BY SIERRA MACIOROWSKI
Is parliamentary debate an impossibility? In his article on this subject, my colleague Daniel Foltz focused on the dangers of bringing our dear parli too close to the flames of policy, and responded to my own article, “Net Polarity”, on the benefits of allowing internet usage in prep time. While I do agree with many of his claims regarding the uniqueness and importance of parli as a separate event, I firmly believe that parli is not an impossible debate, and allowing it to change is more beneficial than detrimental. Thus, in regards to Mr. Foltz’s article, I respectfully disagree, especially as his points apply to my own.
One of his earlier expressions is the belief that the changes desired by some in our community would lead to the development of parli as a division of policy, or, in his words, the imitation of a “near-cult of insanely fast speaking and arguments incoherent to the layperson.” I completely agree with the need to keep parli separate from policy. As he mentions later on, each debate event offers unique advantages to our community, and each debate event, as we seem to concur, should keep its individuality.
However, Mr. Foltz implies that changing parli-- with internet prep, with judge strikes, with more policy resolutions --would bring it into the speed umbrella that is policy debate. Here, our opinions diverge. Parliamentary debate is extremely different from policy; yes, we all speak to judges, and yes, we all advocate things, but one fundamental difference which seems to be neglected in “Parli: The Impossible Debate” is the matter of limited prep time. Policy debaters have, if not all the time in the world, rather a lot, to prepare their cases, which are typed out, read in round from computers, and extremely unlikely to be changed in the last few minutes before a round begins. Parli, on the other hand, is the event that we know because we are given only 20 minutes to prepare our arguments. Some might assume that 20 minutes could be sufficient to prepare a policy-debate-style case, but I sincerely question that. Even with internet, 20 minutes are still 20 minutes. Infinite resources do not infinite time make. In fact, it takes more time to construct a case from infinite resources than it does from finite downloaded files.
So, when we look at the differences between parli and policy, it’s quite clear that the implications of Mr. Foltz’s insinuations about the policy sub-division of future parli are probably unlikely to occur and rather slippery-- unless, of course, our parliamentary leaders decide that topics should be announced yearly instead of every 20 minutes.
His fifth paragraph emphasizes the dangers of poor link stories and speed. However, these issues are separate from the discussion of increasing information in round; speed is only educational when all parties present understand it, and debaters who hope to do well generally know not to outspread their judges, if they seek ballots. Poor link stories, furthermore, are in fact benefited from increased information-- having better resources allows debaters to find more warranted links and less ridiculous impacts. Surely, moving away from nuclear war can only be positive, especially if debaters gain a better understanding of realistic scenarios from their research!
Now, at last, we return to the direct back-and-forth between Mr. Foltz’s arguments and my own. His first response focuses on my tongue-in-cheek statement that the leaders of parliamentary debate believe that parli should diverge from public forum and policy. In responding to this statement, the argument appears that I ignore the many other differences between parli and policy and public forum.
Perhaps I should have used the phrase “*wink*” rather than “tongue-in-cheek”, for I’m not quite certain what I might have done to make this more clear: I do not believe that anyone’s reason for disallowing internet prep comes from a desire to separate public forum and policy, and therefore do not intend in this statement to address every difference between the three aforementioned forms of debate. Indeed, as I addressed earlier in this response, there are tremendous differences to be respected and observed, and that is truly one of the primary reasons that parli is not the “impossible debate” that Mr. Foltz believes it to be.
Additionally, his arguments compare believing that the system might be at fault for the weakness of rounds with blaming a teacher for the lack of studiousness of a student. And, indeed, when a student doesn’t study, that really is their own fault. But debate, especially parliamentary, is intended to educate us in itself-- debate rounds are not tests that we must study for, but events that we must prepare for, in order to have the most educational rounds possible. In the spirit of true education, allowing internet prep would add levels of information and accuracy to rounds which could not exist without it. Thus, though blaming the rules without duly noting the responsibilities of debaters themselves is unjust, ignoring the possibility of systemic failure and the subsequent potential for change is equally detrimental.
Mr. Foltz makes the claim that preparing for a parli round today is like an open-book test, that we have access to the equivalent of whole textbooks and flashcards as we prep. However, possessing whole textbooks on our computer hard drives is not highly effective. The files which we might store for preparation are, in general, either small news clippings, or large documents, and neither of these can assuredly and rapidly give us the information we desire. Small clippings might have a few worthwhile statistics, or a few ideas, but cannot give us the larger perspective on an issue, while large documents are nigh on impossible to search, and finding the useful within the tedious can take most of prep, leaving little time to actually create arguments. Having the internet, on the other hand, could allow debaters to find statistics and other warrants to support argumentation, without wasting 20 minutes hunting through difficult materials that do not provide many benefits.
Would pre-round research be replaced with the internet? For those who do debate for fun and entertainment, rounds could be less stressful and more educational... essentially, for those who prefer not to research, or read the news, or write briefs, not much would change, except for the positive direction of future rounds’ educational value. For those serious about the competitive aspects of debate, internet prep would simply provide additional resources to supplement previously prepared materials. After all, learning what Ebola is at the start of prep time, and researching it for 20 minutes, can have no competitivity against knowing what Ebola is from researching it and reading about it frequently. Those who wish to stay on top, would, in general, put the effort in to stay on top. Furthermore, the argument that people who don’t put in the time should not reap the rewards of debate makes our community seem retributive rather than educational. Must we punish those who debate not for the competition, but for the fun and education that comes hence?
While it is true that many debaters do possess more general knowledge than the general population, that knowledge cannot replace the benefits of having available statistics and warrants for any topic. Yes, trying to pack our debates full of information might have some risks, but the benefits of having informed rounds far outweigh the unlikely-to-win-rounds possibility of debaters attempting to speed. Thus, giving debaters greater access to information during prep could increase round quality.
In response to my pre-emptive argument about the lack of unique socioeconomic problems resulting from the addition of internet prep, Mr. Foltz said that the gap would in fact widen-- essentially, a direct contradiction. While considering his analysis, however, I begin to wonder: how many debaters today go into round without a computer? Looking at GGSA league tournaments, for example, I generally do see most debaters with computers in varsity or open prep rooms, and while I have less knowledge of the novice side of debate, since team prep is allowed, it seems likely that there would be at least one person on a team who might have a computer.
Perhaps the most difficult issue to address is that of internet connection. Wifi is irrefutably dreadful in many places, and bandwidth is generally too ridiculous to support large numbers of high school students. Unfortunately, possessing extremely limited technological know-how myself, I am nowhere near qualified to present options for improving connections at debate tournaments, were we to have internet prep, but I would imagine that there might be ways to work around the problem, or with it. Indeed, some companies offer temporary wifi connections for events, which certainly seems to generally describe the need of our tournaments.
Finally, Mr. Foltz states that as long as our form of debate is influenced by NPDA, parliamentary “rules and traditions will remain in flux”. Rules and traditions? Being deemed a tradition or rule does not make something infallible nor necessary-- rather, traditions and rules are what necessitate change, through their inadequacy or imperfections. Attempting to focus on the power of traditions and the need to continue with something because of tradition is, in reality, a logical fallacy, and attempting to vilify the fluctuation of those traditions only prevents the discussion of potentially positive progress.
Sierra Maciorowski debates for Sonoma Academy and is the opinion page editor for Point of Information.