by Bob Overing

There is no widely accepted extrinsic model for debate. Debate is not a simulated legislature or a philosophy colloquium. It’s not a social justice activist meeting or a journal’s editorial board. It’s not a chess game, and it’s not a rules committee. It’s just debate.

And one of the best things about debate just being debate is that we get to decide what it means. The Emporia State University team that won the NDT two-and-a-half years ago argued that debate can and should be a “home” for everyone. In his written ballot for that debate, critic Jordan Foley latched onto “home” as “the multiplicity of ways individuals relate to debate.” Every debate can be different, and you can make debate a home for you whether you’re a judge, coach or competitor. There’s something very appealing about the empty home: Debate is exactly what we make of it.

When we take a step back and get into this mindset, the battle lines dissolve. You might prefer a particular style of debate, be it continental philosophy or comparing statistical methodologies, but to argue that the other side has no claim to what debate means is arrogant and selfish. Presumption lies with the permutation here, not mutual exclusivity.

So I’m calling out argumentative exclusion on every level — I’m calling out judges who won’t vote on X argument they just don’t like, debate theorists who say only Y paradigm has it right, and debaters who will avoid arguing Z at all costs. What reasons do you have that should override a presumption for inclusion and openness? Are they good reasons? Are they so good that you should define away the parts of debate you don’t like? Your ideology restricts the way you can see debate.

We all have our idiosyncratic preferences. Some might be better than others, and we can argue about them! I’m all about that. But I’m not about defining debate to the exclusion of the opposition. Because debate has no definition. It’s just debate.

Bob Overing
Bob is a Co-Director of Premier, coach for Walt Whitman HS, and current student at Yale Law School and Yale School of Management. As a senior in high school, he was ranked #1, earned 11 bids and took 2nd at TOC. In college, he cleared at CEDA and qualified to the NDT. His students have earned 80 career bids, reached TOC finals, and won many championships.