[Ndca-l] Issues concerning the high school community

Chris Wheatley cwheatley
Wed Dec 18 15:57:54 EST 2013

...a fascinating and important thread of discussion here.
I want to thank AT and all respondents for these sincere thoughts and suggestions.
That said, I would just like to make the following claims:

1) Debate has, does and will belong to debaters.  I imagine there will always be practices, arguments and personalities which frustrate and anger many in the activity. This is NOT a reason to censor or ban.  I tend to fear those who claim to know what the activity of argumentation and debate, 'is' or 'should be'...debate is always in the process of becoming.  What the activity looks and sounds, (and smells?) like will always change, sometimes dramatically, sometimes slightly.  We should probably remember to celebrate ANY individual (student or coach) who is able to risk self in a sincere pursuit of a passion or ideal.  Debate has and will continue to change. If the change doesn't reflect our own experience with the activity, it doesn't make the change 'bad'...just different. I would suggest that much of the 'controversy' arising from many of these instances are only controversial, (or only exist at all) because of the wonderful improvement in all types of diversity in the tournament environment. It is perhaps an unknowable line between, 'troublemaker' and 'innovator/game changer'.

2) Debate competitions are a public space. There are very real societal restrictions on communication. If the competitions utilize a YouTube or 
Facebook post, then I might suggest FCC standards/rules/regulations apply...I know this contradicts #1 above on censorship, but I concede there is a greater community interest at stake. Perhaps it's enforcing the '7 words' policy of public airwaves (please listen to the George Carlin routine).  No shouting, 'gun' or 'bomb' in a crowded tournament.  I used to tell students their language should be something a grandparent would be proud to hear, (probably a bit draconian). I am and always have been a big fan of civil discourse. I think it's the only way the debate activity, or any society can continue.

3) MPJ, (at least in preliminary rounds)is a form of censorship. It would seem consistent for each/every judge to have an equal opportunity or chance of hearing any given debate team just as any debate team has the equal opportunity to debate any other team.  It has also been a primary driver for self-selecting ourselves into irrelevancy. While I applaud Professor Hester's posts and his thoughts on the dramatic separation of debate from communication ( and Communication Departments) I do not understand why  debate in any form, format or institution would not strive to improve communication and perhaps even expand the size of our audience.  This would seem to be a most valuable skill and benefit to anyone.

4) The world of High School does entail many more restrictions and responsibilities for the HS coach/teacher.  As long our society continues to create and honor the social construction of 'child' through an 18th birthday, (and beyond in some cases) than those of us working in secondary education will always be exposed to more rules, risks and consequences. High school teachers/coaches have long deferred to post-secondary colleagues for creating arguments and providing training,  yet we are now surprised and upset that our students look beyond their own coach and squad for suggestions and support.  Decisions on argument selection, tournament attendance, judging and anything else impacting high school debate would probably best be done by high school teachers/coaches, students, parents and yes, even administrators. Students and teachers alike must be made aware that there are consequences to each and every choice made. Helping us all think through the potential risks, benefits and unknown consequences will only help us in debate and in our lives.

Arguably Yours, the debate salutation
Christopher Wheatley, Aspen HS, (CO)

Thanks to any/all who took the time to read 

-----Original Message-----
From: ndca-l-bounces at lists.debatecoaches.org [mailto:ndca-l-bounces at lists.debatecoaches.org] On Behalf Of Timmons, Aaron
Sent: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 4:34 PM
To: Maggie Berthiaume; NDCA-L
Subject: [Ndca-l] Issues concerning the high school community


I have read with great interest, and in some cases varying modicums of concern, about what is going on in the college community in the last several months. Many on all sides of the argumentative spectrum in college, as well as the high school community, have asked me my opinion on many of the controversies that seem to embroil the college community. While this is not the forum to share that perspective (if you ask I will tell you!)  I DO very much feel that it is time for the HIGH SCHOOL community to get out in front on some of the issues and have open discussions about them. Based on personal observation as well as talking with others, the issues I see in college that are currently impacting the high school debate landscape but will only increase given the trends that I see happening. While I have had individual conversations with folks, I see this as a starting point to broader conversation among a larger group concerned about the high school landscape. 

A few "meta" thoughts I believe to be true:

1st - High School students are developmentally, and less socially mature than college students. Things done in rounds in college, may not be (read: are not from my view) as developmentally appropriate for high school students. I believe that while debate is a competitive, albeit educational game, it is an extension of the classroom. Judges serve the role as ethical educators whose role is to serve the educational needs of ALL students. Coaches need to understand, and use discretion in the form, as well as content, in the arguments their students make as high school debaters. I agree I am not the argument or language police. My only point is that as a community, soul searching needs to occur to allow alternative, diverse voices from different social locations but still be mindful of who we are charged to serve; the students (most of whom are minors). The question for me is "would I allow what is being done in this debate in either form or content, to occur in a classroom on my campus"? If the answer is yes, go for it. If the answer is no, that might tell you something. Understand, this NOT the beginnings of a conversation to ban arguments, rather I view it as a conversation and potential sounding board to help us all formulate how (and what) we personally think about these issues. 

2nd - The landscape of debate has changed dramatically in the last 10 to 15 years. Due a variety of factors, debate has likely never been more diverse. The dress, style (dare I say method of swag), argument content, AND form of presentation have diversified as well. Coaches and judges need to be mindful of that fact and treat all students, regardless of social location, with respect. To be honest I don't think the community writ large knew what was happening and was (and maybe still are), unprepared for the increasingly diverse voices that occupy the debate space.

3rd - Given the changes in the argument set, and differing styles we are seeing, as consumers we need to demand that workshops diversify their curriculum to give our students better skill sets to engage "performative" arguments,  beyond framework. The days of "here is how you answer the K' in a two hour lecture, combined with the perfunctory "cap k" produced as a throwaway, should be over. At camps that errs on the side of "progressive", perhaps sharing with students that not all folks that run plans are "evil" might be in order. More diverse camp curriculum HAS to be part of the high school camp scene. We need to all work on helping each other,  actually engage each other.  As importantly, Black and Brown students deserve to see more workshop staff of color. It was shocking to me last year to see how many debaters of color who had success at majors in college, had to search to find jobs at "mainstream" camps last summer. Just saying...

Enough of my thoughts. A few questions for the community:

1st - Do we think any college conversations will have a direct impact on the Tournament of Champions? If so, I think this conversation needs to occur in a way, and in a timely manner, to do proactive things to address all potential concerns from all parties. 

2nd - Is there a need to discuss Mutual Preference Judging and, in its current form, how it creates a "permanent underclass" of judges, and negates the need for many of our students (on all places in the argumentative spectrum) to adapt, in addition to leaving women and folks of color "on the outside looking in" of elim panels at many events? 

3rd - Is there a need to have a Counsel of Tournament Directors at the high school levels to discuss "best practices"? If this were to occur I see broad groups, from diverse backgrounds, contributing to what "best practices" actually were. 

4th - Does the NFL/NDCA/TOC need to have a statement/policy regarding harassment that all tournaments have an option to adopt/pledge to follow? 

5th - Is there ANY interest in having a conference to work through the issues and have sessions to learn from each other? Locations including Dallas, Las Vegas, and the time between the CEDA and the NDT/the first day or so of the NDT in Indiana, have been thrown out as options. Let's face it, there was a time coaches would talk at tournaments either at coaches' functions or between debates. That doesn't happen anymore.   It looks like a forced adult play date of sorts might be in order. 

I know this covers lots of issues. Many of you may want to talk about other issues not addressed in this email. Others may have a couple specific on this list to discuss that uniquely concern them. My thought is although we are busy now, we will ALWAYS be busy. MAKING time to dialogue seems important. 

Happy Holidays!


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