Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Standards Deviations

Like most members of the LD community, I have been closely following the discussions of different approaches to the activity that have been published recently. To put things into perspective, not too long ago the NFL regrouped to clarify rules and procedures for debating and judging LD, under the mistaken notion that they represented some central, neutral authority on the issue. Rather than waiting for the ink to dry on their recommendations, the LD community at large has quickly risen to the occasion not to denounce their work but to more wisely pretend that it never existed. I totally concur with this approach, as only the world’s worst District Chair can. But I am dismayed that the discussions that have been taking place have not concentrated on what I consider the areas of pure argumentation that are the ripest for analysis. Our goal as coaches, aside from finding the judges’ lounge and discovering where the parents are hiding the doughnuts, is to hone the minds of our students into sharp objects that they probably shouldn’t hold in their hands while running. This honing requires special tools, many of which have not been addressed yet in the ongoing debate debate. Issues such as prestandards merely scratch the surface. In fact, some would say they not only scratch the surface, but get all kinds of oily gook all over it that makes it hard to see through without special x-ray specs. I think it is time to discuss the other, perhaps more pertinent areas that the debate debate debaters have not yet debated. Are they holding back on these, keeping them to themselves as part of their strategy for winning TOC? I wouldn’t be surprised. But since I haven’t sent a student to TOC since the Harding Administration, I have no fear of laying bare the strategies that others are hiding in their messenger bags along with their Habermas critiques, their flow pens in eleven different colors (one for each spike), and a banana that they forgot about from Glenbrooks. Like Yogi Berra, when I see a fork in the road, I take it.

The Poststandards Debate. So much has been said about prestandards that poststandards have gotten lost in the shuffle. Whereas prestandards are an attempt to invalidate or challenge the underpinnings of a resolution before analysis can be made in a round, poststandards are directly aimed at invalidating or challenging the judge’s decision after it has been made and the round is over. In a poststandards debate, the losing side, on hearing that the judge thinks that every argument he or she has made is so much underseasoned bologna, hands the judge not the case that has just been run, but the case the debater ran on the previous topic. The debater then challenges the judge to point out the flaws in the argumentation, to explain why every straightforward rebuttal that the debater grandiosely (and inaccurately) labeled a turn was not a reason for an immediate victory, and gets the judge’s home address so that some night when the judge is asleep—well, just think of the worst thing that a teenager can do, and it will be done, you bozo. Sadly, poststandards debate is frowned on by many more, dare I say, conservative judges, who feel that once the round is over, the debate should end. This old-fashioned, regressive approach to the activity is one of the reasons I feel it is necessary for us to keep the discourse discursive, if not downright disruptive.

The Substandards Debate. Substandards debate is the forgotten stepchild among debate debate debaters. Whereas prestandards precede argumentation, and poststandards follow argumentation, substandard debaters elude argumentation completely. You never know what they’re saying, or why they’re saying it. As a matter of fact, you can barely understand a word they are saying at all, and no penalty of negative speaker points ever seems to have any effect on them. Sadly, while substandard debaters are the vast majority of the members of the activity, the pundits virtually ignore them, as if they themselves have never judged a round in the 0-5 bracket. It is a sad commentary on our activity that it is the vast gray army of the substandard that are so poorly armed for battle. These should be a coach’s pride and joy, but instead they huddle together for warmth at tournaments, roasting discarded potatoes over garbage fires, singing songs of hobos and the open road and wishing for their buses to arrive and take them back whence they came, forever. These, indeed, are the debaters that try men’s souls.

The Semi-standards Debate. As is well-known to those I have judged over the years, I am a strong proponent of semi-standard debate. Semi-standards represent an honest attempt to follow the rules as laid down arbitrarily by some people in Wisconsin, but, alas, semi-standards debaters always get it wrong for some reason. They tend to think that criteria are achieved through values, that the plural of criteria is cafeteria, that definitions, if any, should be made up on the spot and should change from speech to speech, that any attempt to stand still while speaking is absolutely pointless so they dance like psychotic chickens on hot coals, and that time saved is time well spent and therefore they always come in at least two minutes under their allotted span. Although they occasionally comb their hair and brush their teeth, they otherwise look the tryouts for a teen slasher film. You gotta love ‘em, but you’ve also gotta drop ‘em. When two semi-standard debaters meet in a round, the judge flips the coin immediately after they leave the room, thus rendering the absolutely correct decision, given the circumstances.

There are, of course, other approaches to LD. There is Obfuscation Debate, where cases depend on unintelligible sources drawing conclusions that make no sense whatsoever, which always appeals to certain judges due to their (the case’s) alleged originality. There is Theory Debate, where no one knows what the rules are so everyone just does what they want and the judge flips a coin not after the debaters leave the room, as in semi-standards debate, but during the negative’s cross-ex, which they probably won’t take because they’re taking flex-prep, which means that instead of asking questions each debater stands up and flexes their muscles, and the scariest one with the biggest biceps automatically wins. And of course there is also Runway Debate, where the opponents give up on the resolution completely and simply discuss last night’s episode of Project Runway. In these debates, of course, the judge simply chooses the better dressed debater, unless that debater is anorectic, in which case the round is considered a draw and everyone heads back to the cafeteria for a couple of Red Bulls.

I hope this has helped clarify the debate debate for the debate debate debaters.

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