Embracing Difference: The Role of Role of the Ballot Arguments

T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” is a sad but striking poem that tells of the decline of the human essence and the decay that follows with it. It is this decay that leads to the inevitable death of our temporal selves, the inescapable fate that awaits us. The real tragedy is not that we are to die but that we begin our descent unto death as soulless beings, so much so that,

“Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men” (13-18).

To us, it is this death of the creative, reflective self that is the worst death of all. It marks the beginning of the end of the quintessential human essence, that very thing that creates a distinction between us and all other things. It is precisely this reason why we (Matthew and Jacob) debate/coach the way we do. Debate presents a phenomenal opportunity for each of us, whether judging or competing, to participate in an educational exercise that can prove to be either negative or positive. We believe that the utilization of pre-fiat arguments, more specifically the “Role of the Ballot”, falls into the latter.

The Role of the Ballot is an argument that seems to be misunderstood within the LD community. It does not serve as some pre-fiat NIB on one debater or an unwarranted precondition on advocacies. Rather, the Role of the Ballot defines the function of the debate space according to some end goal of debate. The style of pre-fiat argumentation is not exclusive to the critically oriented debaters on the circuit, in fact any debater who has ever run some form of shell has implicitly accepted a Role of the Ballot that claims, “the judge must vote for whoever is most fair/the best debater not the best cheater/whoever is least abusive.” These arguments are no different than a Role of the Ballot “to embrace the epistemic view of the humanist educator”; many just don’t thoroughly explain the justifications for the roles they lay out for judges within the round. Every pre-fiat argument, but specifically Roles of the Ballot, challenge structures of debate, and shift the function of debate from one of promoting fairness to promoting critical dialogue to combating racism/sexism/ableism/heteronormativity/etc. If there was exclusivity to these forms of arguments, they would lose their impact, and they would simply add to the problems we already face in the status quo.

However, as is the case for many styles of arguments that deviate from the status quo, there are those who perceive these arguments to be abusive, unwarranted, and detrimental to the debate space. Though we respect opinions of dissent and recognize that everyone is entitled to their own perception, we believe these thoughts to be misguided and ill-informed. We believe this for a couple of reasons:

We both have different views on this and, as such, we will preface each statement with a note indicating whom the thought belongs.

Why Should We Run Them?

1. Role of the Ballot arguments forces us to reflect and to embrace the examined life, recognizing our position in the community and the world (Jacob)

There are many problems with the world, which should be a no brainer for those of us who turn on the news. But, to me, there exists a more fundamental and pressing issue that affects each of us in more ways than one. The problem is that we don’t think like we should. Most of us used to think deeper and levy heavier criticisms that go beyond the level of the skin but now we complacently embrace instances of “change” that really don’t do much to help the real problems that we, as a society, have. We’ve done little to nothing to stop the continuous degradation of the planet, to weed out the rampant corruption in Washington and the marketplace, and to address the structural violence that is levied against the minority class. These issues point to a larger issue that is becoming more and more rampant. Our education system is broken. Most of us recognize this issue and realize that, for those who are not in positions of wealth and in schools of privilege, there are problems with the way that we educate our students. We have begun to see slow but certain movements towards notions of education that perceive students to be simple vessels whose only purpose is to ingest, memorize, and regurgitate facts and pieces of information. This method of education, coined the “banking model” by Paulo Freire, is a method that embraces a managerialistic approach to thought. This method, according to Freire, is one in which

“Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the “banking’ concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is the people themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other” (Freire 1970).

This type of education leaves us to be physically and spiritually bankrupt, with no independent thought and creative methodologies. That’s pretty bad. Not only for us, as people, but for us as a country. This method is beginning to take root in our public system, which creates individuals whom don’t question and create unique solutions to issues but accept them. Henry Giroux remarks on this when he describes the modern day classroom, with the techniques and methods that are embraced as the “norm”.

“At the core of the current emphasis on the instrumental and pragmatic factors in school life are a number of important pedagogical assumptions. These include: a call for the separation of conception from execution; the standardization of school knowledge in the interest of managing and controlling it, the increased call for standardized testing, and the devaluation of critical, intellectual work on the part of teachers and students for the primacy of practical considerations. In this view, teaching is reduced to training and concepts are substituted by methods. Teaching in this view is reduced to a set of strategies and skills and becomes synonymous with a method or technique. Instead of learning to raise questions about the principles underlying different classroom methods, research techniques and theories of education, teachers are often preoccupied with learning the “how to,” with what works or with mastering the best way to teach a given body of knowledge.” (Giroux 2012).

I can personally attest to this method as I witness fellow Education students at my university espouse these beliefs. Instead of discussing real world issues, critically deconstructing texts, and being encouraged to recognize points of difference and privilege we are taught how to manage student behavior, fill out forms, and fit lesson plans to detrimental standards. To me, there is no debate. Public, and to an extent private, schooling doesn’t equip students to help themselves and others in a way that creates real and lasting change. This is the main reason why I love debate. Debate presents an avenue where we can think creatively and find our voice. Role of the Ballot arguments are a stronger and more beautiful way to do this. Role of the Ballot arguments present new and interesting challenges to notions of what is “good” and what is “bad”. They force us, as debaters and as people, to defend and be held accountable for our performances. Where we would normally be subject to hear arguments that defend a policy making stance, a Role of the Ballot argument would cause us to ponder what this stance entails and what implications it has for us as individuals and as a society. It also opens up the space to performances that allow for more voices to be included and, consequently, more and more unique solutions to problems that face our generation. And most importantly, it causes us to rethink our position and what is considered the “norm”. Not only for the students that enter into the discourse, but for the judges as well. These arguments cause us all to recognize that we have something to learn from the discourse at hand, and that we can be a part of something that helps contribute to our perspectives of the world and the problems that plague it.

Absent these arguments, I would be listening to the same ends-based calculations that prioritize life and reasons why advocacies are abusive due to notions of fairness. I am not criticizing these arguments at all, though I detest theory. What I am saying is that we have begun to turn away from reflecting on why we perceive things a certain way and the way we approach certain concepts, topics, and arguments. This critical deconstruction of methods, concepts, and philosophies is essential to discovering what we believe in and what we perceive to be good or bad. These arguments simply force us to look deeper and think more about what it is we’re thinking about.

2. It forces us to (1) define the end goal of debate and (2) engage in methodological clash that forces us to interrogate the impact our performance has within the community. (Matthew)

Implicit within every advocacy in every round is some conception of a higher goal or greater good which debate services to achieve. Engaging in pre-fiat debate, specifically Role of the Ballot debates, forces debaters to define the end goal of debate, be it competition, education, critical thinking skills, etc. and it makes them justify it too. As will be explained later in this article, this complicates theory debates when theory is run with a voter of fairness because fairness may no longer be functionally applicable in the realm of the debate any longer. Essentially, as debaters we have to do something positive towards defining what debate is even about and begin to focus our energy towards the achieving of that particular end. Naturally, there are going to be competing claims of the “ultimate end” of debate, but that’s what debate is all about – justifying the particular end that is claimed to be the most important. Clearly Jacob and I have conceptions about what the focus of debate should be, which is shown in the portion above, but these sorts of argumentation do not exclude other claims. Anyone could claim that debate is meant to be a competition, or that debate is meant to promote advocacy skills, or foster critical thinking, or open up spaces for authentic reflection upon being. Regardless, these debates make us take a stance on the most important aspect of the community that is rather clearly still an undecided issue, yet rarely makes its way into round past the same hackneyed “education v. fairness” debates that occur in theory rounds, which only take place on an extremely superficial level.

Secondly, Role of the Ballot debates force debaters to interrogate their performative implications within round and its impact both in round and out of round. The point was already made that every advocacy has some pre-fiat implication, and that engaging in pre-fiat debates forces us to engage in debates over the entire point of having speech and debate, but it is also important that we understand that the in round implications of our performance cannot and should not be divorced from its out of round implications. Engaging in these debates over methodology and what function the ballot services forces debaters to investigate the impact their performative choices have beyond winning or losing a ballot and justify those very performances in a space that is no longer insulated from out of round oppression (Read: privileged). The approach to this style of argumentation has been lacking in many instances, but there is something to be said about attempting to break an infuriating cycle of monotony which refuses to investigate a greater meaning to speech and debate and clings to an outdated mantra that reads, “The ends justify the means.” (Read: “It doesn’t matter if I’m oppressive, I got the W”) Engaging in this style of debate has emancipatory implications on a grander scale than one or two rounds, stretching beyond a single tournament. If, as a community, we can begin to engage in this style of argumentation, we can move on from the concept that the competition justifies anything and everything. I don’t purport the competitive aspect of debate be nullified in any way shape or form, but simply changed, as some might say, radicalized. That competitive aspect can be used as a tool to encourage methodological approaches and in round performance that promote radical forms of equality both within round and outside of round. I’m not saying that debate holds the key to solving all the world’s problems, but it’s certainly true that it wouldn’t hurt to have another pocket of resistance, another zone of critical investigation to continue to fight actual oppression, which surely supersedes the competition of debate as it stands now.

How to Run Them?

1. You need to have justifications for your ROB

You need to be providing good, concrete reasons why your Role of the Ballot is not only a good thing for the discussion at hand, which is the debate, but also how the discussion within the round impacts the community/society as a whole. This means that you need to be providing arguments as to why your Role of the Ballot is a priority to the judge and the debaters and how it can implicate the discourse and society.

2. Your ROB needs to be accessible

Don’t make your Role of the Ballot to be a one way street. That is entirely hypocritical to heart of the argument. Your Role of the Ballot needs to be accessible to your opponent, allowing them to show how their performance best connects or achieves the demand that the Ballot calls for. IE, let’s say you run a Role of the Ballot that calls for embracing positions that end oppression and your opponent is running a Counterplan that has an impact of human rights violations. They can and should be able to apply and weigh their impacts against yours, in the context of the call of the ballot.

3. Make sure you show how you link back to the ROB

This is something that doesn’t happen enough. You need to be linking back your arguments to the call of the ballot. You need to be showing how your advocacy best meets the standard that is set forth by the Role of the Ballot and/or show why your opponent isn’t doing enough/ anything at all to meet that reciprocal call. This means making extensions and showing how your position best achieves what we seek to achieve with our discourse.

How to Answer Them?

1. Run a counter ROB

The easiest thing to do is to run the counter Role of the Ballot. This means that you need to argue that your Role of the Ballot either takes priority to the opposing Role of the Ballot or holds the best avenue to solving for the call that their Role of the Ballot demands, making your position a functional side constraint to their methodology. IE, if you run a counter role of the ballot that claims that we must embrace the methodology of the policy maker, in response to their claim that we must liberate oppressed bodies, you can make the argument that role-playing equips us with realistic ways to find solutions for these issues, in the real world. As such we will either vote for representatives that endorse these positions, embrace grassroots movements for these issues, and increase our awareness of these issues. All of which holds the best and most realistic option for us to solve the demand that their arguments make.

2. Argue they cannot achieve their ROB

You can engage them on the substantive level which entails that you argue alternative solvency for their call or potentially delinking them from their role of the ballot, either by showing how their advocacy cannot achieve what their ballot demands or that their performance contradicts the demand of the ballot. IE, no solvency arguments or contradiction arguments.

3. Argue that you achieve their ROB better

A pretty simple, yet effective argument, that indicates that your position best achieves, on a post-fiat level, the demand that their Role of the Ballot makes. Showing that your post-fiat impacts either better solve or hold the internal link to solving the call of the ballot is an effective way to meet the demand and win.

4. Argue that their ROB is exclusive

Run an argument, whether analytically or theoretically, as to how their Role of the Ballot excludes your performance. Point out that it is a performative contradiction for them to exclude voices and, if you’re running theory, make sure to either contextualize the theory impacts to the Role of the Ballot, on a pre-fiat level with voters such as critical education or ontological authenticity which function as a side constraint to approaching the Role of the Ballot,  or give reasons why traditional theory is a prerequisite to the pre-fiat implications of the Role of the Ballot or do point 1 and contend that the Role of the Ballot should be to do something that allows more inclusion rather than exclusion.

Combating Common Responses

1. “The ballot doesn’t do anything”.

The intuitive response to an argument that claims that signing the ballot for the affirmative or for the negative can’t deconstruct oppressive ideologies rests on the idea that the deconstruction of those ideologies occur throughout the entirety of the world. However, pre-fiat debate investigates the impacts of decisions within the community as a whole and the endorsing of positions which critically examine oppression does lead to exposure of these positions and forces individuals to familiarize themselves with the arguments to defend them against it. Also, this argument is non-unique in its approach to debate because we as debaters are not policy-makers, thus, functional strategies like plans and counter-plans are more than simply frivolous, but are nonsensical within the debate arena, because voting for the plan doesn’t enact policy. Rather, it is a simulation, just as oppression arguments are, that equip both debaters and judges with the knowledge of real-world oppression and allows them an opportunity to engage in discussion over ways to stop it.

2. “The ballot says to vote for the better debater, not the better cheater”.

First, this is a pre-fiat argument in and of itself because it establishes the Role of the Ballot within the round, however, little is done to justify the reason it should be the Role of the Ballot within the Round. The argument relies upon the idea that (1) the function of debate is solely competitive and (2) that debate as a structure is static in both its functionality and its intention. However, both of these claims are wrong for a plethora of reasons, not the least of which is that debate serves the function of education as much as it does fairness, if not more so,  and, even a stagnate conception of debate is open to criticism. Debate is not an insulated structure and should not be treated as one. We cannot divorce debate from real world oppression and if the structures of the status quo system engender a neglect of the oppressed, then they ought to be criticized and changed.

3. “Theory comes first”.

An explanation has already been made as to why theory severed from some explanation of its functioning under a Role of the Ballot, cannot be evaluated under the Role of the Ballot unless a counter Role of the Ballot is offered that can parse theory as a construct. Also, arguments that fairness come first fall into the same fatal trap as above in that they appeal to the idea that the only function of debate is one of competition, when it in fact serves a multitude of functions, the most important of which we would argue is education.

4. “Wrong forum”.

Wrong forum arguments are simply detestable. First, to argue that we can just talk about oppression elsewhere is tantamount to saying, “hey, you’re clearly bringing up a good argument, and oppression probably is a bad thing, but I got in debate to not talk about oppressive stuff and just to mess around in a privileged space. So, please take all that ‘oppression’ argumentation out.” Of course, the debaters making these arguments don’t see it like, but the fact of the matter is that there is no wrong time to talk about the real world and oppression within the real world and the more we close off the debate space to discussions of real world oppression, the more callused we become to oppression. We open up forums of privilege that punish debaters for challenging those pockets of privilege and attempting to turn them into pockets of critical thinking. This is the worst thing about “wrong forum” arguments. No student, debater, kid, adult, judge, coach, whatever, should be closed off from the ability to challenge structures that exist in the status quo because they feel it oppressive. This challenging may not always work, sometimes it may do nothing, but the attempt in the very least is more than admirable, it should be encouraged. Secondly, (and Jacob has already brought this point up) there aren’t many other places that exist that allow for us to critically challenge pockets of privilege and structures of oppression.

To conclude, we believe that these types of arguments are wholesome and necessary for the community to continue to grow in diversity and inclusiveness. Role of the Ballot arguments provide a voice in which we can deconstruct issues, recognize their application to our lives, and find unique solutions. They give us a way to recognize the importance of our own voice and thought, embracing authenticity of the subject rather than simply encouraging technocratic styles of education and discourse. We realize that these arguments are new, and trepidation always follows territory that is new, but these arguments should not be tossed aside because they are different or because they force us to reexamine the norms and standards of debate. They should be embraced for doing just that. They should be embraced for forcing issues that might make us feel uncomfortable, for delving into a deeper discussion that revolves around more than just a body-count or if a debater is “fair” or not. Debate is about more than that. Debate is a harbor in which we can lash out against modes of thought that create complacent and technocratic thinkers, bodies that serve to only regurgitate information rather than reflect and understand what that information entails. It would be a tragedy for these arguments to die out as it would leave thinkers that are nothing more than hollow and stuffed.



Freire, Paulo. “Chapter 2.” Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 1970. 72. Print.

Giroux, Henry A. “The War Against Teachers as Public Intellectuals in Dark Times.”Truthout. N.p., 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.

Scofield, Martin. “From The Hollow Men (1925) to ‘Marina’ (1930)”, T. S. Eliot: The Poems. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. 137-166. Cambridge Books Online. Web. 20 February 2014.


Matthew Koshak is a senior LD debater at Christ Episcopal School in New Orleans, LA. His coach and older brother, Jacob Koshak, is a senior studying Communication and Education at the University of Houston. He competed for 4 years in LD and has dabbled in the collegiate circuit, off and on. He has spent 4 years coaching, contributing to two TOC qualifiers who have had much local and national success. He plans to become a teacher and coach while he pursues his Master’s degree.

Editor Note: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Victory Briefs.

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