It appears I have at least one reader, since Mr Menick talks sometimes about things I have to say. That’s considerably better than talking about what I don’t have to say, the usual mode of the Internet. It appears in New York, Public Forum’s merits are still hypothetical, so to add some meat to the argument, I’ll point out that it’s very healthy and growing in Massachusetts. Our state tournament drew 24 teams from 10 schools if I remember right, the largest division. We have both debate-heavy and speech-heavy schools participating, and since we added PFD to most speech tournaments, it’s served as a way to bridge the divide between. Many of our speech tournaments have begun pulling PF judges directly from the IE pool, making it just another event. We’ve had national success too; last year’s TOC champs; this year’s Harvard, and so on. It’s been nothing but positive for our league.
But now, just as I spend a post asserting that Public Forum will save debate, the NCFL comes out with their tournament topic.
To be blunt, if you’re going to have a debate event that relies on persuasion as its highest value, then you have to give the students topics that won’t make them look like assholes. The CFL gives us: Resolved: That the US Government should increase social services for indigenous peoples in America.” So teams will travel into the heart of old Sioux country and basically argue “the darkies have had enough of a free ride, let them fend for themselves, the lazy jerks.” Good luck being persuasive with that. I’m not sure I want to know the kinds of judges who will vote for it.
You could argue against social services in general on conservative, libertarian principle, but you’d better hope your opponents somehow manage to miss such trifiling matters as the shocking poverty on most reservations, and the ruthless and aggressive destruction of indigenous ways of life which caused it. Neg can only reply “Oops! Our bad! Well, pull yourself off the ground and stop crying about it, already.”
I’m already foreseeing a lot of judges leaving a lot of rounds completely disgusted by something appalling some unwitting teenager said. That, despite the fact that the teenager in question likely didn’t believe a word of it.
We’ve had a variety of flawed topics that produced good debates in Public Forum. The February topic, “Russia has become a threat to US interests” was a true statement on its face, given that any sovereign nation outside of the US is a threat to US interests; would it have killed them to slip the word “major” in there? But for the most part, the affs took on reasonable definitions of threat, and corrected the failure of the resolution. The January topic suffered from a dearth of evidence on the negative; would it have killed them to remove the bit about a democracy? But negs found ground through smoke and mirrors anyway.
The two topics I thought were most balanced, the November one about deficit spending, and the current one about Bush’s little rebate checks, did not lead to good debates. That’s especially funny, since they share the exact same argumentation; we pretty much took the November cases and reworked the details. Nobody else did, though; I suspect nobody else really understood what the topics were about, including perhaps their authors — if they did get it, they wouldn’t have put them both in the same school year. I’m one of the very few public forum coaches who is comfortable teaching economics. It comes of a childhood wasted in extemp.
So now, after extolling the benefits of bringing persuasion and argumentation closer to each other, we’re going to spend May running away from that as hard as we can, and find a way to defend the position that poverty is solved by less money, and that near-genocide does not produce an obligation on part of the genociders towards the genocidees.