Professor moons judge at college debate nationals (with video!)

Categories: Education

College debate isn't what what the limited books and movies would have you believe. It's stranger, smarter, and dare I say better than just about any other educational activity. More than just "talking pretty," debate requires an intricate mix of intellect, confidence, and strategic thought -- qualities it also helps develop.

As such, it attracts brilliant personalities. Brilliant personalities that are sometimes abrasive and erratic. You can see this on display in a new YouTube video from the Cross-Examinatation Debate Association's national tournament last March. In that video, which has now been linked on CNN.com's main page, debate coach Bill Shanahan and Pittsburgh's Shanara Reid-Brinkley, a judge, exchange heated words.

She calls him an asshole, he calls himself a "fucking asshole," and says he embraces his status as a "fucking asshole," and then ... well, then he shows her, and the rest of the room, his eponymous orifice. It's an arresting visual, debate's version of the NBA's Ron Artest melee.

You can read one of the debaters' full explanation in jargon, but what you really want is the video, which is here:

The first minute contains the full moon -- as well as a host of provocation and profanity -- but my favorite moments come between 3:00 and 3:30. That's when Shanahan tries to justify himself to James Roland of Emory University, saying he doesn't "think [he's] acting immaturely at all."

Naturally, Shanahan is now under investigation by the university. Directors of debate across the country are concerned that, because the video was on CNN.com's front page yesterday, the incident will reflect poorly on the activity as a whole. Here's the screenshot.

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This isn't fair, of course. I spent years in academic debate, and it is the best possible activity your child can engage in. It teaches research skills, a work ethic, persuasion, tactical insights, self-confidence and other qualities you just can't name. During my nearly 20 years in the pursuit, I have never once been mooned.

That being said, while this video is an aberration, it does offer a window into some portions of debate. These aren't shy nerds reading off of recipe cards. These are passionate, often forceful people delving into the arcane but beautiful world of argument. With exposed asscheeks, on occasion. Is it any wonder I want to write a book about this stuff?

You can also watch the full debate, but unless you have a debate background, you might find it ... odd.


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