Debating the Clash of Civilizations- "Project" debates

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Today, due to time constraints, I’m only going to discuss Ede Warner and John Bruschke’s article
“Gone on debating: Competitive academic debate as a tool of empowerment.” (Contemporary Argumentation and Debate; 22; 2001). I’d also like to point out that I use the word “project” only for lack of a better word, and because Zompetti uses it in his article. I’d also like to apologize for the over quotation. This is the first time I’ve read the article, and I generally think it’s better to hear their words than my summary.

First, what is empowerment, where does it take place? Empowerment is both individual and institutional- “we believe that empowerment occurs at both individual and community levels, and that communities are empowered as the individuals in those communities are empowered.”

But what does empowerment mean? Quoting Shor, Bruschke and Warner write: “Empowering education invites students to become skilled workers and thinking citizens who are also change agents and social critics…McLaren discussed the pedagogy as ‘the process where students learn to critically appropriate knowledge outside their immediate experience in order to broaden their understanding of themselves, the world, and the possibility for transforming the taken-for-granted assumptions about the way that we live.’”

But how does empowerment take place in an educational and debate setting? Here Bruschke and Warner turn to Friere and the difference between top down lecturing, and a bottom up, dialectical approach which involves questions and answers, “recognizes both sides of a question, resists absolutist conclusions, demands the thorough questioning of any proposition, and recognizes the value of continually challenging both a thesis and its opposite.” More specifically, their four requirements for empowering education are: learning to engage in a critical way, students must be social critics, must be agents of change who are willing to take risks, and finally, students must take control over their learning.

I think it’s worth noting here Bruschke and Warner’s argument that “debate outreach must be a two-way street: We cannot expect simply that debate can reach out and change under-served students. We must also expect that the newly-included students will change current models of intercollegiate debate. Contemporary debate practice has served a number of students very well, but its own practices cannot fall outside of its dialectical roots: We must examine our current practices with the same vigor we examine the government policies we debate about.” Two points I want to make here- the examination of our current practices and experience, even privilege, is the personalizing of debate the Zompetti fears, and secondly, this illustrates shanahan’s call for revolution and criticism not just of the content in debate, but also the form itself.

In addressing criticisms of debate, including its antagonistic and “war like” nature, as well as the lack of diversity, Bruschke and Warner conclude: “We believe that where those involved in academic debate see space for diversity, non-participants see an activity that replicates institutional modes of domination and this factor, more than any other, lies behind the critiques of current debate practice. More than debating questions of format amongst ourselves we need to adopt a framework that systematically includes the voices of those currently marginalized.” At another point they say: “Our call is for debate professionals to listen to the new arguments and styles of new participants, and allow their voices to lead us to a new rhetoric for academic debate. We can either discuss among ourselves what elements of debate style make it such a white-dominated activity, or we can listen to the unique styles and expressions of new-found debaters and validate them with positive feedback. We can use our ballots to affirm new styles of debate.” This argument in particular reminds me of discussions I’ve been part of that focused on increasingly diversity within our debate team. Some people felt like the solution was more outreach, trying to involve novice debaters, etc into our team. My suggestion was much more in line with Bruschke and Warner, although not quite the same- the debate team should be less competitive (on this point I differ from Bruschke and Warner, but also notice a difference in where the competition takes place, “in round“ versus “out of round“), less “rogue” (always going over the top and insulting, no excuse me, making jokes at teammates or the opponents expense, etc.), and less antagonism in favor of more agonism.

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