99 Problems, and keep them coming

Day one of the IDEA Youth Forum instructor training is over, and one thing stands out: There is no shortage of problems that you can come up with when you are talking about teaching debate.

Perhaps problem is the wrong word. Maybe challenge? But that sounds too much like business/boardroom speak. I like the idea of calling what we have problems, but I like it only in so far as we, as teachers, accept these things as our problems. We own these problems. These are our problems that could impede our ability to teach.

We did a fantastic exercise where we wrote down challenges that we face as debate teachers, and then redistributed them to groups to address the problems and come up with an activity that could be done that would work toward addressing the problem. Each group came up with fantastic stuff. A couple of the commonalities stuck out to me, because I face them in thinking about my own pedagogy.

1. Inclusivity: How do we address the reticent, quiet, or excluded student? It's so easy for me to gravitate toward the student who is engaged, active, contributing, and not afraid to challenge my ideas or call me out. But the quiet and not so self-assured student needs equal attention. The group came up with fantastic leadership activities and other things to do to engage these students. The one common element was the idea of building community around the students. The thing I got out of it the most was the idea that each person watching a debate, no matter the skill level, is authorized to comment because they are an audience member - the most important viewpoint about the debate lies with them. I like the idea of audience as an automatic position of valuable speech post-debate practice.

2. Substantive Debate: There was great discussion on how to make argumentation more substantive, deep, and therefore more appealing to the listener. The idea of getting debaters out of their polished and practical style was a big part of this, and some interesting ideas were shared about it. For me, the take-away was (as it usually is) keeping debate in perspective, as a tool that helps us point out a lot of things to people practicing it about the nature of language, persuasion, and rhetoric in the world.

I also had a great conversation today with an argument theorist who teaches in a Spanish Speaking country, and in his introduction he mentioned both Chaim Perelman and Pragma-Dialectics. I think this was the first debate function I've been at when I was not the one who brought up those names. We had a good conversation, and I hope there's a bit more to go. It's rare to meet someone who wants to incorporate 20th century argumentation theory into the teaching of debate.

Everyone is working hard on curriculum, and it continues tomorrow. We have a lot of exciting things in store for attendees, and I know we are going to have some great instruction. Tomorrow we learn about judging Karl Popper debate, which I have not judged, so I look forward to learning the specifics.
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