In the Name of Love!
Analysis of Debate's History
Ry Lee Stollar
Imagine the absurdity of the following situation: A person surveys every moment in history, from the beginning of time through today. He finds that whenever someone does something, the result does not equal perfection. In fact, no one has ever achieved perfection. Everything somehow ends up wrong. Based on this information, he concludes that we should never do anything anymore.
There are two problems with his solution:
First, just because we cannot be perfect does not mean we shouldn't try our best to do our best. Instead of completely ditching something that's imperfect, we should analyze and learn from it - what worked? what didn't? how can we use this information in the future?
Second, concluding that, since errors occur whenever a person does something, errors are caused by action is to commit the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, or, "after x therefore because of x." True, the Titanic sank after Edison invented the light bulb. But they're not related! Errors are not necessarily caused by action (just look at Jesus), but rather by a fallen human nature. If a project fails, the project itself might be completely awesome; but we, the humans who implement it, mess up due to our inherent flaws. Thus, the solution is not to jettison the project (otherwise, nothing would ever get done), but to try harder next time by learning from the failure.
Unfortunately, many people in NCFCA forget these two truths when it comes to using anything found in other leagues. Whether it's the National Forensics League (NFL), Cross-Examination Debate Association (CEDA), or the National Debate Tournament (NDT), any outside league's ideas get a "Stop, in the name of love!" message from us. And I really mean the "in the name of love" part. Our justification, after all, for having an aversion to these groups is that their ideas will somehow strip the Christianity, the communicative "love," from all NCFCA debaters, like a dangerous plague eating away at our bodies. If that's true, then all I've got to say is that Christianity's hold on our league is pretty weak.
And, granted, these leagues are not perfect. NFL encourages less truth-seeking and more mass evidence gathering; CEDA often uses speed and spread; NDT focuses more on technical tactics than real-life communication skills. But so what? Who is so bold to say our league is perfect? Who's cocky enough to claim our league has everything together? No one, I hope! In fact, common sense dictates that NCFCA would be one of the least perfect associations since it's so new and inexperienced.
Fortunately, our league has had a great start, thanks to many dedicated students, parents, and leaders. We should be very grateful to all of them. Many NCFCA debaters, according to college debaters and debate coaches, are on par with the top college teams. In other words, we're doing something right.
But aside from all this, the other leagues' results aren't too shabby, either. For example, both CEDA and NDT debaters are gaining immense analytical skills. Kent R. Colbert, in the article "The Effects of CEDA and NDT Debate Training on Critical Thinking Ability" published by the Journal of the American Forensic Association, found that "after a year's participation in either CEDA or NDT debate, the debaters significantly outscored the nondebaters on critical thinking tests." So they're doing some good stuff, too.
In our success, however, we cannot adopt a prideful attitude. Pride comes before a fall. So what can we do to avoid a fall? Learn from past experiences. Other people have been involved in debate for a lot longer than us. They've probably learned quite a few lessons that would benefit us if we humbled ourselves enough to listen.
Debate isn't new. In academic form, it began at least 2,400 years ago when the scholar Protagoras of Abdera required his Athenian students to engage in intellectual argumentation. One of the first schools of rhetoric, founded by Corax and Tisias, focused on teaching debate so that students could plead their own cases in the law courts of ancient Sicily.
Debate continued to flourish through the Medieval Ages as rhetoric was installed as one of the seven liberal arts. Then, in the early 1400s, the first intercollegiate debate in the English-speaking world took place between students from Oxford and Cambridge.
Austin J. Freely, in "Argumentation and Debate," describes the rise of competitive argumentation in America: "Debating has been an important part of the American educational scene from the earliest times. Debating flourished in the colonial colleges; disputations were a required part of the curriculum, and debates were often a featured part of the commencement ceremonies. . In the post-World War 2 era, tournament debating came to be the mode of debating. In 1947 the U.S. Military Academy began the National Debate Tournament (NDT) at West Point. . In 1971 the Cross-Examination Debate Association (CEDA) was established to provide an alternative to NDT debating, one that would meet a perceived need by placing a greater emphasis on communication. . The American Debate Association (ADA) was established in 1985 to foster the growth of what it perceived as 'reasonable' rule-based policy debate." And in 2000, the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association was established.
All good things must come to an end. NDT failed; CEDA began. CEDA failed; ADA began. NFL failed; NCFCA began. The question not IF our league will fail, but WHEN. Rather than reject all that NDT, CEDA, NFL, and other leagues offer because they're imperfect, let's implement their good ideas and find out why the others were bad and fix them this time around. We must learn from history if we don't want to become history ourselves. Yes, we have a good thing going. But let's make sure it stays that way for a long time.