I don't know if this happens in other parts of the debate world, but around here in Minnesota we tend to have quite a few conversations about how to improve the debate community. I occasionally snipe at this or that and add my two cents, but frankly I don't really have anything productive to add, so I stay out of it. I still follow the conversation(s) closely, though, because I care about this activity and I really want to see it succeed, so I'm interested in how people think we ought to make it succeed.
This ongoing conversation is really starting to irritate me.
I usually try to refrain from describing real-world things in terms of debate lingo, because it's cutesy and shallow and irritating, but I can't think of a better way to put this, so here's my analysis of the "save debate" flow.
There are only two possible impacts here. More Debate or Better Debate. I don't think that anyone is currently advocating that we change our rules/norms in order to make debate a better, more educational game, so let's focus on More Debate. More Debate either means "vertical" growth (existing schools grow their programs) or "horizontal" growth (attracting more schools to the activity). There's a bit of a balancing act between vertical and horizontal growth, but both are good and we want to encourage both.
Let me take a brief digression here to address the question of debate formats. Right now we have 4 debate formats in Minnesota that I would describe as "varying degrees of good." I have my preferences, but I honestly think that they are all good, and at the very least much better than no debate. I also think that the growth of 3 of those 4 are mutually beneficial, IE that growth in one does not need to come at the expense of the others. They serve different needs, and having all of them available is a good way to give students/coaches choices that meet their needs. I say 3 of the 4 because frankly Classic and Public Forum cater to the same niche.
So anyway, I think that we, as a community, should focus on growing all of the various forms of debate available to us. So how do we do that? What's the link? I don't think what I'm about to say is a controversial statement, but it's an important point that I think gets lost in the chaos of these discussions.
The only link is more coaches
That's it. There will always be kids to cajole into joining, schools to have debates in, and administrators to convince into coughing up funding. The only limit is the number of coaches. Give me 100 reasonably smart, motivated individuals who want to coach and I'll give you 100 debate teams (or 50 debate teams, or 33 debate teams, whatever). Especially with the institutional support of orgs like the MDTA and NDCA, the only thing between "debate as it is" and "debate as it should be" are "Boots on the ground," so to speak.
Here is where the current debates over how to change/save/modify debate have irritated me. Nobody tells me how it'll attract more coaches. Without trying to indict anyone in particular, here's how a lot of these arguments start: someone makes a public declaration of the following.
"Minnesota debate currently does X. X is inconvenient for me. We should change X to Y"
Sometimes they add on a claim-without-warrant that Y would be more convenient for everyone, and sometimes there's an implicit threat of "I will quit coaching if we don't do Y."
This is seriously weak sauce. We don't accept this type of arguments from our students, do we? If you wanna win this debate, you gotta win the link. Tell me how your great idea will give us more coaches. Give me data. Give me warrants.
The argument has been made about "inertia." That we are all so set in our self-destructive ways that we won't make necessary change even if a good idea comes around. There's probably some weight to this argument, but I think that the onus is still on the reformer to tell me how his reform will improve debate. Here's my personal argument to inertia.
Convince me that a change in my behavior will increase the number of coaches, and I'll change. You want me to take Greenhill off the calendar? fine. You want me to stay within the borders of the North Star State? great. You want me to share every card I cut with everyone in Minnesota? fantastic. There's probably some degree of dynamic tension between "more debate" and "better debate," but I think we are far from the breaking point. Make the argument and I'm there, inertia be damned.
There's probably a fair criticism of me in all this, blathering on my blog and shooting people down without advancing any propositions of my own. I've got a few half-baked ideas that aren't quite ready yet and a room full of novices, so you probably won't hear anything productive from me anytime soon. But hey, I'm a new debate coach to Minnesota, I'm one of the good guys ;)