Seven Deadly Sins of Debate

Seven little things I want to grip about in debate…. in no particular order…

Anger – Ah, the wraith of the coach scorned and the fury of the teacher wronged. To all the people who come charging up to me after the verdict has gone against your team, complete with bulging eyes and throbbing veins, I have something to tell you. I am not going to change my mind about the verdict. In fact, none of the other judges you yell at will change their minds about the decision. Heck, it’s pretty illegal for us to be changing our decision on the winner is. (aside from British Parli, but that’s another story). So dear coach, teacher and the horrible coach-teacher hybrid, I am sure that you think your speakers were Churchill, Lincoln and King, Jr reborn and their arguments were better than the Sermon on the Mount. It’s just that before my eyes, they were more like George VI at his stuttering best, ok?

But yelling at people young enough to be your own students? Shame on you.

Doing so in front of your own students? Aren’t you embarrassed? Even a little?

Carrying on like a monkey named Furious George and wasting people’s time in spite of the futility of it all? Don’t you feel stupid?

Making your speakers RE-deliver the speeches to the judges AFTER the debate? Are you retarded?

In debate, we encourage the paradigm that the judge’s word is final and that respect is to be accorded to all of them. You make a mockery of this attempt with your behaviour. If you are not happy with the judging, tell the organisers and lodge an official complaint. You might find that you are doing far more good than what you are doing right now.

Sloth – Ah… beware the lazy organiser of tournaments. He doesn’t know what all the rules are and has in fact sent out contradictory information to all the teams. He has given the wrong start times to the teams involved. When you need to talk to him during the rounds, he is rarely there. He often has no backbone, so he will happily accommodate his friends’ requests to give them “good rooms” and “decent debates” when he should be thinking of the students first and foremost. But then again, he has no choice, because he is desperate for judges. Why? Because he sent out the request for judges late and was kind of sitting on it.

When he sets motions, he doesn’t sit down and think through the arguments on both sides to make sure it’s balance. He does not care that the wording has to be precise to avoid messy debates. As long as he gets his “COOL” motion, he is a happy chap indeed, good debates be damned. And ooooh, he will happily break the rules of the tournament, failing to drop a team which comes late without an excuse, etc, because he is “chummy” with its coaches and don’t want to lose their friendship. I offer my thanks to the excellent tournament organisers out there because you make debate possible and change the lives of thousands of people. It’s a real shame that there still remain some bad apples that are spoiling the barrel.

Gluttony – Save me from the self-indulgent debater! These are rare creatures nowadays but the occasional one still pops its head into debates here and there. They are, alas, too confident by half and loves doing nothing else than to hear the sweet melodious tune that is their voice. Using simple words convey ideas to the audience and the judges? Pfft, let the plebes drown! They have mastered the thesaurus and they shall prove it! They have a scrabble game in the evening and they might as well use the debate as an opportunity to try out all these tricky words which would be great on triple word score! Advancing at the right time and keeping to the structure? PLEASE MAN! Can’t you see they are artists at work here? If the natural rhythm of the speech means they advance their cases at 7 mins out of 8, then so be it!

Envy – And save me from the debaters who think highly of the gluttons listed above! I do know that people tend to pick up little mannerisms and styles from the others that they see on the circuit. But alas, to me, they seem to be picking up tons of bad habits. I have already ranted about the “we say” habit and the “walk to your opponent for POIs” trick.

I am just a little disappointed that speakers end up using the jargon du jour instead of trying to find effective styles of their own. For instance, during reply speeches, people are still trying to shove everything into “two questions” or “our world, their world” paradigms when these don’t always apply. I am ok if debaters are looking at others or their seniors, deciding what they like about them, analysing to see why it’s effective, checking if it suits one’s own style, before applying the techniques. But for goodness sake, stop the blind copying.

Pride – It is wonderful to have debaters who think they are right. That utter conviction is often needed in debates and helps to create fantastic speeches. But at the same time, it is utter folly for them to think they can do no wrong and have learnt everything they can. At the end of matches, I see teams dutifully saunter over and stand in front of me but have no interest whatsoever in hearing any comments. I could have done without the passive aggressive looks too people, you guys lost fair and square. I just want to know why you even bother walking over if you think the comments are not worth it! Best save everyone’s time by just going home.

These are the same debaters who sit and chew on their nails instead of writing down what their coaches tell them to do at the end of matches and the same debaters (at the uni level) who would rather argue with the adjudicator than to learn what they could have done better in the debate. It’s such a shame to see these same speakers crash and burn at higher levels of debate because they have stopped learning and growing as speakers. It’s bad for Singapore debate and it’s bad for them.

Greed – Dear teachers. I do understand that your school and the powers above have put a great deal of emphasis on winning. Your job and your promotion would be helped along with a successful team. But can we also not forget that you are educators as well? Ultimately, you are there to teach and many students will benefit from training even if they never represent their schools. I am utterly disappointed by teachers who decide that it’s ok to pick a team in January and then jettison a debate club or society.

Worse, the people that remain are given training only in moving chairs, buy food for the “real” debaters and then being sent home. Teachers and coaches, do invest in having a proper club, where the students get to train, even if they never represent the school. When they are seniors, they can then help train the juniors and you are more likely to have a stronger team in the end anyway.

Lust – The lust for debate is a good one. I think everyone who is in an activity should have a passion for it. But for the rare few of you out there who may be too crazy about debate, I do urge that you take a chill pill and learn to take things in perspective. This goes to the debaters who are throwing chairs after a loss and who endure sleepless nights trying to think of the perfect POI refusal. Don’t become one of those teachers who will debrief a match from 8pm till midnight because your students “just don’t get it yet.” Debate should be educational and it would bring great honour and glory to the school. But ultimately, never forget to have fun.

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