Now we have experienced, finished, "survived" (?!) our first official tournament and debate year.
The good news is, we are not giving up! The kids are already talking about "next year" and they can't wait to get started (well, at least one student said that).
Let me jot a few things about the tournament itself that others might benefit from our lack of experience and avoid some of the struggles we had.
In the Round Robin events leading up to the tournament our teams had seemed to "hold their own", winning some and losing some. When we got into the tournament, however, it soon became apparent that our teams were getting creamed! Since we were competing against mostly the same teams, I had to ask myself why, what happened?
I learned that some of the other teams had two cases ready that they had prepared to debate. That way, if they met against teams they had previously debated they would have new material to debate. This was a good thing, and next year I think I'll encourage our teams to try and do the same. It has the effect of making things more interesting, and giving the students extra practice in their debating skills.
I also learned that the teams from one other club made a practice of exchanging cases with each other among themselves. This gave them yet more experience. They were able to help each other anticipate negative arguments and strengthen their cases accordingly. This is another practice I think our group will try to use next year also.
Another thing I learned that totally shocked me at first was that as soon as one opposing team debated ours, they went out in the hallway and told their fellow team members what topic our team was debating. This seemed like cheating! How could they do that? I felt really badly for my teams as it seemed to put them at an unfair advantage.
After inquiring about this from the opposing debaters, and talking with Ray Engel, I now understand what took place and the reason for it. The opposing teams did share the topic of my teams' debates among themselves. This was done to give the Negative Teams a little more knowledge beforehand so that when they entered the debate they were not caught completely off-guard, left with only generic things to argue. The purpose was to foster true "debate", to be able to speak knowledgeably on the other side of an issue. I understand that after the Round Robin events the opposing teams went home and wrote out summaries of my teams' debates, including ways they argued against them, and arguments they thought of afterwards that they wished they had used. This information was then shared among the club's members. So when the tournament came around, it was as if each team had competed against my teams and had very solid, Negative arguments against my students' cases. Need I say, I will also use this plan in coaching my teams next year.
I also felt particularly badly for one of my teams during the tournament because they suffered major blows due to my ignorance! We had a good opportunity to ask for, and extend, forgiveness among ourselves as a result. The point came up over the issue of "fiat power". I heard opposing teams use the phrase, "Congress shall pass and the President shall sign." for their Agency plank. I naively assumed that was all you needed to say and it was automatically granted (by "fiat") that your plan would be enacted. My team was arguing a case that impacted all the courts in the land, and they had originally stated in their Mandate that Congress shall pass an amendment to the Constitution." Since their case got shredded over that point I had them take out the word "amendment" in their Mandate and use "Congress shall pass and the President shall sign and the States shall ratify an amendment" in their Agency. The result was that my ignorance got them shredded faster and more thoroughly the next time! So we are going to study fiat power and chose our words more carefully next year.
Through this issue we learned the importance of "staying at the Federal level" with our cases and not using arguments that require action/acceptance by the States.
We also learned the importance of choosing topics for which you can find numerous pieces of evidence with good, solid numbers (statistics) to work from. In the tournament I observed one very good opposing team also go down to defeat over the exact same trouble. The students had good arguments, and probably valid cases, but lacked a widespread base of statistics to lend weight for their Significancy stock issue.
My students would like to close with the following comments:
"Do lots and lots of research! Have your thoughts organized." -M.H.
"Sound convincing! Speak with expression. Don't be afraid." -E.H.
"Don't get discouraged if you lose." -M.M.
"I love debate! I can't wait for next year!" -M.H.
Whole Heart Debate Club