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.

I hate everything I am writing right now

I give up. I don’t like anything I’m writing and I just really like reading. I can’t seem to get a paper into any shape that I’m happy about. And it’s mid July now. What happened to the productive summer?

I’ve been avoiding blogging because I thought of it as a waste of time and energy that I could put toward other, more meaningful writing. But what a weird sentence. Writing isn’t writing unless it’s meaningful, right? Right?? So to this end, it's back to blogging as it might kick start a better writing quality in my other stuff. I hope it does. At the very least, blogging makes you feel like you've done something, so there's a faux sense of accomplishment that I'll get from these posts. But I really hope that writing is writing, and that some productive recognizable but unquantifiable good comes of this in the other stuff I'm working on. 

A big project I'm working on and thinking about is public speaking. The course. I teach it a lot and I'm usually pretty unahppy with how it goes. Since we live in the era of text, a tertiary literacy (riffing off of Walter Ong’s Secondary Orality idea) we should be very comfortable with the idea of what is meaningful and what is not. But instead of that we are racing to the shallow end of the pool – the facts. We think writing is good if it is factual, full stop. There’s nothing much more to it than that.

I really want to do my part to upend this but the rhetorical pressures are real. So what is it you teach? Oh, it’s like marketing but for all things and ideas in the world. There isn’t a soul alive at the university who wants to think outside of a career path for a course of study anymore. Or if there are, they are few and quiet. There have to be ways to make room for practices of daily existence and not just career planning. 

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So to this end I have been working on Roman education and Roman pedaogy, something that is similar and familiar to being a young person in the United States would be being a young person at the end of the Republic and the dawn of the Empire. Ceasar was totally uninterested in the legality and the process of what he was doing, he just wanted to be in power. I think that’s probably where the comparison ends with Trump. Anyway, the transition for the Romans would have been pretty smooth. It would have been as if no transition had occurred at all (perhaps some future historian is reading this and laughing as in their field they identified this elusion with President Johnson. No not that one, the Lincoln one). This differentientation of Empire and Republic is easy to do if you are watching Star Wars or if you are looking at history. If you are living in it, much tougher to discern. The Romans are showing us this through their pastimes, notably declamation and the concerns therein.

Secondly the Roman pedagogy is good for my purposes because it is from a society that is not capitalist. Are they imperial, are they conquerers? For sure, but I don’t think they are capitalists. I think to have capitalism, you must recognize money as a material value in itself and not as an exchange medium. Perhaps the difference is that the exchange medium has a value that can be rendered. Anyway, people who have read Marx closer and better than me can comment on this. I think it’s good to show models of powerful societies to students that are not capitalist in order to get the wheels turning that they have all the choice in the world as to what sort of system or economy we are going to have and it starts with what they express and what they say.

So I’m thinking of a declamation style event at the end of the term that is similar to a TED Talk but it would be declamation TED, maybe something like Debate, Oratory, and Argument, DOA – an unfortunate acronym that is definitely an extension of my concerns about teaching this. For most people, the art of speech is dead on arrival – at the same time, they are up in arms about “communication skills” – whatever those are. People claim that these are the reason you get hired and fired and what builds a career and such. But if you asked them to name communication skills people would say all sorts of things that are really odd together: “Being able to write a proper email,” “Being able to look away from their phone for a minute,” “knowing how to engage in conversation,” “knowing how to give a presentation,” “understanding proper business etiquette,” Etc.

I hate to say it but there’s only one field historically that can handle all that and it’s rhetoric. Rhetoric is often thought of as oratory and persuasion, brilliant argument, etc. but more consistent through rhetorical history is the idea of appropriateness, or decorum. It’s mostly about attitudes and motives as Burke would say, and how we learn to respond situationally to what texts are presented to us.

It seems like looking back at the Roman educational system – the declamation and they way it was taught – was a method for dealing with a textual/oral culture that was somewhat overbearing and impossible to keep straight in your head. A lot of the panic about identity that comes out as racism now might be because of a loss of these abilities – complexity and confusion are good breeding grounds for finding scapegoats if you are not trained. This might be why the Roman declamation cases deal with torture, immigration, and people who are political or social minorities (women, slaves, children, children of slaves and citizens, foreign soldiers, poor people, etc). Still cooking on this but it’s coming together at least in my head.

So maybe all writing is writing. Maybe meaningfulness is what I am working on and writing is simply how you do it? Still not sure, but hoping that this post and the ones after it make me feel a bit better about the quality of what I’m making here at the midpoint of summer, whatever that is supposed to be for academic types.

Montana bound

I no longer prep like I used to.

Perhaps it is a sign of maturing as a teacher. Perhaps it is a sign of becoming comfortable with the role. More darkly - perhaps it is a sign of being over it, of losing feeling for it.

I'm thousands of feet in the air above the middle if the US writing notes for a weekend of debating workshops I am conducting in Billings at Rocky Mountain college.

I'm certainly excited about the rhetorical situation. At no other time in debate history have students and programs been able to choose and switch back and forth between formats. At other times the splits and changes came with forced allegiances. But not at this moment in debating history.

Many factors are involved in the appearance of that possibility. I won't detail them here. Only one concerns me, and it is a consequence. Debating, in a multiformat world, is as close to the rhetorical field as it has ever been.

We are finally, in explicit debating practice, allowed - no, forced as teachers - to consider format as such, as a structure, as something chosen and applied, as something to prepare for sans debate. We must teach it oppositionally, as a Roman would learn the distinction between the court and the senate. And hopefully understand chat at the circus maximus as its own distinct demanding form as well.

In short, debating has acquired historicity, if we are wise enough to use it. The elements are here already! See them come rolling off the tounges of those who defend "real debate" versus the strange new interloper of WUDC! All we should hear is the lapping of the currents of a river of history that seemed always to have stopped flowing at a perfect format years before we arrived. Debate was form. Form was not discussed in a way we can now, and must, take it up.

We as debate teachers, have more to do and more to do it with than ever before. And it's not saddled with specifics, but with dynamics. Interplay and difference rule where once there was no way to discuss form as option.

That's why I am comfortable. That's why I am not producing copious notes to help me teach a transition to a new format. And that's why I can't help but smile as I jot down ideas for my sessions.

I've not lost interest, I'm just finding a familiar flavor surprisingly new again as debate ferments with rhetoric. I hope it turns out to be a good vintage.


Teaching via Skype: WUDC Basics





Here it is. I probably shouldn't post it, because I make a lot of mistakes, but I was distracted pretty heavily by the technology I was using. Not the best idea to use some new tech when you are trying to teach, but I wanted to give it a try. Also, I had the audience a bit wrong, so I had to adapt on the fly to address the things I thought they might like to know about. In the future I think that the comparisons to policy debate's attempt to "mind the gap" might be something best left for the end. Or a paper. Yea, probably a paper (this is indeed how my inventional process works - talk about something, become unsatisfied, write down a lot of stuff about it, make it into an essay).

I used a small mixer and a professional microphone to record this on my end, on the other end I am not sure what they had but it looks like it was just a very nice Mac microphone built into the laptop. The sound quality is quite good and it makes me excited to try making some short podcasts about debate!

Things to consider:

1. Delay in reaction - there's a bit of a delay from the crowd reaction to what I'm saying and it's hard to attend to it.

2. Moving around things on the computer screen is distracting to my narrative flow - it's pretty obvious - but I think that will work itself out over time and with some familiarity. More tests are needed.

3. Interactivity. So many simple-minded folks critique this sort of teaching by saying it's not face to face so you lose something. What is lost? I think the Q&A is possibly the best part. I think unfamiliarity and a lack of experience with the technology is what prompts this criticism.

I fully expect that most Universities will demand 10% of their courses University wide be taught exclusively online over the next 5 years. I hope to get a bit more practice in before this happens.

Last week I shot some asynchronous teaching videos for our University's "Storm Talk" series - which is where they ask professors to talk about things that interest them for a few minutes here and there and post them to social media sites for student reaction. This might have a bit better application for pedagogy than the "live lecture" - Lecturing might return to its popularly considered form of being ineffective, but this form might be super-effective online, where students can treat the lecture like a "text" - flipping back and forth through it to concentrate on the parts that they consider most difficult or most valuable.


The Lost Debate Pedagogy

The 1930 Wiley College debate team. Wells is i...
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From the 1906 version of An Introductory Course in Argumentation by Francis Perry. He's why he arranged the textbook the way he did:
In the first place, the student is practiced in the processes of argumentation without the added difficulty of research. No teacher of narration begins his work by demanding that a student write a historical romance requiring serious preliminary study of the period in which it is placed -- he begins, rather, with simple pieces of work exercising the student's power of imagination on material that lies within his experience. The beginner in the study of argumentation should, in like manner, be set to work to exercise his reasoning power on familiar material. This is not a loss, but a gain. Even advanced students, when allowed to write at the start on subjects upon which they must 'read up' develop little power to argue; they too often count their work done when they have gathered from a  book and summarized the arguments of another. The student required to argue on material already at his command finds pleasure in turning it over, seeing it in new lights, in new relations, with new significance, and argument seems to him serviceable and pleasant work. I do not, however, advocate suiting endeavor to power, and at the close of the course the student is instructed in methods of research with the epxectation that he will be ready to encounter added difficulties. (5-6)
This seems like sound pedagogy to me for debating, and makes a hell of a lot of sense for teaching WUDC debate. However, I think I used to do this when I taught American Policy debate (I'd always start with the motion "Resolved: We should go to the movies." You can teach any policy debate theory concept in a tiny amount of time if you make people work with this).

I think this pedagogy isn't really followed much today - whenever people think of debate or the teaching of debate they think "facts first" or set up a component for finding information first then use the debate as a technology of dissemination. This might be good for teaching research skills, but as Perry rightly points out, this backgrounds debate to an instrument of teaching research, and risks ruining the whole thing.

Since it was written in 1906, the "switch-side" movement did not exist. Perry is a "convictionist" debate coach - helping students refine beliefs they come to by other means. He continues:
The subject is further simplified by leaving persuasion out of consideration until the student understands conviction. This too, is a gain; the student who begins by suiting his argument to the hearer too often comes to value sophistry above thoroughness and accuracy; like a sharp bargainer he prides himself more on a fraudulent victory than on an honest one. (6)
Contrary to Perry's conventional use of the terms "persuasion" and "sophistry," his style of teaching debate might actually be more properly "sophistic" in the sense that the debate teacher becomes a hired adviser, irrelevant of position or stance of the client. Switch-side debate, after reading Perry, struck me as more properly "Platonic" due to a heavy investment in the theory behind dialectic. Socrates often worked from assigning positions, although they were derived from statements of conviction from those participating in the dialogue. Plato assigned positions in writing each dialogue. The extant sophistic speeches, minus Encomium for Helen, were not produced this way, but used a kernel of conviction (i.e. "I didn't kill that person, I am innocent") as the start of constructing the speech they were hired to write for Athenian courts. I wonder if the convictionists are onto something here. We don't know that much about how they taught; we do know a bit about what they believed they were teaching.

I am assuming that the portrait we get of Melvin Tolson from The Great Debaters is a two dimensional caricature designed to serve the familiar plot of film rather than advance our understanding of the issue unraveled. Tolson is the convictionist's convictionist in the film - but surely he was more strategic in his teaching than what the film depicted. Can we consider Tolson's methods sophistic? Not properly, no - he is much more like Socrates in the film. But that is most likely a device for our entertainment benefit. Tolson might be the first modern debate coach in the sense that he thought he was teaching students the "right way to think" about politics, ethics, and the world or debate as "truth finding" - something we see far too much of in contemporary coaching methods in the US. I don't think convictionists would agree that this is the right way to teach debate either. I think their position, if Perry is a good example, is a bit more nuanced than that. As I have it from these short passages, it seems like it is "Find out what the student believes and is interested in. Explore the structure of it. Have them speak about it. Have them consider effective ways of presenting it. Then go research it further."

I wonder what other pedagogical insights we have lost from the dominance of the switch-side theory. Is there value in perusing a project to recover the convictionist teaching methods?

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The Threat of Debating

English: "Debate and Oratory". Image...
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This picture is a rare treat from Zemanta, the software I use that helps me make these posts look (supposedly) more professional. But in the end usually the images and links suggested are not appropriate, or I just don't like them.

But this one is quite good. Here we see the perfect image of the debating subject.

He's confidence, convicted, almost enraged. Overcertain of himself and his position. He's literally standing on literature. And in his hand is the one page of preparation he's done for this debate. We encounter him at a point where the preparation is no longer needed, it's crumpled in his hand - passion, reason, the truth, certainty - have taken over. His opponent is doomed to defeat.

Debate is a threatening apparition.

But this model is not real, nor is it ever really what transpires in the best debating. It's a model that is attractive to a lot of people because it displays the things that are most attractive to us: Holding power, domination, forcing our will upon others, in short - getting what we want.

But what is it that we want? Debate is threatening, but if directed in another way, the threat is turned toward who wants.

Here is a koan from the zen tradition. Well not really a koan but I think it could work well as one. I think it provides a better model of the debating subject than our friend up there.

The monkey is reaching
For the moon in the water.
Until death overtakes him
He'll never give up.
If he'd let go the branch and
Disappear in the deep pool,
The whole world would shine
With dazzling pureness.
 I like this poem a lot. Just like the man in the image, the monkey is reaching for the reflection of the moon on the surface of the water. Like the debater, he reaches for something that is just an effect of forces beyond his comprehension.

Dissapearing in the pool - the substance that makes the reflection of the moon possible - is a better alternative. Why? This is no more a literal disappearance than the moon is a literal moon. To replace one with the other would accomplish nothing.  Hakuin is trying to get us to think about the relationship we have to desire and to the material world around us. Most of the things we want are either not really there, or we can't attain them the way that we think we can.

Grasping at the image without awareness of how that image is coming to you is what we do all the time. I am guilty of it, and so are you. The trick is to be aware of it - and Hakuin's solution is for us to realize that we are all immersed in it already - just let go, stop trying to grasp things, and attend to immersion.

This poem has a lot of application to teaching debate. The point of debating for the student should (and does whether you want it to or not) clash with the point of debating for the teacher. The student wants to win and grabs for the image of victory. The teacher knows (or should know) that any attempt to grab it will fail. The debate teacher knows that the whole universe glitters like the moon in the water once the student grasps the water and not the image the water supports.

The stakes are of course, much higher than that. The poem suggests that the image of the moon haunts the monkey until death. This is the same with victory - it will haunt the student until they die if they can't connect with the substance. Debate's only contribution to our lives it it's ability to let us see, just for a bit, the constructed and arbitrary nature of human identity. In terms of the poem, the self is also a reflection in the water that we grasp at, hoping to achieve.

The biggest challenge facing the debate director is that of the power of narrative. The subject is under direct assault by the decisions rendered in a debate. Debate threatens the coherence of the narrative of the self. And just like beings immersed in fluid who move quickly away from alien substances dropped on a slide, we move quickly away from words that could unravel our concept of self.

The student wants to add the narrative of "debater" to their story, but only considers that part a tale of victory. But nike is not arete. Debate only offers arete. It only offers the continual making and remaking of the self as an excellent being. Of course, this doesn't happen in tournaments, but tournaments are a place where we can call attention to the limited potential we have of grasping the moon in the water. Instead of trying to grab excellence as a thing, we should realize that becoming consubstantial with that thing is the only way such excellence could be apprehended.

Look at the image again. The debater; the moon on the water. Do you reach for this image? Or do you reach for what allows this image such sway over our lives? Is the image of the powerful debater attractive like the moon at night? Or does everything glow with that rhetorical potential? Do you seek wins or victory? Your reflection is right there.
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The Weeekend, Reflection

No tournament for me this weekend, so a bit of time to reflect on teaching and work on scholarship. As a full time faculty member, debate teaching is just one part of my job. Teaching and research are the other 2/3rds of it.

Anyway, here is a great quote about teaching that I recently found about kensho the Japanese word for the Buddhist concept of "enlightenment" or "getting it" or "realization." I think the term applies to debate teaching just as well in this quote.

"Don't misdirect your efforts. Don't chase around looking for something apart from your own selves. All you have to do is to concentrate on being thoughtless, on doing nothing whatever. No practice. No realization. Doing nothing, the state of no-mind, is the direct path of sudden realization. No practice, no realization - that is the true principle, things as they really are. The enlightened ones themselves, those who possess every attribute of Buddhahood, have called this supreme, unparalleled, right awakening."
People hear this teaching and try to follow it. Choking off their aspirations. Sweeping their minds clean of delusive thoughts. They dedicate themselves solely to doing nothing and to making their minds complete blanks, blissfully unaware that they are doing and thinking a great deal.
When a person who has not had kensho reads the Buddhist scriptures, questions his teachers and fellow monks about Buddhism, or practices religious disciplines, he is merely creating the causes of his own illusion - a sure sign that he is still confined within samsara. He tries constantly to keep himself detached in thought and deed, and all the while his thoughts and deeds are attached. He endeavors to be doing nothing all day long, and all the while he is busily doing.
But if this same person experiences kensho, everything changes. Although he is constantly thinking and acting, it is totally free and unattached. Although he is engaged in activity around the clock, that activity is, as such, non-activity. This great change is the result of his kensho. It is like water that snakes and cows drink from the same cistern, which becomes deadly venom in one and milk in the other. 
~Hakuin Ekaku, c. 1700

What does this mean? I think it has a great application to what we think we are doing in debate and what we actually do in debate (just like that meme everyone is annoyed by right now).

If you think you are studying how to do civic engagement, how to persuade mass audiences, how to create motives in other human beings by studying debate with the idea of winning tournaments as the goal, you only have part of the story. You might also be creating an impassible barrier to this goal.

If you study debate without these things in mind, but you realize the samsara nature of the tournament cycle, you will be like the cow.


Teaching Keeps You Honest

Lama debating
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This week I am teaching my Worlds debate class, and the group I have is pretty impressive. All quite sharp, all very interested, and all excited to learn the art of debate. I started as I usually do by showing the WUDC Koc Worlds Final round - a round that many still praise as one of the best, if not the best WUDC final of all time. After we watched about half of it, the students were ready to ask questions or make comments.

"Why do they bounce around so weird when they talk?"

"Why do they go so fast? I can't remember anything they said."

"Why don't they just choose the most important point and stick with it?"

"Why do they speak so artificially?"

I was struck with a nice moment of dissonance - here's the best we have to offer from the culture of competitive debate, and an intelligent, if green, audience is having trouble understanding why it is valuable. There number one concern was if they were going to have to speak like that.

"No," I said, "But you will be expected to speak persuasively. So if you are in front of different audiences, you must be prepared to adapt your words to fit the occasion, otherwise it's like you haven't said anything at all." They were pretty quiet. "Like how you feel about this video," I added. They started to resonate.

I was reminded of the continuing insular practices of monastic orders. Their idea of good worship, or best worship is really just a performance of a believed rhetorical "purity" - when unordained see it, they correctly identify it as irrelevant, weird, and confusing. If you are in the order though, if you have faith, then you start to see it as not only proper, but "the best."

Debate as seen from non-Western monastic practices is just upaya - skillful means that help one realize how to reach others with the truth. I think this is a good spice to add to our discussions of WUDC rounds that are "the best" or "really good." We must always keep in mind that we are not reaching the audiences we imagine we are, and the more we speak to one another and appeal to one another, the less of a remainder there is. Without something left that doesn't cleanly divide out in the discourse, there's little for outsiders to grasp on to.

Having to teach debate to the non-initiated is also an important element of practice. It's required in martial arts to teach at some point in your studies. We should require it too. At the very least, it will keep you honest about what you are accomplishing, doing, permitting, and promoting in the world. And although cold, it's good to get hit with a bath from time to time.

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Academic Debate? Let's hope not.

A student said to me, "I really wish you could write me a recommendation letter, but you haven't ever been my professor." This student has been studying debate with me for several years, so I pushed on this to get the response: "It's not academic, so it doesn't count."

Debate not academic? How could this be? We'd spent hours engaging in what I believed to be fairly intense, deep investigation of countless political and social issues. We'd spent hours in the evening giving and listening to critiques of the persuasive use of the human voice, of the fragility and power of language, of the intense agony of not being able to get your very clear point across to other human beings. This is a clear trajectory of intellectual practice that started in Athens over 2,500 years ago. It was picked up and carried through Europe, and has been at the heart of the spiritual and intellectual training at the finest historical Universities from India to China to America. What is the litmus test for academic, if not this?

I tried not to be angry, for what was obvious to me is very rarely obvious to anyone else (you might notice, this comes with the human experience for free. Everyone gets it as a sort of bonus). Let's try to look at this question from the perspective of the contemporary undergraduate for a more fair answer. Academic appears to have changed color, shape, and flavor.

Academic, for these students, involves several things. First, there must be an official record of study - to go to the library and read a book on a topic you are interested in is a strange idea. I push this every semester, and every semester the students are confused. When they want to learn something, they decide to take a class - a class, I might add, they will not attend frequently, barely skim the readings, halfheartedly attend to the lectures when present, question the professor's ability based on whether or not she can command their attention through days of sleep deprivation and mobile phones, and finally end up complaining about the quality of the class, even though they started the final paper after allowing the time allotted for its preparation to whittle down to mere hours.

Secondly, academic requires some sort of abstracted, hierarchical assessment. Without a grade, or hours on a transcript, how will we know we learned? There have to be moments of bizarrely calculated and abstracted "good" for students to indicate to others. Most of the time, grades are refered to as evidence of a "brush with death" - i.e. "I can't believe I was hung over every single class and got a B."  But students have conspirators here - professors who get a sick thrill out of equating physical presence - such as attendance - with points or other nodules of achievement in the course. I hear the weeping up and down my office hallway every term as faculty explain that the student fails to get a B- because they are missing 3.75 attendance points. Reading is assigned punitively; exams are our enforcement of punishment. Far too often things are so abstract from the reality our examinations are less like Bentham's panoptic system of justice and much more like Lindsay England's - celebrating the torture of a student as a metonymy for a general hatred of students in general. Abstraction can bring you torture, or it can bring you self-regulation. Directionless, yet containing everything valuable about the course - that is what counts as academic.

Finally, there must be some sort of "professionalism" associated with the academic experience. Whether that's distance, or some sort of role-play between professor and student, the impact is that less and less important moments for teaching are properly attended to. Distance is the idea that the professor is somehow "too busy" for students, and the time given to them occurs mainly in the classroom. Even then, the students are too frightened to indicate need, ask for clarification, or perhaps are fed-up with being addressed in a dismissive tone. Role-Play also factors in here; the professor pretends to be a great Sage evaluating whether or not the students are really capable of receiving the great wisdom only he or she knows. Sometimes it's a customer service model where the student is told to indicate dissatisfaction or confusion as if they were at the shopping mall. Encounters outside the classroom are devalued, as presence in the classroom is celebrated to the point where it is indistinguishable from other forms of good academic performance. Too often I hear, "Well, she attended every class" as a reason to grant a higher grade. No wonder our students don't read - they know they don't need to. The more the University interest turns toward creating job seekers over thinkers or even contemplators, the

This brings us back to debate, that strange game/auto-didactic experience that is often led by a faculty member but never controlled by one. It takes more time and energy to get the equivalent of a C in it, but students can't wait to spend their whole weekend working at it. The line between student and teacher does not, and will not exist - no matter how hard some members of the community push for its clear existence. The time in the classroom is derivative of the time outside of it, and the assessment is always already situational, immediate, and inapplicable to ontic ways of doing persuasion. Debate haunts you all the time, not just the day before the test. It appears in your daily interactions, and makes you think twice about what you said. It's always, and never, on the test. In short it rails against everything the contemporary University and undergraduate have unintentionally conspired to create.

Will my letter be solicited? I hope not. I have nothing to say inside such a system. My voice would not be recognizable as "voice." Even such work with such students over years would not be understandable as valuable by the system's criteria.  Perhaps my student is more right than she knows - my work doesn't count, will never count, in measurable ways.

But is debate academic? God, I hope it never is.

Public Debate: Arab Spring

<iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/29840075?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0" width="400" height="300" frameborder="0" webkitAllowFullScreen allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href="http://vimeo.com/29840075">Public Debate: Arab Spring demonstrates American Youth have a lot to learn from Arabic Youth</a> from <a href="http://vimeo.com/user1253612">Steve Llano</a> on <a href="http://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>

This is a public debate we participated in recently in Virginia. While watching it, it made me think of a couple of interesting things about teaching debate. This debate indicates a couple of gaps that need to be patched up.

First, the debaters assume the audience is already interested and attentive to their arguments. This is a serious problem - the principle of getting audience attention and trust is key to developing credibility as well as any sort of connection for the audience as to why they care about the issue. There needs to be a realistic appraisal of the audience. Many of the people attending were students who were motivated to come via extra credit. This is accounted for by some teams, but it's not an overarching principle in how the debaters approach the debate.

Secondly, the refutation model of debate is not conducive to natural language argumentation. We see many teams here operate under the assumption that their own arguments will not be valuable unless all the points of the other side are refuted first. Tying the value of your own argument tied directly to refutation encourages a pattern of speaking that listeners will not automatically gel with. They want to hear what you are about first, then they would like to hear how that fits into what they've heard from other speakers. By prioritizing refutation, we train debaters to make sure that they are behind others in the attention front during public debates.

I wonder what the extant literature has on the connection between debate pedagogy and the public debate. My searches haven't revealed much. Seems like an under-covered and vitally important source of data justifying and helping us correct what we do.