Re: the uniqueness of this in the US, I think it's largely due to the professionalisation of the activity (an observation I draw both from my experience in various debate circuits, and thinking logically about the variable that is present in so many US BP schools and not anywhere else in the world). The†tendency†to speed up or become more technical doesn't occur to you until you've been in the activity quite a while (indeed, it seems a strange idea for those starting out). That is not to say I am against the presence of coaches and a 'professional' world of debate (indeed, some might argue I have benefitted from such a phenomena in the past!), I think there are a *lot* of advantages to there being a lot more money in debate in the USA compared to other countries - it reaches more people, tends to be better organised, is more aware of the need to make it educational, and there is less of a problem with substance abuse, amongst†other†things. But I do think the presence of people in the activity for a long time, and the (at times professional) incentive they find a†competitive†advantage contributes to some of these problems.†

I think the biggest way to help combat this†tendency†is to encourage as much student leadership and involvement as far as practically possible. In particular, I think there should be more current and recent debaters acting as judges, CA and DCAing tournaments, and taking leading roles in debate societies and the organisation/running of practices. In general, those who have been in the activity for less time tend to less likely to over use jargon and technique, and their judgement is probably closer to the 'average voter' standard we all seem to want to be meeting. I think it's a shame, for example, that this discussion is taking place on email list to which few actual current debaters are subscribed - is it not a little odd that this activity is being discussed in the absence of those who are currently participating? Perhaps it should be shifted to the new BP forum, which could be easily advertised†to current students so they can have their say about what they want the activity to look like.†

And finally (in light of my above criticism, I had intended to avoid weighing in since my opinion should hold little sway..), I do want to chime in briefly in defence of 'competitiveness'. I really do think, even in its current somewhat imperfect form, that BP debating is a wonderful activity, and those that succeed in it are producing excellent products of rhetoric, if that's the right phrase. When I was teaching an intro speech class, the debates I used were all WUDC outrounds, and barring a few jargon things that had to be translated (and they got used to pretty quickly), my students were consistently impressed and inspired. Further, I know I learnt so much from really good and experienced debaters when I debated at tournaments, and that the students I have coached have found the same, and I've seen considerable growth in debaters from competing in tournaments with teams with a lot of previous competitive success - in terms of †things such as their intellect, style, critical thinking, strategy in speaking. I guess what I'm saying is that, when it comes to Worlds reg, I don't think pursuing a goal of competitive success (as measured by previous success) in registration is contradictory to pursuing a goals of education and developing and improving the format and activity - indeed, I think quite the opposite is true, and we all learn and improve in really positive ways. I also think the variation in geography, format background, and speaking style of the teams breaking at Worlds the last few years suggests to me that the goal of 'diversity' is (in part at least) also being met by the, I think†extremely†sensible, WUDC reg reforms.


On 2 May 2013 20:58, Buzz Klinger <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
One thing that crossed my mind as I read Colin's email was the apparent uniqueness of this problem to American circuits.

I'm no where near versed enough in the †history of debate circuits in the US to know all the details, but it does seem (a many others have noted) that formats invented or adopted by Americans tend to slide towards more "policy-esque" habits over time. But it also seems to be a problem that uniquely afflicts us. Looking around the world, it doesn't appear to be the case that other circuits struggle with this rush towards towards less acceptable practices.†

It might be worthwhile to think about/inquire a to how other debate cultures manage this feat.†

On May 2, 2013, at 20:26, Colin Murphy <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

I think this discussion really comes down to one question: What kind of debate experience are we looking for? Do we want to emphasize the competition, the education or the discourse (or something else)? I understand that there are multiple goals of debate, but at some point you must either say "our priority is X...." or you end up in an impossible balancing act.

I'll throw my opinion out there first. Of those three poles, competition, education and discourse, with the understanding that this is a competitive event, I think we should probably reject changes to the event that advance competitive goals at the expense of discourse and education. This is a difficult thing to say because I found deep satisfaction with the competition as both a debater and coach, but I think that there are fundamental flaws that come with an emphasis on competition that make it difficult to reconcile with the kind of debate we'd all be happy with. I was part of NPDA when it began its slide into policy-based insanity. The main problem is that competitive concerns came to dominate everything else. From a competitive standpoint, saying more words generally provides an advantage, so speed became the norm. Having very specific rules about what is and isn't considered "good" debate generally helps achieve competitive goals by increasing the consistency with which "good" teams tend to win rounds, but it leads to a narrow range of acceptable styles. An emphasis on structure and tabula rasa judging means that rounds are often decided on more "objective" criteria, but the quality of debate, as it applies to the real world goes down because judges cannot reject ridiculous arguments on the grounds that they're ridiculous. An emphasis on competition seems to be empirically incompatible with maintaining an approachable, broadly relevant style of debate (granted my empirics have a sample size of about siz circuits, two of them turned into policy). CEDA and NPDA, as they matured, tended to emphasize the competitive aspects of debate. Their slide towards speed, technique and theory seems a fairly natural result of an emphasis on competitive "quality". The people who started NPDA and CEDA were smart, thoughtful people with a strong grasp of communication, but despite their best efforts their debate style became in many ways, the antithesis of their original intent.

This leads me to conclude that if there is a way to have a style of debate which maximizes its pursuit of competitive goals without eventually sacrificing education and/or discourse, we haven't figured out what it looks like yet. In the meantime, many of the things we do to improve competitive quality in the short term are likely to have troubling long-term impacts, or at least they did when they were introduced into CEDA/NPDA.†

As a result, I think we should be very critical of changes to our style that are done in the name of improving competition. Critical does not mean rejecting them out of hand, but it does mean subjecting them to a more intense scrutiny than those that have other goals. Worlds/BP differs from the American styles by making some structural decisions that emphasize education and discourse over competition, namely the emphasis on manner (which can't really be objectively defined), accepting the position bias introduced by four teams and requiring judges to make subjective evaluations of an argument's quality. I would argue that each of these features serves a useful purpose. Worlds/BP is imperfect, but it tends to protect the qualities most of us want from a debate event, while still allowing a competitive experience, imperfect as that may be.

I raise the point for two reasons. First, I think that Chennai's use of competitive history as a method of assigning slots is troubling, though I confess, all the alternatives I can think of are arbitrary in some other way, so I'm not going to plant a flag on either side of that argument (we can't afford to go anyway). More importantly, I have also seen some changes in Worlds/BP debate in the U.S. over the last few years. I don't think they're all bad, but I do think that we, a group of people who love and care for the event, should probably have a better idea what we want this style of debate to be, are as a prelude to the discussion of whether recent changes are, in fact, problematic.

-----Original Message-----

From: USA Debating in the WUDC Format [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Jaime Wright

Sent: Wednesday, May 01, 2013 6:22 AM

To: [log in to unmask]

Subject: Re: Disapointed

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 adjud!

†ication 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.



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, patien!

†ce, 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,




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