Screening the 2005 documentary Resolved today in preparation for showing it, as I always do, in my debate course. It's a great text for discussing the nature of policy debate and how it functions within an educational institution and what it does or fails to do for/to students. In thinking about debate as shattering and re-constituting subjectivity as I have been the past couple of years, the documentary really popped out at me today. It shows very well debate's broad spectrum as something that can offer a lot to people who don't have much going for them in their intellectual environment, and at the same time how it can constitute and reconstitute extreme privilege.
I'm starting to wonder if this might be a better film to watch at the start of the semester in a debate course. The filmmakers do a pretty good job of explaining some of the rules and the way a policy debate works. This hasn't changed that much since 2005 - I would suggest that all of policy debate's recent revolutionary turns toward activism or some sort of larger critique of society are not possible to appreciate or understand the value of at all without a solid background in the technical nature of debating. The film really points this out very well as you really do feel very refreshed when the one team starts arguing against the structure of debate itself. This refreshing feeling wouldn't exist without the feeling of being mired within the very strange structure of policy debate as a whole.
So if I start with it, the class might not appreciate what the film is doing. At the same time, I wonder if a couple of in-class debates are going to do much for their appreciation of the nature of policy debate either. It's a tough thing, as there are virtually no usable instructional videos of debates available. The only one that I have found that serves as an allright example is one put on by the Dallas Urban Debate League. It seems to be a pretty good example of what a policy debate would look like, but it doesn't have a lot of elements that are easily identifiable by new students as "that's the part where they are debating" without a lot of guidance from an instructor or something.
The idea for this semester was to have some policy debates, and then some British parliamentary debates. Then we will read a bunch on the value of debate in both formats and come to some conclusions about the reasons why one would want to have debate at the university level at all.
Perhaps a better organizational strategy would be to just offer readings and discussion on debate itself, interspersed with some practice of the different styles of debate that have been practiced in the college/university environment. Not really sure. I had a number of students drop the course already, one being someone who identified himself as a community organizer. it's a bit disheartening that someone who wanted to study debate and community organizing couldn't find a good grounding point after one three hour class. Perhaps the documentary at first would help open up the discussion as to what the broader anchor points would be for debating beyond just a "sport" - which most people involved in contemporary debate believe it to be, if not overtly it's obvious in the way they discuss it.
Tomorrow we'll have our first research briefs, arguments, and cases. I hope we can have a practice debate. That might make me gain a bit more faith in my original vision. The other thing i can do is slow the course down. There's not a real reason to rush here. We only have about 14 class meetings total. I'm sure we can get an appreciation of debate, or at least enough practice to start to feel the pull of it on our well-constituted subject positions. That pull alone might spark some desire among the class to talk about the feeling of that experience and the distinct lack of feeling that they get from their normal course experiences in the university.