Considering BP in the Northeast after Year Two.

I posted this as an email earlier today to the Northeast listserv. I reprint it here because I think that in it are a lot of my prokariotic theories on BP debating.  

Some of the post is specific in regard to the now 2 year old "experiment" in running a BP tournament along side our CEDA tournaments in District 8. 

This is a post that addresses some
thoughts I've been mulling about for the past year as we are in our
second take of "the experiment" of having BP in our region. For the most
part I think all is going well except for a couple of issues which I
think we (meaning anyone interested) should discuss. I hope you forgive
the length considering I don't really put much up here.

First and foremost is judging. I think we are still engaged in the
"policy hangover" (using a Meany-ism) feeling comfortable having
single-judge rooms. We should not feel comfortable about single judge
rooms in BP at all. This stems from the policy background most of us
engaged in BP share - we feel that the judge, as long as they are some
sort of "expert" will be a good judge, and a panel is a luxury or only
necessary in elimination rounds. As we see from a quick glance around
the world, panels are essential in prelims and larger panels are
essential in outrounds. A single judge room is just not an option. Why
is this the case?

It is because of BP's definitive break with the idea of teaching debate
as a realm of simulated expertise. BP is somewhat atheoretical in its
approach, and aims argumentation and debate toward a general sense of
"persuasiveness" (inductively derived) rather than the requirements of a
more positivist argumentation theory like policy debate prefers
(deductively distributed). Teaching argumentation before the general
audience is a bit different than the specialized audience of policy. The
reason panels are required is to more effectively simulate "audience" as
many people generally confer about something they've seen that they want
to think about or test belief in before they assent. In policy debate,
the "expert" judge doesn't confer; it's forbidden, so the panel is not
essential to the pedagogy.  Experts already know, they don't need to
confer. One uses "experts" as the solid centers in which orbits are
calculated - "judge adaptation" is the god-term of policy debate.  Or
even if they are wrong, they still decide on their own - like judges in
legal systems - so a simulation of the "public" is unnecessary. One must
simulate one's adaptation within limits to present one's side of the
case in the best possible light within those limits. Policy's devil-term
(yes these are Weaver's terms) is "intervention" where the judge
assesses the quality of the arguments instead of the attributed quality
of the arguments within the discourse of the debate by the participants.
Of course, both are interventions, but "intervention" as devil-term is
only the first operation.  BP requires "intervention" as the panel is
put in a position of determining "persuasiveness." That is, they cannot
find an error, a blame or an absence and hang their hat there. They must
prefer quality of an argument over another, often on the same side of an
issue (since there are 4 teams).  Therefore,  I believe it is absolutely
necessary to our BP practice to have at least 2 judges in all prelims.

But wait, the distinction of "Chair" and "Wing" seem to indicate some
preference for "expertise" in BP, don't they?  I have two responses. 
First, this is a game. BP is a structured game that attempts to teach
ways of thinking and doing and being (praxis). As such, it does have
some light rules. Chairs are a bit more informed on these rules.  What
are they? Well, the rules are a bit different than the way we have been
taught in our lives as to how to judge arguments don't jive with the way
BP should be evaluated.  For example, most of us have been taught that a
side should win an argument.  This is not true in BP. The losing side of
the argument can have the winning team. It's less like a dysfunctional
family reunion model of debate, where you try to avoid blame from the
others and therefore "win" the "reunion" by not being called out for
messing up, and more like a church potluck model where everyone brings a
dish, and everyone chats about it - you win by being the person everyone
is talking about ("who brought these delicious beans?" "Wow the baked
Ziti is much better," etc).  Another example: Many of us have been
taught that catching an error in the side's argumentation or structure
or wording is a way of winning an argument - also the idea of leaving
out an argument or failing to respond to an argument also mean that you
lose.  This is not necessarily true in BP and a knee-jerk reaction to
these elements in BP can often lead to undeserved low rankings of
teams.  The preference distinction is a way of teaching judges how to be
less judges and more critics of argumentation, taking a position a bit
more "up and to the side" of the layperson's CNN model of debating. This
is doubly important in a region with the sediment of policy debate is
laying on top of everything. Many judges default to these modes of
judging due to the fact that they are comfortable modes of deciding,
even if the judge is a student without much debate experience as a
whole. Since this is new, most of our alumni judges also default to a
policy framework.  A panel can  help introduce and differentiate the
format by bringing these issues out in consensus judging.

Secondly, this is a built-in judge training system inherent to the
format and we are not using it. We are wasting resources.  Newer judges
are given guidance by judges who have seen a few more debates, or have a
bit more experience in judging arguments overall. We rely on briefings
at every tournament, but without some cursory guidance, such theoretical
approaches are not the best way to prepare judges.  The system exists
due to the challenges of the format. The panel is a participant, not an
observer and outside critic of the debate. They are a part of it as they
are transformed and transform each other through the process. We have to
realize that it is a key part of the format that we are dismissing here,
not an extra part.

I know that it requires quite a financial and logistical commitment of
all those involved to meet the n-1 judging requirement that most schools
overseas impose upon attendees.  But it's a vital part of the practice. 
We should at least strive for n-2.  In policy debate we would not think
twice of making the fiscal and logistical arrangements for the transport
of evidence in tubs to tournaments.  We would be horrified at the idea
of a tub-free tournament being praised because more people were allowed
to be involved in the debates.  We would all (rightly) say, "Yea but
what good is it if the quality is low?" As a preparation for CEDA Nats
or NDT it would not be good pedagogy.  I suggest we are doing the same
thing in our BP division when we allow single-judge rooms.  We are not
preparing our students well for international or even national competition.

I try to bring a lot of good judges with me to our BP division, and plan
to bring more in the future. I am glad that our division continues to
grow.  But I want sustainable growth.  I have many students who are
distressed for getting fours for giving roadmaps which they were told
were "policy jargon" that didn't belong in BP, or ranked 3 or 4 because
a response to a POI was a "new argument" not allowed in a later speech. 
Some judges even ranked the debates based upon speaker points, without
attention to arguments at all. I was chair on a panel where a person
said "There are too many of them! How can you keep track of who said
what?" I don't blame these judges for this, I blame our practices that
assume all debating works fine under a model derived from policy debate
theory.   What good is a large division if this is the quality of
teaching our students' hard work receives?  I've always liked debate
because many students encounter it and find it much harder and more
challenging than their regular university classes.  We should keep that
standard going.  If we don't then our larger numbers don't mean much.
They will decline as the students realize the tournament situation is
not educational but arbitrary. Celebrating a large division is only
justified if the pedagogical component is equally "large."

I'm not saying that our judge quality is low across the board, it's just
this past weekend where I saw the pond a bit more shallow than it ought
to be, and started thinking drought. It's coming unless we restrain our
participants numbers to meet what judges we can provide.  I think as
teachers we can all easily justify such a move. And with students
allowed to judge and/or compete on a tournament to tournament basis,
this shouldn't compromise the "experiential" element to tournament
education.  Students on my team who have judged have loved it and
claimed that it has positively influence their practice. Perhaps a
requirement of judge once for every 2 tournaments debated might be a
nice way to balance it on the team. There are other potential solutions,
however, and I think a discussion should precede any action.

2. Motions - I think for the most part we have very good motions at our
tournaments. I am just concerned because it seems that as the
tournaments progressed in the spring, we see motions with extremely
detailed wording. I think this is necessary in motion-driven debates,
such as policy, but a hindrance to good debating in proposition-driven
formats like BP.  What do I mean by "proposition-driven" format? The
motion is a point of departure for the proposition, which they take and,
if they are fulfilling their role, create a debate with two distinct
sides of clash to it. At that point in the debate the motion is moot
compared to what the opening government has offered. When in conflict,
the opening governments offering should be preferred, as long as it is
debatable. For those that speak policy, it means topicality had better
be deadly serious if run, because you can lose if you are wrong about a
violation.  But at this past tournament I heard students arguing
"extratopicality" and "no link to the motion" arguments which I would
prefer remain in California at NPDA and NPTE tournaments.  The less
complex the wording of the motion, the better the BP debates will be
because the teams will make it so.  Wording is important to policy as
the motion does not go away after an hour.  You are stuck with it for a
year. You have to have an expert literature base that can speak to the
clash in the motion.  BP's requirements are different.  The motion must
be relevant to the globe.  The motion must hint at at least two areas of
general clash. Finally the motion must be accessible to a general
audience. It doesn't need to be "dumbed down" but something that the
average person could look at and say "Oh, sure yea obviously" or "Hmm
well there are good sides to both of the issues there." I think our
"policy hangover" is pushing us to make sure the motions clearly carve
out two sides of the topic, which doesn't make sense in a format that is
not side driven.  The motion should suggest at least 2 areas of clash,
but be general enough to prompt a debate.  In policy, prompting a debate
is not enough.  The motion is there to constrain the debate to a
relevant literature base.  And there are theoretical wells which can be
drawn upon to debate where those limits should exist.  BP is
atheoretical in this vein, and so the motions should stop drifting
toward a format where we lose that nice atheoretical position.  It's up
to the students to frame the debate not us. There is no Framer's Intent
in BP.  There is only the Opening Government case.

It is natural for us to gravitate toward what is comfortable and
familiar.  I have no issue with that.  I am just worried that our large
growth might be unsustainable, and I don't think anyone wants to create
a watered-down policy debate.  We need to make some firm breaks with
that practice so that our region offers two distinct debating options
that are pedagogically sound and justified. Are we blurring the lines
yet? No, but the risk is there, and it's easier to prevent it than cure
it later (the NPDA experience out West speaks to that issue as one form
of debate just up and replaced another wholesale).  We don't want
replacement and we don't want redundancy. Nobody who has a policy
program and a BP program has cut their policy program.  We want good
education and we want multiple ways to get it.

I also recognize I am making a lot of the arguments that the Policy-Only
or Policy-First "parties" made on this list while the BP experiment was
still in a "primary." Please note that my arguments indicate a
difference between two valuable forms of debate education, and I'm not
saying BP is "policy without tubs" or that policy is flawed in some way.
They are distinct events with distinct approaches that are very
different. My claims are analogies, not attempts to form a hierarchy.

Your thoughts are eagerly awaited!