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Participation in Policy is Declining

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If someone has already posted something similar to this, forgive me, I searched the forums and could not find it.

 

I would like to bring up something touched on by an article on the 3nr a few years back. Something that threatens thousands of people’s access to what I believe (and probably what you believe) to be the most educational activity available to high school students in the United States. The ‘something’ is the nationwide decline in participation in high school policy debate. Of course, I do not have access to statistics on this, but from most anecdotal accounts, there is a push back or lack of interest in policy debate in many circuits across the country. In San Diego, the lack of policy entries in SDIVSL tournaments has caused teams from San Dieguito Academy to literally debate against each other, as they make up the majority of the pool, while Lincoln Douglas and Public Forum have as many as 30 entries. This is, of course, not a scientific analysis, but across the country I have heard of similar, or worse, stories. (see: posters here http://www.cross-x.com/topic/53011-whats-debate-like-around-your-parts/page-3?do=findComment&comment=883349 )

 

This brings us to a question: what has caused this decline? One possible answer, that perhaps does not encompass the entirety of the reasons behind this shift, is an increasing disparity between “small†and “big†programs, or perhaps, the “small†programs realizing that they cannot compete. To be clear, and as should be obvious by the points made below, this is not a shot at big debate schools who do a lot for the activity like put on tournaments and only bring good judges to tournaments they attend, but rather what I believe to be a natural evolution of the activity.

 

There are a few components to this.

 

1. Brain Drain

 

Who wants to do hundreds of hours of research, travel thousands of miles, and baby-sit high school kids for free? Probably nobody except for parents, yet to be competitive on the national level, this is what programs need to ask of their coaches. Perhaps I’m biased.

 

After my second year of debating, my program's coach (who was awesome and did everything except write our cases for next to nothing) was enticed to become the forensics director at a private school and was replaced with a first year English teacher/ speech coach who wasn’t so into going across the country for bids. Of course, the debate part of our program suffered as a result, but would survive and thrive because of varsity member’s determination to keep things alive. Still, teams need to enter independently in all but two or three bid tournaments (thankfully Bill Smelko helped out a ton entering independently).

 

The program our former coach went on to coach, however, is now doing extremely well, with multiple teams in Policy and Lincoln Douglas qualifying yearly to the Tournament of Champions.

 

This isn’t to say you cannot compete as a “small†programâ€, one policy team from SDA did qualify to the Tournament of Champions two years in a row, this was due to their ridiculous talent and ridiculous work ethic.

 

Now, unlike the NBA, this isn’t due to malevolent Russian billionaires (cough Brooklyn Nets cough), but simple economics, if your doing all that work, you want to get paid, and good debaters usually are recruited to be coaches by “large†high school (and college) programs. And as more debaters experienced in “flow†style debating are produced in college and high school, the pool of coaches worthy of pay has only gotten better, and thus the coaching at the schools paying money has only gotten better. There’s a term in statistical analysis for this but I forgot.

 

2. Competitive Disenchantment

 

Say there are two high school football teams, one has a state of the art training facility, all coaching positions from head coach to offensive line coach to defensive backs coach filled, and healthy competition for starting positions. The other has one coach, pads and a practice field. Which one would you put money on to win? Okay so you know where I’m going with this. The disparity in resources should be obvious to even the most casual observer of debate. Yet there are two solutions to competitive disadvantage for a team in a “small†program: 1. Expend more capital (labor or otherwise) 2. Quit.

 

That might sound fatalistic, but trust me, as someone who attended a “small†program, these were my options as it dawned upon me that, “hey, these kids that are doing real well kind of seem to have more people in the back of the room than I do.†(Funny related story, my dad judges a lot of regional tournaments in LD and occasionally policy, when one team has a coach in the back of the room and the other does not, he just tells the coach to leave. They get very, very upset. My Dad is about six foot three inches tall and 250 pounds, they usually leave when he stands up. Sorry guize that my dad made leave, I hope you were able to cut a few cards during that round or at least whine about it to tab/ your friends.)

 

As a rapidly accelerating brain drain has occurred, it has simply caused increased competitive disadvantage, and probably, an increase in the amount of kids who chose option 2. Again there’s a term in statistical analysis for this, sorry if I’m driving you crazy

 

3. What can the community do about this?

 

I have a few ideas, but I am not really in a position to do anything about them.

 

Does anyone have thoughts, ideas, or opinions on this? I’m very interested to here what y’all gotta say.

 

thanks for reading.

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An argument that many people have made against the "anecdotal" evidence, is that its not the death of policy debate, but only a shift in regions/programs. As some programs die, new ones are born -- the cycle continues.

 

All I can say is that people proclaiming the death of policy debate have been doing so for a long time - in my region, its only growing.

 

I'll try to link to some people articulating this argument more effecitvely

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For the record, small programs aren't all doomed. John Spurlock won the TOC and his program was tiny. They only had one other team last year, and I'm pretty sure they only have 2 teams total this year

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For the record, small programs aren't all doomed. John Spurlock won the TOC and his program was tiny. They only had one other team last year, and I'm pretty sure they only have 2 teams total this year

I agree, I don't think it's completely impossible for smaller programs to do well, as my anecdotal evidence suggests, it just seems to be an uphill battle, and requires private coaching etc.

 

An argument that many people have made against the "anecdotal" evidence, is that its not the death of policy debate, but only a shift in regions/programs. As some programs die, new ones are born -- the cycle continues.

 

All I can say is that people proclaiming the death of policy debate have been doing so for a long time - in my region, its only growing.

 

I'll try to link to some people articulating this argument more effecitvely

That's cool, what region are you in?

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That's cool, what region are you in?

I am from Washington, DC and debate in Maryland and Virginia

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Urban debate leagues are growing

this is true, and is definitely a good thing.

 

i more rural and suburban regions are where it's in decline.

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I think its more the fact that PF is much easier to coach as an outsider. Someone with no debate experience would be doomed attempting to coach policy, but can easily help out high schoolers with a PF topic, etc. This means schools which can't afford top-notch coaches are going to end up with PF programs, and not policy programs.

 

IDK what the solution to this is though unless we want policy to return to a lay activity (which I think would be bad for its merits)

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I'd heard from the assistant coach of Policy at Whitman (also my lab leader at camp) that Policy is dying in college because teams are tired of K's and performance. Of course, I don't know how true this is, but I tend to believe him. 

Edited by RainSilves
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For the record, small programs aren't all doomed. John Spurlock won the TOC and his program was tiny. They only had one other team last year, and I'm pretty sure they only have 2 teams total this year

America isn't racist, we have a black president!

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I'd heard from the assistant coach of Policy at Whitman (also my lab leader at camp) that Policy is dying in college because teams are tired of K's and performance. Of course, I don't know how true this is, but I tend to believe him. 

wat

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I'll preface this by saying that I have nothing against national circuit big schools (largely funded, many coaches, etc). I believe that they are more talented than I and lots of others on these forums and have a very strong work ethic. Amount of coaching doesn't matter if you can't debate effectively. Furthermore, another caveat is that I don't have any predisposed biases against Kritikal debate. I support performance and its ability to create change, and think K debate is interesting (although I don't run Ks a lot).

 

The arguments for why policy is declining revolves around the national circuit and how small schools can't exactly compete in these areas. However, this doesn't take into account that the BULK of policy debate itself (the majority of it) occurs in localized areas and districts. To us, tournaments like the TOC seem huge, but for local circuits, winning the local high school tournament or qualifying to NFL is just as great of an accomplishment. I agree that small schools may have a disadvantage compared to bigger schools, but these small schools are still competing heavily in local areas. For example, everyone has been saying that debate in Missouri (my state) has been on the path to death. I even supported this my sophomore year. But I realized that teams keep coming back and participating, and there are a lot more schools in the state that have good programs that I only come into contact with once or twice a year. I think it's an issue of becoming more experienced. It is a commonality of all humans to believe that those with less experience than them are less of a threat. This is true to some extent, however I think this also results in the thought that debate is dying. Older debaters (seniors) think debate is dying because they don't see any other good teams in their local region below them. However, to a new freshman debater, that senior team may be their role model. It's an issue of perspective. Obviously, you're either a) done with debate or b ) in your final year of debate, so I think this is probably an underlying factor. 

 

Essentially, viewing policy solely through the scope of TOC tournaments will always make it seem like small schools fail. Again, policy programs that participate in NFL/NCFL are huge and growing and probably will continue to do so. I personally think the TOC national circuit style of debate (speed) is more fun and educational, but others may think other forms of policy debate are more education. Again, it's an issue of perspective, and I think that's where your methodology for reaching your claims are flawed.

 

I'm not going to say anything about college debate because, as a local Missouri debater, it's very intimidating seeing any college debate video or file. I don't have experience in the college circuit, so I won't discuss it a whole lot. If I were to argue for reasons why policy debate is declining in participation, it would be the following:

1) Coaches - again, I have absolutely no problem with running Ks and I think it's actually kind of fun. However, looking at policy nationally, Ks are kind of becoming an issue in terms of isolationism of certain programs. I know in my state, there are many coaches that just outright reject Ks as being an actual argument. If they were to make a judge-philosophies paradigm page, the first thing probably be "NO SPEED", and the second line would be "NO Ks." This has led to a decline in policy participation not so much because of the students feeling intimidated, but rather because of the coaches. Again, this comes solely from my experience as a non-national circuit debater who still knows how to debate national circuit style. Coaches obviously will not try as hard to recruit policy teams if they think that the style of debate is becoming more flawed. It is also an issue of students being unable to understand Ks (some think that Ks are outright stupid), but I think that's less of an issue. If a team truly wants to become national-circuit caliber, they'll put in the effort to learn what Ks say and how to answer to them. Again, this is still an issue, but maybe not as much of an issue as indicated.

2) PF - novices, especially freshmen, tend to choose the easier route. At least in my school, the novices have been crazy about winning rather than learning. Obviously, they'd choose the lesser/easier route to get to this intended goal. Sure, these mindsets change by their second or third year, but by then they have already solidified themselves in a certain type of debate. With PF becoming more and more popular (especially in local districts), more students are drifting towards it. I personally think PF is not that educational because of time constraints and lack of evidence focus, so I may be a little biased here. Also, it takes a long time to teach novices. For teaching my novice teams this year, it took 7-8 meetings on mondays, plus additional days occasionally, to just teach them the basics of policy, how it works and how to give speeches/be good. This includes stock issues, disadvantages, advantages, topicality (basically everything novice-ish that would be in the Emory policy debate manual). This is excluding the fact that I still have to teach them theory/procedurals, intricacies of how to win on T in depth, Kritiks, counterplans, counterplan theory, and how to transition to novices with new files, paperless, etc. I was extremely scared that all of this learning would scare the novices away, and I think I was right in doing so. It's simply a lot of information to take in, and although the good debaters will stay and learn, most (unfortunately) have short attention spans, and flock toward areas that are easier for them.

 

I've recruited a lot of novices this year, fortunately, by some weird force of the debate gods, and they seem to be interested. I could draw these two points to a lot of other issues, like the expansion of performance and K debate, emphasis on research, coaching in big schools, travel restrictions, and blahblahblah. Bottom-line: the issue with this vision of a decrease in policy participation is perception. Policy is really expanding nationwide, but maybe not so for small schools on the TOC circuit. Policy may not be thriving like it was before, but it still is expanding nonetheless. 

 

Everything I've said on this post has been said by someone more influential and powerful in the activity than me on these forums or somewhere else, and they often are rehashed. After four years of debate, I'll probably have a lot more of these long-winded posts on the forums about how I view debate and it has affected me etc etc etc. After four years of policy, I feel pretty good about the future of the activity (at least in Missouri).

 

ALSO, clarification: I do enjoy K debate. However, responding to the issue about performance teams distracting regular teams from competition-

I agree that performance, at some point, has to decrease. At an underlying level, the point of performance in debate is to make a statement about needed change in the debate community. Say, if African Americans are becoming more integrated into debate as we speak, they will, at some point, becoming integrated enough to a point where performance affs are no longer relevant in their statements. I went on the wiki during the space topic my sophomore year, and most of the stuff was policy-related (disadvantages, counterplans, 1acs, etc). Now, when I go on the wiki for this topic, almost half of it is just critical stuff (K affs, Ks I've never heard of,  performance, etc). I don't know if policy-oriented teams are just becoming more lazy, but there has obviously been a sharp increase in the amount of performance debate in the debate community, so much so that it's detracting from the original style of debate itself. This connects back to my prior point about how coaches may see this as frustrating. This isn't true just about minority integration, but other aspects of performance as well. I know that a lot of people will disagree with me. 

 

ON THIS TOPIC, I'd also like to begin a new discussion in addition to this one on this thread about the current wiki. I'm not a wiki hoarder, and I don't steal everything from every team. However, I do go on the wiki to see popular and good arguments against various AFFs and NEG argument. It seems like there is a lot less participation in the wiki this year. Teams that disclose all strategies last year just post their 1AC, and don't even create round reports (let alone Open Source). I'm not sure if this is just an issue of how the wiki is formatted. Last year, there was a tab at the left of the page called "Recently Updated/Changed." I used that to see what teams created new files and posts on their wiki. On this year's wiki, there is a "recently updated" list, but it seems like it just moves less frequently. For example, I would get on the friday of a major TOC tournament and big school GlenTrierMark's Northwest would have their wiki page updated to their most recent level. When I check back in on that same page the tuesday or wednesday after the tournament has finished, where GlenTrierMark's Northwest made it to semifinals, the page is still the same and not updated. Weeks later, it still isn't updated. Teams seem content with just posting their 1AC, and I don't think that's good for disclosure practices. Maybe it's just a personal issue, since I don't like the new wiki format and how the wiki works now. BUT, how do others feel about the disclosure wiki this year? Has it been effective for you?

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I feel like critical affs might be more popular this year because there aren't as many good policy affs?

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I feel like critical affs might be more popular this year because there aren't as many any good policy affs?

FIFY

Edited by jacobstime
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I feel like critical affs might be more popular this year because there aren't as many good policy affs?

Policy aff on this topic: "Let's lift the embargo because it solves for relations and heg" 

K aff on this topic: "Let's lift the embargo because it solves for dehumanization and allows us to deconstruct our ontological framework that legitimizes our attempts to otherize the cuban" 

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America isn't racist, we have a black president!

As a straight upper-middle class white male, I assure you America is neither racist nor sexist

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You have reached your quota of positive votes for the day

 

:'(

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Participation has been dropping for decades. There are a number of reasons for this, but very few that have an obvious solution.

 

1) It's expensive to travel the national circuit and attend the best camps. This means those with less money (for the most part, I'm interested in trends, not exceptions to the rule) seldom see the kind of competition that makes them better.

2) Wealthier people get better educations, meaning the reading comprehension and thinking skills needed to read (and understand) critical literature (or even high quality policy literature, for that matter) is more likely to occur in private schools and public schools with the sorts of homogeneous populations that allow for more accelerated instruction. If you've only been exposed to the best instruction, you have no idea how much some people struggle with even basic literacy, much less the sort of literacy needed to read Foucault or Deleuze.

3) The activity is so time-consuming that it prices out many lower income students who don't have the luxury of not having to hold down a part-time job. Less available time translates into less commitment.

4) The activity has become more and more specialized. It's not enough to have a fairly solid grasp of the topic and keep up with current events (as it used to be). Now one also has to have a grasp of a vast critical literature and be prepared for dozens of very specific politics scenarios that change from week to week. Asking for this level of commitment, reading, and intelligence is a hard sell to high school students.

5) This specialization has made hiring and retaining qualified coaches difficult in many areas. Similarly, unless one is lucky enough to debate near a college program, it's hard to find qualified judges. Both of these obviously impact the quality of debates.

6) There are more alternatives now. PF and Congress don't require nearly as much of a commitment, and even though the lines between policy and LD are blurring (and have been blurring for at least a decade), the round is still half as long, and the topics change often enough to prevent over-specialization.

7) The technical demands of flowing, speaking (including speaking at speed), and understanding how arguments interact is daunting. To ask high school students to engage in an activity in which they are probably going to suck for a year or two is, again, a hard sell-- especially since novice divisions are being phased out in many areas because of declining participation.

 

In short, the activity (at the highest levels) has become more and more elite. How one could put that genie back in the bottle-- assuming it would even be a good idea to do so (and I, for one, do not think that it is)-- is anybody's guess.

Edited by mld
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In Missouri I haven't seen a tournament with more than 30 policy teams for at least 2 years, excluding Liberty because I think teams come from all over for that. I think its because almost every tournament has 100% lay judges so it ends up being just a competition of who speaks better or makes better I contact. Teams no longer feel its worth it to work so hard just be to be voted up/down based on how they spoke, so they just embrace that part of debate and switch to public forum or individual events.

 

I realize this "problem" has been around for pretty much all of debate history, but it seems especially true now, at least in Missouri, that the only possible good judges are from MSU, and they really only judge at their own tournament.

 

Also a lot of coaches around here are in like a 1960s debate stasis where K's and counterplans are irrellevant to the case and speeding and impact debates exclude the average person. Our coach will kick us off the team without flinching if he catches us doing any of these things.

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Our coach will kick us off the team without flinching if he catches us doing any of these things.

 

 

That is messed up.

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In Missouri I haven't seen a tournament with more than 30 policy teams for at least 2 years, excluding Liberty because I think teams come from all over for that. I think its because almost every tournament has 100% lay judges so it ends up being just a competition of who speaks better or makes better I contact. Teams no longer feel its worth it to work so hard just be to be voted up/down based on how they spoke, so they just embrace that part of debate and switch to public forum or individual events.

 

I realize this "problem" has been around for pretty much all of debate history, but it seems especially true now, at least in Missouri, that the only possible good judges are from MSU, and they really only judge at their own tournament.

 

Also a lot of coaches around here are in like a 1960s debate stasis where K's and counterplans are irrellevant to the case and speeding and impact debates exclude the average person. Our coach will kick us off the team without flinching if he catches us doing any of these things.

I agree, although in the Eastern MO area, judges are becoming a lot better. Wash-U has a debate team now I think, and they send kids to judge. Just because of the nature of STL being a fairly big midwestern city, there are a lot of ex-debaters who live here, especially as lawyers and businessmen in the uptown areas (some of the suburbs around here are the best in the US). McKendree Parli debaters sometimes come and judge, and the coaches in E-MO are almost all ex-policy debaters or know a lot about it. I got 4 speed rounds in prelims at a tournament last year that generally had none the year before. It's becoming awesome. I don't want to turn this into a discussion about Missouri, but I guess that's an example of the coaches/judges issue slowly disappearing. 

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