Public Debate: Arab Spring

<iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/29840075?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0" width="400" height="300" frameborder="0" webkitAllowFullScreen allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href="http://vimeo.com/29840075">Public Debate: Arab Spring demonstrates American Youth have a lot to learn from Arabic Youth</a> from <a href="http://vimeo.com/user1253612">Steve Llano</a> on <a href="http://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>

This is a public debate we participated in recently in Virginia. While watching it, it made me think of a couple of interesting things about teaching debate. This debate indicates a couple of gaps that need to be patched up.

First, the debaters assume the audience is already interested and attentive to their arguments. This is a serious problem - the principle of getting audience attention and trust is key to developing credibility as well as any sort of connection for the audience as to why they care about the issue. There needs to be a realistic appraisal of the audience. Many of the people attending were students who were motivated to come via extra credit. This is accounted for by some teams, but it's not an overarching principle in how the debaters approach the debate.

Secondly, the refutation model of debate is not conducive to natural language argumentation. We see many teams here operate under the assumption that their own arguments will not be valuable unless all the points of the other side are refuted first. Tying the value of your own argument tied directly to refutation encourages a pattern of speaking that listeners will not automatically gel with. They want to hear what you are about first, then they would like to hear how that fits into what they've heard from other speakers. By prioritizing refutation, we train debaters to make sure that they are behind others in the attention front during public debates.

I wonder what the extant literature has on the connection between debate pedagogy and the public debate. My searches haven't revealed much. Seems like an under-covered and vitally important source of data justifying and helping us correct what we do.