What to do before camp?

What to do before camp?

Preparing for Your Summer Debate Workshop: Five Useful Tips, by Eli Smith

For most LD debaters in the country the season is over and they are glad to have a break from rigorous research schedules and even tougher tournament schedules that trade off with school, work, and play. I wish those going to one of the remaining national championships all the luck, but I’m tagging out.

Not only do each of you also deserve a break, you absolutely need one. Breaks from debate are totally good for V2L and twice a year debate folks are able to salvage our social lives and can steer clear of tournaments like the plague. There’s also nothing like having a few free weekends to binge-watch some backlogged #ShondaThursdays, Naruto subs, or to sleep like being awake is a punishment. It is tempting to spend all of your time until debate camp vegging and hanging out with your friends, but you also have to set aside some time to prepare for camp. I know, I know, you’re thinking, “He’s crazy. Dude thinks we’re gonna do homework before camp?” Short answer: Yes.

You expect your lab leaders to come to camp prepared to answer every question, ready to teach, and smiling at your bright and shiny faces no matter what. It is our job to be ready to teach you and we enjoy it enough to take time out of our summers doing it, but we can’t make you learn. We also can’t force you to be in a head space where you are ready to learn from us. Debate camp is a lot like college and a lot less like high school. There are no midterm reports, no parent-teacher conferences to talk about your grade, and there isn’t another semester to re-take a class or pull your grade up. My question to you would then be: How can you expect to make the most out of your three weeks if you didn’t put any thought into taking responsibility for your own education? It doesn’t matter how you personally engage in your preparation for camp and it doesn’t matter when it gets done. The only thing that matters is that you some form of prep that puts you in a place that allows your lab leaders to help you become a better debater, no matter what your particular goals are. Now, from what seems like forever and a day in this activity, I can tell you that getting ready for camp is simple. It might take a lot of thought, but that never hurt anyone other than Donald Trump. #endrant

Here’s what you were really looking for - five tips on preparing to get the most out of debate camp:

5) Pick your perspective

High school LD debate is arguably the most complex debate event in the United States. You are the MMA fighter to yesterday’s boxer. You have to learn the policy skills to go head to head with the best LARP-ers in the country, know as much about the Kritik as a CEDA champion, and know everything about ethics debates from Kant to Korsgaard. Spikes, A-prioris, meta-theory, multiple frameworks (ethics of all kinds) and framework (“it’s T, not Framework” framework), and the argumentative preferences that judges pick up in various regions of the country. Even typing this was pretty exhausting but not exhaustive of all that you need to learn in order to win multiple titles on the national LD circuit. The key to ensuring that you are not a “Jack of all trades, master of none” is to pick a perspective from which you would like to debate. Your perspective will largely influence you style, your research key words/favorite academic journals, your judge preferences, and who you want to work with at camp in lab and in your free time. If you are just going to camp to be “good at LD,” you’re going to spend the first week of camp figuring out what your definition of good actually is. Finding a perspective you want to argue from does not limit you to solely that perspective forever but you do need to spend time mastering something before you move on to the next. I think history proves this is a more effective strategy than throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks.

4) Pick a Rival

I might be aging myself but you young Ash, or Asha, Ketchums need a Gabby, or Gary, Oak. Fighters pick sparring partners that they fully intend to beat and get beaten by that they stick with for large swaths of their career just as medical and law students pick people in their classes to surpass through their years in school. Although you shouldn’t determine your self-worth by your ability to beat or do better than them at a given tournament, but you should use their success to gauge your skills and to push you. If they are doing 3 drills after lab, you should do 5. If they get 2 bids, you want 3. If they have 7, you should be pushing to end the season with 8. Did they get to finals of a local? You need to want, more than anything else in the world, to win the next one. You might never debate them or speak to them a day in your life but you will always have a target that will push you to get better. Nothing is more valuable in competition than the desire to better yourself and the willingness to put in effort to achieve.

3) Watch Game Tape

Debate is changing constantly and the only way for you to be aware of innovations in case writing, new silver bullet arguments that judges are voting on, or to learn about good and bad execution is to see it. You can mine the wiki all you want but an hour of conversation can’t be encapsulated even in full text disclosure. You should be watching video of debaters who share your same style, of those who have opposing styles, and of those who are doing things that you don’t even begin to understand. Flow those debates, talk about them, and message the people that were in them. My personal recommendation is to watch Policy, LD, and PF debates from as far back as you can access. You can learn everything from an NSDA winning 2AR on a stock Aff to a TOC winning 2NR on politics and the states counterplan. The general rule here is to not stick your nose up because other folks debate differently or because you don’t understand what you ware watching. Keep watching and keep learning.

2) Read

This is the most frustrating thing to get across to debaters. In order to be good at debate, you have to read. I don’t care if you are reading ten articles every morning to keep up with the Politics DA or reading Nietzsche as you ponder the meaning of life over your morning cereal. But please, please, do yourself and everyone else a favor and read. It is obvious who has the background knowledge on the things that they are arguing in debate rounds. The five minute conversation your friend from camp gave you as they forwarded you their unbroken prep for that bid round is 10 times less helpful than spending that same five minutes thinking about executing an argument that you are sure no one at the tournament, including the judge, is better read on. To get deep in any literature you need to start at the basics and work your way up.

Do not be afraid to go to Wikipedia to get started on a topic such as feminism that has a lot of layers and a lot of opponents. Figure out where and from which authors feminism started, what the vocabulary is, the theoretical underpinnings and inspiration for the authors’ writing, the criticisms and opposing vocabulary. You also need to read primers before you dive into a thousand page tome that was written for esteemed PhD holding academics to gush over at their conferences, not 16 year olds. Read secondary texts written by graduate and even undergraduate students that have a better understand than you as a place to get your footing in reading a literature base. When you do go for the dense source material, buy the book and take notes in it. I will repeat that for those in the back. If you want to write in a book, buy your own copy for your personal library. If the scholarship and the ability to explain it in depth is important for your debate career come next May, it’s probably a better investment than the next installment of Fall Out.

1) Generate Specific Questions

The most important thing on this list is to generate specific questions that you want answered during your three weeks at camp. It is very difficult to gauge where your lab, as a whole is at. All of you will have a pretty equal skill level but many of you will have knowledge in different areas. One of you might be pretty darn good on T but be horrible on any of the functions of the K. The same person who is “great at the K “ might be good at explaining the story of two arguments rather than knowing exactly what the moving parts of a Kritik are and how they function. The same topics will be discussed every year because you all have gaps in your knowledge, but the depth of the daily discussion is based on the engagement that the lab leaders get from the lab. Asking, “What is a plan inclusive counterplan?” is an ok question. If you have come to camp with the intent of learning the basics of new arguments and how to answer them that is a totally fair and viable way to approach camp. However, a more effective way to approach the issue of PICs would be, “ I have done some research on what a plan inclusive counterplan is, can we go over some specific examples of how PIC’s such as the states counterplan function on the gun ban topic?” This would allow for a series of follow up questions that would include multiple ways to work the states counterplan into a nuanced negative strategy. Another example of an acceptable question is, “Would you give an example of reading multiple off case arguments?” A better way to approach the topic of multiple off case arguments that would lead to a better discussion would sound like, “I have watched a few videos of Varsity debaters reading multiple off case arguments and I found it interesting. Would you give us a few strategic examples of reading arguments like Disads, Counterplans, and Topicality in the same 1NC?”

Again, you should not take this to mean that asking a question that seems basic to other people should not be asked. Everyone that now knows what a Disadvantage is found out by asking questions at some point. You should, however, take this as a call for you to bring a genuine interest in things that you would like to learn to camp so your lab leaders can plan the schedule around your questions. Everyone’s questions will be addressed at some point during camp, but you will be a part of a deeper, richer conversation that your lab will thank you for if you bring pertinent questions to your first lab meeting and to lab with you every morning.