[Ndca-l] Issues concerning the high school community

Brian Manuel clariondebate
Wed Dec 18 04:22:06 EST 2013

The views below are my own and not the views of Stanford University,
Stanford Debate Society, Stanford National Forensic Institute, or any of
the other tournaments I run the tab room for.

I think the conversation AT has raised is one of absolute importance for
the HS community.  The college policy debate community is currently
struggling with a lot of very large issues that can determine its continued
existence as we know it.  However, at the same time there are argumentative
ideas and decorum issues that are trickling down to the HS community which
need to be controlled and outright removed from the activity (more decorum,
less argument).  I find myself uniquely situated to engage in this
conversation as a college program director, assistant high school coach, HS
tournament director, and tab room director for a number of high school
tournaments.  I think first it?s critical we identify the issues we?re

As an overview Michael Hester of the University of West Georgia posted a
synopsis of events the college community has been facing and I think some,
if not all of these, will be ones the HS community will need to face at
some point in the not so distant future [http://bit.ly/1fDDkN2].

Some specific issues for discussion follow:

1. Topic Exclusion/Traditional Norms of Debate [I?ll summarize for the sake
of this forum]:  A number of teams in college, and now high school, are
making arguments centered on the exclusionary nature of topics that force
the affirmative to instrumentally affirm a policy that is enacted by the
United States federal government.  Their argument focuses on how their
social location uniquely excludes them from the ability to engage in reform
by a government they don?t have a voice in.  This has led many teams to
advocate deconstruction/abolition arguments against the state and advocate
alternative pedagogical models for debate that critique roleplaying and
instrumental affirmation of the resolution.  A discussion could be found
here regarding these issues [http://bit.ly/1kU8uAe] and an updated version
of the issues and potential discussion points for later on are located here

2.  Judge Exclusion/Discrimination:  Debate has been a male dominated
activity, and those who identify as white have made up the majority of the
pool.  This has led to the gross misrepresentation of female and
underrepresented minorities in the activity, especially in the judging pool.
Even though the numbers of women and minorities are rising, their
placements in rounds aren?t receiving the same attention.  The primary
blame for this lack of representation has been placed on the MPJ
system.  Reform
has been discussed a number of times and most recently Gabe Murillo of
Oklahoma has posted a detailed analysis of some issues the community has
been facing.  If you?d like to view his posts they are found here [
http://bit.ly/1czRgnt].   In response to Gabe?s call for action the
California Swing tournaments (USC/Fullerton) have implemented judging
placement protocols they?ll follow at their tournaments.  For those
interested they can be found here [http://bit.ly/1caKt8R].

3.   Speak Point Inflation/Deflation:  This topic is one that has been
happening for years and is being seen on a small scale in HS.  However, the
core controversy is about the inflationary trend points are taking to
reward certain types of debate.  The downside is that there seems to be
accusations that teams are being punished for participating in certain
styles of debate.  The beginning of this discussion is located here [
http://bit.ly/1kga4io] and continues here [http://bit.ly/1fDDrIz], and here

4. Decorum/Code of Conduct/Professionalism/etc.:  It?s getting out of
control in some ways and needs to be controlled.  The activity only exists
because of the people who want to compete.  Currently in debate rounds
people are making very aggressive accusations against teams and it?s
getting very personal and very nasty.  The debate space is turning into a
very hostile work space for all of us to show up in and try to do our jobs.
It?s the escalating nature of personal attacks and threats leveled against
others which has caused the greatest rebuke across the college and high
school communities.

Therefore, where do we go and what do we do.

Daryl Burch put it best last weekend at Scranton when he said ?Debate?we?re
lost?.we?re at war with no warriors?we?re lost with no home; alone.?  He
later continued to argue that we?re trapped in a house/home dichotomy and
debate is filled with the empty promises of freedom.  You can?t put a
curtain on the corner office of a building and call it home.  Debate can
never be a home, it?s a place of work and we should never take our work
home.  We focus too much time on making debate home and not putting enough
work into debate.  So shut off the alarm clock, it?s time to go to work.

Here are some things I believe we can do to work us in the right direction:

Anti-Harassment/Anti-Bullying/Decorum/Professionalism/Code of Conduct/Role
of the Judge/Role of the Coach/etc.:

HS students for the most part are minors.  Therefore, as educators and
coaches we have a direct responsibility to protect each debater we come in
contact with.  We also have a responsibility to control the argumentative
environment our debaters engage in every one of their debates.  I believe
there is a way for academics to debate the merits of all of the issues
affecting the activity I listed above but once those issues become personal
and border on harassment, discrimination, bullying, etc. we need to step in.
The answer is not to eliminate the argumentation; rather it?s to help
prepare the arguments to be read in an academic forum.    Furthermore, what
are we do to as coaches, educators, judges, and tournament officials if the
district and school policies are violated.  We are to enforce them.  The
question then becomes ?how do we enforce??, ?how do we not discriminate who
this is going to apply to??, ?how do we validate accusations and
claims??.  This
is where tournaments need to be very clear in their stated policies.  If
you have rules in place, enforce them.  If you don?t know how to deal with
them then find out how to handle these situations if they are to present
themselves.  In college debates my debaters at Stanford have dealt with a
list of accusations made against them from "they should kill themselves",
"be killed because they're white, racist, etc", or the worst yet that
"others will kill/harm themselves" if they aren?t allowed to debate in the
manner they want to.  This cannot be tolerated!  We need to refocus the
game on academic alternatives to these arguments where we move away from
the personal and focus more on the academic and the political.  If debate
is work this would never be tolerated in the workplace as we tolerate it in
the home.  It?s this dichotomy that Daryl was speaking of where we easily
lose focus on why we?re here and we should rather refocus our efforts on
putting WORK into debate.   It starts with us as coaches, judges, and
professionals and setting the right tempo for our students.  We should stop
insinuating there are certain types of arguments that should and shouldn?t
be run in debate.  We need to teach our debaters how to engage teams who
approach the topic in both traditional and nontraditional ways.  I think
when both sides of the argumentative spectrum start to learn each other?s
arguments and there is a mutual understanding of the academic integrity
behind the arguments we?ll begin to move away from the dangerous line we?re
about to cross.   The combination of open mindedness, professionalism, and
a code of conduct should achieve the goals we?re trying to achieve.  However,
to teach your kids to disregard certain arguments for the sake of a perfect
world of debate in your eyes lends to the animosity we?re seeing in debates

Argumentative/Workshop/Tournament Participation Diversity:

Yes, we?re becoming a melting pot of diversity in debate.  When I debated
in HS almost 15 years ago non-white and female students were heavily
underrepresented.  This is not true today.  Women and non-white students
are making up more and more of the competitors and judging pool.  Hand in
hand with participation levels increasing, argumentative diversity is
changing rapidly as well.  We?re not keeping in lock step with these
changes.  I tend to agree the first step to helping with this is to be open
minded to argumentative perspectives.  I echo Claire?s comments about
institute diversity.  Stanford much like Texas has had an extremely diverse
faculty and argumentative/pedagogical focus but it hasn?t meant that more
students are attending.  The same traditional camps are getting the
majorities share of students.  In reality, our argumentative focus has
turned kids away.  I?ve been told a number of times people would like our
camp to be more policy focused, even when I?ve made an attempt to change
we?ve not gained kids.  Therefore, this year I?m attempting to put together
a diverse faculty to provide a top tier experience for high school students
to immerse themselves in the full collective of debate argumentation
ranging from critical race theory to postmodernism to traditional aspects
of policy debate.  I encourage other camps to do so, but more importantly I
encourage you as instructors of argument to send your kids to more
well-rounded camps argumentatively and faculty wise.  College institutes
will only change if the call to action is orchestrated by the coaches of
the programs looking for change.

In addition to institute diversity, I call for tournaments to enhance
diversity in the judging pools and judge placement.  I feel that having
your student?s debate in front of judges with different racial, economic,
academic, and social backgrounds you?ll provide them benefits that extend
much farther than the debate space.  You?ll provide them with exposure to
people that some of them never had the privilege of having exposure to and
those experiences tend to help them grow into more open minded adults in
the future.

Council of Tournament Directors:

Great idea!  Conversations are good.  Best practices are good.  However,
more important than everything else is that communication is good.  When a
COTD is put together it typically put a lot of great minds together who are
in charge of many of the top tournaments in the country.  Opening the lines
of communication amongst a set of people with such influence on the
activity is bound to have some positive impact.  I second AT?s suggestion
and really hope this gets done.  I?d love to be a part of it and help shape
some of these decisions that tournaments can begin to implement as they see
fit.  Furthermore, we can use organizations like the NDCA and TOC to begin
to only sanction tournaments that follow the best practices the COTD
finalizes.  These recommendations will hopefully improve the environment
that Stefan has correctly labeled a national circuit issue.


Another great idea!  Professional development is something most, if not
all, schools provide their teachers.  If you can?t get professional
development then maybe you can allocate a small amount of resources out of
your budget to make sure you can attend.  It seems that the topic meetings
are less relevant an expenditure if debate as we know it slowly starts to
implode at the national level due to other issues we?re unwilling to
address.  Therefore, it is about making decisions and sometimes not putting
the cart before the horse.  We need an activity that is thriving before we
decide what we?re debating.

Overall, I plead with you to think this through.  I understand we all want
to immediately react negatively to the current state of affairs and look to
restrict or punish students for inappropriate behavior.  However, we should
think about why the student is acting in that manner in the first place.  It
doesn?t always work to try and punish and exclude students when all you
needed to do was figure out why they were acting a certain way and see if
you can fix the environment to make their behavior change.  We?re at a
cross roads.  We can make a positive change or allow it to go off the
tracks.  I really hope that we work together as professionals and make the
right choices as we move forward.  I hope if you take this conversation
seriously and view the topics from the multitude of perspectives that have
been offered and look to find the comprisable solution that I believe

I love the high school debate community and I?d hate to see it be
negatively affected by the actions of a few at the detriment of the many.


Brian Manuel

Brian J. Manuel
Director of Policy Debate
Stanford Debate Society
Stanford University
(c) 650.735.1455
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.debatecoaches.org/pipermail/ndca-l-debatecoaches.org/attachments/20131218/d90e9714/attachment-0004.htm>

More information about the Ndca-l mailing list