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.
Resolved: The costs of a college education outweigh the benefits.
Some useful links on the January Public Forum Topic. You can find more by searching through government databases. And it’s all free!
(I love that the stats for this blog entry show people got here by googling the exact words of the resolution… dear students, I promise there are better ways to do research! I’ll write some helpful blog posts about it soon!)
Welp, let’s see how January plays out! Leaving for the first tournament in 15 days!
While we haven’t received an email from the National Forensics League, the three Public Forum topics are up for voting for January. And the choices are…
- Resolved: The United States federal government should legalize marijuana.
- Resolved: In the United States, elections for federal office should be financed exclusively with public funding.
- Resolved: In the United States, plea bargaining undermines the criminal justice system.
I was beginning to do research on the topics and write out my deliberations before voting and then realized I could write them out here just as easily as on a piece of paper (and maybe save a tree in the process?).
The first thing I can do is rule out the marijuana topic. I recognize kids may want to debate it. We wanted to debate it 12-15 years ago when I was a high school debater. It was worn out then and the debate really hasn’t evolved much. The research is still skewed, there are still lots of biased sources around. For selfish reasons, I would love to see a more unique topic proposed. Additionally, having seen a number of PF rounds this year, I could easily see students turning this into a medical merijuana debate which isn’t what the broad topic proposes but is an easy way out of a fair number of arguments. And the medicinal debate has been beaten to death.
Let’s move on to the Plea Bargaining topic. I think this topic is pretty interesting. However, it is a rehash of a 2007 Lincoln-Douglas debate topic and let’s be honest, how many debaters are going to complain about that. Because heaven forbid we ever see a topic repeat in our history. There definitely have never been political battles about similar topics, or wars over similar… oh wait….
But on a serious note, I do worry the topic is a bit broad for a 37 minute debate. The criminal justice system is pretty huge. Which means we will probably have lots of counterexample wars where winning arguments on both sides lack comparable quantifications and pass by each other like ships in the night, forcing judges to cherry-pick what they want to vote on.
I recognize the complaints from people who think the public funding for elections smells like the lobbying topic. I think some of those arguments could be made here (see above sarcasm as to why I don’t care about that argument), however I also think this resolution poses some real world, real time questions. This is especially true with the mid-term elections just ending and the run for the 2012 presidential campaigns getting heated up.
You can guess how I voted. Now I can only hope that in the month my team debates multiple tournaments every weekend, that I get to see some amazing debates!