The Role of the Judge (Part 2)

By David Branse

5) Practical Considerations

In this section, I intend to prove that we should not in fact change the role of the ballot. I do not think that practical considerations give us a reason to prefer an education model of debate. I’ve sketched out a few of my thoughts.

1) Education is always subjective – especially in the context of debate. Some people want to learn about specific positions in depth whereas others prefer a breadth of discussion. Debaters plan to enter a range of careers: I intend to pursue a STEM major like computer science, many debaters intend to be lawyers, others, policy makers. The educational value of specific arguments and styles will differ drastically based on debaters’ individual life plans. Even general skills like critical thinking seem to be subjectively determined – some develop their critical thinking skills in ways utterly different from the ways other debaters do. Even if debaters somehow agree on the values debate should produce, there is no ideal classroom setting – people have a wide range of learning styles. Education seems too hopelessly subjective for judges to be required to vote on it.

2) Education as a voting issue legitimizes reading positions and debating topics that have no association with the resolution. For example, I could teach physics for six minutes as an AC. Sure, this doesn’t account for the unique benefits of mandated argument clash in debate, but I am positive that there is some middle ground. For example, I could advocate the many worlds interpretation as an explanation to quantum mechanical phenomena and give my opponents the Copenhagen Interpretation as neg ground. Nobody, despite the educationally valuable clash, views this as a valid aff burden. Education as a voter justifies reading positions that don’t cohere with anybody’s intuitions about what debate should look like.

3) Motivation – despite the amazing skills debate can provide, many debaters did not join the activity for the educational value. Some joined for the competition or the intellectual challenge. The motivation for joining the activity substantially varies from person to person. In my opinion, the alignment of debate as an activity to promote education seems to just impose certain people’s view of an ideal motivation on other debaters. Analogously, I believe it is similar to a referee throwing athletes out of a game for playing only for the money – it seems incorrect to enforce motivation on others.

4) Judge Intervention – every judge has a different idea of how to foster education, what arguments constitute educational ones, and what is most important in educational discussions. It seems that changing the role of the judge from a more objective norm like “truth or falsity” to a subjective one like “education” emphasizes judge intervention, which is a feature of debate practically no one enjoys.

These four arguments only apply to a very general conception of enforcing education; however, the specific roles of the ballot debaters propose that are premised on the judge as an educator are subject to the same problems. Any specific role of the ballot or theory voter linking to education will by definition be subjective, arbitrary, and under-justified.

6) The Self-Defeatingness Objection

In this section, I want to further elaborate on an argument I previously hinted at: creating rules by reference to their educational value end up diminishing the educational value of debate. Imposing practical values on the rules of debate doesn’t necessarily create those practical values. If debate was decided on the educational merit of arguments, debate would ultimately become less educational. In the same way that a chess match that was suddenly governed only by the rules “be intellectually stimulating” would probably quickly devolve to an intellectually unstimulating free-for-all. Similarly, debate would face to a race to the bottom where debaters sought after more educational arguments, and avoided argument engagement on educational grounds, which minimizes education in the long run.

This analysis reflects a more general trend of values in practices. The value of a practice derives from its unique rules. Each practice can provide unique skills because of the rules of that practice. The way for a practice to provide unique skills is for the practice to have unique rules. Thus, strict arbitrary rules are always preferable to general practical rules. No activity with rules of “provide education” will be truly educational because the rule is general enough that it fails to be uniquely beneficial. The only way to provide education is through unique rules – the practical value then arises as a result of following these arbitrary rules.

In debate, those rules are testing the truth of a pre-given and pre-prepared topic. Switch-side debate provides a unique forum where we A) don’t have to endorse our arguments as true since we contradict ourselves every round, B) view the process of warranting as supremely valuable, and C) can challenge all ethical assumptions we hold. Truth testing allows debaters to analyze arguments from a wide range of viewpoints, with an emphasis on contesting the warrants of every argument. In my opinion, the value and skills garnered in debate arise from the process of debating, not the content of the arguments or a particular pedagogical viewpoint. Debaters learn to structure logical syllogisms to warrant everything from the outrageous to the intuitive. The process of truth testing teaches debaters how to make decisions in the real world. We learn how to justify our beliefs and become good advocates not by rejecting this paradigm but by embracing it. Competition to determine the truth of a proposition motivates debaters to engage in the very practices that provide us education. Debaters extensively prep and research unique topical ideas for the sake of winning. Few debaters would have learned as much as they did about the living wage without debate’s competitive incentive.

Enforcing a conception of education on debate would undermine this unique capacity. When arguments are excluded or prioritized based on their educational value, the process of debate loses its efficacy.

7) Conclusion

I have defended three claims:

  • The current rules of debate entail that the judge does not have the jurisdiction to vote on education (Parts 2, 3, 4).
  • Debate should not be designed to provide education (Part 5).
  • Even if debate should provide education, the rules should not be changed to grant the judge the jurisdiction to vote on that (Part 6).

This establishes my model of debate where the judge should decide rounds by a truth-testing paradigm. I once again want to stress that this article does not advocate for an interventionist model. The fact that education is not a voter does not mean judges should paradigmatically reject theory shells linking to education or roles of the ballot that employ a conception of the judge as a critical educator. Debaters can and do win that the judge should enforce educational models of debate – justifying these claims is part of the unique value of debate. My claim just deals with the right answer to this question. I believe that the correct answer is that the judge should not be an in round educator. There is no tension with a view that judges should be tabula rasa. I believe that utilitarianism is the wrong ethical theory, but debaters win that framework all the time.

As a final comment, I do not think my view of the role of the judge is necessarily exhaustive of all judge obligations. For example, I did not speak to the issue of fairness and whether it can constrain a round or influence a ballot. I do not intend to speak to that issue here, but there could definitely be arguments for or against it in terms of the arguments presented here. More obligations could certainly be added to a judge’s ballot story. My claim A) traces the most fundamental obligation the judge has, and B) illustrates how education is not one such obligation.

Finally, I’m appreciative of my fellow staff members at NSD who discussed this article with me to help me improve and clarify it, especially Rahul Gosain who copy edited the entire article.