Call/text: (617) 682-9697 | e: [email protected] | f: 617-391-3067

New Formats, Old Wars, the Value of Debate

From Progymnasmata. You can read the full article there

What I mean is that policy debate, the way it was practiced in 1993 was very different than 2013. Almost different enough to call it a different format. Likewise, if you go back to 1973 you would find those debaters to be more like Worlds debaters in style and argument structure than contemporary policy debaters. The same is true for the much younger, but no less popular Lincoln-Douglas format.
Those who criticize the new formats as “fake debate” don’t understand this. All formats that are traditional today were either created deliberately or have evolved over time to become something unrecognizable to those who practiced the same format 30 years ago. Any NDT debater from the 1970s is baffled by the style and direction of contemporary NDT debate.
Was this change bad? Absolutely not. I’m not trying to defend past formats. I am trying to defend the idea that change, and challenge, is good for debate. Bringing new options in means that defenders of the traditional formats will have to re-articulate the value of that format. Without such external threats, no re-evaluation occurs and then no good explanations are at the ready for why we do what we do in a particular format. This had dire consequences at many universities and colleges in the U.S. who had been doing debate in the policy format without thinking about why they were doing it. When the challenge arose to defend their funding, they had to scramble to construct a persuasive defense on the spot. And many didn’t make it. They relied on audience inappropriate, dated defenses of debating that just didn’t hold up to the modern, sophisticated university faculty member who simply did not understand what it was they were seeing. In sort, they had learned the format, but not the art of argumentation. Ironically, they were so good at the limitations on argumentation put on them through becoming experts in their format, they were unable to defend themselves from extinction.
The rise of these new formats might help avoid that problem. I believe this is the year that debate educators will start to teach the art of argumentation first, and the rules of format second – as it should be.