Have you ever been asked that question?  It’s an odd question but one that high school debaters regularly ask their judges before a debate round.  The first time a competitor asked me about my paradigm before a round, I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about.  “My paradigm?  Uhhh . . . ”  Apparently, that response gave them all the information they needed because they said, “never mind” and continued with the debate.

Now that I have coached Speech and Debate for several years and even attended “debate camp,” I know my paradigm. 

It is this:  “One, be respectful of one another, two, speak so that I can understand what you are saying, and three make solid, clear arguments.” 

In other words, if you are a condescending ass to your opponent, if you talk so fast that I can’t understand a word you are saying, or if your argumentation lacks any semblance of logic, you will lose points.  This is not unlike what I teach my own children, be nice and communicate clearly. I suppose it’s a “mom paradigm.”

After trying to judge rounds with kids attempting to speak like this student, I think my paradigm makes perfect sense.

I try to teach and coach my students that public speaking is all about clear communication.  Does your audience understand what you are saying? Are you persuading them effectively? Can they clearly follow your arguments? Is your logic sound? Is your presentation and delivery solid or do you speak too quickly or softly? 

I want my students to learn to communicate with confidence and poise, to respect their audience even if that audience is an opponent in a debate round, to craft a message that others can understand, think about, and maybe even learn from.

Today, I am taking some students to Utah to compete against top debaters from all over the country.

In order for my students to compete, I have to judge rounds, and I also had to post my paradigm on a judging website, so top high school debaters could evaluate me as a judge. 

After reading through some of the judges’ paradigms, one of my students was concerned with what I might post.  “Mrs. Isaman,” he said in all seriousness, “you cannot put ‘talk slow and be nice’ as your paradigm.” 

He then proceeded to read from the site.  One judge listed his “Official Paradigm” as (and I am NOT kidding): “Phenomenology-influenced aesthetically-interpreting post-structural theorist with an applied transformative epistemological orientation.”

Huh? WTF does THAT mean? Is this guy serious? Apparently he is.

At first I laughed, but my next response was, “Oh shit. I have to judge the kids that this guy coaches?!

How the hell will I do that? I won’t even know what they’re saying…and even worse, they probably won’t either. Because they’ve been coached to “sound smart” rather than actually be able to communicate.

My students spent an hour or two writing my judging paradigm to make it sound slightly more sophisticated than “be nice and talk slow.”  Hopefully, the post-structuralist theorist coach read it, understood I value presentation as well as argumentation, and scratched me from his students’ judging pool.

If not, I hope these kids can either adapt their debate style for my “mom” paradigm or deal with a judge who has an anxiety attack in the middle of a round. 

In any case, it should be an interesting few days.

No Comments

  1. Debra Mae on December 1, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Good luck Amy! Your kids are fortunate to have you as a role model.

    • Amy Isaman on December 3, 2011 at 2:55 am

      Thanks! I don’t know – I feel like my brains is going to explode. I’ve judged seven rounds so far, and its so very hard to decide on a winner. I really don’t like that part.

  2. Susan on December 2, 2011 at 4:26 am

    I think the other coach’s paradigm failed the three components of yours.

    • Amy Isaman on December 3, 2011 at 2:58 am

      Ya – me too! Thankfully I haven’t met him here, but I think I’ve probably had to judge some of his students. The kids here are so incredibly bright. On the upside, when you watch all these kids, it makes me feel confident in our country’s future. We’ll be fine! I just thought too that I am sitting in a room full of your audience as these are the kids who read . . . without any coercion.

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