In September 2016, I had an experience that completely changed how I view debate. I got on a plane for Ploiesti, Romania, and had my first taste of a foreign country. My time there as a whole was superb, from touring Transylvania to trying crémschnitte to viewing the birthplace of modern-era Romanian freedom. The real reason I was there was somewhat different, however, and that is what would leave the biggest impact on my debate career.
A few months before, I had been fortunate enough to be inducted into a team called American Logos. This is a group of high school Christian debaters that participate in tournaments in the World Schools Debate (WSD) league. Our first competition of the year was there in Romania, and we were in for a pleasant surprise. The style that surrounded debate was completely different. Over the course of the tournament, and the next year, we made connections all around the globe, including one of the most respected coaches in WSD, Miha Andrič. In a recent conversation, he outlined to me the three principles that increase the effectiveness of this unique style.
Holistic development. Policy debaters, don’t stone me just yet, but evidence is not the be-all end-all. Debate is about something more. While evidence is indeed important (and more so for some styles of debate as opposed to others), it is not what makes or breaks a team. In fact, in World Schools half of the rounds are prepped without internet, books, or any other kind of evidence. It all comes down to what you personally can think of. The reason? Because developed arguments are better arguments. Whereas in some leagues spreading and mass production of evidence cards is considered a plausible winning strategy, in WSD that’s virtually an automatic loss. The way you win is by adding more layers of analysis to an individual argument in every speech. Not only should you respond to the other’s team refutation on your case, but you should also build the argument up with more offensive material.
Engagement. You can’t win a round only by building your own arguments, however. Holistic analysis applies not only to contentions (or substantives, as we call them in world debate), but also to the entirety of the round. Your job as a debater is to show the judges why any given argument is more important than another. Don’t just respond, don’t just impact – tell the judge which arguments they should vote on (and not just in your voting issues at the end of the round). View the debate as one solid body, and engage with the other team on the level that wins the debate.
Clash. Of course, there’s a certain way we ought to do all of the above. Instead of hearing their arguments and saying the opposite (or simply reading evidence that disagrees), World School debaters point out both the principle and practical flaws with an argument. For example, I recently had a debate about Chinese modern socialism, and the opposing team argued that President Xi’s plan was having negative impacts on the environment. The debate on this subject was twofold: both on whether that principally mattered, and practically was long-term depredation. Only by examining both questions could the debate move forward in both a relevant and net-beneficial fashion.
Most of what I just wrote was in regard to overall themes we should apply to our debating style. There are, however, several techniques WSD debaters use that we should attempt to emulate in our own formats. Next week, I’ll outline some of my favorites.