Kansas Debate v. The Rest of America: The Benefits of Traditional Policy Debate
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
From what I can tell, debating in small, rural Kansas is very different from almost everywhere else in America. Spreading will make you automatically lose a round, and most of our judges are lay and inexperienced. As I continually meet more debaters who debate outside of Kansas, I start to see similarities of how Kansas debate is viewed, especially small rural Kansas debating. In my experience, many people view the lack of spreading negatively, and they see the majority of inexperienced judges as unheard of. However, I don’t necessarily agree. Yes, I admit that I do have some bias because Kansas debate is the only debate I’ve ever known. However, I also know that Kansas debate has taught me things I would have never learned elsewhere.
First, Kansas debate has taught me to prioritize and utilize arguments and evidence strategically. Spreading is shunned in Kansas debate. It is most likely that you are used to experienced judges, and it is essential to realize that you will not get that in Kansas. Most judges will likely be parents, grandparents, or teachers who had no idea policy debate existed before the said tournament that they are judging. In turn, most of the debate will have to be spent speaking slowly and clearly, explaining everything. Now, there is one speech in a debate round that is most affected by this, and that is the 1ar. The 1ar is expected to answer every argument the negative team makes in the neg block. But, again, you have to do it slowly and explain everything along the way. How do you do that in the time allotted? You learn to give a roadmap and prioritize and utilize every argument and piece of evidence. Most of the time, the negative block will be filled with empty arguments and arguments already answered to distract and confuse you from their primary strategy. So the best thing to do is to identify each argument based on the severity that it needs to be answered and how many of those arguments you can answer with a simple analytic or by referring to a card. Remember, every answer needs to be simple enough for anyone to understand and stated slowly enough for a grandparent to hear. Most importantly, remember that you need to save the most prep time for the last speech.
Second, Kansas debate has taught me how to be an effective speaker. Unfortunately, in Kansas debate, you are more likely to win a debate round by the way you speak than the arguments presented. That doesn’t mean that the arguments don’t matter. More often than not, inexperienced judges will pay attention to how they feel a debate round went rather than how the round went. That is not the judge’s fault. The judge in question most likely had no experience with debate other than that tournament. It is natural to fall back on prior knowledge or feelings when confused or overwhelmed. Therefore, it falls on you to be an effective speaker. In my opinion, being an effective speaker is different from being a good speaker. Yes, they go hand-in-hand, but being an effective speaker requires strategy. For example, one of my favorite things to do in a debate round is to get the other team riled up in one of their speeches. This means they increase in volume, “passion,” or anger. Then, in either the CX or the next speech, preferably both, I act as calm, collected, and understanding as possible. This, in turn, makes the judge see me in a more favorable light. At the same time, simultaneously view the other team in a negative light. The key to becoming an effective speaker is thinking ahead and strategizing. The only way to do that is to practice.
Kansas debate does bring challenges that can easily be avoided in with spreading and experienced judges. But, the things taught to refute those challenges can be used for every type of debate, anywhere. Overall, the challenges make me a better debater which is why I will always be glad I debate in Kansas.
Ye Gang Lee
Concordia Jr./Sr. High School Senior