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The quality of college debate

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As far as I can tell, this video is not a spoof. It is a real story about the winners of the CEDA tournament, which the wiki describes as "the largest intercollegiate policy debate association in the United States".

 

Is this type of inarticulate "debate" considered winning material, or am I missing something: e.g. some special category in which these are winning? Can someone closer to the college debate scene explain.

 

 

 

In this second video, check out from about the 3:30 mark.

 

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This is one of those moments where I wonder how the Internet has hidden this from me until now.

According to Wikipedia, the fast speaking, "spreading," reflects longstanding rules and apparently weird tradition carried into today:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Policy_debate#Style_and_delivery

By the mid-1970s, structured rules for lengths of speeches developed. Each side (affirmative and negative) was afforded two opening "constructive" speeches, and two closing "rebuttal" speeches, for a total of eight speeches per debate. Each speaker was cross-examined by an opponent for a period following his or her constructive speech. Traditionally rebuttals were half the length of constructives, but when a style of faster delivery speed became more standard in the late 1980s this time structure became problematic. Wake Forest University introduced reformed speech times in both its college (9‑6 instead of 10‑5) and high school (8‑5 instead of 8‑4) tournaments, which spread rapidly to become the new de facto standards.

Style and delivery[edit]

Speed[edit]

Policy debaters' speed of delivery will vary from league to league and tournament to tournament. The debaters who speak most quickly speak at rates of 350[7] to in excess of 500 words per minute.[8] In many tournaments, debaters will speak very quickly in order to read as much evidence and make as many arguments as possible within the time-constrained speech. Speed reading is referred to as spreading. At the majority of national circuit policy debate tournaments, spreading is the norm.

Some feel that the rapid-fire delivery makes debate harder to understand for the lay person.[9] Rapid delivery is encouraged by those who believe that increased quantity and diversity of argumentation makes debates more educational. Others, citing scientific studies, claim that learning to speak faster also increases short- and long-term memory. A slower style is preferred by those who want debates to be understandable to lay people and those who claim that the pedagogical purpose of the activity is to train rhetorical skills. Many further claim that the increased speed encourages debaters to make several poor arguments, as opposed to a few high-quality ones. Most debaters will vary their rate of delivery depending upon the judge's preferences.

Many judges are willing to prompt debaters by yelling "clear!" or variants when they can no longer understand because the speed has become too great or because the debater is enunciating poorly.

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According to Wikipedia, the fast speaking, "spreading," reflects longstanding rules and apparently weird tradition carried into today:

It is truly bizarre. Seems like the recipe for success is to be a poor debater, and to present yourself in way that would never convince anyone, and would get you laughed out of the most basic presentation in the real world.

Occasionally Congress does speed-reading, but it's sad to see college "debaters" plumb such depths.

 

Robert is right, it seems that it's just a game with arbitrary rules... no different from saying that the team that can read the most words backwards without stumbling wins.

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Oh my god...

 

http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/decline-debate-sequel_787041.html

 

"The debate centered around a resolution asking whether or not the president’s war powers should be restricted. The contest was won by the duo from Towson State University, Ameena Ruffin and Korey Johnson, who chose to argue the side of .  .  . well .  .  . it’s hard to say. Here’s the Atlantic’s formulation: “Rather than address the resolution straight on, Ruffin and Johnson, along with other teams of African-Americans, attacked its premise. The more pressing issue, they argued, is how the U.S. government is at war with poor black communities.”"

 

"Over four hours, the two teams engaged in a heated discussion of concepts like “nigga authenticity” and performed hip-hop and spoken-word poetry in the traditional timed format. At one point during Lee’s rebuttal, the clock ran out but he refused to yield the floor. “F— the time!” he yelled. His partner Campbell, who won the top speaker award at the National Debate Tournament two weeks later, had been unfairly targeted by the police at the debate venue just days before, and cited this personal trauma as evidence for his case against the government’s treatment of poor African-Americans."

 

 

 

 

The above references the debate from the first video. It's sad how incredibly dishonest the two girls are in describing their "victory."

Edited by Dormin111
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  • 3 months later...

I just want to register that my experiences on the debate team in college never involved the kind of speed reading while gasping for air that you see in these videos. It was usually a reasoned exchange of ideas at a conversational pace, although it was sometimes slightly faster than we would normally speak in order to cover everything important before the speaker's time ran out. The best people on the debate team were very, very bright and we covered the philosophical and political topics that were pressing at the time. I think I learned a lot about how to speak well in public.

 

I suspect that the problem is that the style of debate in the videos is different from the style of debate that I participated in, although it has been a number of years since I debated and I cannot remember what the differences are precisely. My point is that not all college debate is this crazy.

 

That said, there are problems with the culture of college debate that aren't visible in these videos and haven't been covered in this thread yet. Repeatedly debating with an eye to winning the argument rather than figuring out what is true, and being rewarded for doing so, can encourage a mentality of relativism in college debaters. Debate tournaments generate a feeling that if someone is a good enough debater, then they can almost make things true or false by whim. I think debate is valuable for the skills it teaches the debaters, but I'm not sure how you would foster debate without fostering that kind of relativism along with it.

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... ... not all college debate is this crazy.

Good to know that college do debates where the stress is on making arguments that can be grasped or rejected. In day-to-day life, people have to make arguments all the time. It stems from the fact that knowledge is not intrinsic to human beings, an human beings do not have shared minds. It requires a process to actually get one's ideas into the minds of others. So, writing and speaking persuasively are important skills. Good debate competitions ought to aim there.

Repeatedly debating with an eye to winning the argument rather than figuring out what is true, and being rewarded for doing so, can encourage a mentality of relativism in college debaters.

I can see how one would have to be one guard against this, and try extra hard not to stick to one's guns, when one is not personally convinced, just relying on technique, in real life.
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  • 3 weeks later...

I may be coming a little late to the game here.

 

The thing to keep in mind is that "debate" is a very broad term. I was captain of my debate team in high school, and was on the team for four years, and then chaperoned and judged at tournaments for two years after graduation. High school and college debate are actually very similar, and one usually leads into the other for the top debaters at the high school level.

 

A lot of people outside of the debate team scene don't really have a solid idea of what goes on in national level debate. There's a lot of different events, and each emphasize different aspects of debate. Some events, such as the one shown in the first video, emphasize quantity of information, and ability to rebuke the opponent's points.  Other events focus primarily on the quality of a person's speech - such that even if one side has a clearly superior argument, if they cannot present it well, they will still lose (this is, of course, necessary: with a lot of topics - arguably most topics - there's one side that very clearly has a lot more evidence to support it). Some events that fall under the "debate" team are more about dramatic acting, comedic acting, or recitation of prose and pre-written speeches. Others focus on coming up with speeches on the spot, or challenging debaters to be prepared to make an argument on a topic that they don't know beforehand (i.e. they find out about it 10 minutes before going in to give their speech). 

 

Keep in mind, this is competitive debate. You cannot judge these people on who is right and who is wrong. I can't think of a single topic off the top of my head where both sides have just about equal footing in terms of evidence. These people aren't arguing to prove the other wrong. They're honing their speaking, debating, argumentation, and information collection skills. Who is right and who is wrong doesn't matter here. If it did, it wouldn't be competitive. The whole point is to focus on the skills involved in speaking publicly, not on being right or being wrong.

 

 

So yeah, it may look weird from the outside. But every event focuses on different skills, and sometimes those skills, when taken alone and to the extreme, can present in a kinda... weird way. 

 

 

I also don't think that there's an issue with relativism being encouraged by debate. Honestly, most of the topics that are discussed in college debate don't have an answer that we can be absolutely, positively sure about. When it comes to policies or modern issues, it's rarely the case that things are so utterly simple that you can immediately identify the right course of action. This is not to say that there is no right course of action or right belief - simply that in many of the topics being debated, it's not exactly easy to identify which one is right and which one is wrong. The whole idea of high school and college level debate is to teach people how to argue ideas in a public fashion - and if you can argue convincingly for something that you don't even believe in, you sure as hell can argue for something that you do.

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Who is right and who is wrong doesn't matter here. If it did, it wouldn't be competitive.

 

Ummmm, how does that follow?

 

 

These people aren't arguing to prove the other wrong. They're honing their speaking, debating, argumentation, and information collection skills.

 

You've got to be kidding. The people are babbling obscenities: "queer", "niggers", "shit", "ass", etc. Could you expand on what skills are being honed?

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Ummmm, how does that follow?

 

 

Quite simply.

 

Take a look at this month's Public Forum Debate topic:

 

"Resolved: On balance, public subsidies for professional athletic organizations in the United States benefit their local communities."

 

Think about that topic. If you look up information on it, I guarantee you one side will be far, far more supported by the evidence than the other side. Same thing with this month's policy topic:

 

"Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its non-military exploration and/or development of the Earth's oceans."

 

There's arguments that can be made from both sides, but from a strictly evidence based approach (i.e. a cost-benefit analysis) - which is the most common type of argument in this kind of debate - there's a clear winner in that particular debate. 

 

If you look at the Lincoln Douglas topics, you have:

 

"Resolved: A just society ought to presume consent for organ procurement from the deceased."

and

"Resolved: Civil disobedience in a democracy is morally justified."

 

The first of those topics has pretty strong arguments from either side (whatever your beliefs may be on the topic). The second one has one side with centuries of historical thought backing it, and another side with almost no backing whatsoever except from people who have, throughout history, been regarded as tyrants.

 

 

The point is: these debaters might be assigned either side of any of these topics. So yeah, right and wrong doesn't matter here. With a lot of these topics - and, honestly, with most policy topics in general - if you judged solely on the strength of evidence, one side would always win, regardless of how good the speakers on that side are. That's not competitive. How could it be? That would be like if football, only one team was ever allowed to hold the ball, and the rest of the rules were exactly the same. There's no competition there.

 

 

 

 

You've got to be kidding. The people are babbling obscenities: "queer", "niggers", "shit", "ass", etc. Could you expand on what skills are being honed?

 

I can't speak for that first video. The second one, however, is quite long, and has more than just the "fast-speaking" debate format. Some rulesets allow cursing - which I don't see as a problem - and some don't. The kind of debate that the OP posted in his first link isn't the only kind of debate that exists at the college level, not by a long shot. So yeah, there may be an event that focuses on quantity of information - which implies skills in fast speaking, clarity, and research - which you may not like. That doesn't represent the entire college debate world.

 

I'm honesty pretty surprised that anyone would even think that it did. Is everyone here just that gullible? Did anyone bother to look up other videos of college debate, or did SNerd take a look at Peter Schiff's segment on that first video and just presume that the idiot (Schiff) knew what he was talking about? 

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The point is: these debaters might be assigned either side of any of these topics. So yeah, right and wrong doesn't matter here.

 

I misinterpreted your point to mean that a debate wherein the winner was determined by which party best argued their position was right was not a competitive debate. Now I see that was kind of a dumb interpretation.

 

 

I can't speak for that first video. The second one, however, is quite long, and has more than just the "fast-speaking" debate format. Some rulesets allow cursing - which I don't see as a problem - and some don't. The kind of debate that the OP posted in his first link isn't the only kind of debate that exists at the college level, not by a long shot. So yeah, there may be an event that focuses on quantity of information - which implies skills in fast speaking, clarity, and research - which you may not like. That doesn't represent the entire college debate world.

 

Right, but when you say "these people" I can't possibly know that you were only referring to a subset of individuals later in the second video (I did not watch the whole thing). Everyone in this thread is clearly referring to the bizarre championship debate depicted in the first video and the bizarre debates in the second. It makes zero sense for you to enter the thread and expect me to know you're talking about the more rational formats that are apparently depicted in the second video (again, I didn't watch the entire thing).

 

And as far as skills which I "might not like", that implies that there's some sort of subjectivity in my disregard for skills like fast speaking with huffs and puffs and stuttering and obscenities. The fact is that such a 'skill' serves no objective purpose and actually *hinders* communication. It does not serve to enhance clarity. It does the opposite, which is why learning that 'skill' is indicative of an irrational philosophy.

 

Edit: For god's sake: "My apologize."

 

Edited by CriticalThinker2000
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And as far as skills which I "might not like", that implies that there's some sort of subjectivity in my disregard for skills like fast speaking with huffs and puffs and stuttering and obscenities. The fact is that such a 'skill' serves no objective purpose and actually *hinders* communication. It does not serve to enhance clarity. It does the opposite, which is why learning that 'skill' is indicative of an irrational philosophy.

 

 

Another thing to keep in mind here is that they're not doing this for you. They're not doing it to impress the every day person. They're speed-reading/speed-debating in a very specific context for a very specific reason. In high level policy debates, the fast-speaking kind of thing that you've seen above (referred to as "spreading" by some people) is useful for getting out a lot of arguments at once. Most judges are accustomed to it, and any debater who participates in such debates is accustomed to it. It's like how if you listen to rap music when you don't normally listen to it, you may not be able to understand it - but if someone else who listens to rap regularly listens to rap music, they can understand it just fine. 

 

In any case, rules vary from tournament to tournament. Often times debaters will ask their judges what their preference is, or preferences will be announced before a tournament or at the beginning of the tournament. So, this isn't representative of all college level policy debates (and, by the way, this is only taking place, as far as I can tell, in a specific kind of debate tournament known as "Policy"). And where it does happen, it happens for good reason - because it allows one to offer a lot of arguments, a lot of rebuttals, and output a lot of information. It may not sound coherent to you, but to someone who has been in the debate circuit, it's perfectly coherent. And again, these speeches aren't aimed at you. You are not their audience.

 

So yes, there is a perfectly rational, reasonable reason for the existence of this. It just isn't immediately apparent to the layperson, which is very much like a whole lot of things that require extensive knowledge and involvement. 

 

I'd also specifically like to point out the argument you make here:

 

"The fact is that such a 'skill' serves no objective purpose and actually *hinders* communication... which is why learning that 'skill' is indicative of an irrational philosophy."  [ Edited for brevity]

 

There's a lot of things like that. Being good at ping pong isn't an objectively useful skill to have. Being good at football or soccer isn't an objectively useful skill to have. There are a lot of things that people do for recreation (which is what college debate tournaments are) that don't serve an objective purpose. At least this kind of policy debate can make a very strong argument that it educates the people who are participating and watching, seeing as the policy debaters and judges can perfectly understand it, and the sheer quantity of information required to make these arguments means that every single participating debater learns a good deal in their process of preparation.

 

 

 

 

I'm not sure... what do you think I should think? 

 

Sorry if what I said at the end seemed harsh to you, JASKN. Unfortunately, the whole thing with this video comes from some bullshit that Peter Schiff went on about a while back. A bunch of people latched onto it without understanding the underlying context - as people like Peter Schiff are wont to doing - and criticize it without actually knowing anything about it. If one did take some time to look into college debate, the reasoning behind this kind of debate would be a lot more apparent, and it kinda pisses me off that Schiff handled this matter the way he did - and that people latched onto it the way they did.

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