OK. I am officially in “debate mode”.
I last wrote about being a member of the A. Craig Baird Debate Forum at the University of Iowa and getting ready to travel to the 69th Annual National Debate Tournament (NDT) that was being held there for the first time.
I have also just finished judging at the National Christian Forensics and Communication Association (NCFCA) regional qualifier here in Texas. Additionally, my students are getting ready to start their own Lincoln Douglas debates in the final weeks of my “Argumentation and Advocacy” class.
Yes, it is that time of year…when the debate community really gets into high gear.
The trip back to Iowa for the NDT was excellent. I attended debates, receptions, and award ceremonies with the 78 best teams in the country. I even got to meet the daughter and granddaughter of A. Craig Baird! I also caught up with a lot of Iowa alumni and legendary coaches from across the United States. Has debate changed since my own time at Washburn and Iowa? Yes…and…no. Critiques (aka Kritiks) and the “performative” style of debate (using hip hop and other media) did not exist when I debated. Clash and the good use of evidence are still important, however.
The NCFCA tournament was very different, of course. The students at this tournament were home schooled and much younger. The NCFCA is the third largest high school speech and debate league in the nation. Students at these competitions range from 12-18 years of age. But while they may be younger, they are definitely learning the skills necessary to compete at the university level. Believe it or not, I have judged rounds where 12 year olds have ousted 18 year olds.
My HBU class has spent the semester learning about good academic debate strategies (analysis and research). They have also learned about logical fallacies (which are to be avoided). We have watched sample debates and they are now learning about how to “flow” a debate so as to keep track of the arguments during the round. The next two weeks will be important for them to test all of these skills as most of them want to be attorneys.
So why is all of this energy devoted to this activity on the national, regional, and local levels in our country (and others around the world)?
First, debate was an important part of a liberal arts education in ancient and medieval times. In fact, the debate between Cambridge and Oxford in the 1400s may have been the first “official” intercollegiate debate competition. So there is history.
Second, argumentation and debate are critical for participatory democracies. Advocates and citizens must know the difference between persuasion and propaganda. This involves critical thinking skills. Additionally, we all use ethos (credibility), logos (logic), and pathos (emotion) in our personal and public lives. Think about selecting a school for a university education. Think about buying a car or house. Think about presidential campaign debates. For all of these reasons, it is important that students learn good communication and critical thinking skills.
Third, debate teaches students the importance of organization and time management. No matter what format, the students know that their use of time is important to selecting the best arguments for their case. The time constraints in these debates create a level playing field. It is much harder to give a concise 10 minute speech than giving a rambling presentation of 30-45 minutes (or reading an essay aloud). The judges of rounds use these time criteria to help them in awarding ballots.
To conclude, you are probably wondering who won the NDT. It was Northwestern…for the 15th time. Now, let’s see how my students fare in their own debates!