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Gaming, Disclosure, Prof. Frank, and a Question
THE GAME OF DEBATE, THE PHASES OF EDUCATION, PRE-ROUND DISCLOSURE, AND A
QUESTION FOR JUDGES
Alfred C. Snider, Edwin W, Lawrence professor of Forensics, University of
This is a response to Prof. Frank in his discussion of coach participation
and how it relates to a "gaming" approach to debate. As the (now cited)
"Father" of the gaming paradigm, I feel obligated to clarify my position and
perhaps enlighten the participants in this controversy (on all sides) about
how these specific practices fit in with the reality of modern educational
Since we are all patting each other on the back (Oh, if only that alone could
drive us forward!) I would like to mention that I salute the approach that
Prof. Frank brings to the debate. Unlike many others, he is true to his
judging philosophy and implements it fairly. When he judged us in round eight
the debaters were able to implement the strategy they and the coaching staff
easily agreed on (although there was more extension to the "world government
conspiracy" argument than I had suggested....just shows students end up
making their own choices anyway). His approach to debate and judging debate
is welcome whether he accepts gaming or not, because it certainly fits right
in with the educational debating game that I, as a coach, am interested in
I believe that all of our disagreements may be based on a misunderstanding of
gaming as a paradigm for academic debate. For this I take all the blame,
because I have inadequately communicated my ideas through the years.
Prof. Frank begins by saying that debate is not a game.
Well, yes and no. The gaming paradigm which I have been advancing since 1979
is radically different than all other paradigmatic approaches. Most of them
say that debate "should be like X." They are prescriptive paradigms. They say
what debate should be like. The gaming paradigm does not say debate should be
like a game, but simply observes that it is like a game, and this reality can
give us insight into what is really going on. It requires no evangelism or
prophet. It simply is. The realities of our current activities make it clear
to me. Both Prof. Frank and I: are coaches, we have teams, they attend
tournaments, we hold tournaments, we have practice and training, our teams
compete against other teams for wins and losses, get quality points, are
ranked 1 through 4, by judges who award decisions and send the results to a
tabulation room, where results are used to phase competitions, all as part of
a league (CEDA), during a season. The realities of modern debate drip with
their gamed nature. However, one must not assume that because it is a "game"
that anything goes (every game is constrained by rules, procedures, and the
voluntary agreement of participants to cooperate on these). Anything can
happen, but anything does not "go." Also, just because it is a game does not
mean that it is not highly educational. The literature of modern education
conclusively shows that participating in a gamed situation is one of the most
valuable pedagogical tools of this century. One year in NDT Dartmouth College
quoted me in their first affirmative speech every round (except when I
judged) to prove this in a general educational context. (I did a literature
survey which was published). Debate is not only about education, but it
probably is more about education than anything else. It is also about
competition. However, to me, the competition adds the drive and motivation
which makes so much of the education a reality. Students wouldn't learn as
much if they were not enticed by the competition.
Prof. Frank later states that if a game it needs to have its rules and norms
spelled out. This is true. However, there is an important distinction in the
game construction literature between "rules" and "procedures." "Rules" are
set guidelines which cannot be changed based on the activities of the
participants. The baseball ump cannot call you out on two strikes nor can the
pitcher argue for and receive five balls before a walk is issued. Likewise,
the judge cannot switch the topic being debated as the round begins, nor can
the 1AR argue and win that she should receive a seven minute rebuttal. These
are rules. They include: time limits, speech order, school identity, the
wording of the resolution, and other things imposed as rules by the
tournament. "Procedures" are norms of behavior which are often assumed but
may be determined within the context of the game itself. This can happen
either inside of the debate and be determined by the judge (which standard of
competitiveness is best, whether topicality is a voting issue, etc.) or it
can be determined outside of the debate and offered as a fait accompli to the
judge (the affirmative is going to run a strange case and the negative has
agreed not to argue topicality, the teams have agreed to both go slow/fast
for a judge, the teams have agreed to not use all their speaking time so that
they can leave and go start a party, etc.). In this regard, the judge is
required to impose the rules but is not required to impose a procedure
(although many judges do so, and that is within their purview). When most
judges say they are "tabula rasa" (blank slate) what they are really saying
is that they will impose the rules but let the debaters argue out the
procedures. When a judge lists in their philosophy that they demand that
debaters also do X, Y, and Z (what I call "tabula saxa" or "stone tablet"
judging philosophy) they are informing debaters of which procedures they
think of as rules. All tabula rasa and tabula saxa judges are really
participating in the game of debate which differentiates between rules and
procedures. The educational literature on gaming, by the way, clearly
indicates that games which minimize rules and maximize procedures are much
more fruitful paths to intellectual discovery and development. This is what I
mean when I say that the gaming paradigm does not tell us what we have to do,
but does help to give us insight into what we are doing and how we might
My general response to all of this is that it is wrong to blame the "game"
for everything in modern educational debating which we do not like. The
"game" nature of debate is the setting for our activities. You can have good
and bad activities in any game, and often the challenge is figuring out how
to limit the harmful activities and enhance the good ones is very important.
In the game of debate I have observed three consistent goals (although there
have been others): educate the participants, have a fair contest, and discuss
the issues in the topic (the other goal I have heard that I like is to "have
fun"). At times these goals can exist in tension. For example, running a case
that argues that gays should be allowed in the military certainly chooses
competition (and perhaps education about this important issue) over
discussing the important issues in the topic. Likewise, forcing students to
use arguments or strategies concocted by coaches would seem to favor
competition over education at the moment at which it takes place. I daily
experience these tensions. Dr. Berube used to say (and perhaps still does)
that on even numbered days I am focused on competition and on odd numbered
days I am focused on education (I think my focus changes moment to moment,
but then I have more observational experience of myself than Berube does).
Perhaps Todd Graham chose competition over education at that point. We all
make these choices at different times. My guess is that he has spent plenty
of time before they got to the tournament to educate them about strategies
and techniques, and that right before the round the focus was more on
competition. There are different goals and sometimes they trade off, or at
times we focus on one over another.
In considering the goals of competition and education and the problems in
balancing them, it is important to understand how students learn, learn from,
and benefit from involvement in educational games. There is a simple model of
how educational games work which, I think, applies well to debate. The
educational process of game participation takes place in four phases:
1. Learning the game. Our novices (only one of my eight students at nationals
had any considerable high school experience, three of them were novices)
attend a number of meetings and training sessions before they are in a
practice debate. They learn the order and duty of speakers, the stock issues
likely to arise, how to take notes in a debate, and how to organize their
arguments. These are entry level concepts they need before they can actually
debate in any meaningful way. I estimate (ballpark figure) that about 25% of
the learning in debate takes place here.
2. Learning by doing. After they have the basic ideas, they try to apply them
and carry out what they have learned. As we know, transferring concepts into
behavior can be challenging, and this requirement is one of the things that
makes debate a unique and valuable educational tool. Too few parts of the
higher education experience require students to actually use what they learn.
This can be a trying in time in learning through the game of debate. Students
have practice debates, go to novice tournaments, and learn by doing. They
know that they should organize their arguments, they know how to organize
their arguments, but they now have to learn to actually organize their
arguments. They know three ways they can answer a topicality argument (we
meet your definition, we meet our definition which is OK, or we don't need to
meet your definition because it is not OK) but then they have to actually
apply it to the arguments in the round. I estimate that about 50% of the
learning in debate takes place here.
3. Learning to manipulate the game. Once students have learned the basics and
are able to implement them, it is time to explore the complex interaction of
ideas. How ideas relate to one another and how to exercise a meaningful
strategy all come into play here. Students learn from their experience how to
take advantage of strategic errors, how to trap opponents into losing, how to
adapt meaningfully to different styles of judging, and how to keep track of
complex ideas in herds. I estimate that about 20% of the learning in debate
takes place here.
4. Mastering the game. Here, students know the basics, are able to enact
them, understand how to manipulate the game, and now are aimed at learning
how to out manipulate the game against others of like abilities. The top
debaters and teams in the nation fall into this category. They have learned
almost all of what they can learn from debate, and are measuring their
mastery against others. I estimate that about 5% of the learning in debate
takes place here. Students who have reached this level should enjoy it for a
while, and then move on to their next endeavor, whether they have eligibility
left or not.
The vast majority of education takes place before the students get to the
national tournament, and certainly before they get to the elimination rounds
at the national tournament.
These comments have been made in general, and not specifically about the
instance under discussion. I perceive that Prof. Frank is posing a larger
question than "Make Todd stop it," and is asking us to consider the roles of
coaches and debaters and how we deal with education and competition. That is
the basis of my commentary.
So, to summarize:
1. Debate is an educational game whether we like it or not. The realities of
our competitive format cannot be dismissed. This does not mean that it is
frivolous or anti-educational. Games can be serious and are some of the best
teaching tools around.
2. Our task is to outline rules, procedures, and practices which will best
achieve a balance of the goals we have for the game of debate: education,
competition, discussion of issues.
3. Recognizing the gamed nature of modern educational debating and using
insight from the literature of educational game design and practice will help
us to improve our ability to meet these goals. For example, learning the four
stages of how students learn through games has helped me understand how to be
a better debate coach.
4. We all may approach the same game in different ways.
However, I do want to make some remarks about the incident which Prof. Frank
describes, as well as his criticism of coaches who do research and impose
1. Debaters in the elimination rounds at nationals have probably learned just
about all they are going to learn from debate. That setting is for them to
match what they have learned and what they can do against others in a similar
situation. The UMKC and NWL coaches have probably done a lot of teaching to
get those students to that position.
2. It happened outside of the round and not under the control of any judge.
3. It was all done by consent. NWL wanted to question, UMKC wanted to answer,
and UMKC may or may not have chosen to question back.
4. If I was judging that round I would have left the room and I would have
asked to be called back when they were ready. I don't want to be hear any
discourse taking place before the timer starts.
5. I tell my teams not to disclose and not to ask. Like all of my advice, it
is advised but not required. They don't obey me, but that is their problem. I
think you should have the element of surprise. I also don't see how, once you
get started, you can feasibly limit the extent of disclosure. The incident
you describe is somewhat distasteful, and following my guideline would limit
this. Besides, I might change my mind after hearing the 1AC about what I, as
a debater, would want to do, and I would not want to be held to a disclosed
strategy. I like the "unknown" strategy of the game of debate. However, if
students and coaches agree to it, so be it. It falls into the realm of
procedures determined by the debaters before the debate.
I have an interesting bit of news I would like to add, however, and I wonder
how Prof. Frank and others would deal with this. In the round where Prof.
Frank judged us at nationals my team (shame on them!) asked the affirmative
(US Military Academy, Medof & Ripperger) which case they were going to run.
They indicated that they were going to run their IMET case (which is what was
on our list). They then stood up and ran a completely different case, this
one about NATO. Well, my debaters were unfazed, and then adjusted and went on
to win the round. My question is this: should my team have argued that by
running a different case the affirmative had engaged in a breach of trust,
and that they should be punished? How do you make such an argument? How would
you receive it as a judge? Of course, if I was debating I would just roll
with it, as my students did, or more probably this would not have been a
problem at all because I would never have asked. What do you think?
If you desire I will upload my explanatory article on what gaming as a
paradigm for educational debating really is. As Walter Ulrich once observed,
gaming is the most simplistic yet most misunderstood of all the debate
Archive created by Jonathan Stanton (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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