(Re. “Ripon speech club powers through pandemic,” April 15, 2021) COVID-19 was unpopular for Ripon High School (RHS) head coach Paul Wiegel’s forensics team, because it denied the students appropriate in-person connection, camaraderie and motivation “to record one video after another and then send it in.”

However, more problematic was dismal participation. Wiegel said that 30 years ago RHS “would bring two buses to a tournament.” Last year the team had nine students, and this year, the team started with six and ended with five. Next year the latest projection is one!

Wiegel also reported that kids working on weekends ”just kind of killed forensics.” Other reasons for declining forensics participation are a preference for athletics and cheerleading, playing video games, mall-slumming (when stores are open), hanging out with friends, or just plain relaxing after a strenuous week of college-prep curriculum.

Perhaps forensics could be more successful by making all, or most, forensics tournaments expendable. Permit me to explain.

Precise description of secondary education’s institutional goals vary extensively, but they generally focus upon transmitting values, ideals, aspirations and preparation of young people for productive personal and professional lives.

Forensics helps to create the raison d’etre of institutional goals. For instance, forensics fosters individual development of flexibility, creativity, openness to experience and responsibility; helps students to analyze and synthesize, identify relationships and infer meanings; express one’s intended thoughts accurately, clearly and impressively; and frees student from bias or limitations of origin, vocational narrowness, cultural particularity and being passive recipients of textbook information. Such skills are essential to a variety of life and work roles and forensic tournaments are not necessary for reaping these advantages!

One of the best descriptions of the teaching-learning situation appears in the Antidosis of Isocrates (436-338 B.C.). Isocrates’s method was the trinity of theory, practice and criticism, and forensic tournaments are unnecessary for continuing this cycle!

After students express interest in forensics, the coach should equip the students with theoretical understanding. For illustration, students could read and discuss classical, medieval, renaissance, and contemporary rhetorical treatises; and they could read and discuss a plethora of articles treating research in multiple fields of public address. Hence, forensics tournaments are not necessary for providing a rich foundation in the theory of persuasive performance!

Once students have sufficient theory, the next step is to have them practice their theory. The possibilities are numerous. For example, students could interpret prose and poetry before social groups; perform play acting at senior centers; present oratory, extemporaneous speaking and debate before groups like Kiwanis and Rotary; and perform story telling at the Ripon Historical Society before a Veterans of Foreign Wars group and to groups invited by the Ripon library. Students could perform their skills before faculty members and students at Ripon College in any discipline appropriate to the performer’s topic. The same behavior could be presented in classes or a general assembly at Ripon High School, Ripon Middle School or the elementary schools. Again, forensic tournaments are not necessary for gaining this practice!

To complete the educational cycle, forensics students must receive competent criticism, and this, too, warrants no forensic tournaments. The students’ teachers or coaches could accompany them during the latter’s performance and offer criticism immediately after the presentations. Competent criticism also could come from appropriate members of the audience.

Other advantages can accrue from not going to forensic tournaments. For instance, forensics expenses vary greatly, but not participating in tournaments can sometimes reflect considerable savings. Students and coaches no longer would have to fight traffic, inclement weather, and tournament schedules. Students no longer would have to compete against individuals and teams they recently met at other tournaments, nor be subjected to judges incompetent because of bias or inadequate forensic training. Literature abounds from coaches and students complaining about poor judging at some tournaments.

In conclusion, I am not recommending the obliteration of forensics nor withdrawal from all forensic tournaments. My thesis is threefold. First, interest in forensics at RHS is at a frightening low. Second, forensics is advantageous for students seeking appropriate preparation for productive life and work roles. Third, forensics tournaments are unnecessary for acquiring persuasive competence and just having fun.

— Wayne Mannebach


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