I know I’ve yakked about MJP till the cows come home, most specifically here, in the letter I send to people urging them to do it at tournaments I'm tabbing. Originally MJP happened only at a few circuity tournaments, so the first people to get attached to it were $ircuit folks. As a general rule, they would all rank the same judges about the same way (or totally opposite), but they were at tournaments with strong judge pools of a circuit mindset, and life was honky dory for the most part. Meanwhile, as it was introduced at more and more tournaments, a lot of people—including me, to begin with—were perceiving it as a circuit finagle, a way of engineering judges favorable to you and not to your opponent, and they refused to use it. After some experience I learned otherwise and became a supporter, hence my letter of explanation, telling people why this perceived finagle was not inherently the case, and showing how, if only circuit people ranked, then all the circuit people would indeed get judges favorable to them who were, perhaps, not favorable to the unranking opponent, whereas if both sides ranked, we would move the needle back a bit on the march of circuit styles, and more importantly, even the playing field. I created the Circuit/Traditional/Newcomer designations to make preffing easier for folks who didn’t want to spend their lives poring over judge paradigms.
Going by my experience at Yale, a lot more schools are ranking than before, so maybe my push has been successful. The down side of this, if this is in fact a down side, is that the more people rank according to unique preference systems, the harder it is to find a 1-1 judge. More than ever in anything I’ve tabbed, this tournament had a lot of 2-2s and 3-3s, not because of anything other than that the students debating had no common 1s. In fact, a couple of times we had literally no mutuality whatsoever. That is, two debaters hitting in the round had not ranked a single judge identically (with the possible exception of strikes, but they don’t come into play because mutual strikes are not a potential possibility). But the real issue was not lack of mutuality as much as lack of highly ranked mutuality. So whereas last year if there were a couple of 3-3s, it would have been a lot, here there were indeed a lot of them. And some 4-4s and even 5-5s. People kept coming into tab saying that they’re getting a 4, to which I inevitably responded, “So is your opponent.”
Here is the point that needs to be understood as MJP becomes more common. It is MUTUALLY preferred judges, meaning that tab will assign the best judge that you have ranked identically to you and your opponent. Which means that, as MJP becomes more common, you are no longer going to get nothing but highly preferred judges. Sometimes you and your opponent are going to get someone whose paradigm is unfavorable to both of you, or who is a newcomer, or who is someone you think is dumber than a box of rocks but you’d already used up your strikes on the ones who made these losers look like little Einsteins. In a way, it is a step back in time to when you just got random judges and no one looked at the judges’ abilities, although with the important difference that both you and your opponent, going into the round, both perceive of that judge the same way, whereas in the past, one of you might have been advantaged by that randomness. In any case, that step back in time requires something that we used to value higher than any other aspect of debating skill, something that may be one of if not the most important lesson to be learned in public speaking, but which has sort of gone by the wayside. To wit, debaters have to learn (or relearn) how to adapt to judges. If you’re a $ircuit kid debating in front of one of your 1s, you do what you want because that’s also what the judge wants. If you’re a $ircuit kid debating in front of one of your 4s, you'd better do what the judge wants.
Adapting to your audience is the number one most important skill a public speaker must master. If you are lecturing on genetics at a graduate course at MIT, your lecture should be different from the one you would give on the same subject to the Middle School PTA. In debate, how many times have we heard judges complain that they were asked for their paradigm, and mentioned something like speed, which is easily adjustable by the debater, and then been totally ignored. “If you were going to ignore my paradigm, why did you ask me?”
Judge adaptation is the kiss of death for some people, and in the brave new world of MJP, they will pay for that. It doesn’t just work against circuit styles. Traditional kids might find themselves in a room with a circuit judge. Then what?
I don’t know how much of an effect MJP will have in the long run, but I’m beginning to suspect that my hopes that the effect would be positive are being realized. As educators, it is our job to train students to do some very narrow thing really well. We look to the benefits not of the thing itself, which are inherently narrow, but the aspects of the thing that are not narrow, e.g., the need to research, to write, to think. If we can add to this list the need to win arguments in front of a diverse set of adjudicators rather than a limited set of adjudicators, we are doing a better job and adding a truly valuable skill.
I’m all for it.