Logic and standards jettisoned in college debate to aid black debaters

Thomas Lifson
I am unbelievably sad to learn that college debate has been utterly corrupted in a condescending effort to cater to African-American debaters and hand them debased championships. I was a high school debater for three years, though I had other priorities in college. But it was a principal activity of mine in high school, I enjoyed it, and I was very good at it, judging by the record our team compiled. It was great training for public speaking, logic, and thinking on one’s feet (for the rebuttals).

John Hinderaker, joined by Paul Mirengoff, both of Powerline, summarize and lament what has become of college debate in the era of political correctness.

 …it appears that the decline of standards–indeed, the abolition of any standards at all–has come to the world of college debate. The Atlantic reports:

These days, an increasingly diverse group of participants has transformed debate competitions, mounting challenges to traditional form and content by incorporating personal experience, performance, and radical politics. These “alternative-style” debaters have achieved success, too, taking top honors at national collegiate tournaments over the past few years. …

On March 24, 2014 at the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) Championships at Indiana University, two Towson University students, Ameena Ruffin and Korey Johnson, became the first African-American women to win a national college debate tournament, for which the resolution asked whether the U.S. president’s war powers should be restricted. Rather than address the resolution straight on, Ruffin and Johnson, along with other teams of African-Americans, attacked its premise. The more pressing issue, they argued, is how the U.S. government is at war with poor black communities.

In the final round, Ruffin and Johnson squared off against Rashid Campbell and George Lee from the University of Oklahoma, two highly accomplished African-American debaters with distinctive dreadlocks and dashikis. Over four hours, the two teams engaged in a heated discussion of concepts like “nigga authenticity” and performed hip-hop and spoken-word poetry in the traditional timed format. At one point during Lee’s rebuttal, the clock ran out but he refused to yield the floor. “Fuck the time!” he yelled.

It sounds as though academic debating has come to an end. Debating is all about logic, and what these folks are doing is not logical. In some instances, new-style participants reject the proposition that they are supposed to be debating.

This is not just coloring outside the lines, this is tearing up the book and throwing paint at a blank canvas. It eschews focus and rigor in favor of feelings and anecdote.

Many debaters go on to careers in the law. The Powerline writers predict that the loss of rigor will arm the legal careers of future debaters. I fear something much worse: that arguments in court will be debased even further.

When we lose the ability and the desire (!) to rigorously apply logic, we embrace a loss of civilization, and slide toward a new dark age.

I admit I am rather cranky on the subject. Probably that’s because I saw debate as a healthy training exercise and think that I got a lot out of it. But if breaking into song, leaving logic behind on favor of feelings, and changing the subject are now to be regarded with championships, then all is lost for future generations.

In more civilized countries, they are laughing at us.

I am unbelievably sad to learn that college debate has been utterly corrupted in a condescending effort to cater to African-American debaters and hand them debased championships. I was a high school debater for three years, though I had other priorities in college. But it was a principal activity of mine in high school, I enjoyed it, and I was very good at it, judging by the record our team compiled. It was great training for public speaking, logic, and thinking on one’s feet (for the rebuttals).

John Hinderaker, joined by Paul Mirengoff, both of Powerline, summarize and lament what has become of college debate in the era of political correctness.

 …it appears that the decline of standards–indeed, the abolition of any standards at all–has come to the world of college debate. The Atlantic reports:

These days, an increasingly diverse group of participants has transformed debate competitions, mounting challenges to traditional form and content by incorporating personal experience, performance, and radical politics. These “alternative-style” debaters have achieved success, too, taking top honors at national collegiate tournaments over the past few years. …

On March 24, 2014 at the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) Championships at Indiana University, two Towson University students, Ameena Ruffin and Korey Johnson, became the first African-American women to win a national college debate tournament, for which the resolution asked whether the U.S. president’s war powers should be restricted. Rather than address the resolution straight on, Ruffin and Johnson, along with other teams of African-Americans, attacked its premise. The more pressing issue, they argued, is how the U.S. government is at war with poor black communities.

In the final round, Ruffin and Johnson squared off against Rashid Campbell and George Lee from the University of Oklahoma, two highly accomplished African-American debaters with distinctive dreadlocks and dashikis. Over four hours, the two teams engaged in a heated discussion of concepts like “nigga authenticity” and performed hip-hop and spoken-word poetry in the traditional timed format. At one point during Lee’s rebuttal, the clock ran out but he refused to yield the floor. “Fuck the time!” he yelled.

It sounds as though academic debating has come to an end. Debating is all about logic, and what these folks are doing is not logical. In some instances, new-style participants reject the proposition that they are supposed to be debating.

This is not just coloring outside the lines, this is tearing up the book and throwing paint at a blank canvas. It eschews focus and rigor in favor of feelings and anecdote.

Many debaters go on to careers in the law. The Powerline writers predict that the loss of rigor will arm the legal careers of future debaters. I fear something much worse: that arguments in court will be debased even further.

When we lose the ability and the desire (!) to rigorously apply logic, we embrace a loss of civilization, and slide toward a new dark age.

I admit I am rather cranky on the subject. Probably that’s because I saw debate as a healthy training exercise and think that I got a lot out of it. But if breaking into song, leaving logic behind on favor of feelings, and changing the subject are now to be regarded with championships, then all is lost for future generations.

In more civilized countries, they are laughing at us.