I’ve been under hiatus lately for various depressing reasons involving family and illness. Suffice it to say, I’ve gotten even more unreasonable than before on the subject of smoking cigarettes.
However, I just wanted to put on the record that I’ve been trying for nearly three years now to get the NCFL to reform its topic selection process, across the board in LD, PF and Extemp. I’ve done every suggestion the leadership made, lead a committee on extemp (to ill effect, participation by members was difficult to inspire remotely), submitted suggested debate topics and extemp topic areas (none of which were adopted).
This year’s LD topic is tortured in the execution, but the core of it is an interesting debate topic and honest debaters who treat it as such will get good rounds out of it. The PF topic, which I’ve linked to in order to prove I’m not just making it up, is the single worst topic for a debate tournament I have ever conceived of.
I often throw out ridiculous topics to my debaters when teaching generic skills such as flowing or case organization. Such topics include “Resolved that ketchup is superior to mustard” or “Resolved that the US should nuke France.” These topics are more fair and debatable than the NCFL PF topic.
Half the kids in each round will be tasked with defending the idea that the first amendment has grown to protect atheism, and shouldn’t. The other half will be debating against it. The debates could, in theory, be held to a strictly legal grounds — though good luck capturing the entire jurisprudence on the 1st amendment’s establishment clause in 4 minute speeches — but we all know they won’t. It’ll become a festival of offensiveness, and kids will slip into saying bad things about religion, atheists, theists, faiths in general all over the place. It’s difficult to see who won’t emerge from this offended to the core, no matter their religious beliefs.
The rounds will not be debates. The results will be all over the place; good teams will fail, and bad teams will luck their way through on an already very difficult break (210 to 32). If PF at NCFL this year teaches anything at all, it’ll be the lesson that some things cannot be argued with reason, and sometimes you simply cannot win no matter how much honest effort you apply. It’s a lesson the NCFL has been teaching extempers for years, so I suppose now it’s the debaters’ turn.
I tried, I really did. I like the people involved, and count many of them among my friends. And yet, I got nowhere, as we can see by this PF topic. Furthermore, I got very little response as to why I got nowhere; they’re (unsurprisingly) not very big, as an institution, on open iterative feedback. Perhaps it was because I was a lone voice in the wilderness. If that’s so, then I’d urge people who feel about that topic the same as I do to contact the NCFL; email the national officers (all of them, I’d suggest, they tend to work together on everything despite topic selection being the specific responsibility of the Vice Presidents) and tell them, constructively and respectfully, that you’d like to see a topic selection process reform, where coaches involvement can halt bizarre and non-debateable topics before they get started. One voice, however connected, was not enough; and while I don’t have great hopes for the impact of many voices, I cannot say it won’t succeed, and short emails do not take much time.
As for me, I’m done. It’s not that this one act disgusts me so much; it more fails to surprise me. That alone is one more sign that I should stop playing Sisyphus with improving the non-interp side of the NCFL. It will come as no surprise to the three readers of this blog that I’ve been re-evaulating my formerly extensive involvement in forensics, and selectively choosing what I can maintain and what I have to stop doing. The first line of this post will reveal something as to why. As part of that evaluation, I had already decided some months ago to not attend the NCFL Nationals.
And now I can say, if I were debating PF at CFLs, I’d simply not go. It’s not worth the expense and the effort to prepare for a debate tournament that’s going to turn into a circus at best and a lawsuit at worst. It’s a shame for those students for whom NCFL Nationals was slated to be their last ever debate tournament, the capstone of their efforts and career. They’re now saddled, just as extempers have long been, with a topic completely out of tune with their activity, made by well intentioned people who nonetheless persist in valuing secrecy of process above quality of product, in an activity that has, rightly, abandoned most of its secrecy already. So they have a choice: they spend a lot of money going to a very bad debate tournament, or not going at all. A choice which is far more debatable than this resolution.
For me, I negate.