Right now, you are either hopefully getting some case ideas together, or preparing for the upcoming debate season (or if you are like me, you were ignoring debate and going to football practice). Before you get too far, you need to think about what your goals are for the year.
I know as Team Policy debaters, we all tend to look down on LD’ers, but LD actually has lots of real-world application. LD teaches us that our values really do determine the way we act. Therefore, it is critical that you decide what your values for the year will be— before you find that you have none.
I want you to stop researching for a minute, and think about why you are doing debate. What is the point? Why does the NCFCA even exist? I have found two main conflicting values among debaters I know: winning, vs. making yourself a better debater (education, if you will). You need to decide right now what is more important to you.
Don’t think the two values don’t conflict— they do. I’ve seen people who, because they just want to win, will go to such extreme lengths as to make me wonder if they are even learning anything valuable anymore.
If debate is about winning and not about learning, then you have just legitimized lame topicality presses. If debate is about winning, you have legitimized one-liner abusive quotes. However, if debate is about education and not winning, then case-shifting, evidence doctoring, speed and spread, power-tagging, and lame T-presses; they all disappear. If the development of skills takes precedence over winning, these things no longer have any purpose in debate.
It is my strong opinion that debate should not be about winning— debate is about learning to argue. For three reasons:
1. Winning is worthless in the long run. Really. Sure, you may get a trophy, you may get recognition, or even scholarships. But when it’s all said and done, a trophy in a box may be something to be proud of; but if you develop the ability to advocate in a Christ-like way, there is literately nothing that will be more useful to you. If all you care about is winning, go play your little brother in checkers. You’ll win every time.
2. Focus on winning leads to all sorts of nastiness. I’ve been to a lot of tournaments where teams have been almost furious that they lost, and friendships are ruined. I’ve also seen countless rounds where one team tries to pull something on the other team in order to win. Nationals always seems to have problems with evidence standards. It can get to the point where I wonder whether it’s really worth it. Is winning so dear, or is a medal so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of cheating and trickery?
3. Focus on education instead of winning, not only leads to the development of useful skills, it leads to winning as well. Think about it. The people who are successful in becoming effective debaters don’t need to resort to speed and spread, case-shifting, or shady evidence to win. The difference is that people focused on learning will welcome a loss and learn from it. As my football coach said, “you run into him, and if he knocks you down, he makes you better. If you knock him down, you make him better.” This applies to debate just as much as football.
After the end of my first year of debate, I suddenly realized that I had learned how to win a debate round, but I hadn’t learned how to actually argue. My case was a squirrel case that we kept super-secret, and I thought speed and spread was good. Last year, my senior year, I made the decision to always value education over winning. We chose a popular and difficult case, giving it out sometimes 30 minutes before the round. We shared our negative briefs with anybody who asked for it, we held ourselves to high standards for evidence. At the beginning of the season, we did horrible. But by the end, I was able to walk away knowing that I had learned how to argue (and as a side-benefit, we were in the top ten at Nats). And as an NCFCA alumnus, I can tell you that I am infinitely glad I didn’t waste my last year of debate.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care at all about winning. It is only natural that you should want to be the best. Who doesn’t? But you do need to decide what is more important to you: winning, or learning how to be an advocate for truth.
Our values really do determine our actions. So what is your year going to look like?