I Love Locals by Jake Mazeitis

I’m not going to lie, I know next to nothing about debate on the “national circuit”. If you were to spread in front of me, I would likely just stare blankly ahead, hopelessly attempting to comprehend the words that are flying from your mouth. Any kind of Kritikal argument would render me incapable of response, and I haven’t the slightest idea how to combat a theory shell. Suffice to say, I’m not the typical author for Briefly, mostly for what I’m about to say next: I love tournaments where the judges are not seasoned veterans of high school forensics, but rather, parents and friends of friends of friends who were called in last minute to fill a shortage. I love tournaments whose competitors include schools in a 50-mile radius, and I love tournaments whose entry fees are rarely more than $7. To put it bluntly, I love locals. And I think we all should love them, or, at the very least, appreciate the lessons they teach.

To understand my point, we need to ask ourselves a rather conscientious question: what is competitive debate supposed to teach? Any coach, participant, or alumni will give a different answer. The National Speech and Debate Association’s mission statement states “communication skills are essential for empowering youth to become engaged citizens, skilled professionals, and honorable leaders in our global society”, but what precisely do these communication skills entail? Should the focus be on oration, or analysis? Evidence, or rhetoric? In my opinion, the answer is yes… all of the above .

There is no question in my mind that there are educational advantages to debating progressively. The ability to analyze and respond to complex arguments and philosophical theories in such a high-paced environment is indicative of an incredible level of understanding and practice. What I fear is lost in this case is the ability to communicate with the average layperson. Speaking at 300 words per minute is great for aspiring rappers and TOC hopefuls, but in terms of convincing a future room of execs to invest in your business, or persuading a grand jury to charge a guilty defendant, it’s a fairly trivial skill. I firmly believe that there is a reason that Midwestern states like Missouri have dominated the public speaking events at NSDA Nationals for the last five years. (In 2014, Missouri had finalists in every non-extemp IE. They proceeded to win Humorous Interpretation and Original Oratory, and place in the Top 3 in Dramatic and Duo Interpretation.) That reason is that the focus in this part of the country is firmly planted in the ability to sway the average individual of one thing or another. That is not to say that evidence and understanding are replaced by rhetoric and oratory, but rather, they are incorporated at a conversational and accessible level.

For some reason, our community is divided. Circuit debaters and coaches find lay debate to be slow and restrictive, believing that they themselves represent the evolution of Lincoln-Douglas. Likewise, lay debaters and coaches believe that the national circuit is an elitist bastardization of their long-held values and standards. Please understand, this is not an indictment of any specific person on either side of the line. But we would be naïve to assume that this isn’t the general consensus (For a more in-depth analysis of this specific topic, check out my article in the Soapbox titled Cards and Clarity). How, then, can we combat this internal prejudice?

I don’t have some elaborate plan, but I don’t really think that we need a step-by-step guide. A fundamental paradigm shift in how we treat each other, from debaters to judges to coaches, would be so much more effective; I realize that this article isn’t going to change opinions overnight, but maybe it’ll make some individuals reconsider what they think of as “legitimate” debate. Maybe, eventually, a Lincoln-Douglas debater who didn’t spend thousands of dollars on camp will be able to win the TOC not because they can cover the intricacies of Foucault in less than 20 seconds , but because they are able to inspire the hearts and minds of the ordinary person. A symphony of pathos, ethos, and logos… that’s what debate should be about.

Jake Mazeitis is a Senior at Park Hill South in Kansas City, MO. His hobbies include debating, forensicating, writing college essays, and wondering why we’re all here.

  • Harvey Birdman, Esq.

    Nice article, Jake. I’m very skeptical about the net value of circuit style debate, particularly with respect to barriers to entry. But I know I’m not going to win many converts to that view here.

    Instead, I’d offer a modest proposal that I’ve made elsewhere: Circuit LD and traditional LD can best respect one another’s differences –and provide the greatest benefit to the largest number– as two formally separate events.

    Nobody wins when smart kids work hard and pay thousands of dollars to travel to a prestigious regional or national tournament, only to run into a buzz saw of speed and theory they know nothing about, and won’t see again all year. Likewise, in heavily traditional states, it would be nice if, say, a dozen kids with circuit-style aspirations could practice their craft at the in-town tournaments before a handful of experienced (or at least open-minded) judges, without having to conform to the will of the majority.

    PF and Policy show that this kind of split works out just fine in practice and increases total participation. Why not give solo debaters the same predictability and choice?

  • Grant Brown

    I am of the mind that both give good skills, but I agree with the sentiment of “hacking” for the “status-quo” debater is very prevalent on local circuits at times, and that many times the idea of “identity-politics” “critical-theory” or anything of that nature is often pushed under the rug. However, I think many aspects of circuit debate can be utilized in local debates. I think many times local judges are more open-minded than we give them credit for, the issue that has been articulated to me from many “local” judges, is a lack of attempts to include. Too often we “tap-out” when a judge seems confused, or you run circuit-style arguments without realizing a judge’s preferences. Many judges have told me that while they are considered “traditional” the arguments and literature run on the “circuit” is interesting, and they’d love to hear it, the issue is presentation style, and lack of proper explanation. Some of the most rewarding debate rounds I have ever had was running something critical and explaining it well enough that a judge who is completely unfamiliar with the literature was comfortable voting on it, and evaluating the round. So, I think making wide generalizations will do nothing but further marginalize and put-off local judges, we should instead attempt to create an atmosphere of inclusion, break down the rhetoric, slow it down. One particular judge on the Nebraska circuit told me this sentiment, and really opened my eyes to the possibilities that circuit debate and it’s nuances has to bring to the local areas that is lost in translation and of course vise-versa. I understand in some circuits this may be completely impossible, or seem so, but sometimes I’ve found sacrificing a win to open a space to new things is worth it. Not only for the judges, for ourselves, but also for our fellow debaters. Every debate round where I see a new literature, argument, or philosophy is a learning and educational experience for me, and surely is for our opponents and judges as well.

  • Michael Huang

    The fact that oratory skills are the premise of judge ballots in the local circuit is really troubling to debaters like me who would not be persuasive to local judges because we carry a natural accent. I have been voted down novice years by “caring” parents who told me they didn’t like the way I talked. Its true that the national circuit might be exclusionary, but I think that the local circuit can be much more exclusionary and racist, extremely biased towards the white male because often the judges there aren’t as open minded as the national circuit ones. Also through the national circuit I really found my identity and questioned a lot of facts I took as true. The research required from the national circuit made me explore so much more than what I learned by debating locally, and I truly think is a more education experience. And lets be honest, skills like convincing execs aren’t that real world either, and I am pretty sure they would be more convinced by well analysed research rather than how pretty you speak. Just my 2 cents on this issue, please don’t flame at me.

  • Liam Donovan

    Progressive debate is definitely not exclusionary by wealth: just like leveling up in a Zynga game, wealth buys shortcuts (camp, more chances to debate), but if you really care about debate you can engage progressive arguments (and come up with more innovative and thus winning ones) just fine without expensive aids.

    • Samir Reddy

      If you really believe this it makes me sad. Legitimately sad. If you don’t think kids arguing about what they are arguing about is not directly correlated with wealth you are just flat out wrong. Caring about debate is spending time/money on it but consider the opportunity cost for people without money.

      “I could spend time thinking about arguments to answer that meta-theory shell or I could get a job and support my family”

      I feel really really really stupid talking about this as someone who was immensely privileged in this category, but this level of ignorance is hilariously stupid. I hope someone with more of a right to talk about this enlightens you with a real story, but I doubt they really care to respond to a Vbriefly post.

      • Liam Donovan

        You’re exactly right about opportunity cost for the very poor, but that’s true about almost every academic competition (and many other things!). The only effective answer is direct poverty reduction programs, the form of which is entirely outside the scope of this discussion. Furthermore, ANY measure that you take to alleviate this problem from the competition side equally favors those who have plenty of money but are simply too lazy to prep, and by taking hard work on your case out of the equation, you simply advantage other factors that are often much more correlated with income (i.e. debating in a particular style you learned at camp).

        What exactly do you believe that success in LD debate should be based on, if not hard work practicing speaking and researching?

    • Siena kohlrabi

      Yeah the thing about Zynga games is if you can’t spend the money to get past the blocks with shortcuts they suck. Progressive debate is closer to a pay to play and then pay more to win. Progressive debate is Definitely exclusionary by wealth to “win” the progressive ld game (I.e. win tournaments do well nationally) you HAVE to have gone to camp and you have to debate at more tournaments and for most nonwealthy debaters those experiences are not affordable to say progressive debate is not exclusionary to those who can’t pay to play/win is to only look as far as optimism and privilege will let you . This is not to say that nonrich debaters won’t get anything from prog ld but that it is harder for them to A) get the ability to debate at those tournaments B) do well at those tournaments

      • Liam Donovan

        Of course it’s harder if you can’t go to tournaments or summer camps, but why is it prohibitively difficult?

        • Joey Schnide

          I can’t think of a single debater in the last three years who has cleared at the TOC without having a coach or attending camp. Maybe I’m missing someone; maybe there was a kid who did it before my time (Paras Kumar comes to mind). Even if there is, that person represents an almost invisible minority- it would mean that 47 of the last 48 debaters to reach octos at the TOC had the things that you claim aren’t necessary. While it might technically be possible for debaters without coaching or camp to reach the highest levels of debate success, the fact that it happens so rarely indicates that it’s really, really, really hard to do. But that’s only looking at the most visibly successful debaters. There are many talented debaters who don’t clear at the TOC, but who still qual or reach outrounds of bid tournaments. I don’t claim to know everyone who’s ever broken at a bid tournament, but I’d be willing to bet that the overwhelming majority of them have a coach, support from their schools, and have attended camp, or some combination of the three.

          Lets say someone wants to beat the odds: they don’t go to a school that supports circuit debate, they can’t afford to go to camp, travel to more than two or three bid tournaments a year or hire a coach and yet they still dream about the TOC. How exactly do you propose they learn about circuit debate? By watching videos on Vbriefly and reading Debate For All? While those can be really helpful for new debaters, they can’t replace coaching and (arguably more importantly) they can’t replace real experience, which you can only get at real tournaments.

          In an earlier comment, you ask “What exactly do you believe that success in LD debate should be based on, if not hard work practicing speaking and researching?”. This sounds nice in theory, but it ignores the fact that you need to have the opportunity to practice and develop your skills. In the real world, the debater from a small school in rural Idaho will lose to the PVPs and Brentwoods of the debate world 10 times out of 10, because at the end of the day spending an hour watching a TOC champion debate can’t replace an hour working with them. I’m not in any way implying that the debaters from those schools (or any other “big school”) aren’t exceptionally hardworking or that they don’t deserve their success. They do, and they probably work a lot harder than I do. What I’m saying is that they have the opportunity to use their time more effectively (by working with coaches, going to tournaments, ect), and as a result of that, they have an inherent advantage over the debaters who don’t have the same opportunity.

          It’s hard to look at all of that and not see a problem. National circuit debate excludes people who don’t have money or access to money. It always has, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

        • Liam Donovan

          Wow, I didn’t realize that the problem had so great a magnitude; that’s rather depressing for my personal debate career 😛

        • CEO2

          Sure, you might have a chance at debating on the national circuit tournament, but the problem is that without summer camps and the experience from other national tournaments, the magnitude of the impact is equivalent to that of making debating prohibitively difficult. For example, lets take a normal debater who has just begun national tournaments and is well backed up with a team environment and summer camps in which they have been able to develop so that they can both debate at those tournaments and do well at those tournaments will be able to perform to that level. As of your point, lets take a debater on the lower side of the socioeconomic spectrum, who is attending their first national tournament, but isn’t backed up with the necessary knowledge from debate camps, the knowledge from a well supported team, or the experience from debating at other national tournaments.

          Your argument about how hard working is a necessity and how individuals should learn how to speak and research and the skills necessary to excel at circuit debate is controlled by the factor of whether or not they know how to research and actually use those skills in the first place. Camp and wealth with the team factor teaches you the skills necessary and helps you leverage, whereas, no camp and no experience with a team means that you never knew any of the right skills to debate with.

          Even if you plan on making the argument that we can always learn about different methods of debating through the internet and watching videos, those are a) nothing compared to the amount of learning that actually implementing those skills with coaches and a team facility could help you like, b) impossible to know how to actually implement those skills if nobody is there to explain those videos to you the first time around or the articles that you are reading, and c) you are unable to practice the skills considering that articles can’t necessarily help answer any questions that you might have. It is also probable that you will have some questions here and there, but when nobody is there for you to answer it, it’s nearly impossible to learn from them. If you respond with an argument that “I can learn from the comments”, there are a few mistakes, a) this isn’t a real time discussion that you can have with those individuals who are on the thread, b) this questions whether you have the time to get into the in-depth analysis about some confusing arguments or strategies that you might question because of the fact that you are not in a situation where, “I could spend time thinking about arguments to answer that meta-theory shell or I could get a job and support my family”. Additionally, the first time debaters’ attend a national circuit tournament, they are usually deterred from ever wanting to debating again due to the amount of skill that other debaters simply have in both the breadth and depth of argument analysis.

          In simple words, progressively harder is the same is prohibitively difficult in the context of Circuit LD debate. But Liam, your argument is severely underdeveloped.

        • Liam Donovan

          It was definitely an underdeveloped argument; it was the mindset of an optimistic novice. These comments have convinced me that large barriers do indeed exist for small schools and poor/middle class families. I’ll be very curious to see if I encounter these barriers as I attempt to engage more progressive arguments.

  • AJT999

    “Speaking at 300 words per minute is great for aspiring rappers and TOC hopefuls, but in terms of convincing a future room of execs to invest in your business, or persuading a grand jury to charge a guilty defendant, it’s a fairly trivial skill.”

    Well, I *am* an aspiring rapper, so yay for speed!

    • AJT999

      By the way, the “Tomasiswag Train” mixtape is being released January 28th on Soundcloud

  • Evan Zhao

    Yo, this article really reaches out to me. I, too, am beginning to appreciate the locals scene, being a Wisconsin debater, where the NSDA headquarters lie. As ridiculously critical and weird my case positions seem to be, even to national circuit debaters (hence why I wrote an article about new forms of debate), I’m much more successful on the local circuit. This is because (a) there are far less people on the local circuit than on the national circuit, and (b) locals debate is much easier when you just dress nice and are blessed with a pretty speaking voice. Locals has been a great confidence booster for me and gave me critical understanding to apply to nat circuit: Intuitive arguments win. I’ve also learned a lot more judge adaptation from local circuit tournaments, and being an amphibious debater who is cray cray methodz on one hand and Wisconsinite on the other, one of the crucial flaws I find with local circuit is the judges. Not only are judges more prone to hacking for debaters because locals debate communities are so small, but they are often rather conservative (at least for my taste). Similar to what Samir said, lay and traditional judges are oftentimes scared of things labeled “feminism” or “identity politics” and treading too far into real policy-making or philosophy almost certainly guarantees a loss (although whether or not nat circuit LD necessarily entails real policy-making or philosophy is questionable, as well). The education accessible in lay debate is far too restricted by the judge and their ballot. “The legal system, racist? Baloney.” Political, philosophical, critical, and moral questions are not answered in many lay rounds because of the limited speech time and the level of knowledge the judge already has (as well as their biases). Of course, lay debate helps with speaking and presentation, but so do speech events, or Congressional debate, and I think the specific setting of LD has a certain aspect to it that makes it unique for a vigorous meeting of minds in a contentious battle of abstract thought. Individuals can also open up more and make debate their own space on the national circuit by incorporating non-traditional debating styles, and traditional debate is still allowed on the nat circuit, but it might not always be the most strategic. Nat circuit gives more access to different debate styles, and that’s what I love about it. The judge in the back of the room (usually) will not have any biases for or against any types of arguments (and even if they do, prefs solve). Don’t get me wrong, all of my successes on my resume will probably be from local circuit tourneys, and I will never be a top tier nat circuit debater, but I appreciate the space that the nat circuit offers me that the local circuit does not. The home of NSDA, Wisconsin, will always be dear to me and shape the debater I am, but the freedom of the national circuit just feels so much more right.

  • Allie

    I think Jake might advocate for all LD tournaments to become more of a blend between circuit and local tournaments, but one other possible solution is for debaters to just compete in both circuit and local tournaments separately. In high school I did locals (including extemp at locals) and circuit tournaments, pretty much alternating between them, and I benefited from both of them. Locals and extemp taught me public speaking and how to persuade your average person, and circuit tournaments taught me research and rigorous argumentation. Idk if this is the optimal solution, but it’s something to consider.

    But Samir’s comment about exclusivity in both styles of debate is definitely true and needs to be addressed.

    P.S. Circuit debaters – don’t devalue the skills you can acquire from locals! They’ve been incredibly valuable in college so far.

  • Joey Schnide

    You say that you think debate should be about “A symphony of pathos, ethos, and logos” and I think that gets at the core of the divide between local and national circuit LD. Implicit in that statement is an assumption that there is something wrong with circuit LD and that your method of debate is better. I’ve heard too many local coaches say that spreading isn’t “what debate should be about”, which begs the question of what debate should be about in the first place. They resist the national circuit because it refuses to cohere with their vision of good debate. This is the same reason why so many national circuit debaters vehemently resist their coach’s attempts to persuade them to attend local tournaments; they believe that debate should be something that those tournaments are not.

    Who are we to decide which type of debate is the right one? What makes debate so amazing is that it’s defined by our ideas. We can choose what arguments to run, and we can choose our approach for persuading the judge. We are judged based on how well we can present our ideas and how effectively we use the voice that we have been given. Claiming that any one type of debate or argumentation is inherently better or worse excludes the voices of students who prefer it, and even worse, it implies that their voice doesn’t have the same amount of value as yours.

    Traditional debate is great in some ways and unbearably frustrating in others; national circuit debate is also a mix of good and bad. Some folks prefer traditional debate and some folks prefer circuit debate, and that’s really okay. The kids who like persuading parents aren’t worse debaters than the kids who like talking really fast about fairness; they just have different preferences. Letting people choose to debate in the way that matches their personal preferences is great; we should just respect people who make different choices (I obviously speak from a position of great privilege here as a white male who attends a circuit school that travels to tournaments and hires dedicated LD coaches. There are many students who are never given a choice between local and national circuit debate because they are excluded from the latter for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into here. The circuit community has an obligation to lower the barriers to participation, but that’s another discussion).

    In my opinion, it’s rewarding to do both. I’ve learned a lot from circuit LD, but if circuit LD was my only experience with debate, I would have missed out on everything that Jake is talking about.

  • Richard Dunn

    There are definitely good aspects to local circuit tournaments, and there are also huge advantages to attending national circuit TOC bid tournaments. Both circuit LD and local LD have their merits, and there is absolutely no reason why these two styles of debate should not coexist in harmony. The style one prefers is based upon one’s own goals and desires.

    If you want to prioritize rhetorical abilities (including posture, speaking volume, eye contact, etc.), make friends from local schools around you, make connections with parents and other adults in the local community, spend less time on research/writing cases/prepping so you can pursue other activities and interests, and of course, save money, then you will probably prefer local circuit debate. If you want to experience the most intense intellectual exercise, make friends from around the country, learn about different ideologies including all sorts of critical arguments, are willing to make debate the focus of your extracurricular activities, and you have the money to do this, then you will likely prefer circuit debate.

    This is why I still go to plenty of local circuit tournaments in addition to as many bid tournaments as I can; I want to try to access both of these distinct sets of benefits offered by each style of debate. Of course, circuit debate is unique because it is plagued by access issues, meaning that it takes much more resources for a student to debate on the national circuit as opposed to the local circuit. This is definitely unfortunate, but it does not mean that circuit debate is “bad.” Circuit debate is still very valuable, although it is harder to access. There ought to be systems in place and attempts made to help remedy these access issues, but that is a completely separate issue.

    I personally believe that national circuit debate is a much higher quality form of debate than local circuit debate. National circuit debate involves a broader diversity of arguements, brings more ideologies to the table, demands a higher level of critical thinking, increases the amount of research necessary to succeed, has a much more defined set of norms, has better judges, etc. However, it is important and necessary to note that this only speaks to the quality of the actual debate itself. The circuit still cannot gain all the benefits I mentioned earlier that are unique to local circuit debate. Once again, it all depends on what you want out of your experience in the activity. A lot of people want the highest quality debate, which is why the national circuit has so much appeal. Others want to focus on rhetorical skills and making connections in the local community (which requires less time and effort), so they like the local circuit. Which is why this statement:

    “Maybe, eventually, a Lincoln-Douglas debater who didn’t spend thousands of dollars on camp will be able to win the TOC not because they can cover the intricacies of Foucault in less than 20 seconds , but because they are able to inspire the hearts and minds of the ordinary person.”

    does not make sense. This statement is somewhat akin to saying “Maybe one day, a person will be able to win a championship bowling tournament, not by consistently knocking down all ten pins, but by being the best basketball player they can be.” Basketball and bowling are both sports, but they are different types of sport. Winning the TOC is just a hypothetical imperative; if one wants to win the TOC, then one ought to be able to cover the intricacies of Foucault in less than 20 seconds. And if one wants to win NCFL, then one ought to inspire the hearts and minds of the ordinary person. There is nothing wrong with trying to win the NCFL as opposed to trying to win the TOC! Like I said, each style of debate has its own advantages. I believe that any type of debate is a valuable experience. The circuit you want to compete on and the work required to succeed all depend on what you are trying to get out of the activity.

    • Joey Schnide

      Richard, I agree 100% with pretty much everything you said. However, I think that saying “national circuit debate is a much higher quality form of debate than local circuit debate” conflates quality of competition with something inherent to the circuit. While it’ s true that in my experience the majority of circuit rounds are more interesting and thought provoking than local rounds, I think that’s the result of who I’m debating rather than how we are debating. Circuit tournaments self select for quality; better debaters travel to circuit tournaments because they want a challenge. This isn’t too say that there aren’t some fantastic local debaters. I’m just saying that circuit tournaments tend to have a very high concentration of good debaters. I’ve had some really terrible rounds at circuit tournaments too, and they weren’t saved by spreading or dense philosophy.

      NSDA and CFL nationals are tournaments that draw good traditional debaters together in the same way that circuit tournaments attract good progressive debaters. Sure there are bad debaters there, but there are also bad debaters at circuit tournaments. Some of the funnest and most rewarding rounds I’ve ever had have been at those tournaments against top quality competition. Once you control for quality of opponent, I’m not sure if circuit debate is actually any better than traditional.

      • Richard Dunn

        Joey, you bring up some very good points. You’re definitely right that local circuit debate can have some great rounds; some of the most fun and rewarding rounds I have participated in have come at local circuit tournaments. I would agree with you that the circuit draws more quality competition, which likely improves the quality of debates a debater would experience at a bid tournament as opposed to a local tournament.

  • DanAlessandro

    The only indict of circuit-LD in this article is a vague claim that a circuit LD speech is not accessible to the average person/doesn’t translate to real life. I think for a lot of reasons circuit LD is significantly more educational than local debate.

    First, local debate doesn’t teach any skills that circuit LD doesn’t also teach. The only educational advantage highlighted is the ability to convince a layperson of arguments. However, you have to persuade a judge in circuit LD just as much as you need to persuade a judge in lay debate, and with a much greater argumentative rigor. Sure, not everybody is accustomed to listening to fast speeches, but how many opinions of business executives are you going to change with a bunch of circular arguments for a value and value criterion?

    In circuit LD, there is also a much greater range of judges that you have to adapt to. From my experience, there isn’t a huge difference between lay judge A, B, and C, but on the national circuit there is a huge variance in judge preferences and types of arguments/styles that they prefer. In circuit LD, just like the real world, you are speaking in a way that will convince the listener. Additionally, the empirical success of national-circuit debaters at lay tournaments shows that the skills from circuit debate cross over. According to Wikipedia, four of the last 6 NFL champions have debated at schools that compete on the national circuit (2008 – Todd Liipfert- Strake, 2009 – Shivani Vohra, Hockaday, 2010 – Benjamin Sprung-Keyser, Harvard-Westlake School, 2011 – Josh Roberts, Northland Christian School, Texas) .

    There are also a ton of educational advantages to circuit LD. Speed allows for a much greater breadth and depth of argumentation within LD time constraints. There is a much higher standard for evidence and level of warranted analysis. Kritik and philosophy debate on the national circuit open up highly rigorous and educational literature bases that are almost never seen at local tournaments.

    • Wesley Hu

      Dan – I and probably most agree with everything you’re saying but I’m pretty the authors intention was not to “indict” circuit LD.

      • Samir Reddy

        I think it is their intention- “A symphony of pathos, ethos, and logos… that’s what debate should be about.”

        • Wesley Hu

          The main of focus of the article seems to be answering the question “how, then, can we combat this internal prejudice?” With the internal prejudice at hand being the divide between lay and circuit debate. And the author does say “Please understand, this is not an indictment of any specific person on either side of the line.”

          Samir, to me that quote seems largely pluralistic too – with debate being considered a symphony of a variety of different things, logos and thus techy debate included. But even if it isn’t, I can’t blame someone who likes local debate to want lay debate to be more recognized, which isn’t incompatible with advocating for mutual tolerance and respect.

      • Jake Mazeitis

        Dan, as Wesley said, my intention was never to indict circuit LD, but rather, say that debate should just as much about oration as evidence. Perhaps local debate doesn’t focus enough on analysis, perhaps circuit debate doesn’t focus on oration. To your last point about circuit competitors being competitive at NFL’s, I agree wholeheartedly. As a “lay” debater myself, when I hit Round 10 at NSDA Nats last year, I quite literally couldn’t compete because I couldn’t understand what my opponent was saying, and consequently lost. Success at NSDA Nats by circuit competitors just goes to show that LD at that particular tournament is more progressive than it has been in the past.

        • AJT999

          “…Debate should be just as much about oration as evidence.”

          I disagree. I think that any substantive debate should center on the quality of evidence, where “quality” depends on the type of debate being had. For the debate to be *about* oration, the judge would include speaking skills as part of the decision which appears difficult if we’re going to care about evidence quality too (“well, their cards are better, but the other debater is an excellent speaker”).

          Good oration skills are great as well. I’ve had experience with both circuit and lay LD, and my oration skills have improved immensely because of it. However, I think that oration skills should be an indirect benefit of the game, not the basis on which judges make decisions. Oration skills should be included as part of the speaker points one is given along with strategy.

    • Rahul Gosain

      I’m obviously inclined to agree that circuit LD has value – a ton of it – but I disagree that it teaches all the skills that traditional debate does. Yes, some circuit debaters may do well at NFL Nationals, but if you toss the average circuit debater into traditional LD you’ll get more frustration and confusion than you will instant success stories. The persuasive skills and types of argumentation are a different facet of debate that a lot of people on the circuit just abruptly stop doing after novice year. Just because you debate on the circuit (as the NFL champions you mention did) doesn’t mean that the circuit gave you those lay debate skills. Given the argumentative rigor you note that the circuit provides, you should know that correlation doesn’t imply causation.

      The fact that you acknowledge and call out the value of adapting to different circuit judges as both a debate and life skill is why I find your comment puzzling. I think the author is spot on in mentioning real scenarios where the skills involved in adapting to lay judges are the skills you need to have. No, Dan, you will not need to convince business executives that the warrant for their value criterion is circular. That is exactly the point. You will have to speak to them in a way they find convincing, and that will probably involve appropriate eye contact. A technical win isn’t always the end goal – the style that circuit LD misses adapting to is provided by traditional debate. Neither one needs to be “indicted.”

      • DanAlessandro

        I think you underestimate the importance of presentation and persuasion in circuit LD. Perception does matter! As much as debaters like to think that their judges are perfect robots that 100% objectively evaluate the flow, this simply isn’t true. Persuasion and speaking well are most definitely important in circuit LD today- neither of the two debaters in TOC finals last year were the fastest on the circuit, but they were still extremely successful in circuit LD because they knew how to get the judge’s ballot through skills that will translate to the real world.

        • John

          Honestly, I don’t Rahul underestimates the importance of presentation in circuit LD. People don’t have to wear dress clothes, they can talk as they see fit, and I have very rarely seen “persuasion” beat someone on the flow. Sure it matters. Perceptual dominance matters, but I don’t think that you can argue that the way that people present themselves on the national circuit has persuasion skills that directly translate into real world persuasion skills. I think Rahul is right on the point that circuit debate does not directly translate into lay skills immediately and that both type of debates have value.

    • John

      I definitely agree that circuit LD carries unique educational benefits, however I’m not entirely sure that “circuit LD is significantly more educational than local debate.” For one, I think a lot of the reasons you present are more about the individual debater than the style of debate.

      I think that you significantly downplay the value of appealing/adapting to lay judges. I don’t think this skill can be undersold at all. To me, it is one of the most important takeaways of debate. A lot of things that are learned through debate help serve the primary function of persuasion. In your first point, you say that “you have to persuade a judge in circuit LD just as much as you need to persuade a judge in lay debate”, but that doesn’t really seem that true. I’d argue that it’s actually more difficult to find an argumentative style that managed to consistently win in local debate. Every judge was different at a local tournament. One judge might be a doctor that looked at debaters from a medical viewpoint, another might be a businessman that was partially inspired by Ayn Rand, another a math teacher, another an experienced debate coach, etc. They all viewed the round differently and most RFDs at local tournaments varied wildly, whereas I’ve found that most circuit RFDs are fairly consistent (not perfectly, but fairly). I personally spent more time trying to find ways to make my argument more persuasive than coming up with arguments. Most of the stock arguments on each topic could be figured out within a couple hours of research, but finding a way to make the same argument appeal to each and every different lay judge was something that took a lot of time. My coach and I spent most of the time after practice rounds not talking about argument interaction, how I could’ve better weighed this argument, or anything like that, but rather talking about how to phrase or word a specific argument to make it more persuasive. I’m fairly certain that the skills I learned from learning how to be persuasive across a broad spectrum is something that will probably benefit me more in the future than writing a T shell. I know that convincing a “tab” LD judge that you objectively did the better debating is fairly useful. But, let’s be real, how many people in the real world are “tab”. We wish that number would be higher than it is, but the reality is that the real world is full of people that aren’t “tab”. And they still need to be persuaded. Local debate is where one learns how to adapt to those people.

      Also, on your example of the past NFL champions, I would argue that they were successful because they learned judge adaptation well. There’s a reason why most also happened to be in outrounds of the TOC: they were just good debaters. But an average circuit debater thrown into NCFL or NSDA right now would probably not do particularly well.

      I’m all for circuit debate, I love it. But I also don’t think it’s right to just straight up claim that circuit is better than local. Both have great value. I don’t really want to write a complete response, but suffice to say that I’m for both types of debate equally.

    • Come@me

      i think it is kind of funny that you are talking about circuit debate’s educational value. Correct me if i am wrong, but i do believe that you particularly enjoy a theory debate. What is educational in theory debates that play out the same way? How will complaining about fairness convince a room of board directors?

      • DanAlessandro

        The existence of theory in circuit LD by no means destroys circuit debate’s educational value. Some people have even expounded upon the benefits of theory debates. Just because the literal form of a theory argument doesn’t appear in real life doesn’t mean that theory debate doesn’t teach valuable skills such as argument comparison, critical thinking, and thinking on your feet. Also, the fact that theory is necessary in some rounds in no way detracts from all of circuit debate’s educational value. The other ways in which I’ve highlighted that circuit debate is far more educational than local debate outweigh the alleged loss of education from theory.

        RE: ad hom
        I’ve read theory in 48% of my rounds this year. Here’s a list of every theory argument I’ve read:
        altruistic theory bad
        debaters must disclose citations to evidence
        theory spikes bad
        statistics must be accurate
        Skep may only be read if AC contention is conceded
        clipping cards bad

        AFC if it’s util and disclosed pre-tournament

        I strongly believe in all of those rules for debate. We can agree to disagree about whether theory is intrinsically good/bad, but I think it’s non-controversial that all of those theory interps (aside from AFC, which people disagree on) make debate more educational.

  • Samir Reddy

    I think there is and should be room for both types of debate. The issues in my mind are that progressive debate is exclusionary on the basis of wealth and lay debate is exclusionary in that the average person is more superficially prejudiced against against non-white/non-straight/non-male people as is the typical debate judge (likely as a result of age group-Progressive debate judges are still extremely superficially bias).