The International Public Policy Forum Debates

While my proper laptop is being repaired there's not a lot of work I can do here in my office, so why not give some reflection and thought to my weekend? I was invited to judge at the International Public Policy Forum, a high school competition that is worldwide and focused primarily on competitive written debate.

I judged in the quarterfinals, between Suncoast High School and Singapore. The debate was very high quality. Reading the written arguments last week in my office impressed me. It made me think about the inclusion of the written in debate, and what a fairly bad job most debate formats do with this aspect of argumentation.

The written portion, as far as I could tell, consisted of each side writing a position paper for their side of the motion. Then these papers were swapped, and each side wrote a question and answer paper, then a rebuttal paper. It was really great to have these documents to refer between them when I was evaluating the debate.

The top eight schools in the world are flown to New York for oral arguments. This was really something to witness. The debate was different than other formats I've seen because the oral argumentation assumed that everyone had read the written debate. This allowed for more strategic attention on comparative arguments, so-called "deconstructive" arguments, and summary of position. The fact we all had the same text before us allowed for such focus. I really liked that aspect a lot. The students I judged were fantastic at referencing the written arguments as they synthesized the oral arguments as the debate progressed.

But my favorite part of the format hands-down was the judge questions. There is a specific amount of time that the judging panel can ask questions of the debaters. Either a specific debater, a side, or an open question can be asked. I had a lot of fun with that, and really enjoyed seeing the students engage my questions so directly and with such well thought out answers. Maybe this means I need to work harder at asking hard questions? I felt as if they were ready for most anything I asked.

The later rounds were equally interesting. I really enjoyed watching judges with more experience than me in this format asking questions and using that part of the contest really expertly.

The final round had a fantastic panel of judges, pictured here. On the far left is Scott Wunn, Executive Director of the National Forensic League. To his right is NYU President John Sexton, then William Brewer, Senior Partner of Bickel & Brewer, and then General Wesley Clark, former NATO commander and Presidential candidate. I wonder what it would be like to debate in front of this group. Their questions were, as you can imagine, pretty solid.

I am really looking forward to going back next year, and I have been thinking of an assignment based on this very innovative and challenging debate format that I could use in my public speaking class next semester. I'll post it when I'm done designing it.

And now my netbook is dying. I sure hope they fix my laptop soon. Being at work without the proper tools for work really sucks.