Meanwhile, in the World of Debate…

I was never a policy debater, but the story coming out of the collegiate policy debate community today should be shouted from the rooftops. While the following image is being shared rapidly within forensics communities on Facebook, it deserves a wider audience:

2013 NDT and CEDA Champs

Posted to Facebook Group NDTCEDA Tradition by Adam J. Jackson

This is not a small deal. Not by a long shot. Congratulations, Elijah and Ryan! But more that that, congratulations to both teams in the finals. Your passion and dedication and arguments have spurred a much wider conversation on important topics. As well they should. And I want everyone to watch the round. 

If you know me at all, you know debate has been the single most influential part of my life, but I am not naive enough to believe the formats in which I participated are the only ones of value. There are different types of debate out there. Some focus on philosophy. Some focus on public policy. Some are conversational in nature. Some are executed at break-neck speeds. No matter the manifestation though, debate provides incalculable value to its participants. In an era of budget cuts, appreciating the skill and work that goes into a final round like this is incredibly important. This activity means too much to end up on the chopping block in ANY setting. Maybe, if more people understand WHY this activity is so dynamic and wonderful, we can stop letting that happen. So watch.

Once in a while, the value of debate extends far beyond what is gained by individual students. It serves to foster broader discourse. Watching the reaction to this round, it’s hard to deny that this is one of those instances. I wasn’t a huge fan of critical debate in competition, but the ideas in this round… they’re complex and rich and deserve your attention. So watch.

It won’t be like any type of public debate you’ve ever seen. The bulk of our political candidates would have their asses handed to them if they were required to provide warrants and evidence for their statements, or required to directly address the arguments on the other side of the debate. Anyone see a problem with that? Maybe after seeing these students put your elected officials to shame, you will. So watch.

Watch. Watch in admiration of these four talented students. Watch to understand why this activity is so impressive. Watch for insight and enlightenment. Watch so you know there’s something wrong when we hold our students to a higher standard than our politicians when it comes to argument. Just WATCH it already. 

Clicking this image will take you to a new site. It's safe. The video just won't embed.

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Will McAvoy Handle

Why the Will McAvoy Twitter Handle is Awesome

If you’ve never watched an episode of The Newsroom, you should. If your ideals are more progressive, you’ll find it affirming and inspiring. Even if they’re not, the issues raised in the story will make you think. Even if you don’t want to think, the cast is stellar and Aaron Sorkin’s writing is hard to hate. Just do yourself a favor, and give it a couple episodes.

But regardless, you should follow Will McAvoy on Twitter. In the show, Will McAvoy is the main character – a media stalwart who “goes off the reservation” by refusing to play it safe in his reporting at the encouragement of an old love and colleague. On Twitter, he’s a damn force of nature. He nearly religiously engages in debates with the Twitterverse on important political and social issues, blending snark, facts and argument in a seamless tapestry of awesome. His patience with those who never really wanted to engage to begin with is monumental.

I’ll just point out one example, so you’ve got an idea of what I’m talking about:

Will McAvoy Twitter Debate

Click to enlarge.

So what? You might say. So he picks a fight with a few trolls on Twitter. What does it matter?

That might be a fair observation. Frankly, if you follow him, and you really pay attention to some of the exchanges taking place, it’s hard to deny that the odds of him convincing his sparring partners that they are even 1% incorrect are probably slim to none. But that’s not why the debates are important. What’s important is how he impacts spectators: skeptics and advocates alike.

Maybe he can’t change the minds of those who are set in their ways, but there are others following him, his followers, and his debate partners that are probably not as set in their ways. When McAvoy engages in the debates in a reasonable manner that is measured and respectful (most of the time – when he snaps, it’s with good reason), he DOES have the chance to influence the beliefs of those watching the debate unfold. That doesn’t mean he changes their minds necessarily, and he doesn’t need to do so. All he needs to do is make them start asking questions. Change is a slow process, but conversations like the ones McAvoy participates in can serve as a catalyst in moving that process forward.

He also presents an excellent model of engagement for advocates on the issues. When you’re passionate about something, it can become all consuming. It gets difficult to engage with people who may seem irrational or who refuse to participate in the conversation to a productive end. But it’s important to have those conversations anywayWhen you engage rationally and respectfully (again, where merited), you have a better chance of having your message heard, both by the intended recipient and those watching on the sidelines. McAvoy is uniquely skilled in this capacity, and we could all do with taking a page out of his playbook.

It’s sort of unsettling to have such admiration for a fictional character in social media. But fiction, at its best, pushes us to be more than we are. To this end, bravo, Mr. McAvoy. Bravo.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Debate

For one reason or another, I’ve been overtly nostalgic lately. The past week has involved many (actually, probably one too many) trips down memory lane- in particular as it relates to my time in Bowling Green. Actually, in particular, as it relates to debate.

I’m a fan of debate. Anyone who knows me knows that for a fact. My experience in competitive debate has truly shaped me as a person, and I firmly believe I would not be where I am today without those lessons. What lessons, you may ask? Sit tight.

1. Ask questions. Ask a lot of them. Not understanding something is never an excuse.

2. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on, and then look for more. It’s not enough to get news off of one site (I don’t care if it’s Fox, CNN, MSNBC, Drudge Report, HuffPo…), and it’s not enough to look at them all. You’ve got to seek out true thought diversity in your reading materials, or you’re only getting a fraction of the story.

3. People suck sometimes. There’s nothing you can do about that, but at the same time, it’s important to stand up when it matters. There were times I wish I had.

4. People can also be exceedingly awesome. I’ll never forget one specific round against Long Beach at Point Loma. I was debating with Adam, the round was important, and we decided to engage in the narrative framework by announcing my pregnancy to the community. I’ve never been in a room so electrically charged in my life, nor have I ever experienced such a tremendous flow of compassion, support and friendship. We lost that round, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was the experience, and it was worth anything that followed. The coaches and mentors I’ve had over the years (Glenn Prince, Steve Doubledee, Jenn Sullivan, Jenny Corum, Chris Joffrion, Justin Cress, Chad Meadows, Martin Harris, Joelle Perry, Carrie Menapace and so many more) shaped my work ethic, taught me what it was to perservere and helped me figure out who I am as a person. I am forever in their debt. The camaraderie has extended far beyond the circuit, as well; Facebook has become the new prep room, and I love that.

5. Stay true to yourself. I know this is like the granddaddy of all cliches, and it seems bizarre to hear the lesson come out of debate, but it’s true. I was not the fastest or most technical debater. I’m pretty sure there were days where Chad, Tom Schally and Logan Parke would read some of the positions I cut and want to nail me to the wall for it. But it worked for me. Not always, and not perfectly- but in general, it worked for me. And I had more fun because I did what made sense to me. Which leads me to…

6. Keep an open mind. There are some pretty deep lines drawn in the sand when it comes to debate style preferences in the community. There are those who say communicative value is paramount, and others who say it’s a game, and if you can’t play it fast enough to keep up, you should get out of the way. I see value in both. I was never going to be the fastest debater, but thanks to Chad, I got to a point where I could keep up fairly well. The ability to analyze and act in a split second is perhaps one of the most valuable skills I’ve acquired over the years- in debate and elsewhere. At the same time, the ability to adapt a message to an audience is a skill I use everyday. Don’t tell me one is more valuable than another, because I might laugh at you. Really, the context of that whole debate is probably pretty irrelevant; the point is that I learned that you’ve got to be willing to see both sides. From that, and, you know, having to argue both sides of one resolution all year long.

7. It’s all relative. There are no easy answers, and there is no black and white. We may mentally darken and lighten hues to make it seem that way, but at the end of the day, it’s just how we justify things for ourselves.

8. Don’t be too quick to judge. Yes, people suck (see #3), and yes, they can be awesome (see #4), but one encounter (or hell, 15) may not be enough for you to make that call. Give people a shot.

9. No one is an island. You can think you’re a one man show, but at the end of the day, it’s the community you surround yourself with that makes life what it is. Embrace it, show love on a regular basis, and you won’t be disappointed.

10. The world is a beautiful and horrifying mess. But it’s worth engaging in. I seriously learned more in 4 years of competing and two years of coaching than I did in the rest of my academic career- and it’s not even a close call for me to say that. Burma, anyone?

I guess this is really just a big thank you to anyone who had any role in my debate participation. Whether you were a teammate, coach, judge, competitor, friend, acquaintance, student… it doesn’t matter. You’ve all changed my life for the better, and I love you dearly.

WKY- Point Loma 2006