Draw a line for the judge: Current debates and why judges are intervening.
As I judge debates on the April PF topic (Resolved: State mandated administration of childhood vaccinations is justified.), I am noticing a common and disturbing set of trends. And these trends are allowing both sides to “win” their side of the debate while in the end leaving it entirely up to the judge to pick what side they like best.
1. Debaters use generic philosophical jargon without understanding the philosophy.
This is problematic for several reasons. First, they aren’t able to fully articulate their own arguments so they are in line with the philosophical view they use to justify, or weigh, their side of the round. This leads to arguments that contradict each other within a case.
Second, because they learn the generic wikipedia level of the philosophical viewpoints, they also don’t understand or see the contradictions their opponents make. Nor are they able to address the arguments from a philosophical view point. Why use these weighing mechanisms and justifications if you can’t really use them?
Ultimately, the judge has two competing, underdeveloped frameworks, with arguments that contradict all over the flow. Super useful in making a decision, right?
2. Lacking a bright line.
This is probably the most frustrating part of the debates I have seen. Both sides fail to show when mandates cause their impacts to happen without the impacts of the other side happening. If mandates cause a loss of autonomy, why doesn’t bans on doing drugs? Where is the line that is drawn between these two regulations? And on the opposite side, why does a government protecting people stop at mandates on vaccines? Why can’t they also mandate what job field we go into so the nation fills every open job? Where does regulation stop and free will begin?
Debaters who lack a bright line are asking the judge to draw one for them. Debaters should hold that pen… don’t give us artistic freedom on the ballot…
3. Missing the forest for the trees.
One of the problems with Public Forum in general, but also true on this topic, is that debaters are attempting to get too line-by-line and run too many sub-points. This leads to underdevelopment, quick pace, and dropped comparative analysis due to time. On this topic, debaters are getting too specific on public opinion polls and specifics on what a mandate would look like rather than discuss the larger questions of the resolution. C’mon folks… you only have 33 minutes!
So in the end of the round we as the judges have a bunch of competing arguments that we get to weigh. What do we think is most important? Or in some cases, what did we understand more clearly? A case that looks at the forest and links the couple highlighted trees to the forest will win almost every time when competing against a team talking about every individual tree. But when everyone is looking at individual trees… well it’s like taking the extended family out shopping for the perfect Christmas tree! No one walks away happy.
Ultimately, watching these debates continues to cause me to question where is PF, what is it’s purpose, and where is it going. But more on that later.