Mar 4, 2007

what's right with Public Forum debate

Yesterday I lamented the state of Public Forum, calling it "intellectually bankrupt." Today, the teacher/ref/poet approaches it with qualified optimism, noting that it both encourages communication with a lay audience (which rules me out) and minimizes the rich/poor divide (since topics change every month.) Points taken. I might also add that I use Public Forum in my non-debate classes, since it's an easily learned, non-jargony format. I also use it to give debate-phobic rookies an introduction to argument, but encourage them to move into LD if they really want an intellectual challenge.

I'm most interested, though, in his suggestions:
#1: RUN IT WITH IEs. The IE judge who says "Gosh, I'm too intimidated to judge a debate round, I'm not qualified?" That's Mom. That's our Public Forum judge! Double flight the sucker so that it lasts an hour, and we're set. We've recovered what makes the event special.
Some tournaments already do this, and also try as hard as possible to exclude coaches from judging. Hosts should specifically require lay judges for Public Forum, offering a discount to any team that brings more than the minimum number.
#2: BAN ACTIVE COLLEGE DEBATERS FROM JUDGING IT. The issues I have with CX and LD are that, due to the incestuous judging community, the inmates wind up running the asylum. The giant feedback loop is enhanced from camps, and ultimately, a student can succeed without learning what forms of communciation are effective with NON-debaters.
One hundred percent agreement here.
#3: Dare I suggest it? BAN NOTE TAKING DURING THE ROUND BY THE JUDGE. That's flowing. The judge sits back and watches. This means that the judge sits back, times, and listens. This means that the debaters have to be CRYSTAL CLEAR in both organization and delivery. It also means they'll be superior speakers to LD-ers and policy debaters (of course, orangutans are superior speakers to policy debaters in action).
During the round I saw Friday night, I refused to flow, for the exact same reason.

I have a couple suggestions of my own.

First, automatically deduct speaker points for anyone who says "that argument is abusive," "topicality," or "paradigm" in a PuFo round. (I would support the latter for LD as well.)

Second, allow judge interaction: an optional two-minute question time preceding the "parting shot." The judge may ask a question to both sides, allowing both a chance to respond. So what if pure, objective distance is lost. Students will better learn what their judges want to see in the debate, and judges will be encouraged to listen carefully. (This would preclude any sort of oral critique, which should have no place in PuFo.)

Having enjoyed a good night's sleep, I'm not quite as cranky about PuFo as I was yesterday. However, to keep it from remaining a joke event, coaches need to serious up their PuFo instruction, setting expectations for evidence and communication. I hope that if PuFo sticks around, it doesn't turn into mini-policy or dueling extemps, but that all involved work to make it relevant, engaging, and maybe even fun--for judges.

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