Friday, May 3, 2013

UAA coaches dissect the Second Amendment clash

The Harvard team, Coulter King and Josh Zoffer.
The Friday after the UAA-Harvard Debate, UAA coaches Steve Johnson and Amie Stanley (a former UAA debater and now the assistant coach) teased out a few of the Second Amendment debate's finer points in terms of missed opportunities and/or well-executed pivots.

Sorry it has taken until May 3 to get this up here, but it's very much fun to hear debate pros discuss.

Steve Johnson on the self defense argument:
I wish we had made more clear the differentiation between the right of self defense and the tools that support that right. Wiley and Amy did a good job with it, but we could have been more clear. At the end of day, there was still space for the audience to think those two things were tied closely, if not one and the same. Had we made more clear that those things were absolutely differentiated, and that one is a tool that serves the other, I think that would have been better. That is what stuck with me after the first four speeches.

Amie Stanley on regulating rights:
I really liked the question of whether or not a right can be regulated.  I thought that Harvard did a very good job of engaging with whether or not having an enshrined right restricts your ability to regulate that right in a way that is safe. And I thought that both teams engaged in kind of an example war of situations where we were either successful or unsuccessful in regulating a right, but no one really analyzed, necessarily to the depth I would have liked to have seen, whether or not the existence of a right compared to other rights they do regulate inhibits our ability to make good decisions about that regulation. And I thought that was really key, but kind of got left behind for the debate about self defense. Which happens a lot.  You have to choose what you will engage with given the time you have. But I thought that was a really interesting question that I especially liked.

Steve on the floor speeches:
The floor speeches went very well. I felt like during the Stanford debate last year that the floor speeches were a little unfocused and not very clear. But, that’s OK, people learn to express themselves more clearly, so it was a positive addition to debate. It is what it is.

 Given that concern I had over the lack of focus and the lack of clarity, combined with such a charged issue as the Second Amendment, this had the potential to be very emotional or very positional. I was really very strapped in, and Amy will tell you how nervous I was about the floor speeches ... but Anchorage came through for me. They were a good group of people who I think rose to the occasion. They really honored the forum and did a good job.

UAA's Northern Exposures photo blog shares debate images

Here's just one or two. Do visit the photo blog to see more:

UAA's Amy Parrent in action.

UAA's Wiley Cason in action.

UAA-Harvard Debate on the Second Amendment

Thanks to Matt Underbakke for providing this video version of the April 25 debate:

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

UAA debate podcast available for download

Thanks to Advancement's Travis Michel for this recording of the UAA-Harvard Debate. You can pull this .mp3 onto your desktop, load it into a player or smart phone, and listen to it the next time you take the dogs for a walk!

Debate debrief, UAA's Wiley Cason

UAA's Wiley Cason
Here are a few of Wiley Cason's thoughts, offered Friday, the day  after the debate:

Both teams were excellent. [Program director and coach] Steve Johnson called the debate for Harvard, but I think we can all feel victorious about this event. 

As I think back on the debate, I might wish I had said this or that, but the whole point of a debate  is engaging in  real time with a another person. It's all in the moment!

I was absolutely thrilled with the audience. I thought the audience was much more reflective during the first four speeches. After the floor speeches happened, when members of the audience got to get up and make a statement, the audience seemed much more engaged to me.

With the floor speeches, I thought they all made good points. Both of my brothers got up to speak. [Drew Cason represented UAA in the 2012 UAA-Stanford Debate.] My younger brother, Everett, is a 6th grader. He was game and I was proud of how well he did. He said he was nervous but he really developed his speech, and he had a good extended metaphor.  He just needs to go for more clarity, and by the time he's in college, he'll be ready for debate.
But the fact that the floor speeches really engaged the audience had an impact on the last two speakers, one from UAA and one from Harvard. Those two  had even more energy when they approached the podium, and their speeches were fun to watch and listen to.

As for the audience mix --it wasn't typical of a random sampling of Alaskans.  They were not liberal, not conservative, not Democratic. There were good representations in the floor speeches from all sides. The audience proved to be open minded and willing to entertain bold ideas. That's not typical of a random sampling of Alaskans.

[The event sold out, and Steve Johnson commented that he the audience was a little bit older than he had anticipated for the Bear Tooth.] That's because college students do not buy their tickets a week in advance. They were advertised as $5 at the door with a student ID, but the day of the debate, it was already sold out.

But, there have been more than 500 views of the recorded video, so folks still have access to the debate, and seem to be enjoying it.

I liked Harvard, they were really nice guys.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Debate debrief, Harvard's Josh Zoffer

Josh Zoffer
We've invited each of the debaters and coaches to reflect a bit on the experience of arguing repeal of the Second Amendment. Here are Josh's thoughts:

I have a couple of concluding thoughts. 

First of all, I was impressed by the community turn out and engagement we received.  It is refreshing to see people outside the debate community come out participate in an event like this, both as spectators and participants in floor speeches.  Debaters have a tendency to become absorbed in our relatively insular community, and it is a wonderful reminder of why this activity is so important to see people so engaged. 

Second, I was impressed by how willing people in the audience were to question their assumptions and really grapple with the issues in the debate.  We had been told by everyone we met that Alaskans are staunch defenders of the second amendment.  However, when it came time to speak and vote, we found the audience willing to interrogate their own beliefs and think about why the second amendment is so important to their culture. 
Overall, it was a fantastic experience.

Steve Johnson's opening remarks for the debate

Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson, program director and coach.
We’ve gathered here tonight to engage in the most ancient and noble of academic pursuits: the search for truth through reasoned argument.  And it is in the spirit of that search for truth that I’m inspired to open my comments tonight by offering a few personal revelations:

1.    I know that UAA is going to lose this debate.

Tradition holds that the guests in an exhibition debate get to choose their side.  In this case, Harvard chose to defend the Second Amendment.  That means that UAA will propose its repeal.

Not only am I fully aware that arguing that we should strip Alaskans of their gun rights is a bit like arguing that we should outlaw barbecue in Texas, but I’m also aware of the fact that we haven’t repealed an amendment to our constitution since 1920, and in that case we did so to grant ourselves more, not fewer rights.

So it will come as no surprise to me tonight when, at the end of the debate, I call for a division of the house and UAA, proposing to repeal the Second Amendment, is soundly defeated.

But that leads me to my second revelation:

2.    I don’t care that UAA is going to lose this debate.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m competitive.  My entire debate team—and, more to the point, my wife—will attest to the fact that I hate to lose, whether to Harvard or to West Undershirt Community College.  I’ve built a career on helping people win debates, and I take that seriously.  But I don’t care about winning tonight, mostly because of revelation #3:

3.    I regularly practice deception.
Not generally, but about one particular aspect of academic debating I lie regularly.  You see, I often promote the activity of debating by extolling its virtues as a training ground for students to develop their advocacy skills.