Making Debate Normal: Different Audiences and Debate’s Pedagogical Mission

Brian Lain, Karen Anderson, Laura Oliver


Even before the founding of the National Association of Academic Teachers of Public Speaking, there were debate leagues that involved speech teachers from around the United States. William Keith (2007, 2008), Herman Cohen (1994), Pat Gehrke (2009) and others have noted the imbrication of the discipline of speech with the instruction of debate however, little has been done to assess the local character of debate education before the national organizations were formed. This paper pulls information from archival documentation, newspaper articles, magazine status updates, and articles inside the Quarterly Journal of Public Speaking to examine the state of debate in one such local collection of speech educators: the Texas Normal Debate League (TNDL). The TNDL formed in the early 1900s among teacher colleges in Texas, called Normal colleges at the time, and thus gives unique insight into not only the ways that debate evolved, but also the priorities of training speech educators at the time. This paper argues that the educative goal of debate as a form of civic engagement is deeply rooted in the TNDL and that attending to the history of Normal Leagues might offer some suggestions for debate practitioners in the contemporary era.  The Normal Leagues provide a case where students were able to bridge policy and public deliberation in a way that emphasized civic education.

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