FRED STERNHAGEN Concordia College; 36 years coaching; Spring 2018
For e-mail chains: Fred.Sternhagen@gmail.com
This First Section is the Quick Overview
Things I’ll Try to Do
1. I have no approved list of positions. My commitment is to listen to the debate that the debaters produce.
2. I try to preference decisions made in the last rebuttals. I think developing critical thinking is a (perhaps the) biggest benefit of the activity. Making choices is very important to critical thinking. So, I will try to hold you responsible for the choices you make in the last two rebuttals. If you don't talk about it in the 2NR or the 2NR, I'm going to try to not think about it. To me, this seems to emphasize and reward critical thinking by the debaters.
3. I will try to privilege decision calculus developed by the debaters. Even if I think the way you compare and weigh issues is pretty silly, I’ll try to use that decision calculus if the other team doesn’t present an alternative. If you don't do that comparative work (and few debaters do) I'll need to do the decision calculus work. You might not like the way I do it--but someone needs to do those comparisons.
1. People tell me I’m quite easy to read non-verbally. I certainly try to be. I try to give you a lot of response. So, if you pay attention, that should help you.
2. I can get irritated by people who seem to presume that they are so much smarter than their partner that they need to do all the cross ex answers. Now, I'd really prefer a complete and/or accurate cross ex answer to an answer that will mess up the debate. So, if you need to answer to accomplish that, please do so. However, please think carefully about whether you are presuming your partner is not competent enough to give the answer. Do you really want to say that?
GENERAL ADVICE: 1) I don’t want to read a lot of evidence after the round. While I do have concerns about preserving orality, my bigger concern is that judges often construct arguments that the debaters did not. If I have to read a bunch of stuff to figure out what you are saying—that’s a problem for you. 3) I will not read speech documents during the round. This is a consequence of my concern for judges constructing arguments (what we used to call "judge intervention") 4) Portions of many speeches are unintelligible to me. Frankly, I think that is true for many people and that a lot of people fake understanding. I think the major reason debaters swap their speeches back and forth is that without that—you wouldn’t know what is going on. Maybe not, maybe it is only me. In any case, you would be well served when debating in front of me to be much more concerned about being understandable. 5) I like clear claims. I REALLY like clear claims. If your tags are over nine words long, you should not presume that I can flow that. I’ll pick 6 to 9ish words as a rendition of your claim. It is very much in your self-interest to influence what I perceive to be your claim. 6) Clear precise signposting is likely to be very helpful to you. I like arguments to line up. 7) Following transitions between arguments can be difficult for me. My higher pitch hearing is not very good. Grunting “next” might not let me know you have moved to another argument. 8) I think most contemporary debaters are simply horrid at refutation. Repeating what was said earlier is not an extension. Reading more evidence is not refutation. Tell me HOW you win an argument.
CRITIAL ARGUMENTS: 1) The philosophical issues seem important to me. 2) Still, a lot of critique positions strike me as just silly or, even more likely, some kind of incoherent philo-psycho-babble. I think you would be well served to think about what separates a critique from other kinds of arguments. Just reading some cards that mention a philosophical concept does not mean that the position functions as a different kind of argument. 3) My desire for the educational functioning of the activity still controls the situation and IF you were able to convince me that critique positions are particularly bad for our game, I'd want to get rid of them. However, you need to remember that I don't start with the assumptions that critiques are bad. You need to explain and illustrate why that would be so. More specifically, appeals that seem to merely call for a rejection of weird stuff are not likely to be persuasive with me. There’s still a lot of 1969 under my thinning hair….. 4) While the Concordia debaters have been far “left” of center for some time—that was never my plan. It just kind of happened. I’ve never told debaters what positions they may or may not work on. I’ve just sort of been taken along for the ride. 5) Mutual preference judging means I’ve heard way more critical than traditional debates for some time. You should remember that if you are running traditional positions. I’ll probably enjoy hearing them—but I’ll be less practiced with them than a lot of judges. Be careful about assuming I’ll fill in gaps for you.
THEORY ARGUMENTS AND OTHER PROCEDURALS: I’ve never been opposed to these arguments. However, I don’t vote for them much. I think there are two reasons. First, usually there is not much in the way of support/grounds for the claims. When debaters don’t have a card to read—they often don’t know how to support a claim. Secondly, there is usually a need to do more impact comparison. An affirmative decreases ground. Okay, what is the result of that? What bad happens? Is the result enough to outweigh what the affirmative claims as the advantage to their approach?
The rest of this is stuff I’ve distributed for many years. I still think reading it would be helpful—but there isn’t much new from this point on. Some of it is repetative with parts reworked above. The parts are meant to be consistent.
OVERVIEW: My views about what needs to be emphasized in contemporary academic debate have remained stable for several years. The first is PRECISION OF ARGUMENT. It seems to me that debate should train students to more precisely advance and identify claims. It is hard for me to regard sloppily worded claims on the nature of, “case analysis disproves that” as representative of good argumentation. Second is lack of COMPLETENESS. I think speed per se, the words per minute uttered, is rarely an important problem. Rather, utterances become so truncated that they cross below the threshold of what constitutes an argument or delivery makes it very hard for listeners to process--to attend to and remember--the arguments. Third is lack of COHERENCE in the reasons debaters advance. We've heard a lot about the need to “tell a story.” Much research converges on the conclusion that people process information within structures; that for information to be meaningful, it must be connected to other information. My firm belief is that debaters need to spend MUCH more time and effort considering how separate arguments in a debate fit together into a coherent whole. Particularly important is comparison of arguments and evaluation of their relative importance. Winning an argument isn't that hard. Ability to show why the arguments you've won are important to the whole round is the mark of a truly good debater. Instead, debaters usually treat all arguments as equally important. There is little attempt to discuss underlying assumptions or overarching issues. While overviews at the beginning of a rebuttal are better than NO attempt to provide comparisons I often find them of little use because they are left divorced from the "line-by-line." In my view, really effective debating would INTEGRATE comparisons with the specific refutation. That is, the debaters would win the particular arguments and then explain the importance of those positions rather than separating out the "importance" step into a separate overview. Also, I suspect that overviews are often used to advance new arguments so be sure you clearly connect overview arguments to somewhere else on the flow
GENERAL IMPLICATIONS; FRAMEWORK FOR DECISION MAKING In an effort to promote precision, completeness and coherence in argument, I have adopted what can be termed a ”non-interventionist” stance, holding that debaters should be given credit for only the arguments they ACTUALLY PRESENT. I attempt to place an obligation upon debaters for not merely presenting ``positions,'' but to create MEANING. To promote decision making by the debaters, I take the role of an “educational gamesperson'”. The “educational” reflects my desire for the outcome of the process. The “games” term reflects my view that the educational end result is best served by allowing argument about any issue. I promise to listen (to the best of my ability) to anything. Since education is my desired end result of the game, educational implication is one fruitful area from which to develop justifications for theoretic practices. It is certainly not the only area from which to develop such justifications. I purposely avoid terming myself “tabula rasa'' since it is hard for me to believe a blank slate possible or even desirable. What does a blank slate tell the tab room if no one develops any decision rules? The predispositions which I knowingly bring into a room fall into these general categories
ARGUMENT PRECONCEPTIONS: Remember that my definition of an argument is ”cognitive” and focuses on meaning. That means I'm actively trying not to intervene and finish titles, explanations, applications,... What you say out loud is the argument made. Even if I could make the argument more effective by altering the claim, it will not be rewritten for you. You should also make your own applications of arguments. If an argument on disad 1 applies to disad 3, you need to tell my why. Even if the link is ``clearly'' the same. You need to tell me that. However, intervention will happen after 2AR. I will make a real effort to catch new arguments in 2AR. A lot new happens in 2AR and it is automatically thrown out. While a smart disco can strike me as a thing of true beauty, it is risky to grant things out in 2AR since that may be perceived as new. Comparisons of positions are pretty safe. In another effort to minimize intervention, I try to call for evidence only if it was missed through my error or if there is a dispute about the nature of the evidence.
COUNTERPLANS: 1) I think a lot of debaters don’t really “get” competition. You need to address the question, “what forces a choice between the two systems.” 2) I am not terribly interested in questions about things like what it means to “advocate a perm.” Focus on the competition question.
TOPICALITY PRECONCEPTIONS; At the start of the round topicality is an absolute voting issue, extratopicality means no accruing advantages. Again, all this can be fruitfully argued.
PERSONAL PREDISPOSITIONS; Don't be obnoxious to anyone. This would never be consciously applied to a decision but it sure will be applied to your points! Playing with the format of the activity should be argued only as a last resort. This view of game playing does not thrill me. It would take a lot of educational benefit to outweigh the impact upon the poor tournament director. When in doubt - ASK!!
A Couple of General Things About My Orientation to Debate
1. I’m a lot less interested in what you debate about than how. You debate. An example. It is true that I often find the subject matter of politics disads, big federalism positions, etc. to be rather boring. However, that does not mean you would be better off not running such positions. This semester I judged a round where the neg did a big, very predictable Bush credibility disad. But I really enjoyed that debate because they did it so well! They were technically clean, had good evidence, were direct in their refutation. The way they debated was much more important to me than what they talked about.
2. Most debaters don’t have a good sense of their own limits in regard to fast delivery. Consequently, they regularly exceed what they can handle. I’m very convinced of that.
a. That does not mean I would like debate to be slower. I know where to find extemp speeches if I wanted to listen to them. It does mean that most debaters would be more effective in front of me if they would be clearer/slower.
b. Articulation is rarely the important variable. Seems to me the problem usually has to do with people moving out of English into some kind of truncated debate-speak that doesn’t make much sense.