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Traditionalist alternatives, travel restrictions, et al.

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I've been thinking about how policy debate has evolved or devolved in recent years in certain Midwestern states. Three questions in particular:

 

1) How have de facto and de jure travel restrictions helped and/or hurt policy debate (qualitatively, quantitatively, whatever you choose) in places like Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, and South Dakota? In states where the restrictions have been loosened, what's the result?

 

2) How has the introduction of Public Forum affected debate in those states, and other, more traditional, policy states? When PF was introduced, many assumed that it would not draw much in such states, that it wouldn't be "needed." I think I have some knowledge of how that's panned out, but I'd like to hear more.

 

3) How has a "limited season" for policy debate (e.g., first semester only) helped and/or hurt policy debate.

 

I have no axe to grind here, and have no desire to provoke a debate culture war -- I've just been thinking about these questions and would like to hear some perspectives.

 

I'm also thinking back to the Classic Debate experiment in Minnesota some years back - it seemed quite promising at first and then fizzled a bit?

 

Many thanks.

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I can only speak to your second question-regarding public forum.

 

In my experience, and from observations I've made around the Nebraska community, I have noticed a very noticeable and damning trade-off between Policy and pf.

Since pf is easier to teach and coach, when former debate coaches (many of which saw constant TOC qualifiers and even finalists) at high schools in Nebraska began to retire or relocate, they were replaced by coaches who in many instances knew nothing of debate. As a result, these coaches took up the pf format in place of the much more technical and difficult format of policy.

 

It's also obvious that institutional trade-offs happen between the activities. Things like funding, coaching time, and of course participants have in many instances been diverted to pf.

 

it makes me sad bears

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The coach-succession factor you mention is an important one.

 

But it's interesting that in places like Kansas and Missouri PF has not caught on much or detracted from policy much, whereas in SD and Nebraska it has, and maybe I'm overgeneralizing but it seems to me like these states all have a fair bit in common in terms of debate culture -- though I guess Nebraska policy has always been a little more like Iowa-West than any of those other states? From what I've seen.

 

How is Nebraska policy faring? Seems kinda diminished, from where I sit.

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The coach-succession factor you mention is an important one.

 

But it's interesting that in places like Kansas and Missouri PF has not caught on much or detracted from policy much, whereas in SD and Nebraska it has, and maybe I'm overgeneralizing but it seems to me like these states all have a fair bit in common in terms of debate culture -- though I guess Nebraska policy has always been a little more like Iowa-West than any of those other states? From what I've seen.

 

How is Nebraska policy faring? Seems kinda diminished, from where I sit.

 

Nebraska has a strong but small local circuit. There are only 7 schools in Nebraska that do policy debate and three of them frequently travel the national circuit (Millard West & South, Westside) whereas the other 4 (Fremont, Norfolk, Millard North and Lincoln High) sometimes struggle to field teams -- though Fremont's really been able to produce a lot of teams lately, which is a good sign. Schools like MS and MW have been getting TOC bids and sending multiple teams to nationals over the past year or so. A typical varsity field will have 10-15 teams except at tournaments like Westside or some of the later tournaments when Kansas teams sometimes turn up.

 

However, what Ian said about PF is pretty accurate. There are really only three schools in the state with debate coaches (actual staff, not college students who help out) that are really considered policy coaches, and the newer generation of coaches seems to be either nervous about learning policy or opposed to it for other reasons. PF is way easier to coach and so it's replaced policy as the primary team debate event in Nebraska.

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if we limit the discussion to the interaction of PF and team size/existence in NE, i think there are only a couple situations where you can directly point to PF as the reason for a decrease/lack of increase. what i mean is, in almost every situation is can think where a team has shrunk or died, it has been almost entirely for another reason (loss of a head coach, internal conflicts, etc). I know there are a couple of instances where coaches have declined offers to have policy largely because they'd rather coach PF, but it's questionable whether those teams would have ever had policy anyway. take LSW. toni coaches great PF teams and no policy teams, but i don't think she'd coach policy teams anyway, so i don't think it's PF's fault. Kearney, however, may be the opposite example. Lincoln East though has and may have policy teams start and the NDI was created since the advent of PF. so, i think i'd conclude that the direct impacts of PF on policy in NE have been pretty difficult to establish most of the time considering the more proximate causes. i do probably believe PF has had a more substantial indirect effect in many ways, however.

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This is a tough discussion. I can't speak for any of the states mentioned other than Nebraska so I'll limit my speculation to Nebraska.

 

As much as I'd like to blame PF for sucking the policy pool and being an inferior activity, I can't blame PF for taking policy debaters from LSE, or East or Lincoln High because those teams haven't had competitive policy teams for almost a decade (excluding Lincoln High's run to semis at state a few years ago). I think it's partially due to the fact that Nebraska just has fewer people in the state - thats the same in the business world, too. I don't know the numbers, but I bet there are more twice as many towns in Iowa with 50,000+ population than Nebraska.

 

The trend that is interesting to me is that while Krny, Norfolk & Fremont have had good runs over the last 15-20 years, the teams that are dominant today are the teams that were dominant through the past 20 years are the Metro Omaha schools. I speculate that it's because there are simply more people. Larger towns have larger school districts, larger school districts have more funding, which allows for national travel which allows for more diverse competition which adds to the skill of those teams. Like I said, Norfolk, Krny & Fremont have all had good runs through the years but the teams that were and still are dominant are the teams in a population with 200,000+ people.

 

I know that Norfolk will be fielding 1 varsity team this year and a handful of novice, and after that, I would venture to guess that Norfolk policy debate is on it's way out. I think you can make this comparison with the success of athletic teams too. Norfolk, Fremont, Grand Island & Krny all occassionally do well on the high school football circuit but it's nothing compared to the long sustained tradition of Lincoln & Omaha metro schools.

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I know that Norfolk will be fielding 1 varsity team this year and a handful of novice, and after that, I would venture to guess that Norfolk policy debate is on it's way out. I think you can make this comparison with the success of athletic teams too. Norfolk, Fremont, Grand Island & Krny all occassionally do well on the high school football circuit but it's nothing compared to the long sustained tradition of Lincoln & Omaha metro schools.

 

Obviously I can't speak for Norfolk in any official capacity except as an alumnus, but from what I know of the head coach, he doesn't want the event to die out in Norfolk if possible. I'm hoping that Norfolk and other rural schools can make a comeback, but I won't hold my breath. :\

 

To be honest, Norfolk had a pretty good policy program this decade -- 3 national qualifying teams in one decade for policy is actually a program record. That actually just sort of proves Cole's point, though, that the Omaha schools tend to be more consistently successful.

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This doesn't add much to the discussion, but I would like to say I will be working really hard on recruitment this year at Norfolk High School, Cole.

 

This year I had the opportunity with another debater to lead a 7th grade class in a discussion/debate about bringing dinosaurs back to life with genetic cloning, and I really believe some of the students were absolutely intrigued and will remember debate when they get to high school.

 

While I think PF, coaches, and just being a small school certainly make it difficult to be competitive with many teams, etc., I think it is largely up to the senior members of the team to simply promote the activity.

 

Being down here at UNT, and seeing schools with just a hundred kids more in their class than me with 7 times the teammates is just shocking. After probing, I realized that some of them actively engaged the lower class men and showed debate to them. While I cannot speak for previous years of the varsity class in debate, I know I haven't tried to do any of this.

 

This year I am going to do everything I can to put recruitment and team building first. Realistically, I have 4 more years of potential debate ahead of me in college, but I would like to leave the school that got me into this activity with solid foundation.

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This doesn't add much to the discussion, but I would like to say I will be working really hard on recruitment this year at Norfolk High School, Cole.

 

This year I had the opportunity with another debater to lead a 7th grade class in a discussion/debate about bringing dinosaurs back to life with genetic cloning, and I really believe some of the students were absolutely intrigued and will remember debate when they get to high school.

 

While I think PF, coaches, and just being a small school certainly make it difficult to be competitive with many teams, etc., I think it is largely up to the senior members of the team to simply promote the activity.

 

Being down here at UNT, and seeing schools with just a hundred kids more in their class than me with 7 times the teammates is just shocking. After probing, I realized that some of them actively engaged the lower class men and showed debate to them. While I cannot speak for previous years of the varsity class in debate, I know I haven't tried to do any of this.

 

This year I am going to do everything I can to put recruitment and team building first. Realistically, I have 4 more years of potential debate ahead of me in college, but I would like to leave the school that got me into this activity with solid foundation.

 

This does make a good point: it is much easier for smaller schools with lower budgets and numbers to do PFD because it requires less resources. Larger schools with larger budgets can afford to have the large coaching/card cutting staffs that CX requires.

 

With that being said, I do believe that there is some truth to the idea that PFD does 'drain' CX because it IS cheaper. Schools with shrinking budgets may look to PFD as a less-expensive alternative to CX, and even before the recession it was still cheaper, and thus easier to implement.

 

However, I think there's a general misconception about just how 'expensive' CX is, especially since local circuits in many areas with de facto or de jure travel restrictions inhibit national travel are so vibrant. The KS circuit is an example of such a situation; and Rose Hill, though we haven't been able to mimic the success of some larger schools, have been able to put placing teams in all divisions and place in sweeps at many tournaments with only 13 debaters and a part-time coach.

 

Will schools like Rose Hill be able to engage in national-circuit debate on the scale of GBN or MBA? No, but there are some tournaments of that style within reasonable range (KCKCC and Colleyville for KS) for teams that can do that.

Edited by mdawgig

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The coach-succession factor you mention is an important one.

 

But it's interesting that in places like Kansas and Missouri PF has not caught on much or detracted from policy much, whereas in SD and Nebraska it has, and maybe I'm overgeneralizing but it seems to me like these states all have a fair bit in common in terms of debate culture -- though I guess Nebraska policy has always been a little more like Iowa-West than any of those other states? From what I've seen.

 

How is Nebraska policy faring? Seems kinda diminished, from where I sit.

 

 

PF HAS caught on in Missouri and is overwhelming policy debate in some areas...KS, not so much....policy in Missouri is dying a slow death...or at least stagnating...constrained by travel restrictions and BUDGETS, many schools are beginning to see PF as the solution to their "small school" and budget issues...Thankfully a college squads or two (and former debaters) has done alot to keep policy going (thanks)

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The prevalence and, probably more importantly, the quality of cx and pf debate seem to be inversely related, though I don't think there is necessarily a cause-effect relationship there. A decade ago, before the introduction of public forum here, North Dakota had a reasonably competitive policy circuit with a handful of teams competing. In 2009 policy was removed as a state sanctioned activity. The number of schools competing in policy had fallen to two.

 

A lot of former policy debaters [myself included] reacted by blaming pufo for "leeching students" and giving "lazy coaches" a way to justify ending their cross-x programs. In reality, I don't think public forum was to blame at all. Rather, I think this state's inability to retain its more talented high school students, which debaters generally tend to be, is to blame. With only two major universities, and both located in essentially the same place, we don't have the benefit of coaching or judging from former debaters. As the older policy coaches around the state began to retire, we had no one young to replace them. That job fell to parents and teachers, who naturally chose to focus on public forum because of its relative simplicity.

 

tl;dr - public forum might not really be the devil, at least here in nodak. A missing generation of coaches and judges made policy's collapse inevitable.

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This does make a good point: it is much easier for smaller schools with lower budgets and numbers to do PFD because it requires less resources. Larger schools with larger budgets can afford to have the large coaching/card cutting staffs that CX requires.

 

However, I think there's a general misconception about just how 'expensive' CX is, especially since local circuits in many areas with de facto or de jure travel restrictions inhibit national travel are so vibrant. The KS circuit is an example of such a situation; and Rose Hill, though we haven't been able to mimic the success of some larger schools, have been able to put placing teams in all divisions and place in sweeps at many tournaments with only 13 debaters and a part-time coach.

 

As the only 1A CX team in Iowa (K-12 total enrollment = ~500, average graduating class around 30-35), I'd suggest it's less the budget issue and more the expertise and institutional history that keeps many out of policy. There is significant support for smaller districts to get engaged in PF and let's be fair, to a layman teacher who's thrown into the duty of coaching debate, PF is the least intimidating.

 

We debate CX because I'm aware of what it does for conceptual development and I want that for my kids (mine and the exceptional students at FM who deserve that opportunity). But if I didn't have that awareness from a past life as a CX and LD debater, I would have never undertaken the effort and would have gone PF in an instant.

 

I continue to expect we're an outlier and I wouldn't waste too much time trying to develop CX in small districts where there isn't that familiarity. Large districts should be specializing and providing CX - I find it perplexing that major high schools in both Nebraska and Iowa don't offer CX, given it simply develops a different skillset resident within certain students who have a strong theoretical/conceptual analysis capability.

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And I should note one further thing on the "institutional" aspect - even with my awareness, interest and determination, we would have failed and disappeared had it not been for the cultural transplanting that occurred two years ago.

 

The outreach of several top varsities who were judging novice (Ian, David and a few others) along with several coaches/asst. coaches to convey some of the cultural norms and practices was critical. Policy is powerful in how it continually self-norms (despite the challenges of that approach) through intrinsic structures and that creates opportunity for innovation and evolution of the form, but it results in a form that is remarkably inaccessible to newcombers from outside.

 

PF has a nice, easy-to-understand manuals that rookie coaches can pick up, read over a weekend, and dive in. The CX world would need to establish an online coaching community that overcomes that factor if it wishes to see growth.

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