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Exploring The Literacy Practices Of High School Debaters

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Exploring the Literacy Practices of High School Debaters

My personal literacy development has not always been easy. In grade school I struggled with dyslexia. Additionally my family moved several times and new school districts were teaching reading and writing using different methods. These difficulties have made grade school not nearly as central to my literacy development as most students. My high school career was much more influential in creating my literacy practices. More specifically my experience as a member of my high school debate team really influenced the literacy practices I use today. My high school debate team placed me in a literacy community unlike most high school students experience there I was taught more sophisticated literacy skills, enhanced discourse, social confidence and empowerment of ideas.

As in every field debaters have their own terminology that helps to initiate members into the community. Knowing and manipulating the terminology made competitors very successful in and out of rounds. Many of the terms are also used in other sophisticated academic environments. Thus successful use of this terminology by high school student was regarded very highly by professionals and higher education recruiters. Common terms include:

rhetoric paradigm inherency discourse workability stock issues

A priori empirically status quo threshold brink counter intuitive topicality impacts A priori affirmative comparative advantage workability solvency hegemonic resolution rebuttal mutually exclusive

On face value these words seem fairly common; however they are not common in an average high school student's vocabulary. These "buzz" words were essential for the communication style expected in debate rounds but a few strategically placed words often dazzled most high school teachers. Additionally use of these terms also leads to a highly stylized and sophisticated organization pattern for argumentation.

Primarily, focused on stock issues debaters used this format to write "cases" or policy briefs. The stock issues include significance, harms, inherency, topicality, and solvency. Commonly and crudely, the debate community refers to these issues using the acronym S.H.I.T.S. In designing a case all five elements need to be present. Frequently high school debaters refer to a chair analogy. The idea being if one of the legs is missing the chair falls. Using these five elements creates a very sophisticated argumentation style not typically used by the average person.

The goal is to leave little room for doubt. The debater tells the audience how it fits into the topic area (topicality), why this policy is important (significance and harms), why now is the time to act, why the problem is not being addressed (inherency/ inherent barrier) and why your plan solves for the harms (solvency). This format used to affirm the resolution sets the affirmative team in a position to preempt most if not all negative counter positions. On the surface this seems rather simplistic in orientation and structure. However, it is relatively underdeveloped literacy practice. This format could be used to strengthen almost any proposal, paper or argument. Unfortunately, most people seem to be unaware of this format and in the presence of this format can be rather intimidated. This feeling of intimidation will be addressed later.

Equally, sophisticated in structure is the negative team's response. Normally the argumentation is formed, though not limited to, in disadvantages. The structure of a disadvantage is casual link, brink, threshold, and impacts. The link connects the negative disadvantage to the affirmative proposal, the brink tells the audience why the disadvantage has not occurred in the status quo, and the impacts are actual disadvantages that occur when if the affirmative proposal in accepted. The negative team hopes that these disadvantages out weigh the advantages offered by the affirmative team. A common insider joke is a debater can link any event to nuclear war. Once again this structure is fairly simplistic, however, rarely used.

Often times the discourse most people use is "if 'x' happens 'y' happens". They give no consideration to the internal logic of why "x" causes "y" to happen or why "y" happening is bad. This format explains that internal logic and makes it very difficult to counter. Other negative arguments can simply point out flaws in the internal logic of the affirmative; propose counter-plans that don't "bite" the disadvantages, or are theory based critiques (spelled kritique or kritik) that argue that the fundamental assumptions made by the affirmative are flawed. This last argument is more frequently seen in college debate because the logic and argumentation are much more complex and difficult to master. However, many high school debaters begin to experiment with this form of argumentation and as a result are reading philosophers that senior and graduate level college students are attempting.

These forms of argumentation are linear, concise, specific and if done correctly are flawless. This style is greatly differentiated by general models of argumentation used by most people. Often times people out side of the debate circuit don't organize their arguments and tend to just laundry list their complaints. They don't examine internal connections in their logic so often times their logic tends to be circular. Also, they habitually are emotionally based rather than based in evidence in argumentation. As a result high school debate format is a very different form of argumentation and thus a different form of literacy.

Further evidence of this is found in debaters' ability to intimidate teachers, family, friends and novice debaters. A good senior level debater has more than likely made a novice debater cry in frustration. A senior level debater has more than likely cried when they were a novice debater. In my home, my mother commonly told me to "Stop "debating" with her." A good high school debater would never say to their parent that they should be allowed to do something because "all their friends were going." They would site all the things they have been allowed to do with out violating the parents trust, the value of social interaction with peers, the advantages to going, etc... Commonly debaters are friends with or in romantic relationships with other debaters because debaters would take advantage of or manipulate non-debaters. Buzz words and other little tricks can impress teachers even when substance in debater's school work is lacking (often time because of the demands of debate or debaters feel the assignment is not challenging).



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