If you’re from NCFCA RVIII, team names like “Stacy/McLeod” and “Downing/Lester” could possibly frighten you a tad. But what if those were the parents who squared off against the students in an evening where parents, debating like this for the first time in their lives, soundly walloped the teens with the same last names?
That’s what happened last Friday.
My most recent experience with coaching a large group has been an absolute blast because the group seems to be up for literally every innovation and interesting experiment I’ve ever tried. They’re even taking some and making them better.
I have helped Toastmaster’s with several sessions getting adults to debate, including a big exhibition this past spring where moderators got to insert commentary (American-Idol style). But only a couple times have I been able to convince a debate club’s parents to get involved.
Why Parents Should Try Debate
My Mom was my first debate coach, and we have cofounded clubs over the years. When I was in highschool she would always tell me “You need to flow better and stop badgering people in CX”. Those were her top criticisms and they were consistent. When she and I partnered for a round, I’ll never forget how after an hour and fifteen minute debate round, her flow had all of four words written on it… and she made a girl CRY in cross-examination. (sorry Mom, haha)
If you really want to be a good judge and coach, you’ll experience what it’s like on the other end of the lectern. We asked the parents for feedback after debating (by the way, the parents won both rounds), and they all agreed that the quick-thinking, the flowing while thinking, and the whole saying what you meant to say thing was incredibly difficult.
Once you can empathize with the mechanics, instead of just the outcomes, of a debate round, you will make a far better teacher and encourager. So you need to try it! We all agreed the experience was fantastic and we’ll do it again next month.
How to Run a Parent Debate
You have a few choices: format, participants, and analysis.
Formats: We went with a modified parli round for the first go. Basically there were 5 minutes of prep time on a pretty easy topic (we did “Attack Iran next week,” and “‘U.S. Interest’ should not be the criterion for intervention”), then six speeches going 333322. We ran it where Points of Information were allowed during constructives. You could also do a full TP round, but should probably use evidence and let parents know ahead of time, or you could do a parliamentary round in full. I’d suggest going with parent-child partnerships if you are going to run a full round, because keeping track of the format can be difficult.
Participants: We drew parent names out of a hat (actually a red Dixie cup) and paired them randomly. You could do a debate of 3 vs. 3, 2 vs. 2, or 1 vs. 1 and have a great time. I’d still go with 2 vs. 2 to best simulate the “having a partner” experience.
Analysis: It’s always tense to have judging. We did it anyways, with students supplying their reasons for decision. This turned out to be phenomenal because the debaters could see how one reason was far better than another, which seemed more like personal opinion than a decision on the arguments. A compromising step is to simply have some feedback—a few people saying a pro and con about each person—with no voting. Or you could just clap and move on.
So I hope your club tries parent debating. And I hope you will send me an email to tell me about it!!