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Sunday, June 27, 2004

Battle School Vouchers - Judges' Comments

The Closing Arguments are up, the cases are closed, Battle School Vouchers is ovah!

On the panel this week:

From the Left, Pineapple Girl from Politics at Pineapple Girl

From the Right, Big Dan of God In The Machine

And sitting in from the Center, The Chairman.

Let's see what the Judges have to say.

Opening Arguments

PG:
I felt this OA actually makes a case stronger than 8 points' worth. Yet, when push came to shove, I couldn't award more in the substance category because I didn't think the Challenger met the requirement of "[going] a good deal of the way to proving it." There was just not the evidence and backup for which I'd hoped, which led me to think, "Hope there's more to come." Philosophically, though, I was pleased to critically consider vouchers from the angle of the unalienable parental right to guide a child's education.

The Iron Blogger seems to mostly tell me what he's going to do in this Battle in the future, but I prefer it when a Combatant actually shows me. While I might have been lenient considering the real-life situation demanding the IB's time, it is balanced by the clear advantage that he had in having already had this same discussion with the same opponent in the same medium just a few days prior -- the Iron Blogger not only knew what the Challenger's position would be, but even accurately predicted how the Challenger would bring it (" a broad philosophical argument without reference"). I didn't feel quite as clearly able to define the Iron Blogger's actual position as I should be -- although I'm pretty sure it's that "I oppose school vouchers because the execution has failed miserably." If so, this might prove to be a pretty strong case strategically, because it's usually difficult for an advocate of a conservative/Republican issue to passionately and disingenuously defend a broken situation with "let's just keep going, and throwing more government money at the problem."
TC:
I felt that, while the Challenger had a worthy point, he did himself great disservice by wandering and being vague at times. His mention of his conservative wife opposing vouchers failed to help him in any way, and while in a later post he explains this in a positive light, it still further undermines his case. I also found a few minor contradictions to be troubling as well. Perhaps what harms him the most in an otherwise strong post is his almost total lack of sources to provide evidence for his claim. This post lives too much in a vacuum.

A tight and concise case made by the Iron Blogger, while richly linked and sourced and more direct in its focus fails to lay out much of a position in its brevity. He gets to a point, but only one, and has little to say about it, as if his links are doing the talking. This post is the opposite end of the Challenger's - too colored by outside opinions and lacking in its own.
BD:
The challenger fails in the substance category in this first post. Admittedly, it is difficult when one doesn't know how one's opponent will argue a topic, but the challenger could have done more. What I see here is groundwork. There is a structure set up that shows how vouchers COULD work, but not WHY they should work. I can see from this opening post how the system would support vouchers, but I see no real impetus to do so. The post's structure was smooth and very readable. I felt like the challenger believed what he was saying. The structure made the trip very enjoyable, I just wish we had actually arrived somewhere when it was over. Bonus point for the Jefferson quote, but again, I would have liked more meat, more unique thought and more sourcing. Again, the challenger is well-spoken and crafts words in a way that is easy to understand. There was nothing punchy, nothing overly witty or clever, but more than adequate given the substance. The challenger's strength was the good work on the role of the State in education. The framework has been set for a strong argument which I hope to see in the first rebuttal.

The IB has a case here, but admittedly leaves it short due to time constraints. The concept of creating substance to rebut in the opening by quoting a prior discussion with the challenger was brilliant, but the IB didn't follow up on it. For instance, that quote left an opening to attack whether there is a strong reason to institute vouchers vs. the current system. The possibility was there to argue that the current system is fine and while vouchers might be nice they aren't necessary. This is the beginning of a great opening, but only the beginning. Well structured post that flows nicely. Again, however, the trip is less important in debate than the destination. Both opponents suffer from arena-building in their openings; they are creating a battleground but not yet attacking in sincerity. This felt like a cliffhanger - while the groundwork is strong, I needed to see more! One bonus point for drawing on his own experience and focusing the battle on the area he knows firsthand, making himself an irrefutable source. This was a strong piece of writing. I wanted to give more points based on the clear writing and communicating talent displayed, but again, I was left wanting more. I wish I could give more than 2 points for sourcing. Again, a strong educational post, but the brevity and unexplored areas kept me from awarding full points - at post's end, I knew where and how he would debate, just not WHAT.

First Rebuttals

PG:
As a rebuttal, this is outstanding. The Challenger opens by
highlighting the primary structural and content flaws in the Iron Blogger's Opening Argument, and then does a great job fisking in his remainder. Other than the one left-fielder that was the religious paragraph ("When public schools stop teaching kids to worship Gaia and such nonsense, then I will listen to their arguments more seriously" was needlessly inflammatory and actually a bit distracting -- it made me go back and re-examine the whole religion argument more closely, and the points weren't strong enough to override the salient fact: school vouchers do allow public monies to fund religious education. Better to have glossed past that then lifted the rock and examined it, when no one called for it.), the Challenger does a noteworthy job on many levels. Especially skilled were the return of the violence in schools point and the ambiguity fallacy of the testing exchange, for which I gave a bonus point, as well as for the actively rebutting.

Why is "why not" weak? The Iron Blogger tells me that he thinks it's weak, but doesn't tell me why he thinks it's weak -- well, he sort of does, later in the post... but he misses the opportunity to signpost me right up front. I didn't like the structure here. But, good job on rebutting the points on testing and the efficacy of vouchers outside Milwaukee. Bonus points for turning the "private schools are private" point back on the Challenger, and for the very active rebuttal in responding with examples and case studies from other cities and countries.
TC:
Here the Challenger goes farther in arguing his side and does a respectable job of laying out his argument with facts and supporting data, but he reaches too far for my tastes when he tries - intentionally or not - to play the race card by suggesting the Iron Blogger has played the race card. As with Holocaust references, this is a Chewbacca Defense in the Iron Blog canon. He leaves this post on a solid note and on stable ground, but he never truly turns the tables on his opponent, in my opinion.

The Iron Blogger has a very valid point when he notes that arguing the hypothetical and theoretical does no good in the real world. The Challenger is building his case on an ideal vouchers system, and the Iron Blogger rightly and damagingly points out that such a thing does not yet exist. I also liked how he turned the costs argument and facts back on his opponent. What this post suffers from is a bit of a rambling, absent-minded professor quality. I trust his actual classroom lectures are better structured and less long-winded than his blog posts.
BD:
This is an interesting case to judge. The challenger has nailed the IB on a lack of substance while covering a substantive lack of his own. He concentrates on the IB in this rebuttal to good effect but in doing so fails to produce any substantive reasons why vouchers are needed. It's not too late to pull this out, but if I don't see some defense of WHY we need vouchers in the first place, the challenger will be in trouble. Simply put, because something would be nice is not an argument for changing the system. His defense of vouchers 'doing no harm' is excellent work, but I need to see the good they do, as well. Structurally, the challenger goes point-by-point through the IB’s opening in seamless fashion. I gave 3 bonus points for taking on the IB's arguments directly and totally (despite not presenting arguments of his own) and 1 for putting the opponent on the defensive. This rebuttal put the IB on the defensive, but left his own 'argumentless flank exposed. Stylistically, this was a good read, but nothing strikingly so. Better use of sourcing, but to keep beating the dead horse, more arguments in favor of vouchers would have allowed for more sources. Full points for education as the challenger drew the opponent away from Milwaukee and pointed to some systems of which I had been unaware. The religion argument the challenger sets forth can be a winner here, depending on what the challenger does with it. The Gaia comment was NOT representative of the best way to use religion here, however. Even as a Baptist pastor, I am a fan of Gaia and of nature. Even if I was staunchly fundamentalist, I would still recognize that making fun of someone's religion, no matter how extreme, is disingenuous at the least.

I'm glad I'm not the conservative that has to respond after this rebuttal. The IB was right on target here and any quibbles are just that - quibbles. Substantively strong, this rebuttal provides two potentially winning arguments: the 'why not?' assertion and the inability to provide proof of a quality education in private schools' argument. Full points for substance (damn liberal!), particularly in pointing out the inability to trust parents alone to monitor quality, insufficiency of testing and the use of religious schools as even more private than private schools. The structure didn't turn me on but was nevertheless straightforward and easy to follow. Full bonus points for actively rebutting arguments, turning the opponent's points against him and leaving the challenger with a long row to hoe. IB has style. I want at him! Four of five points here. Educationally sound. Knowing little about this topic, I am in a good position to judge how educational these posts are. Like the challenger's first rebuttal, this one serves that purpose in outstanding fashion. Another rebuttal like this might be more than any challenger can contend against.

Second Rebuttals

PG:
Another outstanding rebuttal here, all around. Just one example: I personally am not one that loves a lot of data interpretation on blogs (for the same reasons I don't love too many opinion polls), and yet I can recognize when it is skillfully done in a way that will resonate with the average blog reader; the Challenger
does that when he returns the "turnovers in choice schools" data -- he manages to undercut the Iron Blogger's point while bolstering his own. Owen does that in several places in the 2R (accountability, state control, extortionate vs. wasteful spending), and while I don't agree with his ideology, there is no question that his technique is superior. The only area I found lacking was the paragraph on the NY study -- the Iron Blogger never tried to equate school vouchers and class size reduction, so noting that the two are dissimilar was much ado about nothing, and I found the sentence about the African-American children and their bright, shiny future to be a bit condescending. This was the one small spot on an otherwise tasty fruit.

The Iron Blogger fleshed things out here, and I have a better handle on where he's coming from here; he made good hay of some of the Challenger's factual missteps too. I gave bonus points for active-rebuttal and for turning around some of the Challenger's points. "Daewoo" - HA! Zestay! While I didn't know what to do with the Glass / Pitcher Analogy, the writing was great in the 2R.
TC:
I find that the Challenger is doing a better job of rebutting his opponent's arguments and turning them back on him, but he has for a third post in a row navigated himself into the corner of ideology over facts. His case is on very shaky ground now as he has yet to argue that vouchers are working now, instead merely suggesting they might possibly in some unspecified place and time if under the proper circumstances and with the right alignment of the planets, work. I could argue, for instance, that giving everyone cookies and milk before sleep would reduce violent crime in America, but if I can't show that it actually works, I'd never be taken seriously. That is the increasing danger the Challenger faces.

And true to that line of thought, the Iron Blogger correctly identifies this flaw in his opponent's arguments. He uses more facts, more links and more data to make his case and rebut the Challenger's points, almost daring him to show something more than 'at least it isn't worse' than public education. Strong sourcing and good points. Unfortunately, a long-winded and ultimately ineffective analogy eats up a large swath of the post and distracts from the point he's making rather than enhancing it.
BD:
The challenger's posts are each stronger than the last. In his best effort yet, the challenger earns high marks for substance. He manages to address the IB's two main thrusts ('why not' and 'no way to prove quality') effectively, at the very least putting the ball in the IB's court. If the challenger had failed to address both arguments here, he might have been lost. He also charges that the IB has not 'argued against vouchers,' which will at the very least put something else on the IB's radar screen. Still, while claiming not getting into religion too deeply is a good thing, it is clear to me that the religious argument can be a winner for the challenger - public schools teach subjects and create environments that are antithetical to, say, core Christian beliefs, so the argument that private education is needed to protect Christian children is a good one. I actually gave full bonus points here because the challenger tackled all the salient arguments of the IB, shifted the focus back to the IB and employed a very effective 'agreement' technique. Ironically, agreement can be one's strongest tool in a debate and by agreeing with much of what the IB says, the challenger narrows down the field to the areas in which he thinks he can win. I still wanted more in terms of sourcing. There were long spaces empty of sourcing where a link or two could have backed up his arguments. The challenger finally hits the deontological 'State's duty' assertion, but could have backed it up with links instead of leaving it an attackable opinion. My own opinion on vouchers was being formed exclusively by the IB until this post. While nothing is settled, the challenger gets full points for challenging my own thoughts and ideas on the topic. This rebuttal may have gone a long way into closing the gap between the two combatants, but a strong closing statement is still in order.

As you might expect from a teacher, the IB has done his homework, even checking up on his opponent's links and pointing out his misdirection to good effect. He bolsters his own arguments and sources while working to discredit the challenger's. I still think his 'why not?' argument could be a winner here, and I think he discards it too quickly. The challenger to this point has stated that the government should be/is required to allow all students quality educations (meaning they can get vouchers when the public schools don't meet their needs), but still hasn't shown WHY that is the state's job. The IB does, however, hammer home his second important claim, that there is no way of adequately monitoring/testing the quality of education provided at voucher schools. If the challenger can't find a way in his closing to address this point, the IB won't need the 'why not?' argument. Very fluid read, with 2 bonus points (of 3) for actively rebutting (most of) the challenger's arguments, 1 for turning the opponent's arguments against him and 1 for ending with the focus back on the challenger. Stylistically, I think the IB once again rushes through his potential here. He has demonstrated a flair for humor, wit and insight but allows himself to settle for a merely adequate stylistic piece here. I suspect he has talent at communication, but lets himself fall back on that skill at will without putting in the extra effort to make this rebuttal extraordinary. Those with a talent for wordsmithing can toss out 3-points-out-of-5 rebuttals in their sleep. Another link for which I have to register before reading. Grrr. Plenty of good links, but I'm not going to receive junk email for the rest of my life to confirm that the IB has a point here. Full points (no surprise here) for education, which has been the IB's strong suit all along, as he takes our hand and clearly illustrates the voucher situation.

Closing Arguments

PG:
I was disappointed in this closing. After some nice solid rebuttals
that really got me on board with the efficacy of a philosophical argument, which I had doubts about in the beginning, I felt like the Challenger threw me under the bus. This post was heavy on ideology-speak, and light on logical deductive reasoning. Owen's closing mostly served to remind me that his position has some huge holes, and that he didn't do much in the very end to fill them for me. I feel like, at the end of it all, the Challenger is hoping that throwing up the smokescreen of "yeah...but...but... public education is not 100% effective either" for a finale will suffice. That just doesn't fulfill me on the parental rights concept that I was sold in the beginning.

I was disappointed in this closing too. I wanted to see more from the Iron Blogger, a solid roundhouse, the blogging equivalent of the 1812 Overture. Instead, I got more rebuttal than anything: a summary of what he didn't like about his own arguments paired with what he didn't like about his opponent's. But, while it might not have been fireworks, the latter was succinct and strong. Do I wish that the Iron Blogger had spent more time calling the Challenger on the carpet for those logical failings prior to now? Of course -- but he can't introduce new material to explore those failings at this time, so I can at least appreciate being left with a pile of doubts about the weaknesses of the Challenger's case. The Iron Blogger received the extra point from me for taking strategic advantage of his position as the final poster, to send me away wondering if the Challenger met his own prima facie responsibility.
TC:
A solid close for the Challenger, summing up his case and bringing all the threads together at the end. He makes a smooth, fluid argument and ends on a high note, his best post of the battle. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, all he has to back up his strong words and interesting views is the milk and cookies argument. He has not given us any real reason to believe that vouchers work, just that they could.

Reading this post brings me great shame as it is by far the worst, weakest thing my Iron Blogger Democrat has ever posted. If the massive nosedive in points this post costs him ends up losing him the battle, he should be prepared to do the right thing for blog and party and honorably kill himself.
BD:
As it should be, the challenger's closing is his strongest effort yet. Given another rebuttal, he might be able to close the gap he set up in the openings and first rebuttal completely. Lots of good stuff here. The arguments that 100% is too high a standard and liberty of citizens is an argument FOR vouchers both help allay my two main charges against the challenger earlier on. He bypassed the religion issue (understandable in this day and age) which could have been a winner. No points taken off for not mentioning it, of course - I'm just saying it could have helped. The challenger uses the pitcher of water analogy for his own uses, which is noble on paper, but the IB's analogy was shaky and overdone to begin with. I would still have liked to see more to refute the IB's claims that private schools can get away without being monitored for quality education. Four of five bonus points given for reasons listed in the guide. This was also the most stylistic offering by the challenger, who got better as the debate ran along. Well written, offensive without the snark. The challenger ties up his case nicely here. He repackages his earlier arguments and gives himself his best chance to win given his opening and first two rebuttals.

Brevity is the soul of wit, however I was looking for more from the IB after the brilliant course of debate he had put together to this point. The IB takes a somewhat risky course in his final statements, focusing on hammering home the point that there is no way to prove quality education in private schools. His argument that the system can't be cleaned up enough to ensure quality education is a good one. The challenger said 100% efficiency of quality education in public schools is not reachable so we should provide for the kids we can. The IB turns that on its head to say that since making sure 100% of voucher schools provide good educations is an unreachable goal, the system can't work. The IB trusts that we would rather work on the public school system where we can monitor the educations of all students than hope without proof that the places we do send them do the job. Fortunately for the IB, that is the case even in this conservative judge's head. In any case, this nails down the IBs contention that private schools can't be sufficiently monitored, which has been the centerpiece of his argument. By making it the only piece of his closing, essentially, the IB puts all his eggs in one basket. While he may lose a point or two for not expanding his other claims, the basket he chooses is a winner. Structurally adequate; there wasn't much room to put in too much structure. Nothing to write home about stylistically, but having built a bit of a lead, the IB could get away with mailing it in here. Still, he hurt himself with this closing compared to his other posts.


Well, the Judges have spoken, and strong words from The Chairman for the Iron Blogger. If an Iron Blogger loses again on a weak closing, will we see our first vacancy upon the dais of Iron Bloggers? Stay tuned!

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