Three Judging Practices That Need To Stop by Adam Torson

All of these practices are tempting, but a moment’s reflection should suggest to most judges that they are inappropriate.

1. Speaker Point Games

Enough with the paradigms that promise increased speaker points for goofy behavior. You might think it’s hysterical to promise a thirty for bringing you a cookie, saying “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” or dancing a jig, but it’s not. Judging is not about you – the debaters aren’t there for your entertainment.

If it were harmless fun nobody would care, but speaker points matter. They affect who you debate in prelims (especially later in a tournament when brackets are smaller), whether you break, and out-round seeding. On more than one occasion I have seen a speaker point game change who breaks and who doesn’t. It’s not fair, and it should stop.

2. Berating Debaters

A certain amount of irritation at poorly debated rounds is natural, but it’s stunning how often judges go way over the top. Expressing outrage at the state of debate or the obnoxiousness of some particular practice may be cathartic, but it’s hardly constructive. Getting angry and berating debaters is self-indulgent; the oral critique is not about your anger. It is reprehensible to be proud of making a debater cry.

Sometimes anger is appropriate, as when a debater is rude or patently offensive, but this is relatively rare. Yelling at someone because they made an argument you don’t like suggests a dramatic lack of perspective – the kids are learning what a good argument is, people have different views on what a good argument is, and students are coached in different ways. The RFD is not about showing off how smart you are or how much you know about debate. Get over yourself and make your comments constructive. You are not entitled to adjudicate a tournament full of mistake free rounds.

3. Calling Tons of Evidence

Everyone seems to want debaters to be clearer, but many of us engage in a practice that incentivizes exactly the opposite. The debaters’ opportunity to effectively convey the meaning of their evidence is the constructive. Figuring out what evidence means after the round and making it part of the decision calculus is blatant intervention. There are judges who routinely call virtually every argument read in the round and reconstruct their flow on that basis. Give me a break.

I suspect this is mostly motivated by ego – none of us likes to admit that we didn’t understand an argument. But – I feel like a broken record – it’s not about you. It is unfair and pedagogically unsound to vote for arguments you straight up don’t understand – even more so when you are doing things like supplying evidence comparison for the debaters. Have enough courage to admit when you don’t get something, even at the risk of teenagers thinking you’re not as smart as they otherwise would.