So I spent last weekend at the TOC, as a judge/scout/driver/EMT for Scarsdale. My qualifying team, perhaps wisely, didn’t want to attend, but I’m a sucker for punishment that way. We had a fun time all around, and there were stories of course. Scarsdale did well; no one finished worse than 3-4, two made elims, and one of those was in the quarter. I can claim precious little credit for that, though I can claim a larger share of credit than I should have for getting everyone to the airport; a non-life-threatening but nonetheless serious Medical Event, the one thing coaches dread more than anything else, sent our Monday travel plans, our focus on the tournament, and JV’s nerves into a tailspin dive. Every one of those things survived in the end, and I made it onto my plane with a good ten minutes to spare.
One of the funnier things that happened at TOC is that people encouraged me to get into more fights with Menick. That’s going to be hard, for one thing, since we do tend to agree on a lot of stuff. But I think we can try. However, it’s interesting; going back and forth about extemp apparently was deeply engaging to various PF and Policy coaches too.
Bietz is now NDCA president and he used a note in the yellow flyer the NDCA was posting around the tournament to encourage more online discussion by coaches. He rightly points out that the students have taken to online discussion quite readily, but that coaches have lagged far behind. That lends a certain immature, fanboyish air to most online forums dedicated to forensics, to the point that serious discussion simply will not take place on most of them. Every now and then coaches do have to talk things over without student input, after all — there are times when decisions need to be taken that will be sharply unpopular with students. Students, after all, are ephemeral — they’re rightly made much of when they’re in the world of debate, but soon enough most of them are gone from it, while the coaches have to remain behind with the consequences. So it’s strange that students do most of the interacting in permanent online forums, and coaches very little.
Bietz’s solution is to call for coaches to simply start contributing articles for their newly revamped debatecoaches.org. That’s a fine idea in its own right — it would be nice to see some online venue for coaches attain some critical mass. But I wonder if it’s not doomed and destined to become just an online version of the Rostrum. I wrote a Rostrum article once. Ironically, it was about computer usage in extemp. I got a fair number of emails, and then the issue died. Certainly no one in NFL officialdom appeared to notice. But then when Menick and I went back and forth a couple times on the selfsame issue, the issue get all kinds of attention and feedback. Though still none from officialdom, but what can you do.
So the point is, we don’t need static articles and little sallies in the dark. The real value of online communication is dialog and discussion. It’d be all the better if folks who actually ran things participated, too. Meaningful communication, as forensics types should know instinctively, are not one-way.
The challenge is one of platform. Message boards have a high amount of friction, which young people overcome but busier older folks rarely do. Blogs are nice, if people start them, but someone who only wants to chip in on one conversation won’t do that. That’s the trouble, getting a critical mass of meaningful conversation that can affect change.
The second hurdle, of course, is how diffuse and fractured we are. Tomorrow on that one — and on that point Menick and I do disagree. He urges the NFL on us as rule-setters of the Forensic Universe. But it’s all too clear that they’re nothing of the sort.