I didn’t attend the ACRL debate on information literacy. Several of those who did have had snarky things to say about it, apparently well deserved. Here’s a follow-up to an earlier post about the session at A Wandering Eyre–not to pick on Jane, but because she writes well and garnered some interesting comments. (The debate’s been debated elsewhere…)
I did go to the LITA debate on the future of search. And left after 15 minutes…
And then recalled that I’ve turned down more than one speaking invitation for a debate format, after accepting one such invitation (one of only three speeches I’ve done that I regard as failures).
I’m less hard-nosed than some. I’ll be on a panel, as long as it’s not a cry-and-response panel, and I’ve been the speaker being responded to by a panel (and don’t much care for it, not because I don’t like disagreement but because I don’t like being required to write a speech in advance and stick with what I wrote…but that requirement is almost essential for responders to work effectively).
The more I think about it, the more I think I just don’t care for debates as content programs. As carnivals/sideshows, sure; bring on the powdered wigs and gongs to cut off the speakers at the 3-minute mark. Cheer, boo, throw vegetables: Just don’t think you’re communicating meaning or changing anyone’s mind.
Actually, for me, this should come as no surprise. I was never a football player (as anyone who’s seen me could guess), but I spent four years in the NFL–the National Forensic League, that is. That’s the high school public speaking association, a good place for geeks like me to spend weekends. I “topped out” point eligibility in debate, impromptu, and extemp, which means I did a lot of debating. And what struck me as the years went on was that NFL debate is a great way to train value-neutral lawyers: That is, you’re required to be equally effective in arguing for and against a set proposition. Crucial to doing that is not believing either side. (One year, I used the same very effective anecdote on both sides of the same issue. That was the year I realized that treating debate as anything other than a stunt was demeaning my personal ethical sense.)
Maybe it’s just me, but maybe not. Disagreement can be good. Serious discussion can, rarely, change minds: I’ve changed my mind thanks to informed discussion. But debates? I think they’re artificial, tend to force extreme positions, and are valuable only as entertainment, not when there’s something serious to be said. At least that’s been my recent experience.
[Not that anyone was planning to in any case, but I guess this serves as a warning that you shouldn't invite me to participate in a debate. I'll turn you down.]