Sunday, January 24, 2010

Speechifying in Not-So-Secret Society

I've been neglecting you. I'm sorry. But I've been pretty busy. Super Son has decided to expand his repertoire of accomplishments by engaging in speech and debate, and I've gotten involved as a judge.

My Mom and I were on the phone tonight, and she was all excited about some sort of game with a guy named Favre. She mentioned the NFL. For me, the only NFL is the National Forensic League.

Back in the time of the dinosaurs, I was a high school debater. Some time I will dig out my old high school yearbooks to find the picture of a cocky teenaged me, leaning on a podium with one eyebrow raised in my best "why, yes, I DO know it all" expression.

Meanwhile, you'll have to just use your imagination and believe me when I say I was a debater.

A master debater.

Heh. That is a debate joke. Get it? We debaters are so risqué.

Anyhoo, Super Son attended a tournament last weekend to see what speech and debate events were all about, and the coach accepted my offer to serve as a judge. It's been a few decades since I've done it - I debated in college and often was hired as high school judge - but I felt very much at home in the setting of smart, well spoken, nervous, excited and opinionated young people. They do a slightly different type of debate than I did in the midwest. I was taught to do extensive research and debate a specific policy by examining a particular plan that served as an example of the policy area. We relied heavily upon quotes of experts and talked a mile a minute.

This area generally uses a less intense format. Lincoln-Douglas Debate is one on one and has shorter speeches and is more value-oriented. Instead of one topic for the year, they change topics every two months. Public Forum Debate topics change monthly, (characterized by National Forensic League as "ripped from newspaper headlines) and the format uses two person teams. The local high schools also offer Congress Debate - students serve as senators and speechify for or against proposed legislation.

Super Son chose the last type as his debut into this strange new world this Friday.

Meanwhile, I was once again busy judging a gazillion different events. I was impressed with how much effort the students put into their presentations. Every once in a while, there was someone who clearly stood out, or someone who choked. By and large, though, they were grouped closely in skill.

Which made it damned hard to judge.

Judges have to rank order competitors and assign speaker points to them. I tried to be as careful as possible, but it really is a subjective thing in many cases. Criterion such as "Persuasive" is an awfully personal measurement. You can easily assess someone's height as it relates to another person's with a ruler. But where is the persuasiveness tool?

Each of those young people wanted to be the best. Or maybe they were just enjoying the opportunity to participate. That was certainly the case for my boy. He didn't expect to win anything. After all, it was his first time.

He had an opportunity to compose and give a speech about a piece of legislation related to third term abortions. Heavy stuff. It's only been about a year since he even knew what an abortion is; we'd talked about it when he heard a reference on the news. He'd hoped to deliver a speech he'd written about gun control, but the Senate got bogged down in something else and they ran out of time. It was a good lesson; heavens knows the real legislatures sometimes endlessly talk about issues and don't make progress.

He's going back for more in two weeks, this time as a Public Forum debater. The topic is
Resolved: In the United States, organized political lobbying does more harm than good.

I'm eager to hear what he thinks.

The circle is now complete.


Kathy Amen said...

I'm very impressed with you and SS.

And I'm willing to bet your NFL is a lot more exciting, minute for minute than the other one 8-).

Fantastic Forrest said...

Thanks, Kathy! Admittedly, I am geek about such things, but these kids are more impressive to me than football ever could be.

lisleman said...

hey judge that's a good post. Nice to learn of young people still using their minds instead of just their thumbs texting.

Oh if you didn't hear by now that Favre guy lost. Actually the best performance he ever did (IMHO) was a bit part in 'Something about Mary'.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I debated in high school and later in college became a judge for high school debats - back then, $30 for 2 hours work was a great deal.
But in Australia it was different - always 3 person teams. The first presented your argument, the second presented some more argument and rebutted the first person on the opposition, and the third person couldn't introduce anything new but would spend their time rebutting the other side and recapping. I used to love third speaker.
Do you ever see this format here in the US?

Bee said...

I can really see you in both roles: debater AND judge. What a worthwhile activity.

My teenager is a natural genius (her words) at debating, but they have disbanded the debate club because they lost their faculty sponsor. May I put your name up for the job?