 

(1) It is "policy debate as currently practiced by NDT/CEDA/HSNC (High School - National Circuit) programs" that is the "problem." And it is that narrow part of debate (NDT/CEDA/NCHS-style) which is allegedly "dying." There are other forms of policy debate - both real (i.e. public forum) and ideal - which are unaffected.

 

(2) I may be guilty of channeling my inner running-dog capitalist biases, but I think that this is an issue that the free market (in this case, the free marketplace of ideas) - and not outside forces (such as uninformed administrators and/or frustrated debateosaurs like myself) - should decide. If enough people support NDT/CEDA/HSNC-style debate as it is, it will live - and perhaps even grow. If not, it will "die."

 

In my opinion, it will "die" within 10 years... and if it does, I will not shed a single tear. However...

 

Then, for the reasons I set forth below, policy debate will "live" again - in some form currently unknown (and perhaps unknowable) to us.

 

(3) Nature (which includes the human intellect and the human need to argue) abhors a vacuum. Ergo, I am confident that, if NDT/CEDA/HSNC-style debate does "die," it will be replaced by something else.

 

I hope that it will be "better." But whether it is "better" or "worse" will

- literally - be a very debateable question.

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Some prefer carrot while others like cabbage.

 

 

Well said.

 

Speaking only for myself* - on this year's topic, I would love hear what high school debaters (who, IMHO, still make up the "best and the brightest" political minds in the high school community) really think America should do to solve its energy problems. Put another way: I am, for example, far more interested in the empirical pros and cons of nuclear power than I am in the philosophical pros and cons of biopower.

 

But I guess that I, Obama, "Drill-Baby-Drill" McCain, and others have just missed the boat. From the limited amount of information I've heard, what really matters in American energy policy is whether or not certain Native American tribes get more tax credits to build more windmills.

 

Shows what we know. ;)

 

 

 

 

 

*Which, come to think of it, is a truly dumb expression... unless it is used by a ventriloquist...

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i'm not so sure about that... i think, as history shows, debate will change a lot in 10 years, but i believe the activity will stay alive and kicking in many regions of the country. (though it is slowly dieing in some parts).

 

Good points.

 

I assume that there is a big difference between NDT/CEDA/NCHS-style policy debate and "slow policy debate" in various parts of the country.

 

(1) If so, it would, I think, be a good thing if someone videoed a comparatively-calm, comprehensible, academic policy debate and posted that on the web. Is such a thing possible?

 

(2) If you read Oppenheimer's article carefully, he is dismayed not only about speed, but also about the dogmatic "postmodern" content of "national circuit" scholastic debate... which sounds to him - and many others, including me - a lot like radical Marxism.

 

And here, I must agree with Oppenheimer's pessimism (for debate, not "the republic"). It's a hard sell to generate administrative and monetary support for debate from a moderate body politic - especially when it appears that only school of thought that is permissible in academic debate is "The William Ayers Institute for the Continuing Study of Why America Sucks."

 

Don't conservatives debate anymore? (90-95% of the time, I don't agree with them, but damn it, DEBATE NEEDS THEM*. No genuine clash = no genuine debate.)

 

And if they do, why aren't they out there - on the national debate circuit - defending conservative values, instead of implicitly conceding that an academic debate must be judged according to tenets of radical secular humanist ideology?

 

* Here, on the Left Coast, and in LA-LA Land in particular, we say, "A strong USC needs a strong UCLA - and vice-versa."

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But I guess that I, Obama, "Drill-Baby-Drill" McCain, and others have just missed the boat. From the limited amount of information I've heard, what really matters in American energy policy is whether or not certain Native American tribes get more tax credits to build more windmills.

 

 

Actually, businesses get the tax credits from the native tribes in exchange for investment in wind energy. Not sure why tax credits for investment in alternative ways to produce electricity would be an illegitimate or irrelevent response to the American energy crisis?

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Here we go again.

 

In the October 17, 2008 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Mark Oppenheimer becomes the latest in a line of critics to announce that academic policy debate, if not officially dead, has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122420084779742873.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

 

It is ironic, to put it mildly, to find myself in the role of opposing Professor Oppenheimer and defending academic policy debate. Indeed, I almost completely concur with the opinions he expresses regarding the current status of "scholastic debate." (I prefer the term "academic policy debate.")

 

However, like a judge awarding a "low-point win," I feel that I am ethically compelled to categorically reject Professor Oppenheimer's dreary - and alarmist - conclusion, i.e.,

"... cholastic debate today is very different, and its sorry state has consequences for the health of the republic."

 

In so doing, let me begin by making a clear distinction between my "personal preferences" re: academic policy debate versus my "judging paradigm."

 

 

PERSONAL PREFERENCES:

 

After almost ten years of careful study (starting with my observation of some elim round debates at the 1998 USC college invitational, and continuing through and including my judging a policy debate round at the CSUF high school tournament last Friday), it is my considered opinion that "the styles" - both in terms of "delivery" and argumentative substance - currently employed in NDT/CEDA debate at the college level, and in "national circuit debate" at the high school level suck. Big time.

 

Academic policy debate, as currently practiced, is obnoxious to my eye, my ears, and my intellect. In my opinion, the average "championship-quality" academic policy debater far too often looks like a transient, sounds like a fish out of water (literally), and argues concepts more appropriate to the restroom walls at the offices of the Berkely Barb than to a forum in the hallowed halls of Academe.

 

That is why I have, both de facto and de jure, recused myself from attending competemporary "scholastic policy debates." The only way I will attend such a debate is if I am instructed to do so by the officials at a tournament, as part of filling my school's Lincoln-Douglas judging commitment.

 

However...

 

JUDGING PHILOSOPHY:

 

I have never judged - and I never will judge - any single academic debate round on the basis of my personal principles, values, beliefs, morals, opinions. etc. And I apply this same standard to "judging" the activity of academic policy debate as a whole.

 

Just because I don't like contemporary academic policy debate, I do not jump to the conclusion - as Professor Oppenheimer apparently does - that policy debate is dead, or dying, or worthy of censure. Instead, I conclude that academic policy debate is dynamic and constantly evolving. (Life changes, Mark - get used to it.)

 

I suspect that the "rules" of academic policy debate are - and should be - made by a majority of people who actively participate in the activity... especially the coaches and judges who spend hundreds of hours per month at their work. I also suspect that the vast majority of the people who participate in academic policy debate are under forty-five years of age. The norms, mores, styles, and customs of contemporary debate reflect that. No more. No less.

 

Let me put it this way: I think contemporary music sucks, too. That doesn't mean "music is dying." I think it means I'm just losing my ear.

 

One last thing: accusing Larry Tribe of creating and/or promoting "the spead" and/or "postmodern debate" is just not factual. I knew Larry Tribe well - at least in a debate sense - throughout the 1970's, and I was present at the Georgetown Institutes Professor Oppenheimer is talking about. On this point, Professor Oppenheimer is plainly ill-informed.

 

Bottom line: Let the kids debate the way they want to debate. They ain't hurting nobody.

 

I think Oppenheimer is full of baloney. And he sounds like an elitist jerk. I also question a lot of his alleged facts:

 

1. You won't find postmodern debate at Yale or NYU? Then they must lose a lot of rounds. How do they answer postmodern arguments? Theory blocks? Realism good? If they are competitive, they probably have more offense than that.

 

2. "Ugly shorthand"? So what.

 

3. "But the most enthusiastic converts to the competitive policy style were scrappy workhorses from high schools and lesser colleges who wanted a level playing field. When debate was about majestic oratory, the naturally charming golden boys, or those polished by prep schools, had a distinct advantage; but when debate rounds could be won with technicalities and sheer quantity of argumentation, then industry could carry the day."

 

Elitist, much? It reminds me of the dons in Chariots of Fire telling Abrahams that he was too much a professional. "Lesser colleges"? I'm an academic snob. But, wow.

 

And my recollection is that Northwestern, Michigan and Dartmouth (to name just a few) ran plenty of arguments.

 

4. People have been predicting the death of debate since at least the time I was debating in college (1978). Maybe they're right, but it seems to have outlasted many of its detractors. And I don't think debate is any faster now than it was thirty years ago.

 

5. "Genuine persuasion" is in the eye of the beholder.

 

6. "Policy debate is no longer training young men and women for participation in civic discourse." I strongly disagree. It may not teach oratorical skills, but it does prepare for participation in civic discourse. I think the reason I react so strongly to certain politicians is that they do not seem to have thought about the implications of their positions. They pride themselves on going with their gut. To me, that is the death of civic discourse (together with being willing to say anything to win).

 

I would argue that Karl Rove has done more to erode "civic discourse" than 1,000 postmodern debaters. And he debated when oratory mattered.

 

7. Mr. Oppenheimer prefers parliamentary debate and public forum. That's fine.

 

I'm concerned about the future of debate, too. But I don't think the answer is to say "Let's all do PF." I think the biggest threat to policy debate is the lack of coaching. When a coach retires or switches schools, it's hard to get someone who knows the activity well and who wants to coach. It's even harder to build a team at a school without debate tradition.

 

I can't blame anyone; coaching is lots of work for essentially no money. You have to really like it and be willing to make lots of sacrifices.

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um hez right: no "postmodern" debate at yale, granted, they dont have a fucking debate program anymore....

 

 

But the most enthusiastic converts to the competitive policy style were scrappy workhorses from high schools and lesser colleges who wanted a level playing field. When debate was about majestic oratory, the naturally charming golden boys, or those polished by prep schools, had a distinct advantage; but when debate rounds could be won with technicalities and sheer quantity of argumentation, then industry could carry the day.

yeah, i wish debate was more elitist and that big/well-funded schools had more of an advantage, that would be great. and more of a focus on looks, i mean, sure you might be brilliant and learning alot, but if you look like you didnt attend an east coast boarding school, well, get back into the salt mines pleb.

 

i do hope hes right about us ruining civil society. just image the fun if it turned out the k had an alternative after all.

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Academic policy debate, as currently practiced, is obnoxious to my eye, my ears, and my intellect. In my opinion, the average "championship-quality" academic policy debater far too often looks like a transient, sounds like a fish out of water (literally), and argues concepts more appropriate to the restroom walls at the offices of the Berkely Barb than to a forum in the hallowed halls of Academe.

 

Perhaps we should rethink what the academy "is". Fit the academy to what we think in places like critical debate as opposed to fitting debate to the academy.

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I want to debate this guy. His argument is clearly weak at best, and elitist/classist/sexist (remember when only boys could win? man...those were the days) at worst.

 

Maybe he'd be down for a Vdebate!

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I want to debate this guy. His argument is clearly weak at best, and elitist/classist/sexist (remember when only boys could win? man...those were the days) at worst.

 

Maybe he'd be down for a Vdebate!

Hell yeah, back when men were men and women weren't.

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>>>But postmodern debate was not invented at the schools where we expect to find postmodern theory. You won't find those debate tactics at Yale, where I once coached, or at New York University. Rather, they have a foothold in the debate world of large state schools and land-grant universities, in part as a response to the competitive policy-debate style that emphasizes insider jargon and super-fast talking.

 

 

Homeboy should check is articles. New York won CEDAs and rocked the NDT on Foucault + Zizeck about 3 years ago.

 

NYT = all the ________ thats fit to print apparently.

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>>>But it's too bad that her solution is to question the premises of debate; there are other options.

 

Wait isn't that what he was doing with his article?

 

The fact that 30-50% of his thesis is based on an oversimplification and hasty generalization I'm sure is lost on him (and Rupert Murdock of the WSJ + Fox)

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Hey, can anyone tell something good about debate.

Like, well, idk, when your self-esteem shoots up 30 levels after your first novice round, OR when your i.q. raises 10 points as you learn about philosophy, foreign policy, politics, etc. OR you win a scholarship to your favorite collage because you did policy debate in High School.

 

Listen, we need to meet in the middle. Debaters, judges, coaches, whoever, we need to act more responsible and realize the rest of the world doesn't care if you not wearing your favorite "F**k Capitalism" shirt is seen as elitist oppression, or that saying "shithead" in the middle of a round (or and RFD) expresses your fight against BioPower. We claim that policy debate dosen't desearve to die, yet we have our hands gripped against it's throut.

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Lots of good thoughts in this thread. My thanks to everyone who has read it and/or participated in it.

 

This word "elitist" is thrown around a lot; and, if you've followed the Presidential campaign the past two years, you know that it is used in many mysterious ways (i.e., "Don't vote for 'That One,' because he's an elitist").

 

Isn't academic tournament debate inherently elitist? If not, then what is the function of elimination rounds and speaker awards?

 

Isn't "mutual preference judging" elitist?

 

And what's wrong with "elitism" anyway - assuming that all people are genuinely given an equal opportunity to enter the elite?

 

'Scuse me... I'm going to the driving range and hit a bucket of balls...

then I'm going for drinks and dinner to a five-star restaurant: "where the elite meet to eat." ;)

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Michael, the difference I perceive is whether the elitism comes at the front end or the back end. Every type of competition seeks to reward the better competitor, and in a sense, that is elitist. But if the competition is run fairly, presumably the winner is chosen based on performance. One of my beefs with Mr. Oppenheimer was his presumption that the students at the Ivy League schools should have a built-in advantage, because they are refined, look good, and attended the right prep schools. That is elitism based on privilege, not performance. America is all about pulling oneself up by bootstraps, isn't it?

 

I think the children of politicians and the wealthy have a greater chance of attending elite institutions than the children of Jill the Hairdresser.

 

Didn't you give up your claim to elite status (or at least elite income) when you left the law?

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Your argument associates "elitism" with debaters who are well dressed and aesthetically pleasing speakers. You are critical of current debate because it privelages content and substance over oratory and charm. If a consequence of debates with more research, more arguments, greater depth, and LESS subjective exclusion based on aesthetic criteria is that debaters will talk really fast and often be unclear than I am all for it. The benefits outweigh the disadvantage.

 

You long for the days when one could win a debate by wearing a snazzy suit and impressing judges with presence and wit. Your vision of the activity may be better preparation for the real world, where merit is indeed frequently trumped by subjective bias, but from an academic standpoint it's substantially less educational.

 

The question is not whether it is good to be elite - It's a question of how we determine who is elite. Should we award trophies and thus determine the 'elite' based on criteria which clearly benefit wealthier students who attend preperatory schools or should we award them based on their ability to win substantially more intensive debate rounds through a combination of technical skill, quality argumentation, and effective pre-tournament research?

Edited by Wittwer

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Didn't you give up your claim to elite status (or at least elite income) when you left the law?

 

I certainly dropped out of what considers itself to be an "elite" profession.

 

And, 'tis true, I left the law because I discovered that it was inherently "elitist" in the worst sense of the word: to wit, racist and plutocratic.

 

Just a thought: When using perjoratives, "snob" might be a more accurate term than "elitist."

 

But I do feel some kinship with - and sympathy for - Mad Mark Oppenheimer. I feel as if policy debate - or at least that part of it decried in the Oppenheimer article - left me. (And it's only a guess, but I suspect other debaters from the '60's, 70's and early 80's - if any are still alive - feel much the same way.)

 

And why do I feel left out? unwelcome? rejected? (You may stop here to wipe away a tear if you wish.) My three greatest "sins" against the current policy debate dogma/methodology appear to be: (a) believing that a policy debate should bear a reasonable rationship to and be limited to the assigned topic; (B) believing that a policy debate should be decided upon facts and credible academic research pertaining to the topic area, as opposed to wild speculative philosophical theorizing that no one would seriously assert in a legislative body; and, © that a policy debate should be conducted in collequial English and at a rate of speed that would permit a reasonably well-educated American adult to understand and appreciate it.

 

The lesson of the French Revolution was not lost upon me: an angry, vengeful plebian mob is just as dangerous to the human condition as an oppressive, parasitic patrician oligarchy.

 

BTW: Another probable inaccuracy in the Oppenheimer article: the "new type of debate" he appears to be talking about is National Forensics Association Lincoln-Douglas, which is conducted at the college level, not at the high school level. So the good Professor knows not the difference between NFL and NFA. ;)

 

Ah well, as I said before: let the kids debate the way they want to debate. I'm probably way too old for this stuff anyhoo...

 

Gotta meet Bill and Bernadette for white wine and Molotov Cocktails.

Power to the people!

 

Aside to Ben Wittwer:

 

Another reason to disapprove of the Oppenheimer article - his implication that, in the antediluvian days, championship debaters came exclusively from Andover, etc. et al, and they all spoke like William F. Buckley. My experience has been just the opposite.

 

I have been around debate since December of 1965. At no time have I perceived that debates were - or should be - decided on the basis of income (Although wealth was certainly not a handicap). I did not own a suit - snazzy or otherwise - until I was a junior in college. Had debate "back in the day" been the aristocracy you describe, I would not have won anything as I was from a decidely working-class family (of all the adults who raised me, only my father had attended college), and there were no "rich folks" on the UH debate team... or on the NDHS debate teams I coached (1973-83) either.

 

Yes, in "the old days" there were some rich kids in debate... and several did well. There was at least an equal number of "poor kids" - and the vast majority of the debaters were middle-class. For every Dartmouth and Georgetown, there was a Wichita State or a Boston College; for every Harvard there was (most of the time at least) a Houston. Indeed, there were some community colleges (BucoJuco, HutchJuco, and others) who were highly competitive on the NDT circuit.

 

And it should go without saying that if "charm" had ever been a voting criteria, I - and most of my contemporaries - would never have made it to an octa-final. NDT-level debaters were called many things in the 1960's and 1970's [speed-freaks, motor-mouths, anal-retentive, poindexters, pre-verts, sarcastic, frenetic, belligerent, caustic, obnoxious, opinionated, radical, etc.] - but "charming" was not on the list. ;) We were, I am proud to say, thoroughly offensive to "the Establishment." And David Seikel has the audiotapes to prove it.

Edited by topspeaker70
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And why do I feel left out? unwelcome? rejected? (You may stop here to wipe away a tear if you wish.) My three greatest "sins" against the current policy debate dogma/methodology appear to be: (a) believing that a policy debate should bear a reasonable rationship to and be limited to the assigned topic; (B) believing that a policy debate should be decided upon facts and credible academic research pertaining to the topic area, as opposed to wild speculative philosophical theorizing that no one would seriously assert in a legislative body; and, © that a policy debate should be conducted in collequial English and at a rate of speed that would permit a reasonably well-educated American adult to understand and appreciate it.

 

 

As far as A and B, fine, you don't like kritiks and you think affs should be T. Lots of folks agree with you, but still participate in current policy debate and do not feel it has "left" them. I don't think untopical affs and wild, speculative theorizing is an accurate assessment of the average high school policy round. But as you say, debaters will take debate in the direction they take it, it's not for us. I don't feel marginalized or excluded when teams choose to debate using arguments that I would not make. I still feel like I can adjudicate them. I suspect you could too.

 

As for C, which gets to the crux of my previous post, why? Should the senate committee on energy reform dumb down their highly technical policy discussion so that anyone watching on C-Span will understand it? Do we presume that debate rounds are public? Do we presume that debate rounds are occuring for the educational benefit of the audience?

If yes, I'd be interested to hear the reasons. But if no, then I think the benefits accrued to the competitors themselves outweigh. If the students in the round and the judge can handle rapid fire delivery, then it means the round will include more arguments, more research, and more depth. It will be more educationally beneficial for the students themselves. If the judge can't handle speed, the debaters should and do slow down when asked to.

Speed is not necessary for debate at all, but it seems like *in instances when all the participants and the judge are comfortable with it* it can only create a better debate.

Our activity is insular. It's a technical activity which requires training specific to the activity. I don't think it's designed to mirror policy debates which occur in congress, nor is it designed to be accessible to a lay audience. It's an educational activity designed to benefit the participants with the most educational experience possible.

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Our activity is insular. It's a technical activity which requires training specific to the activity. I don't think it's designed to mirror policy debates which occur in congress, nor is it designed to be accessible to a lay audience. It's an educational activity designed to benefit the participants with the most educational experience possible.

 

Ben, I agree with you 95% (a rate higher than the McCain-Bush symbiosis). I started this thread by attacking Oppenheimer and defending contemporary debate, right? I'm not saying that debate is corrupting the republic - Oppenheimer is. Call him out, okay? :)

 

As to the 5% in which we have (IMHO) minor differences:

 

A. What is insular and technical to some could be considered exclusionary and elitist to others. Depends upon whose ox-box is getting bored. ;)

 

B. I think "the community" suffers educationally (and debate participants suffer financially) because NDT/CEDA/NCHS debate is too insular.

 

I don't know about you, but I always enjoyed debating the most when there was a big - and demographically diverse - audience*. I viewed audience debating as a medium for broadening of the educational experience. The audience learned a lot (I hope) about the subject matter of the debate; I learned a lot about audience analysis and community-based politics.

 

I don't know, but I fear that - as money for education becomes scarcer and scarcer - debate without an audience may become an activity without funding. I do know that when I was coaching at NDHS, we would have been dead meat without parental, faculty and community support (we had no formal funding until my last two years). We earned that support by putting on entertaining public debates; and we didn't have to "dumb them down" to make them entertaining... although we did slow them down. (A professional race driver usually has a family car, and can operate it well.)

 

I'm not trashing debate in the Wall Street Journal - or anywhere else for that matter. I just don't want to be remembered as a vaccuous, empty-headed, Preppie in a snazzy suit, who won debates by quoting Plato and Aristotle and belching platitudes. I worked my ass off and argued my guts out - as did every other successful debater I knew. Before there was the www. there was the library.

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

 

*I don't know what it's like now, but in Houston in the late Sixties, the final round of a high school debate tournament would be packed with

parents, siblings, significant others, groupies, and curious custodial personnel - as well as exhausted, pissed-off, envious and/or admiring debaters. This was particularly true at Bellaire - the ultimate birthplace of all "Zarefsky Scholars."

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I don't think anyone doubts that you earned your debate accolades. I certainly don't. And I think I'll advocate the permutation on this one - Yes, public debates, yes, engagement with outsides, but also yes to fast, technical debate competitions. Just as you earned your debate success through merit and hard work, so do debaters today who give the speeches you were earlier describing negatively. I think we can appreciate where debate is today as well as where it came from.

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But I do feel some kinship with - and sympathy for - Mad Mark Oppenheimer. I feel as if policy debate - or at least that part of it decried in the Oppenheimer article - left me. (And it's only a guess, but I suspect other debaters from the '60's, 70's and early 80's - if any are still alive - feel much the same way.)

 

And why do I feel left out? unwelcome? rejected? (You may stop here to wipe away a tear if you wish.) My three greatest "sins" against the current policy debate dogma/methodology appear to be: (a) believing that a policy debate should bear a reasonable rationship to and be limited to the assigned topic; (B) believing that a policy debate should be decided upon facts and credible academic research pertaining to the topic area, as opposed to wild speculative philosophical theorizing that no one would seriously assert in a legislative body; and, © that a policy debate should be conducted in collequial English and at a rate of speed that would permit a reasonably well-educated American adult to understand and appreciate it.

 

As another debater from the semi-dark ages (high school 1976-1981; college 1981-1985), I thought I would respond.

 

(a) I like the kids to debate the topic. The debates I've heard of, both hs and college, where students want to argue the racist implications of the activity before and without considering the topic at hand make me very uncomfortable. The topic is there for a reason and provides a great amount of latitude. Kids can be topical AND creative.

 

(B) I disagree with you a little about kritiks (some may be surprised to hear me utter such a thing!). An intelligently run applicable kritik seems absolutely in-bounds. When we debated mental health, I believe the k's about who is defining "normalcy" and "mental health" was relevant -- was the Aff's case just another attempt to shift the boundaries of society? Likewise, last year's topic about Africa led to some philosophical discussions of whether the US (and the West) had a legitimate "right" to tell other countries what to do. I remember the Carter Administration and President Carter declaring that the US has a moral imperative to answer humanitarian calls in the world -- that was a kritik argument about very practical actions concerning the use of US troops. I agree that some of the k's I've heard (or heard about) are very far flung and seem to avoid debating the topic (see a) more than progressing policy considerations. So some of those philosophical theorizings belong, but they need to be tightly associated directly with the announced topic.

 

© Again, I'm going to disagree with you slightly. We can't fight speed. So-called inhuman speeds have been standard criticism of policy debate since I was in high school. If I recall, the sponsors of the 1981 nationals were so disgusted by the speed of the CX finals that NFL moved CX from the finale finals to 8:00am in the morning and moved LD to that primo position. But my disagreement with you is only mild -- I have problems listening to students who speak so rapidly that their breathing becomes this weird gasping and wheezing sound. I have heard a couple of those individuals (the style highlighted in "Resolved") and the rate of speech sounds . . . painful. Speed is one thing -- go for it. But at least sound human -- fast, but human.

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If the students in the round and the judge can handle rapid fire delivery, then it means the round will include more arguments, more research, and more depth. It will be more educationally beneficial for the students themselves. If the judge can't handle speed, the debaters should and do slow down when asked to.

 

Oh, if only that were the case with all debaters. The really good ones pay attention -- the rest do whatever they planned to do before the judge said word one.

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