Debate and self-authorship: a narrative case study of competitive intercollegiate debate and the development of the (cross) examined life
Lee, Edward Whillies
MetadataShow full item record
Since Socrates, educators have implored learners to self-examine their lives and try to find their own way. Students are encouraged to cultivate autonomous and independent minds unmoored from the taken-for-granted assumptions embedded in many of our communal beliefs and practices. As higher education professionals respond to market demands and expand the number of courses and programs providing vocational training and treat students as “consumers,” there is concern that colleges and universities are negatively impacting educators’ capacity to assist students in developing into reflective and self-examined students. Some argue that the zeal to produce job-ready graduates comes at the cost of nurturing ethically engaged citizens. This narrative case study investigated whether students' participating in competitive intercollegiate debate can serve as a countervailing force by creating a space for constant reflection and questioning. More specifically, it explored intercollegiate debate’s capacity to promote self-authored students. Exploring the interpersonal relationships and coaching strategies within a debate program at a large, public, comprehensive university in the southeastern United States, the study collected and analyzed stories about debaters’ preparation for and participation in NDT/CEDA debate tournaments. Interviews with debaters, graduate coaching assistants, and the debate program’s director revealed a community of friends and caretakers working to support and challenge students to see themselves as knowledge generators. The findings from this qualitative study exposed a set of complex relationships between the coaches and the students and between teammates that constitute learning partnerships. Additionally, the results identified that the squad dynamics that produce a culture of intellectual engagement that are the provocative moments students need to develop into self-authored citizens. The program simultaneously creates a community of care and a culture of questioning that encourages self-reflection and the cultivation of debaters’ internal voices. Finally, the program’s emphasis on self-reflection and questioning produces the critical components needed for a learning environment to encourage students to embrace a politically engaged life.