Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Forensics Education? How the Structure and Discourse of Forensics Promotes Competition

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Forensics Education? How the Structure and Discourse of Forensics Promotes Competition

Article excerpt

Ann Burnett, Jeffrey Brand and Mark Meister (*)

The 1998 American Forensic Association (AFA) National Individual Events Tournament (NIET) hosted in Flagstaff, Arizona was acclaimed a successful tournament by most tournament attendees. A proud Northern Arizona State University student newspaper staff, eager to report on the success of the "home school," touted their university's third place placing in their newspaper, The Lumberjack (Donley, "Forensics Third," 1998). Anxious to interview the most successful competitors, the Lumberjack staff sought out NAU team members but could not locate two of them. After questioning the dean of the NAU School of Communication, an internal investigation ensued, revealing that two NAU team members (who happened to be very successful) were ineligible for the competition (Donley, "NAU Forensics," 1998; Haworth, 1998). The students were working as interns in California and were not registered students at NAU. Officials at NAU notified the NIET and withdrew the students from the tournament (Haworth, 1998). The director of fore nsics at NAU resigned two weeks later (Donley, "NAU Forensics," 1998)

This was not the only incident involving rules violations during the 1997-1998 individual events national tournaments. A finalist from Bradley University in After Dinner Speaking (ADS) at the National Forensic Association (NFA) tournament was later disqualified for plagiarism (NFA Newsletter, 1999). His finals award, individual sweepstakes points, and team sweepstakes points in ADS at the AFA-NIET also were later revoked ("disqualification letter # 2," May 5, 1999).

These ethical violations may only touch the tip of the iceberg, (1) but their existence suggests that the educational value of forensics has been supplanted by the desire to win. That is, people do not cheat in order to learn; they cheat in order to win. In this essay, we argue that the value of competition has come to outweigh the value of education in intercollegiate individual events practice. (2) We will examine the educational and competitive values of forensics, assess the problems associated with the overemphasis on competition, and make recommendations as to how to bring education and competition back in balance.


Throughout its inception, forensics has been promoted as an educational activity. The emphasis on education in forensics began in 1952, when Ehninger promoted forensics as a cocurricular activity, and emphasized the need to provide an educational experience for our students (p. 237). Years later, participants at the 1974 Sedalia retreat defined forensics as an "educational activity" (McBath, 1975, P. 237). In an oft-cited passage from the 1984 conference on forensics, McBath states that "forensics is an educational activity primarily concerned with using an argumentative perspective in examining problems and communicating with people" (1984, p. 5). Ulrich (1984) notes that the individuals attending the 1984 conference concurred with the primary emphasis on education, and that learning ought to be emphasized above competitive success. Members of developmental conferences since 1984 have echoed this educational philosophy (Davenport, 1989; Friedley, 1989; Hefling, 1989; Inch, 1991; Larson-Casselton, 1991; Littl efield, 1991; Whitney, 1998). Recently forensic educators also have echoed the educational value of forensics (Allen, Berkowitz, Hunt & Louden, 1999; Gernant, 1991; Williams, 1990), and the revised AFA Code of Forensics emphasizes education as well ("American Forensic Association," 1998).

Perhaps the most common focus from the education perspective is on forensics as a laboratory (Dreibelbis & Gullifor, 1992; Friedley, 1992; Swanson, 1992; Zeuschner, 1992). On a college campus, a laboratory suggests two different kinds of activity: to educate students in the practices of a discipline (such as biology and chemistry lab courses) and to discover knowledge (such as research labs on college campuses). …

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