Category Archives: Instruction & Commentary

Using Twitter To Research The Surveillance Topic

Like podcasts, Twitter is an excellent indirect research tool for debaters. While tweets should rarely if ever be directly quoted as evidence in contest rounds, Twitter can be used as an important part of a student’s overall research process. By finding the right accounts to follow, debaters can leverage experts to guide their research for them by drawing attention to important events (like court decisions or congressional hearings), linking to insightful content (books, articles, interviews, videos, podcasts, etc.), and engaging in a continuous, interactive commentary about topic-related issues. For the surveillance topic, there are many “must follow” accounts that will greatly aid students in their preparation. Below the fold is a list of fifteen Twitter users debaters should follow for surveillance-related content.

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Lesson Plan: Intelligence Squared Phone Surveillance Debate

Intelligence Squared hosted a debate about phone surveillance at the National Constitution Center on October 7, 2014. The topic for the debate was Resolved: Mass collection of U.S. phone records violates the Fourth Amendment. For students preparing for next season’s surveillance topic, this debate is an excellent introductory resource. This article outlines a lesson plan based on the debate that can be assigned to students regardless of their experience levels.

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Using Podcasts To Become A Better Debater

Debaters in the current generation have access to a staggering array of information. As preparation begins for next year’s surveillance topic, one underexploited resource available to debaters is the podcast. Because domestic surveillance has been part of the national conversation for several years, there are many useful podcast episodes dedicated to topics that students will be debating next fall. This article will offer suggestions for how to use podcasts as part of a student’s debate preparation. It will also provide an introductory list of links to helpful episodes about the surveillance topic.

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Impact Description vs. Impact Comparison: A Better Way To Teach Impact Debating

Imagine that you’re in the market for a new car. You’re looking for a crossover, so you head to a Ford dealership and talk to a salesperson about a new Escape. She tells you that the Escape is a great car because it has great fuel economy, tons of interior space and leg room, and a powerful engine. It’s a pretty good sales pitch, but you want to be diligent and so you visit the nearby Honda dealership to check out a new CR-V. The salesperson tells you that the CR-V is a great car because it is extremely reliable, comes backed with an exceptional warranty, and gets great highway mileage. It’s another pretty good sales pitch. Wanting to make the right decision, you head back to the Ford dealership and ask the salesperson why you should buy the Escape instead of the CR-V. She reiterates that the Escape has great fuel economy, tons of interior space and leg room, and a powerful engine. But you already knew that; you want to know why the Escape is better than the CR-V. Disappointed, you return to the Honda dealership and ask the salesperson why you should buy the CR-V instead of the Escape. He reiterates that the CR-V is extremely reliable, comes backed with an exceptional warranty, and gets great highway mileage. Again, you are disappointed. You already knew that the CR-V was a good car, but you wanted to know why the CR-V was better than the Escape. Frustrated, you head home to read online reviews of the two models. While the sales associates did a good job of highlighting some of the best features of their respective models, they didn’t help you make the decision about which car to buy. For that, you were on your own.

The position you were left in is the same one that many judges are left in by debaters. Most students learn early in their careers that impact comparison wins debates. Judges love impact comparison because it helps them make decisions about the relative importance of different parts of a debate. As a judge, it is frustratingly difficult to make sense of debates without impact comparison. But much of what debaters consider impact comparison is really impact description. Instead of comparing the relative importance of each side’s impacts, debaters present sales pitches for their own impacts. While this is better than nothing, it outsources responsibility for comparison to the judge. Left with two competing sales pitches, they are on their own to decide which pitch is more believable. In the same way that good car salespersons convince potential buyers that their car is a better choice than their competitor’s car, good debaters convince judges that voting for their impact narrative is a better choice than voting for their opponent’s impact narrative. This requires comparison, not just description.

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Debate Like A Chef: The Philosophy of Mise-en-Place

Mise-en-place is the religion of all good line cooks. … As a cook, your station, and its condition, its state of readiness, is an extension of your nervous system. … The universe is in order when your station is set up the way you like it: you know where to find everything with your eyes closed, everything you need during the course of the shift is at the ready at arm’s reach, your defenses are employed. If you let your mise-en-place run down, get dirty and disorganized, you’ll quickly find yourself spinning in place and calling for back-up.

— Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

A recent National Public Radio story by Dan Charnas (“For A More Ordered Life, Organize Like A Chef”) describes the process and philosophy of mise-en-place (or “put in place”), a French phrase that means “to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking.” Charnas suggests that “perhaps the principles of culinary organization can be extended to help even those of us who aren’t top chefs.”

For several years, I’ve used an analogy to mise-en-place to help communicate to students the importance of carefully preparing and organizing their debate materials. In the same way that an expert chef gathers and arranges the necessary ingredients before preparing a dish, an expert debater needs to gather and arrange the necessary materials before constructing a speech.

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How To Never Clip Cards: A Guide For Debaters

Evidence misrepresentation has become a major issue in high school and college policy debate over the last few seasons. “Card clipping” — the act of misrepresenting the text of evidence that a debater orally presents during a speech — is a particularly pernicious form of academic dishonesty that has drawn the attention of state and national governing organizations. With new guidelines in the process of being implemented, it will be important for students to understand how to protect themselves from accusations of evidence misrepresentation. To that end, this article seeks to provide students with straightforward, actionable advice about how to avoid clipping cards.

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Common Mistakes

After judging and scouting at a few tournaments this year I would like to address a set of common mistakes people have been making that relate both to strategy conception and preparation.

1. Stimulus bad- this is a good argument assuming the aff is a stimulus. Evidence about a “stimulus” is talking about things like Obama’s 700 billion package, not building a single road. A stimulus is generally where people decide “we need to spend a ton of money…. we will figure out on what at a later date”. They allocate the funds, and then people lower down the government food chain make important decisions about what projects get funded and how much etc. This is where arguments like “data cooking” come in- this argument assumes someone is tasked to select between competing projects and will be influenced by manufactured statistics into picking the wrong one. When the aff does something specific , spends little money etc these arguments fundamentally don’t link. Similarly, links like “crowd out” are linear to a point, but the impact has a threshold. When the aff is smaller than multiple recent government spending projects it is extremely difficult to prove your linear link crosses any meaningful impact threshold due to the plan.

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Decision Fatigue and Debate

John Tierney, a science columnist at the New York Times, wrote an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine about the concept of “decision fatigue”. In it, he explains that the mental work required to make decisions is substantially more taxing on our brains than we typically think and that the associated “decision fatigue” leads us to make bad decisions.

Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move — like releasing a prisoner who might commit a crime. So the fatigued judge on a parole board takes the easy way out, and the prisoner keeps doing time.

The concept of decision fatigue has several applications to competitive academic debate.

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Tips For Competing As A Small School

The October issue of Rostrum—the National Forensic League’s monthly magazine—features an excellent article written by Josh Brown of Homewood-Flossmoor High School about competing in policy debate as a “small school” (pdf). It echoes much of the advice provided by Dr. David Cheshier in a 2002 Rostrum article, “How Very Small Debate Programs Can Achieve National Success” (pdf). Both articles are worthwhile reading regardless of the size of one’s program.