In Defense of Progressive Debate

Sid Thandassery | 5/13/22

Debate is a game. Fundamentally, debate is just a fun highschool activity that is only funded for the great educational benefits that it bestows on the kids who participate in it. As in any game, however, a sense of competition always exists and slowly grows through the spirit of the competitors. This sense of competition has bred innovation and new arguments that have led to what is commonly referred to as “progressive debate”. To clarify, this is mostly something that can be observed in Policy, some Public Forum, and, in my opinion, the most progressive, Lincoln Douglas. I posit the idea that, despite what many say, progressive debate is something that should be welcomed into the debate space because of its educational value.

There are a couple main arguments that I must address before I cover the main benefit of progressive debate, and most of the complaints are that progressive debate is not accessible (whether it be speed or resources etc.), sets poor educational norms, and is just a strategy to win rounds.

To start with the claims to accessibility, I believe that progressive debate is not purposefully exclusionary. There are a multitude of people (often from the big private schools people complain about) that love to help out and work with people who do not have the same opportunities or knowledge as them. There are many different organizations such as Equality in Forensics or PepTalk that have been created to make the debate space more accessible, but again, debate is a competition. Because of the competitive nature, it will always be easier for more wealthy people to get better, and this is an inescapable part of every competition. But because of all of the resources available as well as the kindness of the community, I believe that people who do not have access to private coaching and such can still be extremely successful. This is inextricably tied to the next common argument.

People say that progressive debate is not good for education at all, and I contest this as simply false. I genuinely believe that progressive debate is the most educational form of debate there is. This is because progressive debate allows you to get more into your speech, read different types of arguments, and approach the topic from all different points and from different thought processes. This means that progressive debate has the capability to cover the most topics in a debate as well as go in depth into those topics the most. This is tied to accessibility because people do not like the idea that progressive debate facilitates the idea that paying money can get you to be a better debater than those who cannot afford it. Nobody is saying that inequality is good or something that we should not get rid off; all that is being said is that progressive debate allows for more in depth education, and progressive debate is still something that you can learn and engage with.

Finally, people say that progressive debate is just a strategy to win rounds. Yes. That is completely true; debate is quite literally an educational game. All of the current strategies that exist are methods to win the round, but they are also all forces for good no matter who is reading them. Arguments like kritiks still cite evidence that makes a claim that attempts to say something. The debate space is a fun, educational space that can be used to make changes to people, and that is the point of progressive style arguments such as kritiks. Although, I will agree that many times people are insensitive (often by accident) when dealing with progressive style arguments and their implications, and that is something that ought to be worked on by everyone in the community.

In summary, I believe that while progressive debate does see a lot of wealthy people having success, it is still completely possible to break in as someone from a small school. I think that one of the biggest benefits is education. Progressive debate allows for more education on a basic level, and this form of debate allows people to make claims about broader subjects. This also addresses the strategy argument because all of debate and every strategy ever created was to win the round, so addressing these arguments that are broader than the topic or have wider implications is still important because it starts the conversation on those issues even if it is just for a debate round and the debaters close their laptop and go back to their life. Finally, inequality based on wealth is, once again, inescapable, and exists even in traditional debate. Thus, I see no reason as to why we should not all strive to debate in a more “progressive” manner.