Debate tournaments

I've long had a love/hate relationship with debate tournaments. In an ideal world debating would be about the exploration of ideas, the bolstering of intellects, and the development of persuasion skills. There would likely still be wins or losses, but they would be organic and small, usually the softening or strengthening of a point of view. Adding the pretense of ranking teams, assigning wins and losses based on their ability to meet a set of conventions in the minds of a judge rather than actually persuade them on an issue intuitively seems unnatural at best and possibly destructive at worst. Add in the fact that the audience at most debate tournaments is not comprised of regular people, but is made up of people who were themselves "good debaters," whatever that means, and it becomes pretty clear that what we are teaching through tournament practice is not civic persuasion, but instead how to persuade a highly specific audience with a nearly homogenized set of criteria for what constitutes a win. This homogenization is exacerbated by the fact that the internet is rife with videos of "good debates" carried out by the "good debaters." We are teaching gamesmanship and strategy, and through this process solid bureaucratic compliance skills. It strikes me that we're not teaching people to be creative in the least, and that college academic debate is just an extension of high school socialization process learning: do the thing the judges/teachers say is correct, get praised, repeat, and keep repeating until anything you might have once had in you that resembled creativity is broken and abandoned. Then these people become lawyers and politicians and we wonder why the system is completely broken. 

John PatrickComment