There’s an interesting conversation going on at the NDCA Fb page (and, I guess, their listserv). Someone said that a tournament (actually, she said a bid tournament) was categorizing all judges, regardless of their intended division, as debate judges, meaning they might do either LD or PF. She asked for opinions on this. Her main interest was that she had PF parent judges who she felt would not be happy in PF.
Needless to say, responses were all over the place, because it’s one of those questions that raise multiple issues. There’s a couple of important things here. First, the idea that a tournament is offering what is apparently random judge placement, and second, the idea that the randomness transcends a given debate format. Two very different things. Many of the opinions offered on the list addressed only one or the other of the issues.
I discuss random judging at great length on the Toolkit. There’s nothing wrong with it, and a lot of coaches love the idea. The support for it is based on the idea that good persuasive speaking means persuading any audience, versus a specialized audience. This is absolutely true, but it doesn’t necessarily apply to all debate as it exists today. We’ve created competitive levels of policy and LD that are, for all practical purposes, beyond the understanding of the generalist, if for no other reason than the speed of the presentation. Yeah, sure, you can tell them to slow down because you’re an inexperienced parent, but their entire repertoire of case and refutation skills are predicated on experienced adjudicators. The idea that this circuit level of debate can be judged by anyone in the auditorium means, simply, that it won’t be this level of debate. Plenty of people don’t like what has happened to LD at the circuit level, but if that horse hasn’t left the barn, then I don’t understand horses and barns.
Changing the nature of circuit LD is a solution without a problem. I hear very little from the major circuit contenders that there is something intrinsically wrong with what they are doing, and certainly, considering how often the tab room has been stormed over the years when a debater doesn’t get a 1 in MJP, there isn’t a great clamoring for random judging. The idea that a bid tournament is mixing and matching judges willy-nilly is almost incomprehensible to me, because I can’t imagine bid chasers embracing that sort of pool.
The real problem, though, is one I also address in the Toolkit, which is the care and feeding of PF judges. PF remains the bastion of the random judge assignment, and at the same time, the bastion of the lay judge. PF requires these things to survive, and thrive. The lay judge, i.e., the parent judge, is more than just a person in the back of the room. The parent judge is the support frame of the activity. The parent is a chaperone, and a benefactor. They are also part and parcel of a debate activity that was invented for lay adjudication (regardless of how it’s been evolving). Everything all the advocates of random judging want is front and center in PF. But there is no question that these PF parents are often concerned about their ability to judge. Train them as much as you will, they still worry about doing the right thing. As a general rule, they don’t judge all that often, and they don’t always become secure in their role as an adjudicator. So on the one hand, they are supporting our most popular debate activitiy in 2017, while on the other hand they are timorous when taking on the unaccustomed role of adjudicator. The idea that you can also throw them at random into LD rounds presupposes that they are faceless, thoughtless pawns in the Game of Tournaments. They’ve been trained for PF, they’re supporting the team because their kids are in PF, they can theoretically enjoy a PF round because the debaters understand how to play to a parent judge, and then you’re going to throw them into a different activity altogether? You want to train them to be Swiss Army Knife judges, capable of doing everything? You want to burden them with this difficult responsibility? You want to lose the support of the folks without whom PF would never have happened, and which certainly wouldn’t be continuing with such strength?
A tournament can do whatever it wants. But when it does what it wants, if it doesn’t take into consideration the wants and needs of its customers/guests, it’s probably not long for this world. It will either change, or disappear.