Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ramblings of a debate coach

As a cyclist and as a triathlete, 60 degree days in January are like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow…so exciting that you can hardly contain yourself, unless you also happen to coach debate and find yourself trapped in the confines of a Middle School building listening to students talk about the dehumanization of rehabilitation. Yeah, it didn’t make sense to me either.
While I did at least ride my fixie to and from the bus garage, the 10 miles only whetted my appetite to ride all day, but instead I would check Facebook to see more and more people bragging about their enjoyment of their day outside. I hated to you all very VERY much.
I can’t really classify them as debatism, but here is what kept me entertained.
During judges’ instructions, one coach felt it necessary to say:
“Make sure to turn on the lights when you go into the classroom.”
Upon reading the text that I sent her, my mother described this little nugget of wisdom as “pure genius.” I will say that sometimes teachers go into teacher mode and forget that they are talking to functional adults, but sometimes it is a bit demeaning to have someone feel compelled to give you such an instruction as though you would have walked into a dark classroom and have been completely perplexed as to what to do.
I did have at least one round off in which I entertained the other judges by reading portions of an article from GQ titled, “25 Least Influential People of 2012.” While the article started with four different pictures of Mitt Romney, the one that made me laugh was “Jerry Sandusky’s lawyer.” Now, I am not mocking the horrendous crimes Sandusky committed, but instead, I agree with GQ’s description of the brilliance of his lawyer:
“Let us take a stroll through the razor-sharp legal mind of Joe Amendola: ‘I know! I’ll have my client go on national TV prior to his trial to be grilled by Bob Costas so we can all witness him declare, ‘I enjoy young people,” after searching blankly for the proper response to the question ‘Are you sexually attracted to young boys?’ as if Costas just asked him where he put his car keys.’ How can this possibly go wrong?
For this laugh out loud moment, I thank you GQ writer Drew Magary.
I should mention that another judges’ instruction is not to give low point wins. In debate, we have what are called speaker points. They are kind of a misnomer as they aren’t really speaker points so much as debating points. Often, a student might not speak very fluently, but have a better handle on the arguments than his opponent. 999 out of 1,000, the student who won the debate should have higher speaker points. The 1 out of a 1,000 is called a “low point win” and has to be justified to those running the tournament. In the 10+ years I have been judging, I have given a total of 2 low point wins. The first was for a gross misuse of a theory seven years ago, the second was on Saturday…
I was judging a round in which the Negative’s case had an inherent contradiction. I had noted it quite early in the round, but it’s not my job to debate the debater so it didn’t matter unless brought up in the round by her opponent. Debate has a rule that you are not allowed to bring up new arguments in rebuttal. You can advance an argument, but if your opponent cannot respond to it, then it is not permissible to bring it up. Well, the Affirmative, who has the last speech in the round, spent the entire last speech bringing up this inherent contradiction. While I felt that she was winning the round before going into this speech, she still had to respond to the points made by her opponent, but didn’t because she spent the entire time focusing on this inherent contradiction and why it should win her the round.
I HATE ROUNDS LIKE THIS ONE. I opted to give the Negative the win with fewer points because the Affirmative had done a better job throughout the round, better case, better argumentation, better advancement, but she screwed up. It was a clear case of the Affirmative losing the round as opposed to the Negative winning it. Had it not been for this gross violation of the rule, it would have been an easy round to judge. As it were, I gave myself and the entire tab staff grief in order to justify my decision.
My other debatism occurred while judging in a room labeled as the “Gifted Services” classroom. In this room, there were all of these small posters with prominent people from history: Amelia Earhart, Mahatma Gandhi, John Lennon, Albert Einstein, etc. There were seven or eight of these posters around the classroom, and they had one sentence on them: “Think Different.” I wanted to put little post-it notes up on every single one of them adding an –LY. “Think DifferentLY” people, think DIFFERENTLY!!! Why are even gifted instructors dismissing the value of adverbs. How is that being different! Let’s adverbalize America people! You are not “doing good, you are doing WELL” unless that is you are helping the homeless or feeding the hungry, then you are in fact doing good.
So while all of you were out there riding your bikes, I was enjoying the intellectual absurdism that is high school Speech and Debate.

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