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USDEBATE  May 2013

USDEBATE May 2013

Subject:

Re: Disapointed

From:

Jaime Wright <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

USA Debating in the WUDC Format <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 1 May 2013 09:21:34 -0400

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text/plain

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I said this to Steve yesterday (not for the first time, actually), and I'll say it to yall today. An easy and ethical solution to all of these issues lives in the form and presentation of the "Adjudication Briefing." All we need to do is stop saying that a "good" debate should be watchable/judgable by a "reasonable, fairly well-informed voter/person/citizen." Instead, when we do these briefings, we should be clear with each other and with our debaters that winning debaters must know how to persuade other winning debaters--people who have some sort of expertise in the language and format of debate. This is what I tell my students. An excellent example of this happened during the sixth round at USU (wonderful tournament, btw) this year. The president of the university sat in on the judging panel for one of the "top" rounds, and her decisions were different from the decisions of most of the rest of the panel, as were her reasons for those decisions. In the language of the adjudication discussion, the debate experts informed her that the winning team should adhere to certain rules of the game and that the manner/style of the teams didn't matter so much as their dedication to the specific world created by that particular round. These winning debaters know that they should be persuading the other debaters--not the presidents of universities (unless, of course, they are also former debaters).

And it's fine to be good at talking to a small group of people who share your background, experiences, language, and interests. We should just be very clear--with ourselves and with our students--that BP debate, like most other forms of debate, is a rhetoric of enclaves and experts. This is not a layperson format anymore, if it ever really was.

-Jaime
_______________________________________
From: USA Debating in the WUDC Format [[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Stephen Llano [[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 12:48 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Disapointed

Colleagues and Friends,

I have been sitting on writing this for a long time, but today my feeling of disappointment has driven me to ask a few questions to those of you on this list.

Since the posting about the changes to WUDC registration were shared here, there have only been two responses, and neither of them more than just technical questions about the nature of the registration system changes.

Where is the critical discussion about what these changes mean for our students?

From my vantage point, as someone who has gone from thrilled with WUDC to someone who no longer wants to be a participant in it, these changes make me want to be an active opponent to WUDC.

When I first became involved in WUDC in 2007 I thought its greatest strength was in the diversity of views as to what a good argument could be. I thought it to be an amazing experience for my students and myself to encounter such a variety of different styles and approaches to rhetoric, argumentation, and persuasion. My recent reticence in future participation was not because of quality, but more because of safety and financial concerns.

Now it appears that WUDC wants to throw away quality in favor of a faux-quality: A positive feedback loop of people who speak the "right way" perpetuating a very particular kind of speech being rewarded with more participants who also speak in that "right way."

This feedback loop will be accentuated by the fact that judges will also be increased from those institutions that demonstrate they can speak in the appropriate code to reach elimination rounds. WUDC council has made it very clear that they are not interested in a broad range of ways of speaking and arguing, but a very narrow band view of this. Their annual tournament will serve as the gatekeeper for who gets to participate in this competition.

It amazes me that on an email list that includes those who saw the decline of NDT and NPDA from broad based organizations to those that try to eliminate diversity of discourse in the same way, people have remained silent.  Not even one word of critical questioning or examination has been posted about these changes.  Questions need to be discussed, such as: What is the difference between this change and mutually preferred judging in NDT/CEDA? Why should WUDC have a system of participation that reminds us more of the NPTE than our own USU nationals?

But the American debate educators have remained silent.  The wisdom of so many years of participation in different formats and the eventual abandoning of those formats in favor of BP and WUDC have not inspired any of you to write one single line of questioning in response to Michael's emails. This is the root of my disappointment.

Years ago, I asked the question to many British debaters: What is the value of having a professional coach or debate director? What is the value added of such a figure? Most debaters in the world don't have one, and they do quite well competitively. Most did not have a response, and weren't sure.  I thought it was a very pressing question. The only response I could think of that made any sense was the injection of the pedagogical dimension to debating. If there is something Americans can bring to the party, it would be that key element - to help people recognize that every move they make in the debate universe is a pedagogical one. There are serious implications to every adjudication and every comment that is ignored or rewarded in every debate. We are constantly teaching, and reinforcing, lessons provided by and through language. This hopefully has some spillover effect into their daily lives when they encounter other people. The result would (hopefully) be kindness, patience, understanding - all concepts brought about by a healthy sense of uncertainty of the self. Debate provides this uncertainty all too often, which is the source of it's value for Universities.

The narrow band reward-those-who-are-rewarded-already registration system is pedagogically bankrupt if we are really still interested in this whole "reasonable person" judging philosophy, which I already question as a principle for a lot of reasons based on a lot of my own judging experiences. WUDC seems to now feel very comfortable totally abandoning this principle in favor of one where those who have proved expertise in persuading the imaginary reasonable person now get more opportunities to do the same, in front of those who also believe they know what the imaginary reasonable person wants. We are talking to one another imagining that we are appealing and representing a broader based intellectual community.

We are teaching ourselves and one another how to appeal in a vanguard discourse to those who love this vanguard discourse, not "reasonable people." It seems a shame that I have to struggle to find a WUDC video on the internet that I can show to public speaking students or beginning debate students that they can even begin to understand. Our speeches are becoming appeals to a particular elite, and this decision from WUDC further refines who can be in that elite. As discourse training for and by elites, we are far away from encouraging an attitude among participants that would be much other than cynical disgust for the rhetorical and argumentative strategies of those outside the elite; a worldview that encourages seeing the discourse of the non-elite as automatically flawed, bad, and not worthy of engagement. Debate teaches us to be good arguers - the best, right?  Actually, debate like this just teaches us to be good debaters, full stop.

It really depends on how you say it: Instead of WORLD Universities Debating Championship, the emphasis now seems to be on World Universities Debating CHAMPIONSHIP. Another question arises: How can someone be world champion in debating for reasonable people when the participants are hand selected based on their institution's success at previous competitions? Where is the door for those who are new, who are reasonable, and want to argue and judge?

When I first started participating in the WUDC universe, I was assured this style of debating would not fall into the pits of the previous US formats. I was assured by many of you reading this that "the world will check" the US inclination to become highly technical, highly cloistered, and highly specific in style. Nobody who has said that to me has responded with any critical questions to this decision.  This would amaze me if it weren't so disappointing.  Who is going to check the world when they make decisions like this one?  Here we go again. This is the first step into creating another inaccessible and limited debating format.

Where are the debate educators now? Or have you given up the project of showing students how hard it is to reach the mind of another in favor of earning more trophies and accolades? Perhaps you feel like the decision is fine because your teams will not be impacted by the registration procedure. The temptation is pretty strong to say, "We can win under this rubric." But nobody has asked the question, "Who loses?"

This doesn't effect me, as I said before. I'm out of the WUDC game, but not out of BP and debate and the wonderful powers they provide in teaching people amazing things. WUDC wants to limit themselves to an elite.  We here in the US have seen what this does to debate participation. But not to worry.  Just because there is a yacht club it doesn't mean that boating is going away.  WUDC doesn't realize that competitors to their monopoly will quickly arise with the rise of Chinese debating and North American debating as more American schools join the BP ranks.  Alternatives to WUDC will arise, including what I'm doing - taking my students to other tournaments.

Who should a world champion appeal to? Others in the elite club? Society in general? University communities? Reasonable people? their peers and colleagues? Scholars of argumentation?

Or perhaps the idea of world champion is best left as a ruse to get people talking to one another and thinking about how difficult that talking - and understanding that talking - is for human beings.

Your friend and colleague,
Steve
--
_____
Stephen Llano, Ph.D.
Director of Debate and Assistant Professor, Department of Rhetoric, Communication & Theater
St. Johnís University
Queens, NY
718-990-5606(voice) 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

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