Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Great Debate

Today, I went to traveled to the neighboring School District to judge a Novice Forensics Tournament.

The Hickman Mills School District has a long history.
Hickman's Mill was along the Santa Fe Trail and was one area of Missouri where the Red-Leg JayHawkers raided during the civil war. These raids were a pre-cursor to the trip by the James' and Youngers' with Col. Quantrell over to Lawrence, but that's another story.

It was also the first Missouri School District to Consolidate back in 1902.

My mother taught Fifth grade in the district before she retired, and my wife started her teaching career there and spent thirty+ years teaching English, Speech and establishing the Gifted program before moving to the next district over (Center) to take a administration job.

This connection to the Speech department has led to one or both of us adjudicating over our married life.

I noticed several t-shirts indicating that they have taken to referring to this tournament as the "Blizzard Classic." (It is always in January.)

I assure you it is in no way personal self-interest of avoiding an early-morning Saturday wake-up and chilly drive when I say that it always seems to be our participation that causes the precipitation... ;-)

I have avoided judging Debate all these years, as I felt unqualified.
I was never in Forensics in high-school, but was acquainted with most and friends with several of the participants.

I have enjoyed Lincoln-Douglas on a couple of occasions when the organizers have 'mistakenley' assigned me the task, but, to me, Debate was serious business.

This time around was different, in more ways than one.

I had two rounds assigned, the first was Student Congress.

I found it quite interesting, it was a mock congressional session, with student participants giving speeches for and against proposed legislation.

Of course, they were Novices, and it showed, but it was really a blast.

The two topics of legislation:
Abolishing the Death Penalty
Banning Alcohol at Sporting Events.

The biggest problem was they didn't quite sound convincing enough.
Real politicians would have stressed money a WHOLE lot more... ;-)

The second round:

I must admit it took even more effort to not let my personal opinion influence my judging and concentrate on the skills of the speakers and the efficacy of their interchange.

I don't know if it was the in-experience of the participants, or the new fashion, but at least one could follow the arguments. Besides my lack of expertise in the debating art, one of my other motivations for eschewing Debate rounds is the style change I noticed over time.

I have often had to restrain from making an announcement that I did NOT subscribe to the (S)He-who-talks-fastest-wins school has never been a personal favorite. I know we are under time constraints here, but if I can't follow your argument, in my mind you LOSE, know matter how cogent it might be.

Other things I noted. Debate has always had a certain sense of order and civility that is every bit as structured as the Congressional protocol mimicked by the earlier 'Legislative' session. The two young ladies who made up one team expressed impassioned arguments, but, in stark contrast, were always the most courteous in their cross-examinations. This, I think, is fitting. It is something the general public, who's work does not involve daily close inter-action in adversarial roles, find hard to understand. How can the prosecuting and defense lawyers join each other for libations at the end of the day? How can the Democrats and Republicans see each other after-hours socially? I am not sure a little civility would not help other political discourse. Of course, I think MY side is the one that spends it's time practicing TOLERANCE, not just Kvetching about it...

Once change I found disconcerting was the influence of technology on process.

Back in the day, citations were hand-copied onto index cards. Now, the participants carried standard 8.5 x 11 in. sheets of paper. Such are not as practical in either making arguments, nor finding citations during cross. The paper is just too flimsy.

Plus, I know from experience, that copying something by had is as much a memory-exercise as it is a way to transfer the data into portable form.

In short, I believe my pre-computing peers were better debaters because they had better INFORMATION at their fingertips. And the very method of compiling their source data was part of the process of transforming into information.

At one point the young man on the affirmative side cited two definitions, from Would it have KILLED him to walk into a library and find a Webster's?

Ah, well...

I did note that the participants still cross with their flows on legal pads turned sideways. Score one for traditional!

Note to debaters and their coaches: If you are going to be using well known news events in your arguments, you really should make sure you pronounce the names of locations and groups involved properly.

In spite of all MY Kvetching, it was a pleasant day of service to the intellectual development of America's future.


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