Competitive Debate versus Tournament Debate

I still regularly hear that people continue to say that I am against competitive debate. I am not. All debate is competitive, by definition. A debater is trying to sway an audience to their side, or at least, away from the side of the opponent (Yes, everywhere else but intercollegiate tournament debating, “critique without alternative” is a fallacy).

I am against tournament debating for many reasons. The tournament over determines what debate and good arguments look like. It encourages a flattened view of rhetoric as eristics instead of a complex view of rhetoric as meaning-making. Worst of all, it makes students believe that the best part of debating is rendering your opposition into silence, because it means you’ve won. Silence, as we all know, means we should probably go research a bit more and have the debate again before we determine what’s best or good - but then, tournament norms are not interested in the best or good. Too sloppy. Better to have clean arguments for clean decisions, otherwise we won’t know who the champion is.

I could email and personally correct these people, but I would be losing an excellent source of evidence that tournament debate teaches poor critical thought. Such a first-class equivocation proudly stated by a 4+ year tournament debater indicates both dangers of the tournament: Thin thought where complexity is eschewed because it doesn’t help you win, and equivocation as content (as opposed to device for inventio, which is the better use of the fallacies). I think a good sign of a poorly taught rhetor is use of the fallacy to silence the opponent or the fallacy as a reason to win, i.e. “They committed a fallacy, we win.” Instead I am just going to provide examples of my critique to provide more relief to it.

This week the parents of a 14 year old kid are suing his school for slander over how his debate team and coach treated him after a recent loss.

The lawsuit provides a narrative of events where the coach and team turned on a student for (and I need to italicize this I think) talking to students from other schools about ideas.

Think about that for a second. The role of debate is, ostensibly, to improve thinking, improve the quality of ideas, and hopefully for us to arrive at solutions, better plans, or at the least, better framings of the questions we face in our world.

But this coach (clearly not a teacher) and the students thought it was appalling that a student would share thoughts and ideas, talk about the debate topic, and compare quality of evidence with a student from an opposing school. They berated him for engaging in appropriate and valuable intellectual activity.

Any teacher would be thrilled to know that a student was engaged in conversation with someone who was not in the student’s class about what was being taught there. But we must remember that tournament-oriented debate directors are not teachers. They are coaches. They see their role as creating wins. They want to help create arguments and people that win debates. This is in serious conflict with the role of debate to improve the quality of thought in the world, to test evidence, and to engage in thoughtful conversation.

This reminds me of the nonsense pedagogy I experienced last summer at the New York Urban Debate league summer workshop where my attempts to encourage young students to read, engage with the topic, and examine varying perspectives on the arguments in law and society on an international treaty were dismissed in favor of playing games and throwing candy to students who were able to quickly answer or quickly give a speech about a trivial matter. Responses that conform to the rules of the tournament are the curriculum. Engagement with the complexities of an international treaty on the level of law, culture, and ideology are not going to help the students “win debates.”

This attitude grotesquely cuts out the most valuable aspect of debating which is uncertainty. A difficult feeling to be sure, but a quick look at politics these days should confirm to any thinking person that we need some doubt. Certainty, and the witty response - the “clap-back” - are killing space for reconsideration and thought in our most pressing problems.

What could replace the tournament? Here’s an idea.

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On Monday, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris caught fire and burned for hours. It was nearly totally destroyed. The French government has now started to debate how to rebuild the cathedral, starting with a competition about the spire. This is competitive debate in its full form: We have a problem - we are unsure how to address it - everyone has some ideas - let’s test them.

What’s central here is the approach to a community good, or a cultural good, instead of the idea that the people who will argue against you have nothing to contribute to the topic as a whole. Instead of trying to win with my idea about rebuilding, let me tell you why I think it is the best way to recover the building. Let me argue why this approach is best for us.

And conversations between people with differing ideas might happen outside of any formal legislative debate or contest submission. Why? Because the focus is on addressing the question well. If the focus is not on creating discourse worthy of the question, we all lose. What we get is a very narrow idea of what a few people think is best. Debate’s power, when freed from the norms and conveniences of the tournament, is to create solutions that no one person, nor group of people, could come up with on their own. The process of debating introduces what I call “debate’s desire” into the conversation, forcing people to yield, to concede, and to focus on different points during the process in order to better represent their claims.

In the Notre Dame example, there are no prizes except to solve the issue or address what was lost in a fitting way. This could easily be done with debate programs that focus on the school or community, or on what the students feel should be addressed. The reward for debating well should not be an artificial feeling of superiority in individualist thought, but the pleasure of community and the benefits of speaking well in response to a difficult question along side others who care. There is great pleasure and great learning in realizing that one spoke very well to the question, as did others, but the question was wrong. Or it was underdeveloped. Or it comes from a shallow ideology. Or any other result that would jam up a contest that is always oriented toward the question “Who won?” This topic would be rejected because there’s no easy way to determine the winning idea. The best ideas will come out of debating it, which will be the ones chosen. But the debate will be structured in a way not to exclude others from the inventional process, but to highlight the communal effort. Oddly, most debate topics are topics that require a multiplicity of voices, and attention on something other than the speaker, but these elements are trimmed away for the convenience of the tournament.

Imagine a competition that didn’t focus on creating silence but creating conversation. Creating the sharing of ideas not to get one over on someone, but to rise to the quality of the question. The only silence here would be that of the teacher’s surprise to find that their students are in conversation with students from other schools about controversies that vex most adults. Debate teaches confidence and questioning like nothing else. These things should inspire those who practice it to want to create and share, and to see thought and intellectual work as rife with uncertainty and full of community.

The joke of academia is that there is no such thing as a monograph. It’s full of voices and conversations of others. It exists because others speak, not because someone shut them up with a killer argument. Tournament debate has it so backwards. And the most dangerous part of this is how those who were shaped by its ideology use it as a stand in for all competition, ensuring nothing can rise to threaten the tournament, which also shapes their idea of good argumentation across society.

Exploring competitive debate should not involve an automatic integration of a “break” and a quarterfinal bracket. It should consider the role of competition in society and why we have debates in the first place. The quality of reason is always contextual and to think that reasoning could be taught in a vacuum through a series of weekend competitions is a very impoverished view indeed. Even worse, it creates a lot of very confident, very well-spoken people who automatically assume that arguments phrased in unfamiliar ways - that don’t follow “rules” - are evidence of poor minds not worth engaging. What we are left with is a parody of philosophy indeed: The speaker of truth addressing an empty room, seeing the absence of listeners as the best evidence that they are not only smart, but right.

Competitive debate is harder than tournament debate as the evaluation is much less clear. It’s contingent. There’s no checklist of right moves. There’s no consistency from debate to debate. There’s very little connecting the wins at one competition to the next. This frustrates most of those involved in tournament debate today, so they continue to create rules and policies to make debate even thinner, even more shallow. Uniform depth is what attracts these people to a massive body of inquiry. The lack of curiosity is frightening. The tournament is comfortable and provides that certainty that your argument is good. Historically we can compare the tournament debaters with the Peripatetics (as I have done with Prof. Eckstein) who crafted the 5 part canon of rhetoric as a pedagogical device. As philosophers, it’s good to have a checklist. And their students did well, going on to live very successful lives in a society whose laws and institutions were crafted and governed by the students of Isocrates, who taught no such certainty only questioning by the stasis, in contexts that were as dynamic as the day required. Who won?

Jealous Much?

http://fav.me/dczaw2

http://fav.me/dczaw2

After reading this piece on “erisology” in The Atlantic my thoughts instantly went to one of my favorite pieces of writing when I think about the impossibility of civil political argument. “Homer’s Contest” by Friedrich Nietzche.

In this piece, Nietzsche spells out the relationship the ancient Greeks had with competition and how a competitive edge kept their society going. Competition lifted everyone up through a conception of “jealousy” - I want to outperform my neighbors, in public, in various arts and athletic abilities. This sort of competition kept society organized and stable because one wants to excel, to work to be the best at something, and to prove it through performance in front of others.

Nietzsche calls this practice “eris” after the ancient Greek goddess of jealousy and envy. But he says our conception of jealousy is vastly different than that of the ancient Greeks.

This isn’t a jealous about things or about limited resources. That’s the bad eris. The bad eris considers people a problem, and that they should be eliminated so you can have what is rightfully yours.

This dark eris is responsible for collapse of civilization as people no longer work toward a collective end nor do they see the point in investing in public services or things. Everything is a threat, because everyone wants your stuff.

The good eris is responsible for community because you need a group of evaluators, judges, and critics to say who did the better job. Instead of worrying about what public places might take from you, you worry about what you can perform or share there. Instead of worrying about someone taking your stuff, you worry about someone outperforming you.

I think the concept of Erisology is perhaps too scientific to be useful in its current form, but if we start to think more about eris and the role of envy and competition in political controversy we’ll be on a better track. It starts with some simple givens: In order to be right about a political view, you need an audience. Being right by yourself is just getting closer to your own opinion, isn’t it? There has to be some verification, otherwise people wouldn’t post their thoughts online.

The funniest thing about the essay is how angry so many rhetoric scholars got about it. Imagine, people we’ve never heard of talking about OUR field and not mentioning US! Yes, there’s plenty of bad Eris floating around the university. This should surprise no one. Where’s the good Eris, where’s the professional or academic rhetorician desire to compete, to show that we get it better than the Erisologists? That we have better, more useful perspectives? Where’s the desire to add to their performance something they are missing? All I see on Twitter are professors making fun of someone who is asking pretty good questions. Not a great moment for the field, but a common one whenever anyone dares to mention things we consider in our territory.

Since the contemporary field of rhetoric is much more interested in talking about oratory and persuasion than teaching people how to do it, it makes sense that other people would rush in to fill the gap. More attention is obviously needed on the question of how to teach people how to argue, persuade, discuss, and advocate, and if the professional rhetoricians in rhetoric departments aren’t going to do it, other people will fill that space because it’s important.

Good envy or bad envy. Envy-ologists might focus on what makes someone want to share their view. It’s odd isn’t it? If you are right about something, and if all the evidence supports your view, why do you get so upset with other people when they don’t agree? Let’s see who has the best answer to that.

I like to make videos

This is a video I made for my online public speaking class addressing some of the things that after two formal presentations they still need to work on.

The biggest problem in teaching speech and debating is the problem of performing to teacher expectations which expect students to exceed teacher expectations. This is the problem identified by Buddhists as “Pointing at the Moon.” There are some good koans about this problem. I talk about it in this video a bit. Much more to say about it in an upcoming post.

What I like about this video is the way it was shot, which is something we don’t teach in public speaking even though the types of public speaking our students will be doing will be highly web mediated. I want to point this out in my instruction, which is happening all online. This seems like a good way to do it.

Teaching online means that we need to study video techniques, techniques of lighting and storyboarding, but also the process of post-production: sound editing, color grading, and so on. It’s a terrifying new world for the professor who loves the chalk and talk.

Music

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I have been using Last FM for over 10 years now - a couple of students of mine from 2007 clued me into it and I haven’t really left. There was one year where I didn’t record any listening stats of my music, mostly because it was too difficult to do it (I was using a PSP as my MP3 player most of the time). Now with streaming music it’s super easy to just let it keep track of what you’re hearing and generate some great data about your music habits. Here’s last week’s profile of my listening.

Ballance and Praxis in the Argumentation Curriculum

Me preparing my lecture for teaching mid-century NDT debate for class

Me preparing my lecture for teaching mid-century NDT debate for class

I’m tagging all the posts about my emergency last-minute pick up argumentation class with the tag “pick up” so you can easily search for them if you want updates on how that’s going. This is one of them.

The only reasonable approach that I think you can take in teaching this form of debate is to root it in two large contexts. 1) The historical context of the American university after World War 2 and 2) the need to have other metrics than efficacy in order to talk about the value of argumentation.

The first one is a historical treatment of the impact the so-called “G.I. Bill” had on the American university system which was really only for elites up until the 1940s. This meant that universities were taking in a lot of veterans from very diverse places without expected educational backgrounds. The result was the formation of what we now call the core curriculum, a number of courses everyone has to take in math, science, writing, literature, and yes, speech. This also explains why speech departments and debate as they are in the U.S. have little to no correspondence with other countries. The development of NDT-style debating was a result of the rise of core courses in public speaking and argumentation. It was a flat, easy way to practice this idea of multi-positional reasoning and speaking.

The second one is an effect of the first: There needs to be a way to evaluate the quality of debates without relying on a speech actually persuading someone. There were already rumblings from philosophy and other places that this metric allowed for the association of effective arguments with “the good.” We know this isn’t always the case. The development of stock issues rules and evaluation of debates is a rubric that allows us to look at and evaluate the quality of a debate as the debate itself and not the persuasive effect.

So with those two starting points, I think we have a good frame on this type of debate for the students to use in class. We aren’t looking for the truth or for what’s right in the topic; we are looking for ways we can approach information within a controversy and expand the ways we can talk about disagreement. We can test all aspects of an argument to see if it holds up. And through this we whittle away at the various approaches until we are left with some that appear to be good approaches.

Their topic is that the U.S. should disarm the police. A good topic for sure, lots to research and learn about. On the first day I took over, a student asked if the affirmative could ban the police as a way of disarming the police. We wrote responses to this question, and through looking at a few of them and sharing them in class, it seems the students are inventing procedural arguments from the ground up. It’s much better to hear the long-form justification for their claims about what they are learning and why it matters to be able to talk about one set of ideas over another one. This seems like pretty good practice in argumentation.

On the days we aren’t having debates we will read different pieces of argumentation theory and discuss them. I already told the class the final will be one question: What is an argument? The answer should be a synthesis and discussion of a number of approaches to this question through the reading.

When Only A Sport Remains

I predict here in a short amount of time I’ll be posting some definitive news about a move happening in intercollegiate forensics and debate that will no-doubt signal the end of any sort of conflict between educationally-minded directors of debate and those who love prizes, trophies, and saying that they coached a team to win a tournament.

I don’t want to say too much, but the evidence is already everywhere that intercollegiate debate is not a place for inquiry, scholarship, or intellectual work. It’s a place for people to go to confirm their rightness, to speak at others, and win prizes.

There isn’t a role for the person who wants to teach critical thought. There is a role for the person who wants to craft a “hit” on an opposition case and then moan in frustration when the students don’t “run” their brilliant argument “right.” There’s no place for someone who wants humility and doubt to be values, but there is a place for those who believe strongly in the Truth, and that it is easily accessible from a cursory glance around the world, and even easier to communicate in 7 to 10 minutes.

Debate programs no longer have a place or space within academic departments, they should be in athletic departments, for they have as much relation to the curriculum as the basketball or football team. They teach a set of esoteric rules for esoteric acts, witnessed by few, understood by even less, and with the amount of impact and influence on the world you would expect from events taking place on a Sunday morning in a windowless classroom in a brutalist building on some state university campus.

Now is a vital time for debate directors, and those with license and interest to teach to reinvestigate debate’s place in the curriculum. This is not another call for a developmental conference; reading the one from Wake Forest University is as cringeworthy as it is repetitive (with the exception of William Keith’s paper, which, I might add, was written by someone outside the tournament-debate model). Debate is in no danger of dying or vanishing because it died a long time ago. Now there is a sport modeled off of human argumentation - kind of - that a small percentage of college students participate in and an even smaller number enjoy.

The abandonment of director positions and debate coach positions held by Ph.D.s who have an interest in scholarly activity continues to fade. Now might be a good time to revisit The Debate Authors Working Group principles and practices, published in 2010.

I was lucky enough to attend several of these sessions as a graduate student and even luckier to co-author on a paper with the group. I dare say I was a member, if only for a year or so. But the idea and the work has never left me. It was the creation of an endpoint of debating that most people don’t think about. Debate ends when you win or lose, most sportmongers think. Then come the excuses for poor performance. This model encapsulated all that as aiming toward research and publication. It gave debate a point outside of eristics, which I would argue dominates all conceptions of intercollegiate debate today.

It’s time to reconsider this fundamental essay as the purpose of intercollegiate debate, but also the purpose of any round. What is happening in this debate that is serving scholarly ends? What is happening in this speech, or these speeches, that is forwarding inquiry? What has happened in this debate that could lead to publication?

In revisiting this essay, I find too much attention placed on the idea that the humanities eschew collaborative research. I think that might be true, but the larger problem is that most debate practitioners believe they are participating in a final-form event. They do not believe in process or reiteration. They believe the debate round is the presentation of formed ideas, and the work on those ideas - the inquiry - happened somewhere else, at some prior point to the debate. The research was done, the speeches prepared, now this is the final project presentation - not a good model.

A return to the DAWG model means every debate is an incubator, and every debate discussion becomes something of an agenda item for the DAWG meeting. That might be one way to think of it.

Another approach is that this connects debate to the department as it is undergraduate research under faculty supervision. The professor who directs the program would run the working group, and all those who debate should participate in some way, if only to raise potential topics. When we met as the DAWG, this is how it went. Nobody was compelled to write on a project, but everyone should contribute to the discussion or to the suggestion of topics or venues for publication. As an undergraduate research model, I don’t think you can find a much better one.

I’m going to consider revisiting this DAWG essay as it approaches its 10 year anniversary. It’s worth taking a look at the ideas in it and seeing if they are still relevant, needed, or require a bit of editing. My initial thought after re-reading it is that things haven’t changed that much, except the university system is approaching severe crisis and people are still much more interested in enforcing grammar rules and calculating attendance in their courses than stoking intellectual spirits of doubt and wonder. The DAWG is most likely needed now more, if anything.

March is for Visitors

Before we get into it, here’s my current obsession.

I wonder why I share any of my Last FM listening stats with anyone because all you will see is me grinding a song into oblivion by listening to it over and over and over again. Today I’ve reached the point where I’m just listening to all the remixes.

This video really just makes you want to go to LA for the weekend.

We have visitors coming this week, next and then the week after that. Then I’ll be alone for a few days which is going to be weird.

This means there’s no semester left. I have an essay project I haven’t really started, one I need to send copy edits back today for, and of course the looming yet not-stressful NCA deadline.

Today’s the first day of the pick-up argumentation course so I think we’ll just have a conversation around the question “what is an argument?”

This question is a great one to start with because ideas about what an argument is/can/should be pepper human history and a lot of these ideas have trickled down to us through discourse over time. This means student understandings of argument are historical understandings, and we can create a map of where we are historically and what choices we have if we want to move understandings. Should be fun to make a map on the board, assuming it works.

I think I’ll record the chat and post it here later tonight so you can have a listen and see how it goes. I feel like one of the best things I can do these days as a professor is provide a space for some actual, thoughtful conversation where there’s no pressure to perform for some grade on some dumb assignment or something. Let’s have some inquiry; we can grade something later on.

The Goals of an Argumentation Course

Argumentation pedagogy is, unfortunately, homogenous across nearly the entire speech communication discipline. A textbook based on the Toulmin model - but not even the whole model, just data, warrant, and claim - and no discussion of field dependency is at the heart of it. A paper about a controversy and then the fabled “Letter to the Editor” completes the course.

I remember talking a lot with Dr. Barbara Warnick in my last year at the University of Pittsburgh (where I received my Ph.D.) about Stephen Toulmin. She was teaching an advanced undergraduate course on argumentation and had decided to use Uses of Argument as the only text in the course. Brilliant, I thought, as I was unsure how many argumentation scholars out there had read the whole book. She came up with the phrase “the basic T” to describe the poverty of the pedagogy of Toulmin that was being distributed as argumentation instruction (meaning data, warrant, and claim, and that’s it). I like to think that Toulmin would have a laugh at how rhetoricians have taken his theory and turned it into the object of argumentation theory he was attempting to deconstruct - something absolutely there, measurable, and universally meaningful.

Due to an unexpected illness I am now covering an undergraduate argumentation course, and my first thought was, “I have about a month to make sure they get everything!” My second thought was the petitio: what is everything?

I started to write some notes about what makes argumentation important. Against the model of criticizing controversy from on high with a dash of historical re-enactment of a world with engaged newspapers, I see argumentation as a course in invention and production - something that many professors might scoff at given their attitude toward student ability (“They can’t use a comma correctly!”). Producing good argument requires familiarity with theory as a guidepost, not as argumentation itself. Theory with iteration and then reiterated is the proper model for a course in argumentation that is based on rhetorical assumptions.

So, given a month, what’s most important? What theories do you teach? This is the question, and I reduced it to three essential theories for argument instruction that students should be familiar with at the end of a 15 week course (but I only have about 5, give or take what the previous instructor covered).

The Universal Audience

Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca’s theory that argument’s proper aim is audience, not accuracy or truth, can catch some criticism. In defending their theory they show that historically it has always been the case that the ethics and truth of argumentation has been based on the assumption that whoever encounters the argument will find the means to be persuaded. There is no objective measure of the quality of an argument, save that constructed by what the speaker knows about the specific audience and audiences like it at her location in culture, space, time, etc. The best argumentation is that which the universal audience would be able to agree with, hence, pandering is not possible to the local audience as the universal audience - coming from another place or area - wouldn’t get it.

The Enthymeme

The enthymeme is less an argument theory and more an argument modality (Conley is really sharp on this point). Instead of teaching it as a theory of understanding and critiquing argument, return to Aristotle and teach it as a chosen way to frame and deliver persuasive claims about the past (forensic) matters to audiences. It’s a powerful way to encourage people to find creative ways to share ideas with audiences and recognize that nobody constructs arguments out of the air; all argumentation is co-authored with the audience through little winks and statements of open assumption. Taught as an incomplete syllogism, the enthymeme is clearly based on invention-happening-elsewhere (the syllogism) so to talk about it as if it were a way to generate argumentation isn’t what Aristotle had in mind.

Toulmin, but not what you think

Toulmin’s biggest contribution to argumentation is field-dependency, which comes first - well before the “basic T” or any of the other structural ideas. The reason is simple: How could you reconstruct a warrant if you didn’t know the field in which the argument is taking place? Even in Uses of Argument his examples of the three understandings of “can not” indicate the intense dependence that meaning has on context. This is why when I google argumentation syllabi I’m pretty sure that very, very few teachers of argumentation have read Toulmin outside of presentation in a textbook. Field dependency encourages student creativity in both research and production as the audience becomes as important as getting the “right” information (whatever that might be). Who are you talking to and what do they believe is out there in the world? This question is the start of the field dependency discussion for the production of argumentation.

What am I missing? We’ll find out on Thursday when I meet with them the first time.


Spring Break Ended, Sadly

Spring break ended too soon but I did get one final draft out and have another one underway. We’ll see if I can make the NCA deadline.

I get a lot out of NCA but it comes out of the cracks. It’s not a direct path to the value of it. I always have a few moments that stick with me and that I use to help me in my thinking.

But for the most part, NCA is run by and loved by dilettantes who see themselves as people who would be NPR journalists if they did not think they were smarter than NPR journalists. There’s a lot of chat about what’s going on on this or that series, latest episodes of Frontline or whatever the journalism show de jour is, discussion about podcasts and Rachel Maddow - stuff like that. It’s a huge cocktail party - over 4,000 people - so some dilluding of the content is expected.

The only papers worth hearing I feel are those from the top paper panels. These are people who have put in the time and are trying to make a contribution beyond NCA, beyond scholars, and perhaps shift the field a few millimeters ahead. Unfortunately NCA schedules most of these to happen at the same time, so you have to pick. This shouldn’t happen, but it shows how far removed the idea of attending panels to learn something is from the planners’ minds. It’s also not nefarious; it is most likely that NCA is way too big, and people are too forgiving in letting in ideas rather than fully thought out papers.

NCA is good for graduate students, I always assumed, but there was a lot of strange stressful discourse from grad students I spoke with last year in Utah. Maybe faculty put too much pressure on NCA these days because the percentage of valuable content at NCA is getting smaller and smaller. It could also be that since people no longer read hyper specialized journals casually (why would you?) the face-to-face at a bar or after a panel is much more important for making connections in your career. Not sure why this is but if you are an advisor, stop stressing out your students about NCA - it’s a place to learn and grow, not to nail a virtuoso performance.

So I’m not sure I should invest so much time into writing for the NCA conference unless I have a really good idea. The past few years I have had some great ideas, and my current one - about Myles Horton’s pedagogy and the distinction between deliberation, dialogue, and debate - isn’t one of my better ideas. I’ve just decided to write it and see how it goes and if it doesn’t hit the NCA conference deadline, that’s fine. I’m not too worried about it.

There’s also our journals, which are not widely read at all - barely read within the communication field - making them poor organs for the distribution of ideas or larger persuasive goals about normative aspects of rhetoric and pedagogy. They are very good organs if your goal is to have a conversation with the 10 or so other scholars who engage in the work you do. That’s how they are designed.

I have nothing against this design except for the fact that nearly 100% of all publication effort in rhetoric is aimed at these 5 journals with a readership that is in the hundreds. If we design our journals this way we should couple that with the discussion, or the obligation, to publish for broader outlets about our ideas.

I like blogging, but this week has me thinking that my new model for writing should be this blog coupled with publication elsewhere. I like the model of a Patreon, where people subscribe to your work for a small fee and then can request or put in ideas for future writing or podcast-type publication. This might be a good way to put a premium on non-academic style work and reach an interested public who self-selects given their interest. I might give this a try.

The only thing I didn’t really do well at this spring break was outline my short book idea. I should just start writing it and get a rough draft out to a publisher in a month. This might be pretty good timing for the upcoming political debates. It’s an untested method, but I think the thesis of the book is going to be to flip the Presidential debates (or any political debates) from refined final product to raw material, a set of commonplaces, or topoi, for us to use to craft a refined set of political principles to defend.

The biggest success story about spring break was how much fun I had playing Fallout 76 and Elder Scrolls Online. I really do think that if things went haywire in the academic world I could stream video games all day for 5 to 6 days a week and have a blast. Of course, any engaging, fun, and exciting creative work can turn into a “job” - one that you despise and resent - very quickly. Just look to how that leaks out in the negativity many professors present toward their students!

The Start of Spring Break

Spring break is here and the only thing I’ve done so far is play about 5 hours of Fallout 76 before getting ready to go out to eat at one of my favorite spots before hitting a bar to wish a friend happy birthday.

There is a productive hope for spring break including:

  • Finishing my NCA paper for this year on Myles Horton’s pedagogy and the artificial wall between discussion, dialogue and debate.

  • Taking my 1694-ish rhetoric textbook to the bookbinder for much needed repair.

  • FInishing reading all the books I’ve checked out from the library on Roman education

  • Grading all of the podcasts and videos from my online public speaking course

  • Getting a jump start on two big essays due in April/May.

So that’s a full week I think but without any other demands on my time such as getting decent, walking to the campus, sitting in the office, and such it can really free up a lot of time. This is why I hope very soon to be teaching mostly online if not entirely online.

I’ve been looking forward to spring break ever since I fell behind on my semester plan about a week and a half ago. Things happen and it’s okay. I am just glad that I have some time to catch up a bit.

The other big thing that has happened is my mega-computer, the one I built and rebuilt a couple of times, has just started giving me blue screens all the time now. I shut it off and put it aside, but that meant I had to rearrange my home workspace. Now I’m typing this on an Asus Chromebit, and my second monitor I brought up to the university to plug into my old desktop computer I had up there for debate. Since I don’t do debate anymore, I no longer needed that computer for that project so I just moved it into my office to use it for work. So far so good, but on compressing audio (WAV to MP3) it is very, very slow compared to the mega computer. Not very happy about that, but maybe if I decrease the quality of the recordings I’ll have better results. I’ll work on fixing the big computer in May/June, once the term is over.

So we’ll see how the week ends as next Sunday I’ll most likely post “The End of Spring Break!”