Dangerous Classroom Assumption Three

Most dangerous teaching practices come from the assumption that the teacher is the source of knowledge in the class.

This seems like a no-brainer. Obviously, the teacher is there because the teacher knows the subject. But many processes and norms about teaching create some tension with this assumption.

First, most classroom teachers at the secondary level have a number of completed course hours in educational psychology and curriculum. They have the equivalent of two minors, or almost another undergraduate degree in courses on education itself. People who have great field expertise or knowledge in a subject are not called upon to be the regular instructor in courses.

There is a difference at the collegiate level between the professor and the practicioner, between the scholar and the artist. I tend to believe these divisions are better blurred, but the norms of the university suggest a difference that most people accept between studying literature and creating it. Although I think that literary criticism, or any criticism, is creating an art, just not the art it’s talking about.

The professor is in the class not to create, but to show students around what was created, what is being created, and so on. So the assumption that they are the source of knowledge is immediately in trouble if you think about the college course this way.

What about curation? This is my favorite metaphor for teaching college. I see myself as curating an exhibit of works that “go together to prove a point” which is what I think that curation is, as well as planning a concert program, or one-acts, or other artistic endeavors.

Not thinking through these metaphors - or considering the act of teaching as a metaphor - leads to danger, as one starts to think of oneself as both the source of information and the only source of information that the students will have on the subject.

This leads to a thin, rushed performance of the teacher at best. Obsessed with attention and control of time, the teacher believes that any missed attention is missed learning. They worry that not everything will be covered; they get upset when the students are not “where they need to be.”

The danger of the idea that you are “the teacher doing teaching” is that your commitment is to some construct of the material, not to the people right in front of you in the classroom. The commitment of the teacher must be to the students, the ones that you actually have, not the ones you wish you had, or the ones that these extant students would be if they had done better previously - or whatever narrative falls into place here.

To be a good teacher, realize that teaching is impossible when conceived of outside of metaphor. Teaching is always “as something else” because each class is an invitation to study more. Knowledge is fluid and relational; it is not a thing or a commodity to be traded between minds. It is something that is alive, it comes into being through relationships and continues to live when nurtured by memory and imagination as the student moves through life after your class. Teaching is always being an usher, a curator, or some other relationship to knowledge, anything but the source. There is always more to read and study and think about - the class is always an introduction and an invitation to learn more and to pursue new (or better) questions.

Teaching isn’t an art, it’s as an art. It’s as curation, it’s as ushering, it’s as a guide. It’s always “as something.” It is never transmission of knowledge as objects. When we think of it that way, the precious knowledge of our field comes first and students are left behind or worse - they do not feel they are a part of our field, they do not feel welcome and they do not pursue questions in the future. We lose out on the innovations they could provide to the field on questions of their own, or other’s, design.

Dangerous Classroom Assumption Two

I’m not sure how many of these there are going to be, but the more I think about it there are probably a lot of assumptions we make as teachers that are dangerous not only to the class you have right now, but to peoples’ conception of teaching and learning in the meta.

Every class and every teacher generates evidence and proof for what education “really is” for people. Every bad experience a student has encourages them to discount higher education or education in general and spin a narrative circled around things like “the only good teacher is experience” or “when you get a job, that’s when your real education begins.”

This dangerous assumption, as you have probably already guessed, is that you are preparing students for a life of work. That the things you teach them - or even the policies you have in your class - are essential to them being able to get and hold down a job.

This is usually easy for teachers to accept because teachers love exercising their authority. Most of the teachers I know enjoy being disciplinarians - making students do this or that, enforcing due dates and format of papers, shaking their head when students fail to read the details in a 15 page assignment description and make a mistake. They do not enjoy this because they are sadists, but because they really and truly believe they are serving the greater good of society and helping these students be able to function in the world.

Never does it cross the mind of the professor, upset that the syllabus wasn’t read, that the student might not automatically believe the class is important. What a shock that your class might not be the most important part of the students’ day or week?

This has to be communicated, and the idea that you are there to prepare them for a life of sitting in a cubicle, moving around files between different email servers, writing memos, and holding meetings isn’t going to cut it.

The assumption we should make is that student employment is not our business. That is between the university and the student, or even better, the student and the future employer. What we are here to do is introduce new, different, or discarded ways of thinking, feeling, and questioning to the student. Later, this expanded capacity for inquiry will lead them to a successful life, one that might not be centered around going to work at 8AM every weekday.

The university should argue that there is a strong correlation between a good job and attendance. But this is the only argument that is made these days. There is no attempt to convey that capacity to change one’s mind, to investigate ideas, and to expose oneself to difficult or unusual texts (either written or in other media) is valuable is totally absent. Instead, we demand medical excuses and funeral programs because we want the students to show respect and responsibility.

These two terms - respect and responsibility - are nearly absent from the professoriate. To assume you have a deep responsibility to your students never crosses the mind of the college teacher. Students are irresponsible, therefore I can mail it in. Ethics would question this: Why isn’t it that you now have to double down on your responsibility? Why don’t you have the charge to get the students interested in what you are having them do? Sadly though, most assignments are there just to generate points so a grade can be calculated. A mechanical operation doesn’t need to involve interaction between living people who care.

Respect is another one. This term needs deep exploration, away from the idea that one functions as a boss and an employee. When professors talk about respect, they use a corporate language. Why is this the assumed relationship? A teacher is not a boss - they have a relationship like a doctor or lawyer does with clients. This is uninvestigated, as we assume the teacher is the boss, they demand work, it’s done, and the students are “paid” with points. Disgusting.

It would be ok perhaps to prepare students for the working world if the working world were a valuable life, or if the metaphor did not expand to consume in totality all the possible relationships that teachers and students can have. “The syllabus is a contract” is a horrible phrase that thoughtless professors proclaim every semester, unaware that they are participating in the colonization of all relationships as if they were business ventures.

Abandoning this assumption leave the question open in an uncomfortable way: What are we preparing students for? This moves us immediately into the petitio principii: Should we prepare students? Is that what we are doing?

Other possible metaphors could be: co-creating, sharing, building, working, discussing, and inquiring together. Whether these are preparation or not, I am not sure. I’m not even sure if I’m interested.

What actions help students become better at inquiry? This is the question that frames the encounter of the class, classroom optional.

Dangerous Classroom Assumption One

Teaching online has me thinking about the assumptions we make about the classroom and what happens there.

I still have a classroom, but it is distributed. The classroom and the class is a state of mind that can be constituted through various means. My students invoke themselves as part of the class when they are working on assignments, reading, or participating in group chat. But there’s not a physical space for them to enter and become the class.

One of the biggest assumptions we make when teaching is that the people entering the classroom are empty, or lack knowledge. They are missing something and they have come into this room in order to get it. They get it from us. We are responsible for giving them something they don’t have and they need.

That last line might be the only good assumption that we can make as teachers. The rest of it is a function of the class sitting there together, facing you, there for the sole purpose of being in the class. These assumptions about the location of the students and the physical space are extremely dangerous.

The first of these dangerous assumptions is that the students arrive empty-handed. We believe them to arrive to the classroom because they lack something or because they don’t have something. What this means is that we are supposed to supply it. This ignores the lived experiences, attitudes, and thoughts that the students arrive with.

This is throwing away a resource that can be used to educate. Assuming that the students know nothing is a favorite trope and source of complaining by teachers, which is a strange irony given that teaching is supposed to increase knowledge, according to these same people.

It’s dangerous because it indicates to the students that teaching is a pedantic sham, a power grab, a demonstration of authority, the practice of one-way flows of power. Assuming the students have nothing to contribute to your classroom or your lesson that day is to assume they have had no experiences with your subject that sparked a question, thought, or a general curiosity.

Everything we teach you can encounter, and probably have encountered, in daily life. I’m referring to all courses offered at the university. To assume that this is first contact is to engage in the rhetorical performance of the pedant.

This discounts the educational experience for students. They read the scene as an expensive hazing ritual that they have to engage in, or a puzzle they have to solve to make the arbitrary gamemaster happy in order to get their degree. Many students have been indirectly taught through this assumption that teachers are disconnected from reality, that school and the classroom are irrelevant, and that they just have to get through it in order to get a degree. We’ve taught them this by making the mistake of assuming they don’t know.

What about assuming you don’t know, and approaching the class this way?

What about asking the students to say what they believe to be the principles at play in the issue?

What about placing the readings on-par with student narratives (i.e. they all have the same level of credibility)?

These will be hard to get going as the students will immediately smell a trap and become reticent. They have been burned too many times by mistaking a question meant to prove the teacher’s superiority and student inferiority as authentic curiosity. One has to build that trust up again and avoid cynicism, sarcasm, and the like, and avoid the teacher tropes of talking about “stupid people” in the world or conveying a political opinion as “the most obvious thing.” You are inadvertently beating up on their friends, family, previous mentors, and loved ones. They assume they will be next.

The students are participants in the class not recipients of the teacher’s discourse. They are investors and co-creators in the space. To assume they are there because they are missing something is to have the worst read possible on the classroom (besides that small fragment of professors out there who think they are ‘too important’ to be teaching). Nobody enters a classroom to get something; they enter because they have to in order to live the life they imagine they want. WIth that in mind, they are probably thinking about a great many things. See if you can get them to share. As the teacher, your role is to make connections, develop, and push things around. Relationships and associations are not the delivery of essential content, but are the essential content. The idea that if students don’t get something there’s no teaching is the logical endpoint of this failed assumption.

This all will come together at the end of these posts in my favorite metaphor for teaching, that of encounter. The classroom as the clearing in the woods, the first contact of rich traditions of different societies, the dinner party of strangers, there are many other ones you can come up with. Rhetoricians are lucky; we have tools and practice for “audiencing” (Crosswhite) groups of people and bringing forth the intersections of lived experience and identity they share in order to give them the opportunity to be persuaded, to think again, or to feel differently about a subject. It’s too bad that rhetoricians are the least likely to do this in their classes. Just look at our embarrassing public speaking books. If the assumption is going to have to be that students come in with materials and experience that can help make the class, this one is easiest - they’ve spent days and days of their lives pleading with others to agree with them, and will continue to do so. As will we. As will I, here.

Mellow

It is supposed to feel like 110 degrees outside today so I’m staying pretty mellow inside. Cleaning out some of my bookshelves was easier than I thought it would be. Still in process. Set up a new facebook page for my side business of speech teaching, we’ll see if it gets any attention.

Also Above & Beyond released a new album I hadn’t heard yet and it’s mellow, even for them.

I think this should help me survive the rest of the afternoon, which is supposed to be even worse.

Back from Houston

I was away for the weekend in Houston and had a great time with my family. Now that I’m back in New York I’m starting to realize that the summer is quickly coming to an end. Today represents really the halfway point for me, give or take.

I have to be back on campus for official stuff on September 3rd, so that gives me 6 weeks? 7? Something like that but who is counting. That’s the nature of the summer.

A lot of things happened in Houston that I wanted to write about, but I couldn’t find my Field Notes notebook which means I’m sure it got obliterated in the wash. It’s lucky that there’s a new shipment of them that I just got. Subscribing to the Field Notes was a great idea turns out unless I lose all the notes I take.

Here’s the first of a few videos I made about my trip to Houston that involves BOOKS. I decided to film some short videos at my favorite Houston bookstores.

What kind of Television Show is a Presidential Debate?

Sorry I never wrote a second night piece about the Democratic debates, I was too busy catching up with a friend having some wonderful margaritas, which has its own political value although I’m not sure what. Safe to say this post isn’t about that.

The Presidential Campaign debates have been talked about as many different things and evaluated every single way. So it’s tough to talk about them in a way that doesn’t fall into a cliche of some kind or another. I have been trying to think of new approaches to discussing them, and one I want to explore here is the idea that the Presidential Campaign Debates are a TV genre. They have been on television since the 1960 elections, and they will continue to be on TV as well as YouTube and other online places like Twitch. TV genre shapes Netflix and Hulu is basically a lateral. So the question I want to ask is: What are the Presidential Debates about if they are a TV show?

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Most people I know see the Presidential Campaign Debates as a lower quality version of the TV show The West Wing, which they do not read as fantasy at all, but rather an ideal image of the perfect government. It is weird - like Plato’s Republic - because the ideal that it presents is so clearly flawed. But the reading you could make of The West Wing here is it shows perfect flaws, not brought on by any uncontrollable horrors, but the attitudes and principles of those involved. If someone fails, it’s on them. The structure of the system, no matter what you think of it, is fantastic (in all the ways you can define that word). I have never liked The West Wing even as a TV show, but many people see it as an example to which the actual government should conform and try to be more like. They see a fantasy show as providing insights into how we should speak, relate to, and participate in our government. This is so weird to me - like someone relying on Spongebob Squarepants to provide an ideal paradigm for marine biology.

It really shouldn’t be that strange. This is history. The Iliad and the Odyssey were used by ancient people as a source of entertainment, fantasy, and normative judgement. There were certainly things in these pieces that should happen and there were appeals made in public argument based on what these narrative fictions convey or imply. So there’s not that much different here.

My concern is that the metaphor is misplaced. The West Wing is about achieving a sense of justice that doesn’t care too much about human motives, human communication, or rhetoric. It cares in a scientific way about getting the right answer. That’s great for when you are planning a space mission (although I’m not sure how great it is to only rely on one type of thinking for any project of such magnitude). The West Wing is always on the side of the viewer in conveying an alliance between them and justice. It always wins out no matter whether we like the way it was presented or not. The Presidential Debates are not like this. They are very disappointing because there is no script manager, no writer’s room, no producer overseeing the arc of the series. There are people there making appeals for why they should be understood, even if we get many different images of them. The Debates appeal to motive in a way that The West Wing does not. Motive doesn’t matter in the face of glorious American governmental perfection.

The Presidential Election debates are a lot more like a very different TV show called Catfish. This show features two hosts who are not professional investigators, police or anything of the sort. They are tasked by someone to help them uncover whether or not the person they are romantically involved with on the internet is a “real person.” This is the conceit. Catfish is really about human motives, attitude, and rhetoric - the capacity for judgement and articulation when living in a wildly contingent universe.

Catfish.jpg

Catfish is over before it begins. We all know that the person is not going to be really who they are online, they are going to be caught, and they are going to meet Max and Nev and the victim (as well as a camera crew of 10 plus people) in a public park to confess what they did. There’s going to be some soul searching, but in the end both people are going to admit that their motives were not appropriate, or the situation in which they were involved was complex, and there’s no simple answer to what happened. The entirety of the show is about motive: Why did you do this? Why did you pretend to be someone else? And the answer given is never used to excommunicate; instead it’s used to construct another narrative, another set of motives by which everyone involved can, in Nev’s frequent phrasing “learn something and move on.”

The Presidential Campaign debates have the plot of Catfish. Here are the images of the candidates as you met them through mediation. Here are the questions: Why did you say this? Why did you do this? Why would you do this? etc. All of these questions are meant to reveal who is operating behind the cover. What is that nexus of motives that made you create this Presidential persona? Why are you trying to have a virtual relationship with America by pretending to be the person in this photo?

The only difference between the Presidential Campaign Debates and Catfish is one that I hope we can figure out a way to include. Each episode of Catfish ends with some time passing and a nice video call where everyone discusses their new nexus of motives. This is how Catfish invokes what Kenneth Burke calls the “comic frame” - that interpretation of human beings as deeply mistaken but correctable. They can always shift to a more appropriate, or better, nexus of motives. In the Presidential Debates - as we saw with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris - the frame is a tragic one. Everyone is fatally flawed by the revelation of distance between action and motive. Even when Pete Buttigieg takes responsibility for the incredibly white police department of South Bend, it’s not seen as a moment of redemption, but a possible stain on his soul. When people are not seen as identifying with a set of motives, but are their motives, full stop, there is only one thing left to do. They have to be excommunicated.

So much of our politics are based on the tragic frame, it would be nice for the Presidential Campaign debates to realize they are not the form of the ideal politics of The West Wing but much more in line with the MTV show Catfish. It really depends on if you are a Platonist like Aaron Sorkin who likes to re-articulate the gap between the ideal and the practice or if you are Sophist like Max and Nev who work within convention and contingency to change minds and feelings about others who have done wrong. Perhaps Max and Nev should moderate the next Presidential debate. Would love to see the debate shot with a handheld Cannon point and shoot.

Debates Do Not Solve Things

Detail from  The Statue of Four Lies,  The Art Guys, 1983. University of Houston campus. I took this photo.

Detail from The Statue of Four Lies, The Art Guys, 1983. University of Houston campus. I took this photo.

This post is inspired by the continual efforts of one scholar in NCA to get people to debate him on the value of diversity versus merit in deciding who the best communication scholars are.

I am always not sure why people think of debate this way until I am: NCA ostracized debate (and most other performance pedagogy) from the convention and their publications almost a generation ago. This move is unfortunate, as now the largest communication scholarship/teaching(?) organization in the world is now composed of people who have a very unhealthy theory of debate as their only understanding of it.

Debate’s function as I see it is a commonplace generation machine. That is, you have some students participate in a debate on an issue not to find the answer, but to find as many commonplaces that one could use for the generation of compelling arguments for particular audiences. I usually tell classroom students that the audience would be one at their university, as I think that it can be a pretty good test lab for figuring out how commonplaces work and how useful they are as inventional devices for other audiences. It would be nice if all people who’ve had a public speaking class could come out of there with a way of collecting and keeping commonplaces - at least I think that would be better than learning how to find a scholarly article or use a microfilm reader.

The entirety of education in the Roman world was commonplace practice, epitomized in the endless composition and delivery of declamation. Just now reading this fantastic book about law education where I’m learning that “plea books” were a large part of legal education for a long time in this country (adaptable statements for getting a judge to agree rather than this appeal to the Founding Fathers as omnipotent timeless ghosts or whatever happens nowadays). The pattern is established again and again. This is why particular cases and grounded questions make better in-class debate topics than something like “gun control” which, as you probably already noticed, functions better as a commonplace than a debate topic. That is, you can generate more arguments from “gun control” for other issues for Americans than you can teaching people how to make arguments on either side of it. Then again, I’m interested in teaching rhetoric, you might not be, you might be after “the right policy” or something.

Anyway, setting debates at the NCA convention will not advance the discovery of the correct ways of dealing with the embarrassing Distinguished Scholars discourse(s) and the Medhurst Memo (it’s not an editorial anymore is it?). Debate will not help us understand our goals and objectives, or figure out what the right thing is to do about graduate education, the Academy, and the host of other hot topics that face NCA as they face every academy-oriented institution out there. There’s nothing debatable here. We can certainly argue about what needs to be done and we can do research and present evidence. But that’s not debating.

What debate will do is give us some practice and recognition that there are an incredibly large number of ways we can construct our values and beliefs, and an even larger number of ways that we can express those commitments. Debate encourages us to reimagine our articulations of our values and commitments in ways that have us rewording our thoughts in the terms of the debaters. At its best, these rewordings can lead us to new conceptualizations of what we believe and think. Debate can lead us to new ways to constitute ourselves as subjects of our own discourse, inquiring after itself.

But suggesting a debate will “clear the air” on a lot of confusing talk is not the function of debate, let alone the fact that it will come crawling back from life in the wilderness to do so at NCA. No thanks. Debate is unapologetically presented as cutthroat sport these days, and NCA has nothing to say about it. In the 1990s, some were worried that debate might become too sportified. Now there’s simply no question that it is. And those involved in debating today will not be able to model a debate that would expand ways of thinking. What debate practice does these days is narrow and codify - it’s a hard science of eristics - and the gravitational pull of that is so intense that new approaches and ways of thinking cannot expand. Consider how much people flip out when a rule change in professional sport appears. So much for an expansive program that adds to what could be said or what could be thought. Recent experiences teaching at summer high school debate institutes were surprising in how they were disturbed that I wanted the students to read and write critically, while the instructors wanted me to be teaching the students quick reactions they could say regardless of the arguments. Such tricks are the normal pedagogy of sport debate, and they are rightly what we’d expect to see at NCA should Grabowsky get this diversity versus merit debate he wants.

Douglas Ehninger recognized this issue in debate when he wrote about the “coercive” rather than “corrective” model of argumentation. A lot of people think that the “coercive” model is the right way to go about debate, teaching people how to “think correctly” about issues and how to “speak correctly” about issues. Ehninger favored the “corrector” model (terrible name for sure, a bit 1960s) where during the attempt to stop someone from believing or doing something thought to be incorrect, one engages in treating them like a human being, someone who can be mistaken. The impact of that is that all participants can be mistaken, even the one who was initially trying to correct. This is an ultimate form of conveying humanity upon another; a level of respect where you say I will give up my commitments in part or in whole if you can articulate to me why I shouldn’t think them. Or something like that (people are going to come for me with how poorly worded that line is). The point is that debate should be neutralizing our convictions in favor of complexity, not being taught as a complexity reduction exercise in the service of getting the right answer. I feel that Eric Grabowsky’s model of debate he’s presenting on CRTNET and Facebook is most likely this model of “getting it right.” Arguments might work that way, but debates squarely do not.

Debate doesn’t exist at the NCA convention because people feel they know things, and want to demonstrate that the inquiry has already happened. It’s not a coincidence that we have hardly any undergraduates at NCA and never have debates. The two are linked. The membership of NCA clearly wants the convention to serve as a place where a record of thought that happened elsewhere can be presented and shared. Some love this model so much they do it from the audience at virtually every panel they attend. If NCA members don’t like that model, they can change it of course. But for now the exclusion of sport debate is well warranted, and the exclusion of pedagogical debate is an effect of an organization that believes instability of knowledge is a problem; let’s figure out the right answers. Debate can be valuable, but where NCA is right now, it’s not a good move. The only models available are terrible, and the newer models don’t fit the purpose of the convention. Debate however remains the most underused and under-appreciated rhetorical pedagogy out there because of what we’ve allowed it to become. Maybe debate will find a good place again at the NCA convention of the future, reimagined as a diverse place where questions are asked and no scholars are distinguished above any others.

Summer Office

I spent most of my first year or so working at St. John’s here once or twice a week, in the New York Public Library reading room. Great spot to work on a dissertation. You don’t have to buy anything, they have every book ever printed (not really exaggerating here), and it’s just not-quiet enough to concentrate. Plus, there aren’t many distractions such as deep cleaning the kitchen or reorganizing your towels to help you not work.

I haven’t worked in here in a while as my flow was interrupted in going regularly by the modernization/abatement and work they had to do in here the last few years. I just now started going back again as it’s a great summer office. Most of the time I just go here to write a lot, and my output is quite good per hour here. I haven’t used it for research too much as our university library has come a long way in digital resources, so often I don’t even need to walk down to campus to get something.

I have a few projects now that the 2 things are done for summer part 1. Now I have a big R&R to do by the end of July that is pretty massive. I’m also working on trying to figure out why public speaking, as a core requirement, wasn’t just folded into the whole writing center movement. It makes such little sense that all of that wouldn’t be together, or at least thought about, when the big push was happening. It’s rather obvious that NCA scholars and other speech comm types would happily toss public speaking to anyone else without a second thought - they are not interested in the pedagogy of it as a general rule. Surely it’s not a hard argument to say that public speaking is a composition course? There has to be some history to contextualize this so I’m chasing that down.

Also working on a formal piece about declamation, what I’m always obsessed with. And also doing some reading on debate pedagogy, in particular debate teaching juuuuust prior to world war two. Gotta finish my paper about German debaters in the 1930s touring the US and I want to do a deeper piece on Elton Abernathy, a somewhat overlooked character involved in speech and debate pedagogy. I think he’s only considered overlooked unless you are lurking around San Marcos, TX.

There’s also video to shoot for my online courses, and some prep to do on the new Blackboard which will be fun as there are some new features to play with.

So now that summer is opening up for me I hope to spend some more time writing in the summer spot.

Thoughts about night one of the Democrat Debates

I don’t have a formal or even a really organized response to this explosion of speaking. What can you say? The easy way out is to say it’s not a debate, it’s a failed debate, and to leave it at that. Another easy way to respond is to create some way to determine a winner or a loser here. I think that’s a poor way to approach it as well.

Some of the people speaking here have little to no national recognition. Some have a bit too much. I wonder how many people over the next few days will be speaking about people they just learned about, or maybe mentioning a policy idea they heard from someone they just learned about. That’s what I was thinking about mostly is how these events can be a moment where people can make their own connections to candidates outside of someone like Chuck Todd telling them how to view this or that candidate. That’s an interesting advantage to having these large number debates, they get someone out there to talk about them. This isn’t idle chatter; this is the substance of political rhetoric in my view.

Here are a couple of things to think about tonight and into tomorrow’s debate.

First, there are two competing perceptions of audience here: The members of a Democratic Party, and the voters in America who are interested in defeating Donald Trump. I don’t think that there’s a lot of agreement between the candidates as to which audience gets priority. Maybe they think these audiences are one and the same? It creates some odd argumentative moments where the candidate makes arguments without much explanation as to what needs to be done when talking about party identity. The better stories and narratives come out of the candidates who are addressing a larger electorate. This seems like the best way to determine who should be the candidate and by definition, the performed definition of the party.

This bifurcation of two audiences might also explain the lack of a lot of storytelling, or what I have called “framework” in my previous debate analysis work. This narrative is important to set up what exists, and what is out there that deserves engagement and restricts the potential of engagement. The person who did the best job with framing their positions and identification with a world or framework or “what’s out there,” was Tulsi Gabbard, as she constructed a framework of a world seen from the perspective of a soldier. That seemed to stick pretty well and she could return to it.

Warren did well on what I call “vision”, but not much of a narrative to go on. She’s relying on the idea that everyone in the room agrees on a worldview, so it didn’t need to be spoken. Vision is what you plan to do if you win the office. This only works if the audience accepts your framework/narrative of the world. I wonder how people will feel about it, I liked it quite a bit, but I also had a sense of her worldview.

The strangest thing was how often people attacked Beto. Was he leading? Is there something about his style that makes it seem he could be a good springboard? I don’t think it’s a good idea to engage any candidate if you are up there. Beto tried to give a lot of personal stories first, instead of saying what the story refers to first. Maybe that’s the reason people interrupted him so much? I think his approach, unlike his debates with Cruz, was not great.

Otherwise I wasn’t sure about other speakers. I think that the 10 person format encourages people to chime in on a smaller group of people and why their ideas mattered to you. That’s what I hope it will do. To encourage audiences to carry forward your ideas into their communities you need a structure they can repeat easily, with a story and a connection to a sense of reality that can be delivered along with the other ideas. I wonder who did the best job of that? We’ll see what the conversation over the next couple of days shows.

For now just consider what a debate could look like, why this might not be a debate that most people who are reading this would want, but what are the advantages of this form of debating; does it have some value?