No debate on forensics value
''Resolved: that the United States should significantly curtail its arms sales to other countries.'' ''Resolved: that all United States military intervention into the internal affairs of any nation or nations in the Western hemisphere should be prohibited.''
Most adults would have difficulty arguing the pros and cons of the above statements. These are, respectively, the topics 15 to 24-year-old high school and college students are arguing at this year's forensic competitions.
According to Maridell Fryar of the American Forensic Association, ''the whole area of competitive debate has inestimable value to students. Students who have participated in debates have one up on those who have not.''
With the fierce competition for admittance to graduate schools, Ms. Fryar said a student's forensic participation has often made the difference between acceptance and rejection.
The national topics for both high school and college competitions are chosen through a long process in which team coaches from across the country submit possible topics that are timely, debatable, and will allow for adequate research and clip file collections. The National University Extension Association's Select Committee chooses the three best topics which are then sent to every coach in the country. The topic with the most votes becomes the national debate topic for that year.
At the high school level there are four divisions of debate: extemporaneous speaking, in which the student draws a current events topic and has 30 minutes to prepare a seven minute presentation using notes from the clip file s/he has been compiling throughout the year; oratory, a 10 minute original, memorized persuasive speech; Lincoln-Douglas debates - 30 minute one-on-one competitions in which the student must be able to argue both sides of a value resolution, such as ''Resolved: the manufacture of nuclear weapons is immoral;'' and cross-examination debates, the only two-man event for high school debaters.
Like Lincoln-Douglas debates, the two-man cross-examination teams must be prepared to argue both sides of a policy topic, such as arms limitation. These debates, based loosely on the legal court room, last 60 minutes, with each side giving alternating eight and three minute constructive speeches, followed by alternating four minute rebuttals beginning with the negative side who, like the prosecution in a legal court, argues the status quo. The affirmative side, acting as the defense, argues for change.
College debate includes extemporaneous speaking, oratory, and value judgement topics for cross-examination teams. Among other college divisions are after dinner debate, critical analysis and group discussions.
The judges of small tournaments are usually other forensic team coaches, community leaders and lawyers. At large college tournaments, judges are team coaches. They cannot, however, judge their own teams.
Coaches whose teams do not belong to any of the national organizations learn the national topic by contacting any of the organizations. Membership in the organizations is not a prerequisite to participating in local or national debates. High school coaches are notified each spring by either the National Forensic League or each state's Activity League. College coaches are notified by the organization to which they belong.
If debate at the high school level is a class the coach must be state certified and have either a major or minor degree in speech or speech communication. If debate is an extracurricular activity, the coach can be any interested teacher willing to give time to the team. At the college level, coaches may be either a graduate assistant working toward a doctorate, or a person hired by the speech communication department to coach the team.
There are no mandatory training sessions for coaches, although they may attend summer workshops at large universities where they, along with high school debaters, spend up to six weeks in intensive training.
The National Forensic League is the only national organization that publishes a forensic handbook. However, many coaches and major universities also print booklets telling debaters how to look at a topic, what the most helpful standard sources are, where to find them, etc. Many publishing companies also produce handbooks. Among them are the Alan Company, Box 16250, Clayton, Mo. 63105; Information Research Association, 112 Sycamore St. PO Drawer 779, Clinton, N.C. 28328; Ithaca Policy Research, 32 Gage Lane, Shrewsbury, Ma. 91545; and National Textbook Company, 8259 Niles Center Road, Skokie, Il. 60076.
The three largest forensic associations are: college: American Forensic Association, 702 N. ''N'', Midland, Tx 79201, (915) 682-8611; National Forensic League, Ripon, Wi 54971, (414) 748-6206; high school: National Forensic Association, Dept. of Speech Communication, California State University, Los Angeles, Ca 90032, (213) 224-3508.