02 March 2008

The great debaters

The Saskatchewan Elocution and Debate Association had organised a provincial level bebate competition for high school students at the Walter Murray Collegiate, Saskatoon.

There were many teams and I was asked to be a judge by a person close to the school. I judged three league competitions for students of grade 8-10 (I think).

Topic was:
Be it resolved that it is wise for a country to have defence in space.

Each team had two debaters and the competion had them take turn and stand for cross examinations. Finally first affirmative speaker and the first negetive speakers presented the rebuttal.

The Affirmative team won twice; the Negative team won once. First two were unonimous where the Negative won first and then the Affirmative won. Third one was a bit tricky. There were only two judges and we agreed that the other judge will be the senior judge. I choose the Negative but the other judge choose the Affirmative team. What surprised me was the other judge did not consider it worth to discuss the decision.

I noted that both the teams used classic fallacies and failed to address inconsistent arguments. I was not happy with the clash (counter arguments) at all. There was more prepared speeach in some cases. Neverthaless, all the teams were well composed and prepared. What was remarkable was they were well paced and were far better than the debates I have seen before.

An important cultural issue emerged. One of the judges thought two teams were aggressive and one person was objectionably aggressive, sarcastic and disturbing! By Indian standards, it was not even noticeable! I have, before, employed sarcasm to show the stupidity of arguments. It usually is a question to the audience that mocks the weakness of the opponents argument and makes the audience laugh (argumentum ad populum) (Judges will have to disregard this). As long as there are no personal attacks, aggression is acceptable in debate.

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