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Musings on the state of CO debate, stocks, other stuff, and a farewell

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So maybe you can help your kids by encouraging them to get a little more involved in the community. It may not be the fairest system ever, but it is the system, and it's no more prevalent now than it was six years ago when I started.

 

The only thing I can reply to this is they are. You may not always know why they are on the post because their names are disguised but they are participating on these forums. This site is one of the first places on tell my novices, who are interested in CX, to go to. I think one the novices are often intimidated by the forum, plus I tell them don't say anything, at least for awhile till they have some idea what they are talking about.

I do think that something is missing from the community. I find it rather ironic that it isn't until there is a post about how the event and the community are dieing that we as a community decide to speak up and chanllenge the current system and people's perception of what the event is and how the people in the event behave. Though I love reading the common tangent about learning interesting things about each other, and watching Toby do the odd dance here and there, I feel the substance of this forum has been some what lost. I am not blameless in this, if anything I am more to blame. Instead of trying to start new thread lines, or interject where I think years of debate wisdom could be added, I have sat idioly by, and for that I apologize. If there is anything we can take from the original post it is simply this, we as a community who seem to be committed to this event, and at points should be committed for it, so examine ways to insure that the event lives on so that years from now students years from now can say I remember when.

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Ok so as I am reading my previous post I realized I can't spell. I think there are at least ten words. I apologize, my brain is fried from work and am suffering with a horrible cold.

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Although I've seen similar scenarios as to what Hans was saying above (including on myself), it's based not on elite actions but a hierarchy that shouldn't exist. How can someone judge fairly at a large tourney if their paradigms are clouded by the success/renown of one team to another? The hierarchy is the only negative thing I see in Colorado: East, West, North, South. Please note, I'm not implicating anyone on cross-x as to biased action, additionally I know for a fact that Jordan has judged me fairly in the past.

 

This still is ignoring the point. Rep judging may exist, but for the most part it doesn't. Not in Denver, not in the state as a whole, not on the national circuit. Good teams don't win because the judge knows who they are, they win because they are good. Good schools aren't good schools because the judge knows the name of the school, they are good schools because they happen to produce (maybe because of good coaching, maybe just hard work on the part of gifted debaters) a number of good teams. I hate to break this to people, but Creek doesn't win because the code says Creek (especially in Colorado, where for the most part school names aren't on codes). Creek happens to win a lot because they have lots of teams (I won't deny that this helps them: more people means a greater chance that any of them happen to be good), smart debaters, and they have some committed coaching. The same goes for Kent, or any other "big name" school.

 

If the judge knows who teams are and/or where they go to school, then thats probably because that team is winning a lot. The team is known by the judge because they are good, and they are not good because they are known by the judge. If anything, judges who know of teams often make those teams go the extra mile against teams that are unknown, just to avoid the temptation to vote on rep. And by and large, those teams do end up going the extra mile, because they are good teams.

 

This is not to say that "bad" decisions aren't made, they are, and that happens. It will continue to happen. And it sucks when it does. But you can only prevent them from happening by so thoroughly beating the opposition as to leave no doubt in the judges mind which team won. Go back and read Gabe's initial post. Gabe and I didn't get to the point of breaking and winning speaker awards at national circuit tournaments because people had heard of us; we did it because we outworked other teams, we out thought other teams, and we out executed other teams. Especially with "good" judges, nothing is more impressive than being incredibly well prepared. When you can get up and give an outstanding speech when the judge isn't expecting anything more than average, it doesn't matter if the other team is from Creek or East, the judge will take notice. If the judge has never heard of you before, it just makes it that much easier to exceed expectations, which actually goes much further towards winning than the judge knowing who you are.

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The kids who participate are the culprits if we were to blame just one group. Simply most novices are too afraid to approach an opposing team outside of rounds, especially if they are varsity. Even varsity teams show anti-social behavior. Some kids won't take the effort to reach out to the community that exists. There is an abundance of hostility in some cases toward individuals who want to improve but don't have anyone to help them, and sometimes coaches hinder their debaters. There needs to be a revival on all levels not just for the students, but for the coaches, and judges. As to what this revival will be I haven't a clue, if it boosts the community as a whole the negative implications can be assessed later.

 

Rapp made an excellent point about anti-social people joining debate, it's a product of elitism. People feel that they can express themselves in a round, or the allure of a victory draws them, which makes elitism in perspective a good thing. If debate is the gateway to future leadership and policy making we damned well better be elite. If the entire state would embrace a commonality of elitism amongst each other as if to say "we are Colorado debaters, we support each other" then we'd have a more established community in general, what we have now isn't necessarily good or bad it's just lost members through the years. Wyoming has a pretty tight community from what I've observed and they have a smaller number of teams than Colorado, doing something on a larger scale wouldn't be difficult at all. Kent and East did fantastic at Nationals, I've been hearing it for months, and I have to say I regret not knowing those teams personally, I and others could have improved vastly with just a little extra knowledge, a larger more connected community has the potential to spur a different level of competition, beyond what we have. And all it would take is a little extra effort.

 

Although I've seen similar scenarios as to what Hans was saying above (including on myself), it's based not on elite actions but a hierarchy that shouldn't exist. How can someone judge fairly at a large tourney if their paradigms are clouded by the success/renown of one team to another? The hierarchy is the only negative thing I see in Colorado: East, West, North, South. Please note, I'm not implicating anyone on cross-x as to biased action, additionally I know for a fact that Jordan has judged me fairly in the past.

 

Respectfully, I disagree with your assessment that there is no community in Colorado. In fact, part of the reason that I continue to be enthusiastic about attending tournament is because of the community. Just look at Berkeley last year, when every Colorado team there attended Jesse and Jordan's out round. Look at the numerous consortiums (or attempts at consortiums) before large national tournaments. And almost every team that I have met this year that was previously unknown to me has been very friendly, and has continued conversations with me outside of round. I was especially pleased to talk with Eaglecrest and their coach at Golden, to the mutual improvement of both of us, I think. I understand the point about novices being afraid to approach varsity--I was certainly one of those novices. But I just haven't seen the type of anti-socialism amongst the varsity that you see in Colorado.

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If the judge has never heard of you before, it just makes it that much easier to exceed expectations, which actually goes much further towards winning than the judge knowing who you are.

 

Point taken, I'm not saying we should stay in our own little cocoons of how and why the debates should be won the judge decides, so the debater must adapt and cater to that judge, the debater is what it comes down to. You outlined that clearly enough, I'm just saying when both sides are equal on the flow and analysis there can be a tendency by some judges to play favorites, but that is their right as the judge. I'm not going to put this as a standard within Colorado or debate as a whole in comparison to all other judges, because 95% of the time they're more than fair with both teams. It's just the small portion of judges regardless of background or paradigms that will be unfair, even then it takes extraordinary circumstances for it to be truly abusive. It's small, too small to even consider, I just wanted to point it out, it exists but that just means work harder as you said above. Our community is good, sure there are negative aspects, as with any, the one concerning judges is small in comparison with the larger problem of shrinking programs, and lack of participation.

 

You've told me yourself that you learned by losing, by watching out rounds, and by exceeding expectations, I'm not going to forget it either. If debate is going to be helped at all the debaters themselves must do it. It's nice if a program is there to advance them along, but programs can be born of ashes and dust, many people on this forum are proof of that. I see eye to eye with you on quite a few points, but I'm not being the clearest at illustrating that today.

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I'll shut up soon, I promise. But I've had a day to think about this.

 

Unfair judges and jerky people are not the cause of the decline of policy debate in Colorado. They have always been around, and will always be around. Everyone would like it if there were less of them, but they pretty much pop up in one form or another in every human endeavor known to anyone ever.

 

Looking back on it, it seems hideously unfair to me how much weight got put on the shoulders of high school debaters to account for the decline in an activity that they gave so much to. To repeat a slightly obscene illustration: It reminds me of that family guy where Peter has a flashback to being a kid at a natural history museum. He asks his teacher, "Teacher, why did all the dinosaurs die out?" "Because you touch yourself at night." Peter frowns.

 

Maybe debate is on the decline, but maybe it'll pick back up, too. I don't see how anyone can be sure. The things that make participation rise and fall are far more complex than a judge's paradigm, a team's argument, or a Chsaa rule. And it's about time we stop pretending like this isn't true.

 

I'm not in a position to do much about any of it--few people are. I can't motivate a bunch of HS kids to choose CX over PF over Extemp over varsity basketball. I can't increase the measly pay of public school teachers and debate coaches, or subsidize the debate budgets of less-fortunate schools. For those who are dealing with these things, hats off. You're doing more than you'll ever be appreciated for. Maybe someday I'll be able to really help.

 

For now, though, I'll just do what I can, like judging a round when I have a free weekend or answering a question if I know the answer or sending a backfile if I can get it off my hard drive.

 

And for as long as I'm doing any of that, I'm going to be optimistic. If debate is on its last legs, I'll thank God for every day that I was able to be a part of it. If it survives in some form by the time I have kids, I'll hope it can do as much for them as it did for me.

 

 

Now then, CivPro...

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Well, I've tried to stick around if nothing just to read up on the current status of debate. While a lot of people have left Colorado debate completely, I still have a feel for whose been winning tournaments and I do rather enjoy that.

 

That said, the blame can't entirely be put on the system but also the people. The debaters of old were very mean. Were the justifiably mean? Perhaps. Should people get over it? Of course. Social situations aside, I'll never forget the criticisms that I got about my debate style. If ever Elliott and I would defeat a team that was considered "good", it was always because "they got lucky" or "they were in front of a lay judge." We never won rounds because they adapted to judges. In fact, the community was so apt to push for squirrely K's or performance and speed that they ostracized those that didn't. I'm not just talking about me, but there were other schools that would win rounds on the fundamentals of stock issues and they never got credit.

 

While I agree that coaches shifted their attention to PF (CX has all of died in southern Colorado). The community also had a self destructive personality. They created the "boys club" which I refer figuratively to as an elite club constituting the top debaters (male or female) in the region. If you weren't in the club, you couldn't get recognized which simply created an us versus them mentality. Then "the boys club" graduated, and the "the club" were so closed off and self-selected that they refused to allow newer individuals in. The net result was that the online community in essence killed itself.

 

Were there other more significant factors to the decline of debate in Colorado? Most definitely, but in many ways the community did indeed help kill itself.

 

The other very important characteristic is that there were certain individuals who were so dedicated to debate as a sport that they in essence turned it into one. These individuals created code lists, tracked tournament winnings, and even shared files and cases between teams. All of these were inherently healthy for Colorado debate because it kept people constantly involved. The leaders of old who once kept the community interested are gone, and none, unfortunately, have replaced them.

 

/Rant off.

Edited by Treples

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If I may add my two cents as a current debater:

 

If there was one thing that kept me in debate at the beginning it was getting killed. Flat out. There's no denying Patrick and I were cocky sons of bitches as little sophomores our novice year coming in thinking we can beat Gabe and Jordan. And well we got our shits rocked. But that is what has pushed us to our top form. I will definitely agree that the we now as senior varsity debaters have an obligation to show the novices and other debaters how to continue on what is left of CO debate, regardless of whether we determine it's dying or not. The community is certainly there. Sure the number of teams is dwindling, but the style and attitude is definitely there, just waiting for a few coaches to take a team and force it to happen. I will give props to Kent here because they have proven that it really takes one solid team to develop a wealth of talent beneath it (jesse/jordan followed by the steady stream of quality debaters they are now developing). That is what needs to happen.

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If I may add my two cents as a current debater:

 

If there was one thing that kept me in debate at the beginning it was getting killed. Flat out. There's no denying Patrick and I were cocky sons of bitches as little sophomores our novice year coming in thinking we can beat Gabe and Jordan. And well we got our shits rocked. But that is what has pushed us to our top form. I will definitely agree that the we now as senior varsity debaters have an obligation to show the novices and other debaters how to continue on what is left of CO debate, regardless of whether we determine it's dying or not. The community is certainly there. Sure the number of teams is dwindling, but the style and attitude is definitely there, just waiting for a few coaches to take a team and force it to happen. I will give props to Kent here because they have proven that it really takes one solid team to develop a wealth of talent beneath it (jesse/jordan followed by the steady stream of quality debaters they are now developing). That is what needs to happen.

 

Heh, I remember having the exact same experience my sophomore year with Sanford and Jeffries.

 

'Yeah, we can be competitive, we can beat their stupid hip-hop aff.'

(with a cap K, what the hell were we even thinking?)

Two hours later: 'What the fuck just happened?'

 

The fact that we thought about that round (and 2 at districts) afterwards, that Luke and Nate and others were willing to talk to us about it, and of course the thought that we would one day be demolishing teams like that (I guess that sounds pretty bad, but hey, it's debate) were all a huge motivators to be better.

 

That said though, Andy, it's clear that that motivator has existed and continues to exist today through people like you and Patrick, and Taylor and Jacob -- and yet, numbers are still dwindling. So it has to be something else. I have no doubt that you will do your part to keep debate alive, that those sentiments will help, but it won't be enough.

Edited by potterhead4

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That said though, Andy, it's clear that that motivator has existed and continues to exist today through people like you and Patrick, and Taylor and Jacob -- and yet, numbers are still dwindling. So it has to be something else. I have no doubt that you will do your part to keep debate alive, that those sentiments will help, but it won't be enough.

 

Exactly.

 

That's why I made my flippant comment about how Kent should just travel the circuit and abandon CO. I mean, teams from some of the traditional powers continue to participate, and have about the same number of teams as existed when I debated. But that doesn't account for the large number of teams that have just dropped off the face of the map.. many of which were powerhouses in their own right back in the day. A lot of what has been mentioned on the past page is true... some debaters can be elitist, debate is hard, previous practices by the "inner circle" probably had a negative effect, etc.

 

But in the end, I don't think that explains why whole areas of the state just aren't competing anymore. I'm not gonna repeat all my arguments from page 1, but I think it has to do mainly with coaches abandoning the activity for PF... for many reasons, including their perception of what debate is (some of which is accurate, some of which is not).

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I would like to start off by acknowledging all of the coaches who continue to teach and support CX. You all dedicate an enormous amount of time helping students become better debaters, learners, and people (and put up with all of your teams' related high school drama). Without all of your hard work, Colorado debate would not exist. I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of all the coaches that consistently put together and spend their weekends at tournaments, even if they don't teach cx, because you also allow CX to have the potential to thrive.

 

That said, there can be no argument that Colorado debate is decreasing in quantity. I don't know all the schools that did CX before my day, but there are fewer now. PF is certainly a reason, and I know of at least one coach who used to have one of the strongest CX programs who now doesn't teach CX, and may (though I'm not sure about this), actively discourage students from participating in CX. The reason that tournaments are smaller is the smaller number of schools entering. I know that there are some programs, at least in the Denver area, that have many more teams that want to go to tournaments than they are allowed to enter.

 

I don't think that the lack of an online community on this site is a reason for less participation. It can create a community, but such a community doesn't have to be created online. It can just as easily happen at tournaments. To current debaters: talk with debaters from other schools. Make an effort to do this. Even if all it is to start is introducing yourself before/after the round and finding out where everyone is from. I think this already happens to a large extent. Since Jordan and Gabe already said that debaters have to 'think debate,' I'll add that any debater who doesn't break at a tournament should go watch out rounds and discuss the round with their teammates and people from other schools afterwords (though outside the room). You all will learn more, you may get to know each other better, and you may even learn a little something about how judges perceive rounds. That being said, I don't think the lack of a strong community online or otherwise is the primary reason for low numbers (and I'm not so sure it's much of any reason at all).

 

As I said before, the primary reason for lower numbers is fewer schools participating in CX. Some of the former powers have little to no speech program all together anymore, which makes it practically impossible for debate to emerge. For those schools that do have speech programs but don't have any debate, the fault may lie with the coaches (I can't say for certain in most cases). What I know is that coaches don't have to know anything about CX to encourage their students to do it. Our coach freshman year introduced all of the events to us before we decided what to try. The way he did this for most of them was simply by presenting the CHSAA rules verbatim. He knew you needed some evidence to support your points, more than in PF, but that's about the extent of his knowledge. What he did, though, was to encourage people who expressed a minor interest in CX to try it and to stick with it even if they didn't do well. I think he may also have encouraged us to try to find out how to do well through outside sources, but I'm sure he at least didn't discourage us from doing so. I'm also pretty sure that he actively encouraged us to watch out rounds. He did the same thing with PF.

 

There will be attrition. We lost 2/4 of the people who started, one right after the first varsity tournament, and I wasn't one of the original 4. This may be a low attrition rate from such an approach. I know it was much lower than the rate the next year with a new coach (all but 1 of about 6-7 that started quit after one year), and that coach tried much harder to actively coach CX, though not always in positive ways. This approach depends heavily on the students themselves. If they want to do well, they can. If they don't, they won't. But to actively or tacitly discourage, or even to fail to mention, the possibility of a student participating in ANY particular event is a harmful teaching philosophy to the STUDENT. Doing so may cheat the student out of something that would have been the most important thing they will do in high school (and I'm not talking specifically about CX here). It is a coach's responsibility to present his/her students' full range of options and encourage them as much as they can in whatever endeavor they choose. If a coach doesn't know much about CX or LD or Poetry Interp, the coach should acknowledge that to themselves, and make sure their student knows that if they choose that event they will receive as much help and encouragement as the coach can provide, but that practical, in-round type of support may be minimal. Admitting ignorance, for lack of a better term right now, in any particular area will be extremely difficult for any person, but every person must assess their own strengths and weaknesses and acknowledge that they have both.

 

There's not much any debater or former debater can do to encourage coaches to act like this. Coaches supportive of CX, and there are many of you, and I'm grateful for all of you, can encourage your peers to allow their students to participate in CX if the student wants to and to encourage their students as much as possible if the student chooses to do so. I would hope that you would do the same if you learned any of your peers were not allowing students to participate in drama, extemp, or any other event.

 

I'm sorry that was so long.

 

To the Moffat County coach/debaters: I've had the opportunity to see you debate a couple times, and I have been very impressed. I will admit that I was surprised at the success you had at State last year, and that I assumed one of the teams I knew to be have had success would beat you fairly easily. That was not a good kind of assumption to have. If I had judged you then, I would have tried my very hardest to not let that assumption color my perception of the debate, though to do so completely might have been impossible. I know how discouraging it can be when the judge knows the other team and shows it and doesn't know you. Sometimes, though I hope infrequently, this can result in a reputation loss. Hopefully, you will impress the judge enough that even if they drop you in that round based on reputation, the next time you have that judge you'll be on the benefiting side of the reputation scale in their mind. I can tell you that if you let that kind of familiarity discourage you, the debate is already lost. Take an upstart underdog type attitude, and you're much more likely to impress and win that particular round.

 

Also, if you want people in the community to start recognizing you, one step you could take would be to display your actual name and school next to your posts.

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I don't want to turn this thread into something that it is not. None of us are angry about not being recognized. It's part of life living on the Western Slope and trying to compete throughout the state. Its definitely nothing against the Eastern Slope, because the team loves going to Denver, but its hard to build up that repoire that you guys are talking about when we can only travel to Denver 3 or maybe four times a year. The way our district is set up we have to compete against two different sets of schools, one for state quals, and a totally different set for nat quals. This makes it really hard when we try to make a schedule. We love coming to Denver and having legitimate judges and strong fields.

But as soon as we leave the Western slope, they're back to four CX teams. We're here to compete and our CX teams are not going anywhere as long as I'm the coach at Moffat County. Any time any of you guys want to come to the Western Slope, let me know and I'll let you know what tournaments are worth going to.

 

Four years ago Moffat County had their first CX team in about 10 years. We don't expect overnight success or acceptance. Other schools are not going to be as patient and it may be difficult to get new schools to participate. Times will change. Older coaches will retire and newer coaches will accept the way CX has become, because they won't know any different.

 

I would love to meet some of you guys and talk to you. We'll be at Rocky Mountain in two weeks, and then we'll be at Berkeley the week after. If you see me wondering around feel free to stop and introduce yourself, and I'll do the same.

 

Thanks

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I just want to echo Aaron's statement that Moffat is making a reputation for themselves. I can vouch for the fact that at least one Denver area school is taking you all very seriously, even though they are unlikely to see you until state. They are already specifically researching affs run by your school (and they aren't doing this for every school). You all have earned a lot of respect from the people in the Denver area.

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That being said, I don't think the lack of a strong community online or otherwise is the primary reason for low numbers (and I'm not so sure it's much of any reason at all).

 

Just to clarify, and not because I think you were saying this, but in case my original post gets misinterpreted.

 

I do not think the reasons for low debate participation are caused by the lack of a community. Rather, I think the lack of community is a sign that participation is down. Participation is down largely for the reasons I went in great detail about, mainly the rise of PF, lack of coaching support, etc.

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I would like to piggyback off of Hans comment. It would be great to have other areas attend Western Slope tournaments, there are three that I can think of, where CX is not just a forgotten event. One of the only ways to expand the event is to educate people about what the event is and that means going to other areas and debating. I know that there are issues of conflicts with other tournaments, budgets and schedules but it is something to talk to your coaches about. Our team has budget issues year to year but we try to get to at least one or two tournaments outside of our area.

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I will preface my remarks that my opinions are based on my long-term involvement in policy debate, as a high school debater, a college debater, a camp director, a judge, a coach, and a parent. I love debate and I love ALL forms of policy debate – I love a fast, complex technical round and I love a slow, eloquent stocks round. What I write is not an indictment, it is merely the truth as I see it.

CX debate is not just dying a slow death in Colorado, it is dying across the nation. It has been in a death spiral for a while, but as you would expect the spiral becomes more and more severe with time. Rapp wonders why. I have enjoyed reading the comments, some are quite insightful and many near-sighted.

My belief is CX debate argumentation has evolved to the point that it (meaning the argumentation) is not comprehensible to a wide enough audience. Let me explain: I can, within an hour teach a community lay judge or a coach who has never seen a debate the basics using a stock issue or traditional policy maker paradigm (impacts generally weighed not by size but by real world probability). Either paradigm is relatively straightforward and easy to understand. The focus is the actual policy advocated by the aff. A non-topical counterplan is understandable; maybe even a topical counterplan. Topicality as a procedural makes sense as a way to a fair and predictable playing field for the negative. Quality and qualifications of evidence is a given as is the ability of the debaters to communicate their arguments to the judge and each other. Very straightforward. An hour later, you have a coach who could begin to coach policy debate program or a judge who can take a ballot and make a reasoned and rationale decision.

However, in college debate, thus filtering down to high school, the game is only tangentially related to a policy or even the topic. The objective is to advocate as non-specific policy as possible so as to not link to anything. After the 1AC, it is unlikely more than 30 seconds per speech will be spent on policy analysis (I know, I know, these are generalizations and there are exceptions). Instead the debate revolves upon “offense” and procedural arguments. The offense focus demands wildly improbable scenarios, the slightest of links and no one really cares whether the lizardmen ev is from a psychotic’s blog. The theory arguments, including the special language (“Is that pic dispo?”) preclude someone who is not obsessed with debate from understanding the game (and certainly not to the extent of a grilling by angry hs debaters when the judge discloses). A Foucault (or other) kritik or a performance aff makes it that much less comprehensible. The jargon of debate, the speed of the delivery, and new conventions, such as open CX and speaking while seated, further distance the debaters from the judge.

Bottomline, the evolution of debate will be the death of it. Here’s a vivid example. I had an extremely good high school debater who debated in college for two years. At the CheyEast meet, Christmas his junior year of college, he wouldn’t judge cx “because the debaters expect a better judge.” He believed he’d been out of it too long.” So he’d debated at CheyEast for 4 years, state hs champion, broke at Berkeley, debated CEDA/NDT 2 years in college and had been “out of debate” for a summer and a semester, and didn’t feel competent to judge high school debate.

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Ultimately, I probably know in my heart that Sandy's right -- yet I'm still hesitant to blame the decline of debate on the technical/college/kritiky style alone.

 

First, I'd like to point out that I never really embraced that style of debate. There was even a time when I objected to it -- if the threads are still here, you could dig around for some terrible arguments against disclosure that I made on this site during my freshman and sophomore years of high school. Even after I got over that, Alexander and I never liked the super-generic (links to everything) or super-specific (no one's heard of it) neg strategies. We tried a generic kritik thing junior year, but it was really difficult to get judges to buy it. So when we finally started debating well, it was because we knew our case and every argument against it better any of our opponents. When we started debating really well, it was because we knew most of our opponents' cases and our arguments against them better than they did. We weren't even fast.

 

As a result, I struggled with college debate. My high school style was admittedly skewed to the layish/stocksish judge community in Colorado, and I felt completely lost in a world of ultraspecific PICs (because only Gabe and Jordan debated that way). I knew I was smart enough to become a decent college debater if I spent four years working really hard on it, but the task was just too daunting. So I quit.

 

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that the coach/judge community we have in Colorado (which generally favors the two paradigms Sandy discussed) should preclude the dominance of college-style debate, thus ensuring that debate doesn't become ultra-exclusive (though it's admittedly exclusive to a significant extent).

 

At some point, however, that check breaks down. I'll present one hypothesis, though I'm certainly willing to consider others.

 

When I started judging, I presented myself as a tabula rasa judge. I explained what "tabula rasa" meant to debaters who didn't know the phrase, and I talked about a few of my biases about debate since I knew that they'd likely factor into my decision, even if I tried to avoid them. Here's the problem I ran into: debaters who have been around for a short while see a 19- or 20-year-old college kid in the back of the room who says he's tabula rasa, and they pull out their dusty K expando and some PIC they've never run before. They read "tabula rasa" as "please go out of your way to debate in a style you aren't familiar with because I won't tolerate your wimpy defensive case stuff."

 

I'd criticize the debaters, but I would have done the same thing when I was in high school. In fact, I did do the same thing on several occasions.

 

Somehow, debaters have lost faith in their ability to defend the style of debate they practice when it's compared against the technical/college/kritiky version. I don't think it's because they view their style as objectively worse - debaters don't usually think in objective terms, much less normative ones - I think it's because they don't think they can convince the college kid in the back of the room that they're right, because they feel that he or she must hold the opposite view. That's obviously a problem -- debaters shouldn't feel they have to argue against the judge, especially one who claims to be "tabula rasa."

 

We've just evaluated the problem with the college style at the microscopic level of one round within an entire system of debate. Here's how that problem manifests itself at the macroscopic level:

 

Because of just a few rounds (maybe ten or twenty percent of the rounds each team debates), debate gains a reputation for complete reliance on the college style. When new debaters complain to their frustrated coaches about how they didn't know what was happening in round two, those coaches realize they can't teach their debaters to beat deep ecology on its merits, since they can't fathom what the merits of deep ecology could possibly be. The new debaters are taught to stick to framework, but the top seniors in the state laugh their one-page framework sheet from the West Coast Debate Handbook out of the round. Soon, these kids - the top prospects at Anytown High - despair and quit before February of their freshman year. Mrs. X, the coach at Anytown, realizes that she knows PF and LD a lot better than this crazy CX stuff, and the program gets cut. Mr. Y, at neighboring Someplace High, decides against starting a new CX program after hearing Mrs. X vent her concern. And so debate begins to die.

 

Since I feel I have to distribute blame, I'll put some on the judges and some on the coaches. Frankly, I think coaches should go out of their way to see how the "best" teams in the state practice debate and teach their students how to adapt to that style or how to argue the superiority of the style they're familiar with. And I think judges should do their best to avoid jargon in their paradigms, and, more generally, paradigms that would mandate a style of debate with which one of the debaters is not familiar.

 

I hope I've articulated my points fairly clearly, though I'm by no means certain that my suggestions would have any impact on the decline of debate. I'm heartened by the wide swath of participants in this discussion, and I thank you all for contributing.

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I've browsed this thread with interest. I haven't watched a college debate round in over a year, and haven't seen a debate in Colorado or Wyoming for about a year and a half, so I'm a bit removed from the present circumstances of high school debate in Colorado. It's been over five years since I debated in Colorado, and almost a decade since I debated for the first time.

 

For me, one of the most valuable aspects of debate in high school was that there was no upper limit on how much effort I could pour into it. There are always more briefs to write, etc. All of this makes debate a tremendously valuable activity for talented, highly motivated high school students, especially those who attend schools with rather modest academic programing for high-achieving students. One can always read more, I suppose, but I think that debate provided some framework within which to read, learn, try out ideas. And was more fun, more sociable. Elite prep schools don't generally field policy debate teams, perhaps because they don't need to in order for their students to adequately pursue their academic interests thanks to these schools curricular resources--students taking college level seminars from teachers holding terminal degrees. Debate, at least the sort of debate that I remember doing--trying to parse dense monographs by Judith Butler as a tenth grader, etc.--prepared me just as well for scholarship and life as those sorts of curricular opportunities, or at least that's what I think looking back on it. And, financially speaking, debate is a tremendous bargain by comparison.

 

But when enough people put enough effort (hundreds, maybe even thousands of hours per year) into an activity like debate, it tends to become technical. Winning and loosing becomes about who makes the best argument rather than who delivers the most aesthetic oration because the focus of the preparation is arguments. Debaters want professionalized judging, because it's more predictable, less chance goes into competitive rewards for intellectual effort, and with professionalized judging comes more specialization. Without it, perhaps, the greater randomness of competitive success exerts downward pressure on the motivation and effort of the most motivated debates. (This account is somewhat oversimplified--of course, formal and informal rules about debates and background conditions including the existence of other forms of forensic competition, the availability of other curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular activities, and the political conditions of high school education generally, affect such specialization.)

 

This is my experience, not a normative argument. Reasonable people can disagree about what the ends of high school policy debate should be. And these ends are probably different in different settings. Perhaps debate in Colorado shouldn't aim at specialization and technical form. But I have some suspicion that such aims tend to defeat debate's ability to encourage and assist a handful of talented students from pouring all of their talent and intelligence into the activity and learning more (academically) than they are likely to learn in any other setting available to them. I think that would be (perhaps, judging from this thread, is) unfortunate. Whether, from a distributive standpoint, anyone deserves or should have such opportunities is a separate question.

 

Best,

Jonathan

 

[i only glance at this website about once every other month, so I probably won't read any replies to these comments, and I won't post my email address here, but anyone who wishes to contact me should be able to find my information here: https://www.directory.harvard.edu/phonebook/]

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Debaters want professionalized judging, because it's more predictable, less chance goes into competitive rewards for intellectual effort, and with professionalized judging comes more specialization. Without it, perhaps, the greater randomness of competitive success exerts downward pressure on the motivation and effort of the most motivated debates.

 

This is a very true observation, or at least it is in my personal experience.

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Sure debaters want professional judges -- and professional debate coaches. But there aren't enough to go around.

 

And as more and more high school coaches decide that they don't really understand and hence can't teach cx debate, the number of programs and participants drops. And as more and more judges refuse to take cx ballots, tournaments must begin to require schools to supply judges in order to enter cx teams, but they either don't have the judges and/or the budget to bring judges, so the number of teams they enter drops.

 

It's a death spiral. In Wyoming this weekend at the 2 tournaments held in different parts of the state, there were 4 varsity cx teams at one meet and 8 at the other. And this is in a state where in not many years past, there would be 25-40 varsity teams competing between those two meets.

 

And it's good to see both gingrich and loghry drop around as well as old coaches!

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I agree in part with Sandy, and disagree in part.

 

I agree that there is a perception among many coaches and judges that debate has become unnecessarily convoluted, or even just non-sensical. However, I think this is primarily a perception, not reality.

 

I do not think college debate has evolved to a point where the arguments no longer relate at all to the topic. I realize that my experience may be different than others, since the district I debated in was heavy with policy-centric teams such as Emory, Georgia, Wake, Kentucky, etc. and a smaller number of the "crazy teams." Additionally, our coaches were from Emory and Alabama, and now the open coach is from Wake. So, policy was basically the name of the game. But I think every region, even the more "K-friendly" regions have their share of straight-up policy teams.

 

Again, my best case debates were in college. The evidence was better, the argumentation was better, and the examination of the aff's advantages were all better. The only debate that I remember even coming close to this in HS was in state semis, when Mullen DJ unloaded a shit ton of good solvency presses. I do not agree that teams are always looking for the most "non-related" affs, or that anything links. Small, squirrely affs tend to not do as well as big-stick, middle-of-the-topic affs, in part because their advantages are usually a stretch and contain dubious evidence. Teams with bad links also tend to not do well, mostly because by college, affs are gonna have specific link turns to their plan. If you read one, super-generic link for your disad, you're probably going to lose the round, unless you're debating in novice or something.

 

To be sure, there are exceptions. Like I said, there are some performance rounds where you basically end up talking about gibberish for the entire debate. And yes, there are bad TOC debaters... many of which attempt to go fast and imitate NDT debaters (and end up sounding terrible), and do other retarded things like make up new abbreviations (e.g. replacing conditionality with "condi" or "condo".... eck.) These sorts of things, do indeed, probably make debate less accessible to the public at large. But I do not believe this is the fundamental problem.

 

Debate has always been somewhat inaccessible. Speed is not a new invention. I've watched rounds from the 80's, and people were pretty much going as fast then as they do now. Counterplans, conditional args, kritiks, etc... these have all been around now for 20 years. About the only thing that has evolved is the invention of performance debate, which I do think is pretty stupid and hurts debate participation. But other than that, I don't really see where debate has evolved to some utterly foreign point.

 

There are a couple bad apples lurking, this is true, but I feel coaches are quick to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I believe it's mainly perception, and given other events like PF/LD, which are easier to teach and make students understand, there is less incentive to teach debate. College has its own version of this, parli.

 

In college, this has created a sort of vicious cycle... where a couple teams leave for parli, and then it makes it more expensive to travel for other teams (given smaller regional circuits), and then those teams leave, and so on. However, while I think travel expenses are a huge reason why college debate loses numbers, I think that's less the case in relatively isolated, regional circuits like CO. Here, I think it's more laziness on part of the coaches, or some strange bitterness towards debate and overt unwillingness to teach the event.

 

Students are not free of blame, and I make clear in my original post that I think some of the practices of students have hurt the activity. For example, going full speed against known novices, or reading a bunch of complicated arguments in front of a judge that you know is a lay judge. But coaches have overreacted, and ironically, in an attempt to avoid "bad" debate, are putting students into PF/LD... vacuous events where there is little debate to be had. Competing orations and some back-and-forth, maybe, but precious little actual debate.

 

I see no excuse and have little time for coaches who don't even teach the basic stock issues and do what they can to field a couple teams. Again, I know coaches that never bothered to learn the basics of debate until PF came along (thus indicating laziness to me), and others that taught debate for decades and abandoned it when PF came along (indicating a combination of laziness and misplaced anger to me). I'm not saying coaches should rush students to camps led by NDT students and send them around the circuit and what not. But why aren't coaches at least teaching the stock issues and putting some teams out there? It's not like the CO judging pool consists of 90% NDT judges or anything... it's mainly parents taught in the stock issues. You put a team out there, and at any given CO tournament, they might have ONE round with some complex argumentation or a NDT judge... and that's a big maybe. And if you can't teach teams to deal with that ONE round... well, that smacks of intellectual laziness to me. I already went into this, so I won't go over it all again, but I spent the better part of 5 years volunteering time to teach debate, even through law school, because I believe in the activity and its worth. And, yes, part of that is motivating teams and helping them deal with a crushing loss where they had no clue what was going on. If speech coaches who are making a career out of forensics and teaching and can't be bothered to do at least this, with the most important event in forensics, then I think that speaks for itself.

 

If I sound bitter, it's only because I see debate dying, and debate was one of few activities in my academic career that I found intellectually rewarding and fulfilling. It's probably too late to do anything about it now.

Edited by RappGuy

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I am not going to comment on all topics and what not brought up to this point just share a couple of my thoughts.

 

I think that a big part of the decline in policy debate in Colorado has to do with lack of instructors who know how to start and/or sustain a program. I was sympathetic to this view. After all policy is complicated, 14 years olds brains are small, filling and carrying around tubs is a hassle, high schoolers are lazy, the activity is one of the more money intensive etc etc. I have come to learn during my time at Liberty that all of these issues are irrelevant when there is a group of committed students and a committed coaching staff. Year in and year out Liberty (and several other colleges throughout the country) take a group of lay 18 year old kids and turn them into competent debaters. Liberty does this through a one week intensive camp type atmosphere then no more practice than what would happen in high school. I don't see why a similar system could be applied to a high school program. Policy has several nuances, but if you are just looking to train the next Colorado state champion and nothing beyond that then even a limited expertise can get the job done.

 

Bottom line i think policy debate is dying in Colorado (although I am not convinced it is) because people are letting it die not because it is beyond saving or is imploding on itself.

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Rapp -- much as I like you, I think you better take a step back and re-consider what you have just written. I am offended and hurt you would use the word lazy towards high school coaches.

Let's see, most of these people coach an activity that runs from August through June. They give up week-end after week-end after week-end. Oh, but they're getting paid, you say! You ever ask your coach what their coaching pay was? I'm guessing you would be very, very surprised. They are giving up their personal lives, their families, to provide their students opportunities they believe are important.

Many, many high school coaches have NO speech or debate classes. They are typically English or Social Studies teachers, who must coach all of their events after-school, evenings and week-ends. Even if they have a class, it's a class, there are lesson plans to make, tests to prepare and grade, assignments to collect. There are almost no full-time coaches in high school (there are a couple of circuit private schools that do, but not in our region).

Now, they're lazy because they must teach and coach extemp, student congress, drama, humor, duo, oratory, lincoln douglas, public forum AND policy debate -- oh, and perhaps impromptu and poetry. So we've got 9 or 10 events and how much time do they have to work with all those students and master all those events, plus travel their team and do their regular job?

And most coaches must fund-raise in order to support their programs, so they're coordinating and collecting and begging throughout the year just to get the kids to the tournament. Oh, and then, in many areas, the coach also has to make travel arrangements, arranging buses, buying plane tickets, getting kids fed, and chaperoning kids in hotel rooms. Damn.... those lazy bastards!

And it's not that they can't or won't teach their debaters how to debate the stocks, but they find themselves unable to teach their kids how to answer a pic or any type of kritik. So their kids don't respect them as coaches, because they don't "know" anything about debate and what's going on now. And because their coach can't help them with those issues, they stumble around, picking up things from other debaters or these forums or camps. Now the debaters are "out of control" because the coach can't evaluate the arguments they're making. You see, most high school debaters can't evaluate that the bulk of what their coach is teaching them is important and worthwhile. If I were a football coach and my team started running plays that I didn't know and didn't understand, I'd probably be hanging it up, too.

I wasn't complaining about speed, I was just saying it makes it difficult to get people to take a policy ballot. In round after round, I hear judges make that comment first (I don't like speed, I'll put down my pen if I can't understand you, I can only judge what I can understand) and I see a good proportion of the debaters in the round ignore the judge's request. That's always been a problem, but it's more critical now, because it is compounded by other issues.

As to debate focusing on policies. Let's see, topicality is run every round. Not because the affirmative isn't topical, but because it's offense and a priori and may cause the aff to make a strategic error or misallocate time. Gotta tell you, I'm hearing judges saying to the debaters before the round (I don't like topicality; I won't vote on topicality; don't run topicality unless it's true) and I see a good proportion of the debaters in the round ignore the judge's request. That's not policy analysis.

As to policy being debated. In 2 or 3 rounds I watched at Overland the aff plan text was: The USFG will pass the "xyz bill." Hmmmm... The judge have ANY idea what the plan will do??? The neg have ANY idea what the plan will do??? Oh, yes, they will either give the other team a copy of the legislation (that communicates a lot to the judge) or "that's what cx is for." Doesn't that skew for the aff if they get to spend 3 more minutes beyond the 1ac to explain what their plan does?

And how many nuke war impacts did I see at that tournament? Too many; run both by affirmative and negative teams. Not exactly a likely or probable outcome to the USFG increasing incentives for alternative energy. Is that the focus on policy you’re talking about?

 

How many high school coaches have any personal background or interest in policy debate? Lazy??? Sure, some are better than others. But they are there. They want success, they want to win sweepstakes, they want those trophies. Why would they drop an event? It would only be for a few reasons, either they no longer see value in the event OR they feel incompetent to field cx teams.

 

I realize your comments came from frustration, but your frustrations are misdirected.

I don’t know that it’s too late, but it certainly requires concerted effort. Effort on many fronts. And I’m guessing blaming the over-worked, under-paid high school coaches didn’t do much to advance the cause.

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