Learning from College Debate by Brianna Aaron

Learning From College Debate

Watching college debates was never really my “thing” as a high school debater. I was lucky enough as a high schooler to have had interaction with some of the smartest minds in the college debate scene; I had the chance to learn directly from the people who changed debate’s playing field and that created out a lot of the arguments that are popular today. But, it wasn’t until I became a college debater myself that I realized the extent to which watching, talking to, and learning from older debaters helped aid in my career today.

As a result, my perspective was molded by people who helped shape the way in which high school debate is now. Learning from college debaters is something that all high school debaters should partake in. Even if they aren’t physically accessible, watching videos online and reading through files on the college debate wiki can fill in that gap. Below I’ve outlined the different ways in which high school debaters could learn from college ones so that, not only are high schoolers’ skills bolstered within the activity, but so is their intellectual prowess.

Nuanced Argumentation and Explanation

The most obvious tip that comes with watching college debate videos wikis is the level of nuanced explanation that college debaters give. In an event like Lincoln-Douglas, people don’t have the time to provide high level explanation for their arguments. This time constraint trades off with people’s ability to robustly explain their position and leads to unwarranted debates. Most people use this as an excuse to trade quality argumentation for quantity, which loses people more rounds than it wins them. For instance, I—alongside countless other judges—have voted kids down for their terribly light impacting or their surface level critique engagement. Rounds like these are not only painful for the debaters who receive their decision but also for the judges who have to sit through the round.

A great way of resolving this issue is to watch college debaters perform the arguments that high schoolers use. High schoolers aren’t really reading unique arguments and ingenuity becomes arbitrary when a lot of people have run overlapping theories already. That brand-spanking new philosophy that combines Heideggerian theory with Black Studies isn’t all that new and has probably already been read by college debaters in the same way that the really good global warming card people like to brag about has been used already too. Watching college debate rounds allows people to see someone older and more experienced break down that argument. This helps to provide kids with the nuanced vocabulary to win rounds and also allows them to see the strategic ways in which college debaters go for those arguments.

In addition, theory and philosophy debaters have much to learn from college debaters too. Although people might not expect this, the gap between these arguments and the ones in college aren’t so different. Winning paradigm issues is just as significant in college as it is in high school and can greatly influence a round if done well. Even if one likes to read font sized theory or shells similar to this, they can learn how to construct overviews or go for nuanced standard level arguments by watching college debaters go for their own topicality and theory shells. Likewise, philosophy debaters can look at the different ways in which college debaters attempt to win utilitarian arguments. These types of debaters would also benefit from going to other sides of the philosophical library and exploring the different literatures that are out there.

Learning Charisma

Many students need to learn how boring debate has become for the adjudicators in the back of the round. This isn’t because we, the judges, are getting old—although we definitely are—or even that the topics have gotten worse as the months have progressed. Rather, it’s that the debates themselves are just boring. Too many students have been dissatisfied with their speaker points because they believe that judges don’t know how to properly give them out; especially when it comes to judges from Policy debate.

This isn’t true. It’s just that debaters have not done enough to earn the high speaks they think they deserve.

There are multiple reasons for why this is the case. First, debaters just simply aren’t debating or explaining their arguments well. As stated in the first section, watching college debates can help people deal with this issue. Secondly, kids lack the ability to sound interesting when giving their speech. What gets lost within all of the fast talking debaters do is the ability to not sound monotonous when reading arguments. Debate is as much about performance as it is about argumentation and, if one is not a stylistically appealing speaker, then the debate round becomes dull for everyone  involved. Although college debaters can still be susceptible to this mishap, this problem is more subdued as many debaters have gotten into the habit of adding their personality into the debate.

What I mean by this is that one can see a lot of college debaters actually enjoying their arguments, rather than just stalely reading them. College debaters either inflect particular words or add their personalities to speeches, cross-exes, or both. One might hear a funny joke in a speech, listen to someone didactically and emphatically break down a nuanced argument, or even use slight aggression to make a point. It also helps people to watch strategic cross-exes so that they can ask actually useful questions, rather than ones that are redundant. Watching rounds or engaging with older debaters allows people to learn the different styles that are out there and how to even adopt their own style within rounds.

Debate Is What You Make It

Overall though, I think the biggest tip to take from engaging with college debaters is that they make the debate round theirs. There are people with so much presence in the activity that listening to their nine minute speech goes by quickly. They know how to intrigue the audience and make every word matter. There are people who know how to take control of a room when it looks like they’re not being heard. There are also some who know how to use their last speech to recover a round that would’ve typically resulted in a loss. This is all due to them controlling the room with just the strength of their voice and style.

In my case, I didn’t learn how to effectively control a room until my senior year of high school. Yet, it’s not a complete project because I’m still trying to figure out what I want my style to look like. From watching and engaging college rounds, I’ve noticed that people use rounds to practice performances, adopt political platforms, or just to get their personal experiences out there. Some people use debate for scholarships, others for a fun way of hanging out with other intellectual people, and for some because they have a strong desire to win. Debate is all about crafting a space that is one’s own in order to turn the activity into a site that displays one’s interests. Sometimes high school debaters get so trapped up in winning that they don’t see what college debaters like myself are noticing or have noticed: Debate is what you make it.

Some resources students may find helpful:

  1. The college debate wiki (which is akin to the high school LD and policy wikis for disclosure):
    1. https://opencaselist.paperlessdebate.com/
  2. Policy vs Policy rounds:
    1. NDT 2018 Round Semifinals Aff: Michigan GW vs Neg: Georgetown BK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2GKX4Y0hNA&fbclid=IwAR0uM5WWKHMIpQXiwhGETLj8NKMJK-493QCCGIBojJE7jmVf83auR9MtErE
    2. 2015 NDT Quarters – Cal SW vs Northwestern MV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7UcvL7R3gE&fbclid=IwAR14jLWUzapTnGCf74PxOZZoXpF0LP6uADO0JTcR5QOnc5eSLr2fh_Kqncs
  3. Kritik vs Kritik rounds:
    1. 2016 CEDA Finals – Liberty BC vs Vermont BL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZShUHf0jLEA
    2. 2017 CEDA Nats Finals – Rutgers MN (Aff) vs. UMKC AT (Neg): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSB-byH8VTI&t=6s
  4. Policy vs Kritik rounds:
    1. Kansas BC vs Rutgers NM, Round the Third, NDT 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdskSNl8mD4&t=3296s
    2. Wake AS vs Kansas HW, Quarters, NDT 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZlbDu-vSa0&t=2759s


Brianna Aaron

Newark Science, NJ ‘17

Wake Forest University, NC ‘21

Brianna Aaron is currently a student at Wake Forest University and she debated for Newark Science (NJ) for six years. Over her two and a half year participation in Lincoln-Douglas, she has amassed 10 LD TOC bids and has reached elims and finals of various national tournaments. Her most notable achievements are championing the 2017 Glenbrooks Invitational, GBX round robin, the 2017 Blake Invitational, and winning the Dukes and Bailey cup for year long excellence as the top LD debater in the country. She also currently debates at Wake Forest and has been listed as one of the top 16 debaters in the country. Outside of debate, she loves to volunteer, go on strange movie binges, and eat copious amounts of chocolate chip cookies.

Benjamin Koh