Tuesday, July 18, 2017

In which we cross-post from Tournament Toolkit on Facebook


The question just arose, should a bid-level high school invitational allow middle school entrants?

My answer was a categorical no.

I have nothing against middle school debaters. In fact, I love the idea of introducing middle schoolers to the educational benefits of debate. They’re more than capable of absorbing the basic concepts, and using debate as a stepping stone to both learning about the resolutions and learning about argumentation per se. (Of course, I always prefer the former.) I see it as an island of wonderment in a sea of sort of dull middle school malarkey. These kids are ready to go on great intellectual explorations that they probably won’t find in most of their other classes. So, for educational purposes, debate in middle school is a good thing.

Debate being competitive, and competition being a means toward the end of educating through debate, it stands to reason that some sort of competition has to exist as a necessary evil. There’s a couple of possibilities. First, MS kids can debate other MS kids at small events, maybe after school or on weekends. Keep in mind that these are kids 11-13 years old. They don’t stay up late. They don’t drink a lot of lattes. It is not legal in many cases, nor desirable, to leave them home alone. They are, in a word, children. Young children. Yes, there may be greatly matured specimens among them, but as a breed, they haven’t even learned to sweat yet. So the idea of giving them a round or two in a very controlled albeit reasonably competitive environment is fine. The point is, their competition should be age-appropriate.

Is it age appropriate for 12-year-olds to compete with 17-year-olds? Do you have any idea of how great that difference in age is? Do you have any idea how different the culture of 17-year-olds is compared to 12-year-olds? If the second possibility for MS debate is to simply let them into high school competitions (for which, btw, they get no credit from the NSDA, nor do their coaches), it just doesn’t make intuitive sense. Even if the MSer is twice the debater as the HSer and can wipe the proverbial floor with the old-timer, it puts the MSer inappropriately into the culture of the HSer. If you think that is a good idea, I can’t convince you otherwise, but I will bet the proverbial dollars to donuts that, in that case, you are too young to rent a car.

Another possibility is for high schools to simply open their doors to MS divisions, much like colleges open their doors to HS divisions. This is reasonable enough, provided the hosts understand the nature of the children they’re letting into their building. They will have many more hovering parents, the students will not understand much of the nature of a debate tournament, they will not be able to go round after round with nary a break. Feel free to do it, but adjust accordingly. I recommend that, if you do it, you put management of the divisions into the hands of responsible MS admin or teaching staff. They’re used to these tweens in business suits; you’re not. They know what to expect and how to handle it. You provide the tabbing and the rooms and maybe a tray of debate ziti, but be prepared for endless complaints about the children being allergic to tabbing, rooms and debate ziti.

Lastly, there is, of course, the so-called MS TOC. My impression of this event is about as negative as it gets. Qualification is at the presentation of a checkbook rather than any particular merit, which means that for all practical purposes it’s a lot of rich kids in afterschool programs whose parents are pointing them to the Ivy League and will do anything to get them there, including sending their impressionable little kids to a university to pretend to be real debaters. Maybe they give all the entrants a trophy, one of those self-esteem awards that used to be popular for people who couldn’t win a real award. There's just nothing about MS TOC that strikes me as positive, other than the fact that it's probably a good money-maker. Of all the reasons why, if the TOC hadn’t been invented, I wouldn’t invent it, MS TOC is Number One.

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