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First principles and a new CEDA vision
I have been thinking about this for a while and here is my response. I hope
the delay in my comments does not confuse people.
Discussion by Crenshaw and others raises the issues of creating first
principles for educational debate and therefore CEDA.
Debate should be educational. Right, but many forces contribute to that
COMPETITION PROMOTES EDUCATION
Competition is like salt....it adds tremendously to the taste of the food,
but too much of it can ruin it. Without the attraction of competition,
students would not be as involved in debate, would not work as hard, and
there would be fewer of them. At times it may go overboard and be a bit
distasteful, but the answer is to find the proper mix of competition.
TOPIC DISCUSSION PROMOTE EDUCATION
A good topic can enrich all of us as we delve into and become deeply involved
in the topic. A bad topic ["Michael Jackson has an unusual nose"] can damage
the educational experience. Likewise, an approach that says "the topic is
irrelevant" also damages the educational experience because it then has no
THEREFORE: THE GAME OF DEBATE HAS THREE PURPOSES....
I have said this before (many times in print) and will say it again. If you
don't believe these are the purposes, think about what arguments people use
to justify one theoretical position over another and you will see these ideas
are the staples of such discourse ("Topical counterplans are bad because they
hurt education, are unfair, etc.").
1. To educate the participants (debaters, judges, coaches, audiences -- in
2. To have a fair contest between teams.
3. To discuss the issues of the resolution.
Eric Gosnell (and Steve Dolley in print) have proposed a 4th goal, which I
accept because it often mutually reinforces the others: 4. To have fun.
BALANCING THESE GOALS IS IMPORTANT TO ACHIEVING ALL OF THEM.
Too much competition hurts education, not enough competition hurts education.
Singing, dancing, and rubbing ourselves with oil in a debate might be fun,
but too much fun of this sort could hurt the eduational value and decrease
discussion of the issues in the resolution. Likewise, a non-competitive
all-education format might not be as educational because it would not be as
That is the basic stuff. Now I think we need some basic principles for the
nature of our community.
WE MUST RESPECT AND CULTIVATE DIVERSITY -- ONLY A DIVERSE CEDA COMMUNITY WILL
THRIVE AND PROSPER
By this I mean diversity of opinion and approach. A debate activity which is
intolerant of differences of opinion and approach can hardly be called a
"debate community." Debate presupposes a difference of opinion and approach.
Obviously, diversity in race, gender, culture also contributes to this, but
so does diversity in politics, personality, and rhetorical orientation.
Postulates of this approach follow:
1. There is no one right answer or approach to the vast majority of issues in
Slow debate is not inherently better than fast debate. Evidence focused
debate is not inherently better than analysis focused debate. The reverse may
also be the case. To a large extent, a perspctive has some validity if
someone holds it. Different approaches may have different benefits, and the
decision between them may involve creating the proper way to weigh apples vs.
2. Those who disagree with us are still very much like us. They might be
right, you never know. If you cannot be convinced that they might be right,
what's wrong with you?
Whether you believe in breaking brackets or not, whether you are a CEDA
stalwart, an NEDA rhetorical revolutionary, or a used to be NDT buffalo, you
are still a person committed to debate and so are those who disagree with
you. They just have a different "plan" than you do. Who knows, if you listen
to their arguments you might find there is much to appreciate? I have
recently changed my position on breaking brackets. THOSE WHO ARE ABSOLUTELY
SURE OF THEIR POSITIONS AS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT MIGHT TRY RELIGION INSTEAD OF
ACADEMIC DEBATE. I am suspicious and fearful of people who are too sure of
themselves. Including myself.
3. Diversity in CEDA is essential to its survival and success.
If we narrow our community to "only one approach" then those who are not
converts to this rhetorical ideology will leave us. We need them because of
point #2. The NDT community has reached agreement about many isues of theory
and style, and the result is that it is a much smaller community of
believers. I respect them, but frankly I want more out of a national
organization....I want diversity.
Diversity is essential to our survival. Consider: the pace of change is
greater now than at any time in human history; the nature and uses of human
communication are undergoing rapid change; the availability and role of
information in our society is changing rapidly. If this is true, then we
cannot afford to wed ourselves to only one approach, because the forces in
favor of it now may be gone in a few years. The minority view of today may be
the answer for tomorrow, thus we need to keep that view alive within our
CEDA must be dynamic. It must change and adapt. It must experiment, pull
back, go forward, and implement new ideas we like. Otherwise, it will be a
forensic flash in the pan. A diverse community is more capable of change than
a "single mind" community.
The world is changing, we must change. The nature of communication is
changing, we must change. The nature of information is changing, we must
Allow me an example: evidence.
In the "old debate" debaters struggled with paper based libraries to find
evidence to support their positions. Great cards came with great sacrifice
and struggle with a medieval information system. You were proud of good cards
and it was impossible to have cards to read against many cases.
In the "new debate" debaters type in key words and lines they want and find
evidence more easily. Now, it is possible to survey hundreds of thousands
(millions!) of articles and find the precise sentence you want. Type their
case in and the articles about it pour out. Lexis/Nexis is only the start.
Yet, we deal with the new evidence reality with the old mindset. "I've got a
card" is often the end-line for the argument. Yet now, both sides "have a
card," and the focus in the new debate (dictated by the new information
reality) needs to be more comparative. Debaters too often continue their
"evidence as cudgel" approach and try to overpower their opponents with "more
cards" or "more recent cards" instead of evaluating evidence.
THIS IS NOT A WHINE. It is an example. I fully expect that as the reality of
the new information environment sinks in debaters will change their tack, and
I already see that happening. The "golden age" of Lexis/Nexis "haves"
triumphing over "have nots" is already passed, as almost all schools are now
haves in one sense or another, or can fix the absense of Lexis/Nexis by use
of other, cheaper on line services (Dialog, AOL, etc.) to do almost as much.
The fact that Lewis Dunn may know more about nuclear proliferation than the
Xinhua News Service or the Associated Press is obvious to all. A diverse CEDA
community open to change can help solve this and other problems.
Our diversity will increase our adaptation and our dynamism. Drive out those
you do not totally agree with at your own peril.
To summarize my points:
Debate has purposes of education, competition, and discussion of issues (and
maybe fun!). The importance of these factors varies with situations and
individuals. All should be respected.
Diversity of style, opinion, and approach becomes a debate community like
CEDA. It is not only justified because difference of opinion is the essence
of debate itself, but also because a diverse and varied debate community is
better able to change and adapt.
To survive in a rapidly changing world (general change, communication change,
information change) we need to adapt and change along with it. A diverse
community is better able to do this.
CEDA has already changed trmendously since its inception. This is not evil or
a "betrayal" of the founders. It is a healthy and positive response to our
social reality. But, what we have now is not perfect, say many. Right, so
let's change it. However, the opinion of those who think it is not perfect
are essential to our change and evolution.
Alfred C. Snider, University of Vermont
Archive created by Jonathan Stanton (email@example.com)
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