Went back to Singapore recently and as always went down to judge some debates. Aside from having a horrible definitional debate in one round due to a badly worded motion, everything was ok. However, I was a little taken aback to learn that the next round of the debates would be an entire month away and that the motion will be prepared. Furthermore, the final’s motion was released, meaning that a team with a shot of making the finals will have to prep for three full sides (their 4th round, and both sides for the finals). I don’t envy the students who will have to prep these cases for the next month!
My personal take – prepared debates are doing more harm than good.
a. Prepared motions are taking up too much time. Given how kiasu Singaporean debaters are, the tendency is for the teams to prep non-stop and craft perfect speeches. This is extremely time intensive and cuts into school work time and also into the students’ free time.
b. Prepared motions undercut training for impromptus. When more time is given to preparing the speeches, less time is left for the students to learn how to do impromptu motions. Thus, these students are often unprepared for impromptu motions and often perform badly once the tournaments switch from prepared to impromptus. Some students I have talked to have developed phobias against impromptu debates! (Many tournaments at the SG level tend to dumb down the motions specifically for the impromptu rounds, but I think this again defeats the purpose of making these students ready for any type of debate and being able to generate ideas quickly).
c. Prepared motions leads to coaches having too much influence on matches. For many teams, the prepared debates are merely the debaters reading out whatever the coaches have written. I have judges matches where the debaters could not even pronounce some of the words written by their coaches, let alone understand them. Many of these debaters then become very dependent on the coaches and thus crash and burn once they have to develop cases on their own. And as pointed out above, even if the coaches Want to teach the students how to do impromptus and think for themselves, they may not be able to do so given the time consumed by speech preps. There is also little incentive to teach impromptu when most of the rounds are prepared. Thus, the coach and just hope and pray the teams survive the impromptu rounds before the final, which often reverts to a prepared motion once more.
d. Lack to debate and clash: I notice more misrepresentation and lack of clash in prepared debates. The rebuttals delivered are often those prepared in advance but may not always be appropriate for the actual arguments that come up during the debate. It’s a little sad to see the debaters rebutting phantom arguments and even examples that their opponents never raised! Often, they just hear an argument that sounds like something they had prepped for and then just go – Use rebuttal 1. a ii. Rather than to listen hard and clash directly.
e. Lack of general knowledge – With less emphasis on impromptu, the students are not reading up more and preparing their own files in anticipation of impromptu rounds.
I know that there are limitations to using impromptus. One would be the need to secure prep rooms for every team on site at the tournament. Another factor is the possibility that schools may be deterred from sending teams to events which are impromptu heavy. Nonetheless, I feel that unless we try to move more towards impromptu (i.e. – moving to 1 day prep instead of 1 week prep), we will actually be hurting the debate scene in Singapore.