This week’s guest blog post comes from Myra Milam. Myra is currently a senior at Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, where she competes in NFALD debate. Last year, Myra was top speaker at the National Forensics Association college National Tournament, in addition to being the National Runner-Up in LD debate. Since beginning her career at Truman as a freshman, Myra has placed in the top ten debaters and top four speakers every year at Nationals. In the past eight years, Myra has competed in and coached every form of debate. Her argumentation style is an ever-evolving performance geared towards advancing inclusion in debate, particularly in terms of her experiences from her social location as a woman.
Today, Myra will tell you what steps to take if your squad seems to be stuck in a rut, and you want to branch out in terms of your interests, argumentative strategy, and style.
Myra discusses how to achieve argumentative autonomy
Maybe your team just started a debate program and your coach happens to be the social studies teacher who agreed to sit in on practice for an hour after school. Maybe your coach is an uber-traditionalist who bans specific forms of argumentation because he or she doesn’t believe in them. Maybe your coach is ultra-progressive in the types of argumentation he or she teaches you, but only teaches you about one end of the spectrum. You may know how to “out left the left,” but did your coach also teach you how to “out right the right”? Do you want to learn?
Most coaches arguably coach in a way that they believe is best for the activity. Your dual-purpose social studies teacher may not be “coaching” in the traditional sense because he or she doesn’t want to interfere with the sanctity of the activity. Traditionalists want to preserve the activity as they knew it at a certain point in time. Progressives want to change the activity into a form they believe is better for everyone. So, who’s right?
No one. Every debater, coach, and judge (barring any extreme ethical oversights) should have the ability to engage in the debate space in the way he or she feels most comfortable and best exemplifies his or her goals. Do you want to do whatever it takes to win? As long as you’re staying within reasonable ethical parameters, go for it. Do you want to just navigate around the debate space learning about different topics and forms of argumentation? Good for you! Do you think that stock issues should be what matters? That’s ok, too! Do you think that ultra-critical argumentation is the most ethical way to debate? That’s your right. So, what does this mean for you? Have you thought about other types of argumentation distinct from the way you are currently performing? There are a few easy steps you can take to explore the various options for argumentation more extensively.
If you work with a coach that discourages specific types of argumentation, including some things you are interested in, the first step is starting a dialogue. Ask your coach why he or she doesn’t like that type of argumentation. Then, explain your interest and why you might like to try something new. This is not to imply even for a moment that you should disregard the wishes of your coach. If you want to participate in this activity your coach has to agree to travel you, and one surefire way to ensure that doesn’t happen is by intentionally undermining his or her will. However, dialogue can be a powerful tool, and even if your coach disagrees with your desire to make different types of arguments, he or she will probably appreciate your attempt to start a conversation about it.
So, what happens if your coach does refuse to let you make the arguments you wish to make? You still have several options for how to be autonomous in your types of debating. Camp is an excellent place to try new things, even if it’s not something you would normally want to try during the year. Camp might seem way out of the ballpark, but there are camps that offer scholarships for reduced or waived tuition and there are a plethora of camps with different schedules to accommodate your needs. Small, lesser-known camps can provide excellent resources at a dramatically lower price tag than big camps.
If you still think camp isn’t for you, start asking judges at tournaments what they think of certain arguments (even if it isn’t something that happened in round). Even though it might not seem like it at times, there are plenty of judges out there who want to help out and be a positive resource for everyone in the community.
There’s always a happy medium to be found somewhere. Say your coach only lets you read disadvantages, despite the fact that you really want to try reading a critique. Maybe your coach would let your try making the impacts to your disad systemic, or make some type of moral obligation argument on the impact level. Even if you think you are the exception and your coach is never going to listen to what you have to say, you still have options. Make connections with other teams that debate how you want to debate and talk to them about their experiences. Thinking about debating in college? The good news is: you get to pick where you go to school and, consequently, where you debate. When you’re visiting schools, be sure to ask their debate team what types of arguments they typically read, if they’ve read anything divergent from that in the recent past and why, and if you would be supported by the coaches and the team if you chose to debate differently from their “status quo”.
Debate Central provides a free service to look over your arguments and provide feedback. This is a great opportunity to bounce ideas off of people with different backgrounds and different types of debate experience. Let us know what you’re thinking and where you’re trying to go with different arguments and we will try to help you out!
So don’t be afraid to explore new options! Even if it doesn’t work out, you will certainly learn something.