Debates may change, but some things never do.

As I’d mentioned in my part three to my Alpha Course reaction, How Can We Have Faith, I volunteered to help judge a high school speech/debate tournament. It was a blast, and I learned some things, myself.

I was hard-core speech and debate in my high school days. (Probably no surprise to anyone who knows me), but full disclosure — by “hard-core” I mean relative to me, not to other kids who were hard-core. For me, speech and debate was the most important activity in my life, and I was decent at it (pretty good in Lincoln-Douglas debate, humorous interp’, and storytelling; not bad in cross-ex [team] debate and some other interp’ stuff). But there were a great many kids much better than me, due to both talent and living and breathing it more than I did. (I must not have been too bad, I was offered a full tuition scholarship from the debate team and accepted a full-ride scholarship from the theatre department a a local state college.)

But anyway, for me, debate was the “good” in my life. It was the only way I had friends, both in my squad and from other schools; it got me engaged in the world; developed some amount of appreciation for logic and proper argumentation; the value of evidence in claims; and gave me a social life. (Even though I was an idiot then, and played the goth/emo attitude before there was such a youth sub-drama, er, sub-genre. Somehow I had it in my head that being depressed and melancholy would somehow make me more appealing to girls and make me seem “deep.” Needless to say, I didn’t get laid until college. Go fig.)

So, this weekend. I judged some tourneys back in my undergrad days, but I think I was still too close to the scene (chronologically) to have different feelings about it. Now, years later, 20… years… later (oh gawd!) I’m a true outsider to the scene, looking back at a snapshot of my youth through the new batch of high schoolers going through the same trials, tribulations, joys, fears, thrills… metamorphosis I and my peers had. And I saw among these kids, versions of me, of my friends, and took comfort in the fact some things don’t really change! The activities, the behaviors, the prater, of these kids were the same as they were 20 years ago (well, except I did overhear one girl explaining to a couple guys what polyamory was; that didn’t happen back then, but that’s not to say we didn’t talk about love and sex back then! Boy-howdy, did we). I was amused by seeing once again all the briefcases and file boxes littering the cafeteria and hallways, and (most) everyone dressed in their best.

And their rhetorical skills still range from pitiful to three-years-away-from-being-a-guest-talking-head-on-MSNBC. I have to tell you, the champion LD debaters were quite impressive! Their level of argumentation, reason, and logic was enviable! It was interesting that in the regular LD rounds, where whether states should eliminate nuclear weapons was debated, the affirmative side OK and the negative side could never make a decent case. But at the champion-level, the affirmative side was calling upon claims to logic and fallacy I didn’t learn until 10 years later, and the negative side made such exceptionally strong cases for keeping nuclear weapons, I had to truly work to determine a winner — and sometimes it was the negative. I’m here to tell you, the kids are alright.

I did find interesting in CX (cross-ex, team) debate some different protocols from when I was doing it. During the first affirmative constructive (the presentation of the case and plan to be debated, and the only speech in the debate that is (should be) completely scripted, the speaker would hand each read page off to the opposition, pro forma. They didn’t ask for it, it was just something that was done. Likewise evidence cards. Back in mah day, if the other side wanted to clarify points you made, they’d ask during the cross-ex portion, and if they wanted to see you evidence, they had to ask (and you had to give it). But there was none of this standardized sharing back then.

I guess that’s good; it forces transparency and honesty. But, in a way, I was kind of peeved. I mean, the old way of having to write fast and listen faster taught me a very valuable skill: tiny, quick writing with lots of shortcuts. OK, not sure how valuable that skill is, but I was proud of it. 🙂