The Feminist Kritik

by Joan Reardon, Grace Haddad, Alexis Santor, Carley Francis,

with technical assistance from Jen Gonda,

Cardinal Mooney High School (Youngstown)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Part 1 of a two-part series, with Part 2 scheduled for publication next week.

Foreword

by Rich Kawolics, Chair of the OHSSL Board of Directors

Is there gender bias in debate judging?

Why are male debaters and extempers so much more successful in competition than their female peers? Those of us who coach girls in debate and analytical speaking have long been perplexed by the apparent disparity in success between male and female participants in these events.

We have been concerned that as many as 80 percent of the top places in Policy, Public Forum, Lincoln Douglas, and Extemporaneous Speaking at major tournaments have gone to male competitors, while the number of female competitors in these events seemingly has plummeted. We have shared story after story of our female debaters being criticized for being too aggressive while their male competitors are praised for the same behaviors. But until now, we have had very little data on which to base our concern, and we have certainly had no idea what to do about it.

But now, Coach Jen Gonda and four of her debaters from Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown have taken the first step in putting hard data around perceptions of gender disparity in debate. By carefully analyzing published debate ballots, they have found startling and concerning evidence that female debaters are subject to judges’ criticism for assertiveness far more frequently than are male debaters.

“Coach Jen Gonda and four of her debaters…have taken the first step in putting hard data around perceptions of gender disparity in debate.”

Moreover, they also find that male debaters often are encouraged to be more assertive, while female debaters only rarely receive the same encouragement. Any of us involved in teaching and coaching debate and extemp should be concerned by these findings.

Jen’s (and her team’s) study is not comprehensive, and it is far from conclusive in demonstrating a causal link between gender bias and competitive success. However, it does present a crucial first step in documenting and understanding how gender perceptions and stereotypes may be impacting our female students. If gender bias is diminishing female students’ interest in debate, and if those female students are giving up because they believe the deck is stacked against them, then all of us have a problem.

I commend Jen and her students for their work in bringing this issue to light, and I hope that their work will spur further research into the issue of gender bias in speech and debate so that, ultimately, all of our students can be treated fairly and equitably.

-RK


The Feminist Kritik

Part 1

For female debaters, the situation described by sophomore Alexis Santor is all too familiar.

“Being a woman in Public Forum Debate is difficult. I love debating, but I am held to a separate standard than my fellow male debaters. My partner is male and when we are in especially heated rounds, he is complimented for his ‘dominance’ and praised for being assertive, whereas I am critiqued on being ‘rude’ or too aggressive. Once a comment on my ballot said, ‘Alexis, stop being so aggressive, it comes off as rude.’

“The (male) judge failed to comment about how many times I was interrupted, or the behavior of any other debaters in the room, all of whom were male; nor did the judge offer any constructive advice on how to better myself as a debater. My behavior in the round was no different from that of my male competitors or my partner, yet I alone was called rude. That was not the first time I had been singled out on a ballot.” Continue reading The Feminist Kritik

Fixing Congressional Debate

By Tyler R. Parsons

Vermilion H.S. (CLE) Assistant Coach and Experienced Congressional Debate Parliamentarian

Congressional Debate is an event which I love very much; I competed in it for four years, have judged it for three years, and have coached it for one year.  It has positively affected my life and the lives of many others who have competed in the event.  However, because I love Congressional Debate, I’ve come to realize that it is a flawed event and in need of an intervention.

Through my own analysis of the situation (and vibrant discussions with other Parliamentarians), I have come to the conclusion that Congressional Debate needs a comprehensive, foundational overhaul—specifically regarding the legislation, the scoring system (base), and how speeches/speakers themselves are judged.  Only through rebuilding this flawed foundation will the event operate effectively and generate truly great debate. Continue reading Fixing Congressional Debate

In Defense of Judge Intervention… Sort of…

james-lewisby James Lewis

Assistant Coach, University School (Cleveland)

Every weekend before tournaments across the state of Ohio, debate judges are given instructions to prepare them for the task ahead. This year at the OHSSL State Tournament I had a flash of sudden insight (or idiocy, depending on your perspective) in the midst of judging instructions.

A member of the tab room staff was telling us that we might know that arguments/claims made in the round are wrong, but that we should essentially refrain from intervening unless the other side pointed that out. I nodded along in agreement as I usually do, until I was struck (at probably the worst possible moment: the State Tournament) by an insight:

I actually don’t agree with that standard in judging debate.

I have been judging debate of some form for almost fifteen years now and have heard my share of bad arguments, mangled evidence, and untrue statements.

Because I try to familiarize myself with some of the topic literature in preparing for a resolution—and because I happen to have an uncanny memory for certain things—I know when debaters are taking a quotation from an article out of context.

Personally, I majored in political science at a school where philosophy was prioritized, and I feel that experience helps me recognize when debaters are misapplying and misconstruing John Locke’s Second Treatise. Professionally, I teach both American- and Ancient History, so I am fairly well versed in a wide range of subjects; and, like many judges, I happen to know a little about current events and how the world works.

And because I had a solid liberal arts education, I know rot when I hear it. Continue reading In Defense of Judge Intervention… Sort of…

Inspiration for 2016-17: Impact that Lasts a Lifetime

2015-16: A Reflection

by Jordyn Zimmerman, Mentor HS (CLE) Class of 21016; 2015-16 National Speech & Debate Association National Student-of-the-Year Finalist; current Bobcat Speech & Debate team member at Ohio University

“Through speech and debate, we can create inclusive communities where everyone has the opportunity to tell his or her story.”

When I switched to Mentor High School for the 2015-16 school year, I never envisioned myself joining the speech and debate team.  However, that all changed when I addressed Mentor School’s staff on opening day and one of the coaches publicly asked if I wanted to join the team.

Although I thought she was joking at the time, the superintendent convinced me otherwise.  On the first day of school, I was unofficially a member of Mentor’s speech and debate team, and by October, I had an informative speech ready to go.

My first competition was in December. Even though I spent my time rocking back and forth, essentially ignoring the world around me, I was hooked within just a few minutes of being in my first round.  I walked away from my first tournament with some fairly good rankings, which I didn’t deserve.

For the first couple months, I wasn’t able to keep eye contact with the judges and simultaneously gesturing while using my iPad seemed nearly impossible.  Yet, every Saturday I competed and the Cleveland District embraced a new way of thinking. Continue reading Inspiration for 2016-17: Impact that Lasts a Lifetime