BY KARL MOEGLEIN
A rule clearly outlined in the Oregon Speech and Debate Handbook was violently thrown aside by a judge after a round my sophomore year at Lewis and Clark. The judge asked my partner and me to stay back as we attempted to finish the usual ritual of leaving that follows each round. I was confused about what was happening. Why this college judge wanted just one of the two teams to stay was beyond me. What could he possibly need to tell us in private.
The crime this judge committed was that of disclosure: the act of explaining what a judge’s decision is and why it is that way is prohibited within the current Oregon rules. He wanted to tell us that we had potential, and that there were a couple basic changes we could make that would allow us to have further success. Two rule changes this year, one that allows only oral critiques and one that allows full disclosure, will be voted on at this year’s OSAA State Championship during the annual coaches meeting that attempt to solve the issues of a blatantly non educational system that is masked by concerns of efficiency and abuse. If debate is truly meant to be educational then disclosure is a necessity in creating a space where students can truly thrive.
Early in my junior year, I experienced something completely foreign to me and my experiences in Oregon debate. The National Parliamentary Debate Invitational did more than just allow disclosure. The tournament held at the University of California-Berkeley actively encouraged judges to give full oral critiques and RFDs. I quickly grew to appreciate this method of student-judge communication. I lost my first round at the tournament, but importantly I knew what happened and what I needed to improve on. The immediacy of the feedback allowed me to grow immensely as a debater over the course of just one tournament.
During the course of this season, I traveled to California for six different tournaments. One of the largest incentives was the ability to receive direct feedback from judges. Not every judge disclosed, but the ability was always there. The ability to just tack on California tournaments is both financially and geographically not feasible for many teams across the state of Oregon. The educational benefits of oral criticism should not be limited to those who are already likely to have the most resources like travelling to tournaments and debate camps. While the current rule encourages judges to write feedback on the ballot which competitors receive later, any debater can give testimony to reading ballots that don’t even include a basic reason for decision or any feedback beyond some vaguely positive comment even from experienced coaches.
This year at Willamette, my partner asked a long time Oregon coach if he would disclose. The answer was revealing. Instead of just saying it was against the rules, the coach explained that it would be unequitable for him to disclose because we would be receiving advice during the tournament that others do not. This shows why the rule changes that are being voted on are so critical. The current ban on disclosure is preventing educational conversations by disguising them as an equity issue which can be easily solved by a yes vote.
Opponents of the bill have a few main reasons they fall back on each time the issue comes up. One of the most common is not wanting to slow down tournaments, but this is solved by multiple factors. The first is that there is no reason that judges giving oral critiques will take any longer than the current process of writing down decisions on ballots. It just transfers the time. The shift towards online balloting should also ease this concern. Ballots must be submitted prior to any oral feedback as listed in both rule changes. As more tournaments shift towards online systems like the majority of tournaments in Oregon in 2017 did, the concerns over ballots not returning should go away. Another concern is the comfort of judges and students alike.
First, both rule changes state that it is optional for both parties. More importantly may be what Sunset High School Head Coach Eliza Haas explained in her rationale for the rule change itself. “An informal survey of parent judges showed that the majority supported having the ability to speak their critiques rather than write them all. Particularly, parent judges for whom English is a second language expressed that they felt they could give both better and quicker oral feedback than written feedback.” Parents or other less experienced judges don’t have to do anything, but many may be more comfortable with the rule change than they were before. The first thing a judge is told now is written plainly on the bottom of their ballot, ““Oral critiques are not allowed.” The current system only encourages people who may have feedback to keep it to themselves while more experienced judges sometimes choose to break the rule. The current system only propagates the inequality it is attempting to solve for by limiting disclosure to the opinions of a select few judges who disregard the current rule.
The concern amongst coaches that students will argue with judges is reasonable in theory, but in application will be less of a problem than opponents assume. Allowing oral feedback has yet to crash any other state’s debate circuits. The more important response is easier stated as a question: are you so uncertain in your decision that you have to hide behind a ballot? When explaining how to judge to my parents I told them that the only illegitimate reason for decision was no reason for decision. Too many students are stuck with that in Oregon debate today. I hope it is not idealistic to think that a coach can and should go above and beyond this by providing a student with an explanation of why they voted the way they did and the ways improvement can happen for that student in the future. Non experienced perspectives also play a key role in student’s education. They not only allow students to further adapt to judges with different experiences, but they mirror the real world. Understanding why people decided things and how to change minds is one the most important skills debaters take with them to the real world.
A separate worry that is common across Oregon debate is the continued trajectory of each unique style towards more progressive arguments like theory and kritiks. This debate may have no more relevance than in parli. Disclosure can help this problem immensely by making judges who are often also coaches resources to students who may not have the access to the information they need. At the Parli Tournament of Champions last weekend, I saw a former debater sitting down and spending the time explaining the nuances of technical arguments because they simply didn’t have a team that learned those skills. Without the open door that oral criticism and disclosure allow, educational opportunities like this will be near impossible, and the unnecessary split between debaters based on arbitrary ideas of what debate should be will continue to expand.
Next week will be my last debate rounds in Oregon. This rule change will never affect me personally. I will never receive oral feedback that is legal in Oregon. This is a question of the future of Oregon debate and how we make it the most educational it can be. We say the event is about real world education, and orally receiving feedback will be part of every student’s experience as they move on from the cozy confines of debate. It is important that a space that so highly prioritizes education via communication have rules that emulate that pedagogical philosophy. Disclosure may not solve every issue in debate, but when considering that most of the reasons against this change are easily answered and empirically not true, it is clear that the chance of creating more education for students is worth any risks this change may pose.
Karl Moeglein is a senior debater at Ashland High School and the Senior Oregon Correspondent for POI.