Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Student judging

I’ve always been a big proponent of student judging. I believe that, for debaters, seeing a round from the perspective of the back of the room is a good experience that will improve their own debating skills. I also always felt it important to train my student judges to be good at what they do. They needed to perform as educators pro tem, and they needed to make judgments on a round that transcended their own feelings on a resolution or an argument. They needed to be as objective in their judgments as we expect any judge to be objective, to decide a round based not on their personal preferences but on the actual debating that has taken place. 

For the most part, student judges are placed into novice or middle school pools. In my region, we also have JV divisions, where student judges are also acceptable, although I question their validity in college JV divisions, where you might have juniors judging sophomores in a fairly serious venue. I accept it more at our local one-dayers, where it is the norm, but only because it is the norm, and allows those divisions to exist in the first place. For that matter, the use of student judges often has to be seen in the light of making novice (and some JV) divisions happen in the first place. If we disallowed student judging, we’d lose an awful lot of debating opportunities for younger students.

I have seen serious abuses at all levels of judging. Novice judging is not unique in that. But lately I saw a team go so far in abuses that I was tempted to disqualify them as a group. A student who had never debated, but who had a younger sibling on the team, was entered as a judge in the novice division. The couple of (relatively illiterate) ballots this person wrote clearly demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the event, and probably a total lack of training on the part of that team. Worse, because this person was so at sea, one of the novices on the team who was competing at the tournament started not only shadowing this judge and providing advice when not debating themselves, but eventually writing that judge’s ballots. In other words, a competitor was judging their competition. Needless to say, once we found out about this, we put a stop to it and kicked out the judge (and brought in the team’s chaperone that day and explained in no uncertain terms our feelings on the subject), but because this person had now judged 4 double-flights, we had no choice but to double-bye all their decisions. For all practical purposes, this one person had made the division of the tournament almost a complete blowout.

I can’t do much about what happened, but I can offer a preventative for it happening again, to wit, a standard wording of what is required of a student judge. I offer this: Student judges in the novice division must be at least in their junior year with two years of debating experience. 

I could go on with all sorts of other requirements for judging in any and all divisions, but the further you get from the simplest measurement—either you’re a junior debater with two year’s experience or you’re not—the harder it is to enforce. This basic requirement can be easily adjusted for JV divisions and the like, if necessary. I will be proposing something like it as a rule clarification for our local CFL, where we regularly have novice and JV debate divisions. And I will be adding it as a rider to invitationals where we have novice and JV divisions. 

It is a shame that we have to belabor the obvious like this. But as long as there are teams that fail at the most basic level to provide judging for a tournament commensurate with the judging they expect for themselves, we have no choice.