Trapped in the Khetto

An excellent post by Scotty P reminded me of something that I'd been meaning to rant about for a while.

A phrase that I've been using quite a bit recently to describe my coaching is "giving you a box, which you can later think outside of." It's a little clumsy, but the point is that a lot of the "rules" that we set up for young debaters need to eventually be broken. For starters, we give kids the 4-stock-issues box and let them live there for a little while, get used to things, and have some fun. When the strategic limitations of that box start to show themselves, we introduce disads and T and kritiks and counterplans and the list goes on. Each presents a new tool, a new "thinking outside the box" way of attacking the plan.

This also applies to strategic decisions. You should put perms on every counterplan, except when you shouldn't. Link-turning is a more strategic way of answering disads, except when it isn't. Every position needs to be answered with offense, except when it doesn't.

Eventually the exceptions become more important than the rules, as the rules become more internalized. Those exceptions have rules to follow themselves, which in turn have their own exceptions. Eventually it starts to look like water. It's infinite regression, except in a good way. I'm far from the expert on the debate world, but the more debate I watch the more I see a correlation between high-level debating and formlessness. You put the debater in a cup, and it becomes the cup.

Except if that debater is a "K debater" and the cup is a "disad cup," apparently. That seems to be the major division in the debate world that people still attach themselves to. Either you are a "K debater" or a "policy debater" (or "straight up debater," or whatever). According to the conventional wisdom, you can't be good at both. Normally I'd pass this off as another piece of bad advice that gets repeated student-to-student, but a large number of coaches/judges seem to have bought into this notion as well. Camps even have "Kritik labs" nowadays.

I've never been part of a "K lab," but based on the stories I've heard from a few students who have, they sound like a terrible idea. The idea of paying thousands of dollars for a camp and learning only kritiks is as ludicrous as paying thousands of dollars and only learning disads. Teaching kids debate without exposing them to a variety of strategies is teaching them to be rigid, strict, "inside the box."

The cliched objection to this is the "judge adaptation" problem. Eventually you are going to run into a judge who doesn't like kritiks (or who only likes kritiks). You are going to lose that round. This argument is over-done, but like most truisms, it's actually true. There is a certain group of people who react to these situations by complaining about the judge, maybe going so far as to use words like "illegit." I call these people "bad debaters.'

The more important problem, though, is that even if you run into K-friendly judges all year, you are still not thinking. You still aren't thinking a step ahead of your opponents (or forcing them to think a step ahead of you). You still aren't using all the available tools to win a round. You're being rigid. You're sticking to form. You're going through the motions. You're being lazy.

And if there's one thing that this game is good at, it's opening up ways for the strategic and the hard working to punish the lazy.

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