March 2011


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Tue, 29 Mar 2011 10:39:28 -0400
USA Debating in the WUDC Format <[log in to unmask]>
Stephen Llano <[log in to unmask]>
USA Debating in the WUDC Format <[log in to unmask]>
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Finally John has written an email that I could not agree with more.

Let's stop worrying about silly "rules" and teach our students what really matters - persuasion and argumentation that is in resonance with the current scholarship on these ideas. Persuasion and argumentation are always situational, audience-adapted, and of the moment (Gr: Kairos). 

Stephen Llano, Ph.D.
Director of Debate
Assistant Professor
Department of Rhetoric, Communication & Theater
St. John’s University
Queens, NY
718-990-2435 (fax)
callto://stevellano -- Skype Me!

"Knit the brows, and a strategem comes to mind." - Lo Kuan-chung, Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

"Poetry is a rival government always in opposition to its cruder replicas." - William Carlos Williams

"Chaos is the score upon which reality is written." - Henry Miller
From: USA Debating in the WUDC Format [[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Meany, John [[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 2:34 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: USU Nationals 2011 in Brief

Are debaters and judges expected to follow this briefing? The WUDC rules are fairly open-ended, allowing debaters to select best practices and innovate strategies and tactics. In this way, debaters may develop diverse and exceptional presentation and argumentation skills. But this briefing often instructs debaters on what they can say and how they can say it. It seems to add a whole set of ‘rules’ that do not appear in the WUDC rules. Here is just one example, regarding argumentation from the opposition – the counterproposal (just about all of it seems so wrong). The briefing seems to indulge in a certain wistfulness regarding counterplan concepts, circa 1955. But what is the point of repeating those ideas unless one is planning to expose, discredit, and update them?

How can one understand the claim that “It is nearly always a bad tactical decision for opp to offer a counter-prop?” This question from the briefing is accurate, to a point. Yes, of course, it is a bad tactical decision to use a bad version of a counterproposal. [Ed. note: Duh.] But what if one did not follow the briefing’s guide to bad counterplanning? What if one had a more modern or effective version of counterplanning? What about a version developed and used in serious personal and policy argumentation for millennia? How about a version applied to formal debating in the 19th and early 20th centuries and re-invented for academic debating some 40 years ago? How about a version used by all debate’s participants in decision-making each day? How about the version inevitably used by the author(s) of the briefing, a version about which they are, quite obviously, unaware? How about a version routinely used in public policy debates and current events discussions on the very motions selected for tournament competition? What if a sound version of counterplanning had, as its foundation, the identical logic used in the construction of a proposition policy model? If it is fine for the prop, would it then be fine for the opp? What if it served the acceptable ends identified for the opposition teams? What if it met the purpose of engaging in rebuttal of the proposition’s arguments in precisely the terms established by the proposition? What if it served the purpose of positive matter and proved that the proposition model was counterproductive? What if it could be successfully implemented by talented debaters in academic contests?  (For example, I regularly observe good public policy counterplans on diverse motions at middle school tournaments in debate outreach leagues sponsored by the Claremont Colleges Debate Union). Still a bad tactical decision?

To add insult, the briefing also demands that the counterprop argument be presented in the opening speech for opposition side. [Ed. note: Huh?] No need for a history lesson here. The non sequitur is alive and well. In fact, recently saw a clever presentation by Richard Haass, CFR, on Libya intervention. He waited until colleagues agreeing with his non-intervention position had their say before introducing his counterplan. It came late in the televised discussion, which added to its authority – it carefully considered all previous argument positions from those favoring and opposing intervention. A relevant and powerful policy argument, focused precisely to the question, expressed in less than 30 seconds. And this is the sort of thing that should be out-of-bounds for intercollegiate debaters?

There is a more of this sort of grey goo in the briefing – manufactured rules, objective tests, empty opines, and other claims that suggest, if anything, limited meaningful debate experience and/or imagination – and debaters must struggle through it all to get to substantive matter. Some info in the briefing may be helpful for the novice debater (formalism and rule-bound approaches often provide comfort, too often cold comfort, for the inexperienced) but so much of it seems to suggest that there is ‘one right way’ to debate, rather than the many available elegant and effective ways.

Can’t we just follow the WUDC rules and liberate debaters to make their own choices about argumentative and stylistic strategies and tactics? Why must judge and debater briefings so frequently tell debaters what to say? Shouldn’t debaters have the opportunity to investigate and analyze issues and attempt persuasive approaches independently of previous debate practice, judge preferences, and applied conventions? Some of the choices they make may not be as good as those listed in the briefing but other decisions, and certainly those regarding counterplanning, may be MUCH BETTER. That is how debaters develop and apply CT and debate practice improves.

Although this note addresses the briefing document, it is also relevant to the general imposition of judge preferences and conventional practices that may interfere with the development of genuinely exceptional public speaking, argumentation, and refutation skills. It is time to put a stake in the heart of so many zombie debate practices, the manner/matter/structure undead – the revolving techniques that have been buried, again and again, only later to escape to haunt and torment the perplexed villagers (they’re back! – the judge demand for an explicitly expressed split at the beginning of a speech, the ‘3 questions’ tactic of the whip speaker, etc. – popular high school extemporaneous speaking practices, circa 1955, now available in 2 forms – sources of cable television and online parody and, without a trace of irony, recommendations for BP debaters).

Best regards,


John Meany
Director of Forensics
Claremont Colleges Debate Union
Claremont McKenna College
500 East Ninth Street
Claremont, CA 91711-6400
909.607.2667 TEL
909.621.8249 FAX
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