Download: DEBATE SCHOLARSHIP: A NEEDS ASSESSMENT

DEBATE SCHOLARSHIP: A NEEDS ASSESSMENT Dale Herbeck* Although there has been a great deal written about academic debate over the years, comparatively little has been written about … … debate research. Outside of a few bibliographies, 1 content summaries, 2 and calls for specific contributions, 3 no one has seriously addressed debate scholarship as a conceptual entity. Rather, the existing literature on debate scholarship has focused on either identifying or categorizing what has already been written. While such …

At the outset, it must be conceded that this is necessarily a subjective assessment. Those who conceive of debate differently may well find some of the claims and explanations developed objectionable, although all would surely recognize the importance of the topics being addressed. This essay is also grounded in my own experiences, largely in interscholastic and intercollegiate policy debate, and may therefore overreach when it speaks about “debate” as if it were a homogeneous entity. Bearing these qualifiers in mind, it is now possible to address some of the needs of debate research. Debate Pedagogy Expressed in the simplest of terms, debate pedagogy is scholarship about doing debate. If asked, most members of the forensic community would probably say that the primary problem with debate pedagogy to date is that it is in short supply.4 This argument claims that we need more scholarship about doing debate, especially given the shortage of educators qualified to teach debate.5 This deficiency could be redressed, the argument continues, if only we encouraged members of the debate community to write more about debate. In fairness, there is a certain amount of truth in this line of thinking. Someone who entered the debate community without appreciable experience would find themselves in a strange new world inhabited by “turnarounds,” “countervalues,” “permutations,” “holistic focus,” and “topical counterplans.” While these educators might be willing to take the time to learn the activity, there is a relative paucity of writing on teaching people how to debate. Although we have a wide variety of texts and guides, there is a need for even more introductory material designed specifically for those interested in joining our community. Indeed, much of what we label as “forensic pedagogy” presupposes a great deal of knowledge regarding contemporary procedures and practices.6 These newcomers to the activity need more practical works which explain details ranging from case construction to refutation. The real problem with this critique of forensics pedagogy, however, is that it is far too simplistic and charitable. It correctly diagnoses a quantitative deficiency, but it is unable to explain why debate coaches seem unwilling to write about debate. To my thinking, this is the more… I aspire to contribute to a theory of argumentation aimed at understanding the cultural materials which we must use to carve out the best possible life-world. Above all, I hope to live in a community where reality is lived, truths are made, and facts are used.9 If we adapt this view of argumentation to debate, it suggests that we must think of forensics pedagogy as more than exercises in the practical or advice on how to win more debates. Rather, debate pedagogy should be concerned with teaching people how to argue real issues, to find truths and make decisions. This is not to suggest that we need to lessen or to conceal the competitive nature of our enterprise. There can be not doubt but that the competitive setting motivates much of what we do. However, we do ourselves a disservice when we allow debate pedagogy to become nothing more than advice for winning debates. We need to develop a sense of pedagogy which transcends competitive considerations. In its place, we need to develop and nurture a more sophisticated sense of our scholarship. We need to recognize and celebrate the importance of debate pedagogy and to produce pedagogy worthy of such acclaim. A Philosophy of Competitive Debate that Joins Educational Goals and Practice There has been a great deal written about the educational values of debating.10 Unfortunately, little attempt has been made to relate these educational values to contemporary debate practice.11 A growing body of evidence reveals that a disparity may be developing between our educational

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