Turns out we can’t even have a debate about debating. Members of the debate team at James Madison University have decided that “free speech should not extend to requiring us to platform or amplify ideas that are exclusionary, discriminatory, or hostile.” Apparently, debate meets will now resemble a Soviet show trial but without so much suspense over the outcome.
In seventh grade, I needed to choose a second exploratory class to accompany band, and I wanted to avoid woodshop and home ec. My friend Richard said I should join him in debate class. “All we do is hang out in the library during class!” Sold. As it turned out, debate, along with introductory philosophy, was one of the only classes that I consider worth my fourteen-year stint in the educational penitentiary. To my surprise, I not only enjoyed it, I happened to be good at it. (If I remember correctly, “second constructive speaker” was the position I excelled at.)
One of the topics we debated was vivisection. I had to argue the pro-side. My mom, who is very sentimental about animals, had angrily said that if I was assigned that position, she would refuse to drive me to the university libraries where I did most of my research (ah, the days of going down into a library basement to scroll through microfiche.) She relented eventually, I made my case, and our team lost that one anyway, so I guess it all worked out. Still, I remember feeling…disappointed, I guess, that I, a twelve-year-old, should need to patiently convince my mom of the value of open debate and honest inquiry (let alone the necessity of a good grade). I suppose I had already began to assume that this was just something that all adults knew and practiced. Nearly forty years later, I still have trouble disabusing myself of that notion. And yet, here we are. I remember kids in my class clamoring to take on the most hot-button topics there were, like abortion and apartheid (I can’t recall, but we may have actually done the latter). Evidently, we were braver than today’s college kids.