February 14, 2020 • By Dennis Beaver
“I am an attorney with a Fortune 500 company and have read a number of your columns on getting into law school. Our son is in college, wants to follow in my footsteps and feels strongly that by becoming a star on the debate team this will enhance his chances,” “Mike” wrote.
“As a college debater the experience made me a better writer and speaker but something about debate today is worrisome. There is a very strange style of debating which turns my stomach. It is called Spreading, and sounds like you are at a cattle auction, with the students speaking so rapidly it is impossible to follow and understand.
“The idea is to spew so much information that your opponent can’t possible respond. To me that is not debate, not the way intelligent people discuss issues. Frankly, it strikes me as dishonest.
“Our son wants to attend a summer ‘Spreading Debate’ camp, compete, video himself doing this weird stuff, and sending it as part of his application package to the law schools he will apply to. I fear that it could hurt him and would appreciate your opinion.”
Looking for an Appetite Suppressant? Watch these Videos
At one time, it would be a real treat to be in the audience of a high school or college debate. Intelligent, well-spoken students–who had spent countless hours researching various sides of a current governmental policy issue–would respectfully present their views and, yes, calmly debate their positions.
Then, several years ago, some ethically challenged person got the idea that if the debaters threw out arguments at an auctioneer’s rate of speech, the other side could never respond, and they would win. Thus was born “Spreading,” speed + reading.
Here are two examples:
Now, just ask yourself, “What real-world benefit can come from this?” Senator Ted Cruz, a 1992 Princeton University Debate Hall of Fame member, answered that question some years ago by stating:
“Spreading is a pernicious disease that has undermined the very essence of high school and college debate. In no other endeavor in life do you get rewarded for speaking ridiculously quickly, unless you hope to appear in a FedEx commercial.”
(A FedEx Corp. spot featuring John Moschitta, a former Guinness fast-talk record holder, became one of the most popular TV commercials ever.)
What Do High School and College Debate Coaches Have to Say?
I spoke with a number of speech/debate teachers and coaches at several high schools and colleges. Off the record, all believed that spreading debate style is a huge waste of students’ time and energy.
“The problem,” a speech teacher in Tennessee stated, “is that debaters are highly competitive and want to win at all cost, regardless of how truly dishonest spreading debate style really is. They just want to get points and the ethics of what they are doing is not part of their vision.”
“An Iowa speech teacher stated, “There are other competitive forensics areas which far better develop a student’s abilities, and if I didn’t fear getting fired, I would tell parents to urge their kids to avoid this spreading nonsense.” She stressed, “This is a politically dangerous area, so to keep your job, you just go along. It is all about the millions of dollars in college debate scholarships.”
“No Position on the Issue”
I asked Grace Roger, Communication Specialist with the National Speech & Debate Association based in Des Moines, Iowa, for their view of spreading. “We have no official position,” she replied. Sure they don’t. My cynical view on their lack of position is simply, “Follow the money.”
A Law Professor Shares His view of Debate and Getting into Law School
I asked visiting professor of law at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill, Beau Baez, what effect Mike’s son submitting a video would likely have on his admissions chances.
“I have been involved in law school admissions for years. Acceptance is based primarily on a student’s undergraduate GPA and score on the LSAT. But admissions officers are also looking out for weird stuff, and if this were my son, I would tell him do not send in that video! It will hurt you!”
I also spoke with a number of admissions officers, off the record, at several law schools, some of whom had received similar videos. The general consensus: “These things are repulsive and highly disturbing. We have rejected applicants who lacked the common sense to not submit these ridiculous videos.”
One was a former speech therapist, who at first thought, “I was looking at a student suffering from a cluttering disorder where speech is overly rapid, jerky, and is poorly articulated. Cluttered speech typically sounds rushed and disorganized.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.