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It Is Interesting to Note that High School Debate is as Broken as When I Did it 35 Years Ago

Posted by on | February 7, 2018 | Comments Off

From the WSJ:

For weeks, high school debater Benjamin Waldman rehearsed his argument affirming the resolution that the criminal-justice system should abolish plea bargaining. Now that it was time to speak, he took a deep breath and let it rip.

“…thecriminaljusticesystemisareflectionofandapplicationofthelawandimpositionofpunishments.Pleabargainingwasamechanismforthesejudgestomaintaintheirvastpoweranddiscretion…”

After six minutes of speaking at this blinding pace, topping out at 300 words a minute, the 15-year-old sat down, ready for his foe’s cross-examination.

To impress judges, they had to pack into that brief time arguments of intellectual depth and complexity, complete with citations of legal scholars or philosophers. Any point left unrebutted could be deemed conceded. Every word had to be read aloud for the judges to score it. The result was speech at roughly the pace of a cattle auctioneer.

Rather than focus on logical arguments made cogently and elegantly, the approach in my day (and it appears today) was to carpet bomb the other side with as many arguments as possible and claim victory on any points that were not rebutted.  The standard for both argumentation and rebuttals was lame, with a quote from some source, likely both weak and quoted out of context during summer camps where evidence is compiled, usually good enough to check the box.  The skills taught are apropos of pretty much nothing.

The other problem that existed in my day, and which I am told still obtains in various forms, was that every argument had to save us from a nuclear war.  You couldn’t win with intelligent but modest policy tweaks.  We actually had a big poster with an atomic mushroom cloud on which we would keep score of the number of nuclear wars saved or caused by our teammates.  I swear I heard debates about things like ocean fishing and mineral rights where most of the discussion was around avoiding a nuclear war.  It was simply nuts.

 It Is Interesting to Note that High School Debate is as Broken as When I Did it 35 Years Ago  It Is Interesting to Note that High School Debate is as Broken as When I Did it 35 Years Ago  It Is Interesting to Note that High School Debate is as Broken as When I Did it 35 Years Ago

 It Is Interesting to Note that High School Debate is as Broken as When I Did it 35 Years Ago

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