Saturday, June 14, 2014

How I eliminated my son from the National Debate Championships!

The National Speech and Debate Championships for 2014 starts today. Last year, I was responsible for eliminating my son from it.

This is a true story about how a child had to tell an adult the right thing to do :-(

I'm a Bengali (from the same place as  Bengal tigers come from). We're known to love art, soccer, music, and fish, and are known to be straight shooters - I usually tell it like it is.

Mostly to my own detriment...

Once last year … to my son's detriment …

This story shows how life deals the unfair card at a young age, and how, sometimes, an adult has to be slapped on the wrist by a child - to do the right thing!

If you've had the opportunity to see state-level and national-level debaters in the Bay Area, you'll realize very quickly that more often than not, the speakers know more than the parents judging them. That's ok! They are expected to know how to convince "regular" people with their argumentation. The message early in life is that you'll have less competent (sometimes incompetent) people judging you and evaluating you in life. Deal with it.  Life ain't fair!

It’s more unfair when the parent judging you can hardly speak English, and shouldn't even be there. Especially not judging a round between two good debaters that determines whether they qualify to go to the State or the National tournament. Debaters spend weeks preparing for these tournaments - sacrificing their academics, gathering evidence, preparing appropriate rebuttals to each and every possible argument. Ok, but there aren't enough parent judges, so … tough! Deal with it!

Now - there are rules - a parent cannot judge a student from their own child's school (obvious)  or judge a speaker they know - they are expected to recuse themselves. I've done it 3 times over the last 2 years, even when I only vaguely knew who the student was, and I knew I could still be objective.

During a league tournament earlier in the year, a parent I know from the local competing school brings up an issue with me - that one of the kids from my son's school apparently grabbed her daughter's hand to point to evidence during a round, rattling her and causing her great distress (she's a good debater herself, but had thought she'd lost the round and was upset).

"Is that allowed?" she asks me meekly. I told her it was not acceptable and she should take it up with her team's coach. In fact, debaters are told not to even make direct eye contact during a round, and the boys from my son's school are specifically told to be extra nice in rounds with girls due to perception issues (even if the girls are pretty aggressive, which they often are - yup, it's a reality! (And that ain’t fair either.))

On pressing her, I was told who it was - it was a boy I knew very well.  I assured her that I would tell my son, one of the captains, to deal with the issue. Assuming this account was true, since it came from an adult, I was furious that such an experienced debater would do this, jeopardizing his own chances of winning. I asked him. The boy involved protested that nothing of the sort happened, but I took it upon myself (as a parent of his friend and teammate) to berate him. My son took it up with the opposing school's captain to find out from the girl what had  transpired; according to her, nothing of the sort had happened. The girl was, in fact, embarrassed that her mother would have brought something like this up with me, a parent from a competing school, instead of going to her own coach. Ironically, she’d won the round.

I was furious and apologized to the boy involved, feeling embarrassed and stupid for believing the parent over a student I knew.

That weekend, I received a phone call from said mother, who'd discovered that I had followed up on my word - trying to "clarify". Still trying to convince me that something had actually taken place, and asking why I took this up with the team’s captain, the daughter's reputation, etc. etc.

You kidding me? Reputation? Imagine the impact on the boy's reputation. If she could bring this up with a competing school’s parent, imagine the stories she was capable of weaving to parents from her own school!  Why did she not take this up with her coach if it did happen?

I was not kind - I gave her a piece (lots of pieces) of my mind, and told her never to ever do this again. I did not hold back. Frankly, I’d never spoken to someone in my life in such an abrasive fashion. I was pissed!

Fast Forward:
National qualifiers for Lincoln Douglas (LD) debate in 2013. My son is in a "go round" i.e., he goes to the National tournament if he wins that round, as expected. He arrives at his round to see that the same girl's dad is one of the judges! My son assumes he'd recuse himself - first, they know us well, second, there's too much bad blood here between our families …

Nope! He stays put in his seat!

He's a parent. Surely he'll  be able to put aside personal issues and rule objectively! The man makes no eye-contact throughout the round. He rules against my son; knocks him out of the Nationals.

My son is confident he won the debate. Why do I believe him? He's been quarter-finalist in California State in 2 consecutive years as sophomore and junior, top 30 in the nation as a junior. As a senior, he has the best LD debate record in the state. He knows when he wins and he knows when he loses!

He won and he lost.

The turn of the unfriendly card! My actions effectively cost him a chance to go the Nationals to try to win the title. The eventual 2013 National Champ has never beaten him head-to-head.

Fast Forward:
My son is participating in the semi-final (last 16) round at the 2013 California State tournament for impromptu speech (not debate). He walks into a classroom with 60-70 of his peers, and who does he see in the judges panel?

The mom!!  Again!!!

"Okay, she's going to recuse herself."

Madam sits tight - she's not going anywhere!

This is not happening again!

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." - his exact words to me later. He knows his proverbs!

He's seething - the elimination from National Qualifiers still a fresh wound! The same thing is going to happen again. He can feel it in his bones!

If I were him, I'd walk to my coach to protest! He's a Bengali!! He should be outraged and he should protest.

"Aaamader dabi mante hobe, mante hobe, mante hobe ….."

He's only 17 with all the ongoing stress of an important competition.

My son does the most non-Bengali and mature thing ever….

"Aunty," he says loudly in front of all his peers and his fellow contestants. "Our families have known each other very well for a long time, and I feel it would be unfair to my fellow speakers if you judge this round. Would you please recuse yourself from judging this round?"

She's history, and his fellow competitors are impressed with his magnanimity!

A Bengali with that kind of maturity and acumen? Impossible!

He made it to the final round and took fourth in California State. Had he not done what I described, I'll wager he'd have at least one negative vote on the panel, and would’ve been eliminated from the final round.

Why am I sure?  Seriously! You're going to ask me this question?

He recused her!  When a parent does not know the right thing to do, it's not bad manners to slap her on the wrist, and tell her that her place is outside the classroom!

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