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

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I have a question about the coach/student relationship in high school. Is the object of a coach to get as many students as possible on the team then focus on maximizing their achievement in a given area once they found their niche (and thus won't quit the team)? In college the objectives of a given team are very clearly stated and the relationship between coach and debater is pretty clear and business like. I am curious how much this relationship differentiates between college and high school (I have to ask because I never actually had a coach in high school).

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Sandy eloquently and passionately illustrates the insane amount of resources that go into high school CX. There's no arguing with the fact that, per kid, CX is ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE more expensive than any other event in terms of time, money, and energy.


When you take that into account, Regrettable as it is from my (obviously biased) perspective, you really can't blame a coach for "switching" to PF when you consider just how much he or she saves in terms of resources, and while I do believe that CX is a more valuable event on its merits if I were in the position of a coach of an entire squad of debaters in all manner of forensic events I don't think it would be nearly such an easy decision. Holistically speaking, what do you want to accomplish with a speech/debate team? The answer for most highs schools doesn't include bagging a lot college debate scholarships, or, I think, even ensuring that your students are engaged in the most in-depth, gruelling intellectual excercise you could conceivably provide for them. More realistically, I think you want kids to have a chance at a meaningful activity where they can learn, work hard, and maybe grow up a bit along the way. On this count, CX may in fact be the best event out there (and I personally believe that it is) but it's hardly overwhelmingly so.


Anyhow, having thought about some of the ideas/insights in this thread over the last couple of days, I think I'm the most (naively?) optimistic about the future of CX as an activity. The main reason for this, I think, is that I think a lot of the frustration, hurt feelings, and bitterness both discussed and exprsesed in this thread is more the result of the decline of CX rather than its cause. Furthermore, I think that negativity, in itself, is about the easiest thing to fix there is.


Debaters (aka "the kids," emphasis on the diminutive) need to accept the responsibilities that come with being ambassadors for their activity. I'll fully admit that I think people have unfair expectations of debate (isn't it at least a tiny bit strange that people who have never judged a debate before feel comfortable watching a video of the ndt and saying 'that's not debate.'?) but the fact is these aren't going away, and while its unlikely that any debater will ever please anyone completely with his substance/style, a lot more smiles and kind words could go a long way.


At the same time, college debaters, coaches, judges (aka "the adults," overly-simplistic metaphor supplied for emphasis) should realize that while the returns they get for being incredibly selfless may not reveal themselves right away, but they are no less important for it. Kids make mistakes. THey go too fast. Their arguments don't make sense. AND THAT'S A GOOD THING. Kids who debate like that should lose. Not because they're bad, arrogant, or 'corrupted,' but because they didn't persuade their critic. No more, and no less. Some of the most valuable lessons I learned in high school, not just about debate but about life, were intimately related to what could be crudely characterized as 'adaptaion errors' when I debated. I realize it's unpleasant to watch an unclear, overly-cocky 16-year-old blather on at incomprehensible speeds about some hackneyed French philosopher who has no discernible relation to the supposed 'topic' of discussion. But it's also unpleasant to watch a clammy freshman mumble and fumble his way through a series of anecdotes that have nothing to do with his NX topic on Obama's energy policy. Or 9 minutes of a DI's overwrought monologue on abortion/suicide/rape/self-harm or whatever other shock-topic du jour that makes "red asphalt" Public Service Announcements seem positively uplifting. Why is it that in example one we talk about the event like it's "broken" and in the other two we have the perspective to realize that there's something really beautiful about the process of development which takes kids from the phase in their lives we see as a judge to the phase where they are arguing briefs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, or dazzling juries with their poise and showmanship?


I think the answer is that people are just frustrated. Frustration leads to bitterness and bitterness has caused people--on all "sides" if you want to look at it that way--to question the good faith and sincerity of motive behind the actions of their colleagues.


And I guess the reason I keep saying I'm ultimately optimistic is that I just don't think bitterness can kill this activity. Thinking about it in Obamaesque terms, I think that hope will win out. It has to.


Lemme just conclude by giving a shoutout to three people who I really admire:


I mentioned Winston Miller in one of my earlier posts, and wanted to mention him again. As I said before, that guy was great because you couldn't doubt that he really, really, really cared about you. Winston didn't like speed--in fact, he hated it. He didn't like rudeness either--I suspect he hated that too. But I'll never forget watching him lecture a fast, rude debater for 30 minutes after a round on why he shouldn't be so fast and rude all the time. And what was so goddamn admirable about the whole thing was just how incredibly selfless he was. He wasn't incredulous. He wasn't mean. His perspective wasn't "I the great Winston Miller have been offended by your disagreeable debate style and look down upon you for having engaged in it." It was just "don't do that. It doesn't work." The man cared, and I didn't appreciate him enough when i was in hs. When I judge now, I strive to do for other debaters what he did for me. I know I usually come up short


My hs coach, Pauline Carochi, hated the aesthetics of "college" debate. It wasn't even that she hated certain types of arguments (kritiks/counterplans)--she just didn't like the speed, jargon, and attitude. But that didn't stop her from listening to us when we tried that crap anyways, or from encouraging us to go to camp where we would spend two weeks doing nothing but learning all the stuff that she personally loathed. My experience as a debater was greatly enriched for it, and I am still so thankful that I had a coach as selfless as she was, who realized that there were a multitude of ways to look at debate out tehre, and who encouraged me to take part in all of them.


Lastly, Sandy, despite your very well-founded criticisms of debate's excesses, you produced some of the finest debaters I have ever known, all of whom were more than capable of persuading mom and pop that the aff case just didn't have no dadgum inherent barrier, or reading a prisons, er, dedev aff with multiple nuclear war scenarios in the 1ac at blazing speed. From my standpoint, there's something to that.


At any rate, as a debater and as a person, I'm better for having known you, and hell, I wasn't even one of your students.


Anyhow, this post got super long and probably shifted in tone as it got late. But I meant everything I said. I hope some of it made sense.



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Let me begin by thanking Sandy for her well-orchestrated and highy appropriate defense of the work done by coaches.


I debated for Curt Stedron at Littleton. Stedron didn't teach me how to debate -- CX was never his area of expertise, though he did coach many of the best Lincoln-Douglas debaters, Orators, and Extemporaneous Speakers in the state at their respective times. Stedron is brilliant, but he didn't keep up with the cases being run by other competitive teams in the state or learn the newest jargon related to kritikal debate or performance.


Nevertheless, it would be utterly insulting of me to recognize Stedron as anything less than completely responsible for the most rewarding experience I had while in high school. In addition to the enormous workload shouldered by all head coaches of large teams (scheduling after-school meeting times, building a team community, recruiting, encouraging students to remain on the team, counseling, coaching, finding assistant coaches, finding captains, registering for tournaments, setting up transportation to tournaments, running tab at tournaments, monitoring students at tournaments, judging, begging the administration for money, additional fundraising, and so much more), Stedron went out of his way to ensure that Alexander and I (and Drew, an LD debater on our team) would be able to compete at tournaments out of state because he knew we really wanted to. He set up trips to Albuquerque, Cheyenne, Wichita, and even Berkeley (these were the first times Littleton had ever traveled, excluding a couple previous trips to NFL Nationals), he may have had to fight the administration to do it, and he gave up precious time with his wife and daughter to make it happen. The point is this: Stedron was the most dedicated and one of the most selfless people I have ever met, and he'll be a role model for me for the rest of my life.


So I don't want to take anything away from Sandy, since she's done so much more for debate in the Rocky Mountain Region than literally anyone else I know or have heard of, but I did want to respond to this part of her post with what I hope will be read as utmost respect:

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?
As I'm sure you know, Sandy, one of those affs was run by a team that I coach. Additionally, Alexander and I debated an aff that would have passed a bill during our sophomore year of high school, and, when we were seniors, we advocated a ruling in a Supreme Court case that would overturn an existing part of US Code. We had to provide a hypothetical ruling in the case and the relevant part of U.S.C. in order for our plan to make sense.


I understand your concern about the legitimacy of this style of debate -- as you pointed out, it does force the negative to pull and browse the relevant legislation for flaws, and it does leave the judge in the dark as to precisely what passing the plan will do. If there was a way to alleviate those problems, I would work to implement that strategy right away. However, I don't know of one, and I remain convinced that a legislation-type plan debate is (1) more educational and (2) more fair than any other style of plan currently in vogue.


In general, plans with planks don't exist any more. Alexander and I read a five-plank plan our freshman year, detailing how the plan would be implemented, what it would mandate, how it would be funded, how it would be enforced, etc. Our plan text took over 30 seconds to read, it included details that even the best teams never had any desire to debate, and the neg would usually just smile when I started reading it. We didn't even consider returning to the same format when we wrote our aff for sophomore year, and in six years of debating, judging, and coaching, I've only seen two or three plans like it. All of those were run by novices.


Ultimately, the planked plan is probably the most fair -- it provides a good deal of explanation and ensures that both the neg and the judge are familiar with precisely what the aff is advocating. However, it has its flaws -- neither our planked plan or any of the others I saw ever explained what existing statutes (if any) the new policy would be replacing, which puts the neg at a structural disadvantage from the outset -- they're supposed to advocate the status quo, but they aren't told what the status quo policy is with respect to this particular issue (I don't consider it the neg's responsibility to know every existing law relating to the topic, and, even if they knew those laws, the plan doesn't annotate which ones will be eliminated). Moreover, there's always a certain degree of specificity that the aff doesn't supply. Witness:


"What does your plan do?"

"Well, in plank four, which is the mandates section, we explain that we'll provide $500 million in non-transferable corporate income tax credits to the wind energy industry."

"Alright, what do companies have to do to receive the tax credit?"

"Well, they have to produce wind energy. Beyond that, we don't specify."

"So who determines which wind energy companies will receive the tax credits if there's no additional criteria specified in your plan?"

A possible affirmative answer: "Uh, we don't specify."

To which the negative could reply: "Then how do we know that your credits won't go to businesses that have proven inefficient or, worse yet, have employed suspect/offensive/discriminatory business tactics?"

Another possible affirmative answer: "That would probably fall under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Energy."

To which the negative could reply: "How do we know it's the Secretary of Energy and not the Secretary of Commerce?"


If these questions seem nitpicky, it's because they are. However, they're relevant to a neg looking to conduct an analysis of the actual results of the policy advocated by the aff. There are some businesses that have been criticized for bad practices, some of which harm the environment, which means that providing them with tax credits could work against the ecological harms that the aff probably claims to solve. Moreover, there is no Secretary of Commerce in the status quo, and the priorities of the Commerce Department will likely shift dramatically when Otto Wolff, the acting Commerce Secretary and a former lead actor in the Bush Commerce Department, is replaced by an Obama appointee. Sure, these are highly specific examples, but my point is that the question of clarity is infinitely regressive. Even the relatively explanatory plan text above can't be accurately analyzed by a prepared negative, since there are still levels of specificity it doesn't reach.


A legislative plan text overcomes these flaws:


1) Legislation has a clear starting point and a clear end, meaning that there's no question as to what results advocated by the aff are actually mandated in plan and what results are merely supposed outcome of plan's passage.


2) Legislation gives the clearest possible visions of funding, enforcement, and implementation, eliminating the need for annoying "spec" arguments and allowing the negative to focus on legitimate qualms with the way the plan is funded, enforced, or implemented. In technical terms, we're talking disads that really do link, and, therefore, better policy analysis.


3) Legislation is fairer to the negative because it prevents the shifting affirmative plans. I know the general consensus among many is that if the aff doesn't specify something, the negative can assume they'll do it one way and advocate doing it another way. This is usually the way a negative will run agent specification: "you don't specify an agent, we'll assume it's Congress, Congressional action would trigger this politics disadvantage, we advocate an executive order instead." While most affs will make theoretical claims against the counterplan or debate the whole strategy on its merits, many lay-type judges will side with the aff if all they say is "of course we didn't mean that Congress would pass the plan, we're sorry for the misunderstanding." I'd call this "abuse" more than "misunderstanding," but, either way, a very specific, legislative-type plan would prevent it.


4) These plans are "real-world." That's a good thing:


(a) It teaches affs and negs (and judges and observers) how policy is actually passed, which should be requisite knowledge in "policy" debate.


(B) More importantly for this discussion, real world plans have real world advocates and opponents, meaning that solvency evidence will actually be specific to the plan on both the aff and the neg sides. I can't tell you how many times the aff has been able to worm its way out of answering damning solvency evidence by saying "oh, that author's writing about a different policy. The card doesn't really apply to us."


I hope this makes sense, and I might add more later. If I don't shower and change, I'll be late for Mass, so I'm going to end this here.

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In the light of morning, some suggestions (Greg see PS below):

If you are concerned about the decline in numbers in policy debate, instead of blaming others, take personal responsibility. That's what I did and here are the steps:

Put pressure on schools to provide or continue the event. CX debate had become virtually non-existent at my old high school. I talked to the principal about the importance of the activity to me and others and as they were going to hire a new coach, it was essential to bring in someone who would agree to field cx debate. If I hadn't felt I was heard, I would have contacted the school board and I would have also contacted other old debaters in the community to do the same. The squeeky wheel does get attention. If you are in college or high school, your parents can do the same, as can other members of the community. Use your skills to put pressure on schools to provide this activity. NFL has an excellent short film that is aimed at demonstrating the value of speech for high school students (a LOT of it actually focuses on debate).

Help Support CX Programs (both new and old). If you're out of high school, that's pretty easy. Judge and/or help a coach in your area. If there is no cx debate where you are at, then get one going. This is how I became a coach, I just offered to help with cx debate at CheyEast. So I'd come in & work with the kids a bit, travelled to a couple of tournments with them, and it just grew from there. But you don't have to coach, ANY help, will almost always be appreciated.

However, please remember you are a guest in someone else's program. Remember you aren't a "buddy" to the students, even if you are just in college, you become a representative of the school. This can be a problem for coaches to have college-age or barely older people "hangin'" with their students, you must remember your job is to help grow the program, not be viewed as cool by the kids. Make sure you understand the coach is your "boss," even if you aren't getting paid. It hurts your cause for you to be a source of friction or problems rather than a help.

If you're still in high school, recruit within your school. Don't be a punk to other debaters. You want novices to stick with the activity, not flee in fear. Provide a network of assistance and mentorship. Make it cool for people to be debaters and get them to recruit their friends.

High school debaters within a school should help one another. Share work and information. If you divide up the work and all share in the bounty, there is less work and the team is more successful. It's also a great way to teach less experienced debaters, because they see how to create arguments, how to research, how to block something out. If the work load is less, then more kids are more likely to stick with it until they reach the tipping point where the work load doesn't matter because they are so in love with the game.

Likewise, if there is a school or program close to you that is struggling or doesn't really have a cx program, offer the coach to have your squad have work sessions/practices with them. How about a little outreach? This can even be done via the internet, by sharing info, helping with some basics blocks, etc.

Judge every chance you get. Demand cx ballots, be vocal, tell them how much you enjoy the activity and how much it meant to you. When you turn in your ballot, tell them how much you enjoyed the round - what great kids you saw. Demonstrate to people at the tournament that policy debate is worthwhile and exciting to judge. The community is always short of judges.

Financially support programs. Give back once you're out in the world. A donation to a school's program helps take pressure off beleaguered coaches. I guarantee the football program gets donations all the time, how about helping raise support for debate?

Help with publicity. A well-timed letter to the editor of the local newspaper talking up a coach/program/benefits of high school debate/discussing how the school system is letting a valuable opportunity slip away. When a kid gets a debate scholarship to college, it should be big news in the school paper & local paper, just like the basketball scholarship is.

Get the word out that cx debate needs help. There are hundreds of thousands of past high school policy debaters around the nation. Almost everyone will say that it was one of the most valuable educational experiences of their life. Start finding them and educating them. Most of them have standing in the community, resources, and a love of the activity. Get them to put pressure on their local schools to support the activity; Get them to write a check; Get them to judge a round or two. How to find them? Ask -- when I'm making small talk with someone, I will ask what kinds of activities they did in high school -- amazing how many old debaters I've found. Old high school yearbooks are a great resource, and now most high schools have directories of alums or there is classmates.com.

PS. Greg, let's not divert this thread. If you'd like to move your comments to a new thread, we could discuss the issue of plan text. I wasn't dissing your team, I was merely discussing how many new conventions leave the judge out of the loop.

PSS. Logan, thanks for the props. But I was/am blessed by virtue of my volunteering to only coach cx debate. One night a week and week-ends with a focus on only one event, plus my background in policy debate, gave me and my debaters an advantage over someone coaching all events in their spare time. Because of that, I always tried to give as much as I could to the entire Wyo/Colo debate region. You were truly blessed to be a member of Pauline Carochi’s squad; what an amazing woman!

I would hope everyone who reads this thread takes a moment to send an email or note to their coach, either past or present, and thank them for all they do. It’s so easy to take people for granted. Plus it never hurts to remind coaches what a valuable event it is!

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I know my post came off as pretty harsh. And I was certainly generalizing; obviously there are a great number of coaches I do not include in the group I am discussing, including yourself and my former HS coach.


The reason I'm as hard-headed about this as I am, is because ultimately coaches are in the best position to either help or harm the activity. Bad students come and go. Arrogant students that alienate lay judges and frustrate novice teams come and go as well. But when a coach decides to axe the debate event and just teach PF/LD... well, that has ramifications for not only years down the road, but for multiple other programs as well. Pretty soon, even other coaches that wanted to field debate teams cannot get any competition because too many teams quit. Then you have whole regions of the state that just don't have debate at all anymore... in fact, now many regions of CO outside of denver.


Look, I understand the pressures of being a teacher on top of a coach, and coaches are underappreciated and absolutely underpaid for the efforts they put into debate. What I don't understand is why coaches are leaving the debate event in droves, and that is in large part why I began this thread- to understand this point. We can blame students all day... and this is why I was clear in my original and subsequent posts to criticise the practice of many arrogant debaters in the state. I certainly don't think students hands are "clean" in this matter. But when it's all said and done, there is only so much students can do to deter debate participation. The buck stops with the coaches when they decide to stop teaching debate.


Perhaps debate truly is "broken," I don't know. And there are certainly the occasional issues when debate reveals its quirks and becomes less accessible to the public at large. But what I was saying, is this is the exception, not the rule- especially in CO. And even the more technical debate is often the better debate... this is why I keep repeating anecdotes about how I've judged and debated better case debate, on the whole, in college rather than HS. This is why I think most coaches just have a perception of debate as "broken," and whether its true or not, coaches are fine with accepting the perception as truth and leaving the event.


I speak the way I do about coaches, because most of them do not respond rationally, the way you have. When I have brought this discussion up with coaches in the past, most usually immediately dismiss debate, with an air of vindictiveness that I don't get. This is why, in my original post, I talked about how I was rudely brushed off by a coach when I was judging NFL nats a couple years ago. Back then, to him, I was an uppity college kid, and debate was "bad." And that was the end of it. He didn't want to hear about what I had gotten out of debate or anything else. And this is a coach who taught debate for decades and fled the event for PF. I feel like it doesn't matter where I am in life now to him, and other coaches like him... whether I'm years out of college, a practicing attorney or not, I'll always just be viewed as associated with the NDT and a cohort of anti-intellectual sophists. It was like I was a member of the cancer spreading throughout debate... part of the problem. Well never mind the fact that I would have no problem judging two slower, stock issues teams. Hell, I understand that most kids in CO haven't gone to camp or spent their free time chatting with NDT theory hacks. I don't expect a level of debate up to the NDT, and I think most younger judges would be with me in this regard. If I'm in the back of the room... yes, sometimes teams will decide to amp up the speed or read more complex arguments, which I'm ok with. Sometimes they'll do it even if they're facing a novice team they know will not understand what's going on. Now that, indeed, I'm willing to admit is a problem. But what do we have to gain here when coaches begin blaming debate itself, or as this coach seemed to imply, that I'm part of the problem. It seems to me a more proactive approach would be to teach these teams how to deal with situations like this, than to just throw up their arms and declare debate "ain't worth saving."


This experience was not a unique one to me. Too many coaches I talked to over the years discuss debate in a bitter, almost vindictive tone. This is not helpful or conducive to compromise. I understand their frustrations, but who loses out here? The students. They are depraved of an intellectual opportunity of which there is no equal. I have less to say about coaches that just don't understand debate or just coached IEs until PF came along... it was probably a little bit too much to say these coaches are lazy. However, I still cannot understand why they would put effort into fielding out several LD/PF teams, and not debate. Perhaps it does just make more sense to them, and the time trade-off isn't worth it, or at least not perceived as worth it. I think this is a shame, since debate is objectively more educational, intense, intellectual, and rewarding than LD or PF. I would rather field 3-4 debate teams and nothing else (i.e. no IEs, LD/PF) than a full slate of IEs, LD/PF and no debate. But if coaches do not agree, well then.. I guess it is what it is. They ultimately make decisions about their curriculum, and if this is the decision they have settled on, well then- so be it.


phil rappmund

Edited by RappGuy

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