Denise and I had even another unique experience this past Saturday. For the first time in our lives we served as judges in a Forensic League tournament. A week ago Sunday at church an appeal was made for volunteers who had time this past Friday, Saturday or Sunday to assist with the national debate tournament that was being held at the Amicitia American School in Fes. As we sometimes feel a certain amount of stress about being unproductive during our stays here, we decided to make ourselves available on Saturday to provide whatever assistance we could. To be candid, we were a bit apprehensive that we would be severely handicapped by our practically complete lack of understanding of how to distinguish between good, better and best.
We were even more concerned when we discovered that we needed not only to try to become conversant as to what constitutes a good debater, but there were a number of other forensic activities that we would be asked to rank participants on their performances. Included were oratory, extemporaneous speeches, impromptu speeches, poetry interpretation, memorized humorous interpretation, memorized serious interpretation and storytelling. One of us had at least one of the different categories mentioned above in the sessions we judged. Guidelines were provided for the characteristics we should listen for as we attempted to distinguish which student best met the benchmarks for the particular event.
I actually had some experience in one type of event a little over a half century ago when I participated in a few oratorical contests in high school, so I thought I could at least be more competent in my judgement for oratory than say serious interpretation of a chosen text. However when I read that I should try to incorporate the following measures of distinction in my assessment I knew that I was in a lot of trouble. “The composition should be considered carefully for its rhetoric and diction. The use of appropriate figures of speech, similes or metaphors, balanced sentences, allusions, and other rhetorical devices to make the oration more effective should be especially noted.” Similar suggestions for making assessments of the efforts of the students were provided for all the categories of events. I fell back on that familiar argument when attempting to rationalize my success in other areas, such as in parenting: “I did the best I could.”
Nevertheless it was a great experience for us. There were about 50 or 60 students there from five different American style schools representing the cities of Fes, Casablanca, Ifrane and Tangier. The abilities of the participants were quite impressive. When you consider that the students were debating governmental policy topics such as “just governments are compelled to provide food security for their citizens,” or giving an original speech of up to ten minutes in length that they have written themselves and memorized, and that they are speaking, in most cases, in the third language they have studied, the results were admirable indeed. We made an effort not to be “homers” and grade the participants from Fes a little more leniently, but I must say the Amiticia American School did quite well.
The occasion brought back another memory when I was a tenth grader in 1962. I was a member of the Future Farmers of America that year. Our chapter adviser asked me to substitute for a member of our chapter’s Livestock Judging Team who could not attend the district competition. I remember the group traveling to Brundidge, Alabama on a Saturday in early spring. The four of us were to look at a number of animals and make assessments and rank them as to their fitness according to standards with which we were provided. The descriptions of what we were to look for were as incomprehensible to me then as were some of the standards we evaluated Saturday. We looked at beef cows, swine, and believe it or not, sheep. I had never seen a sheep in southeast Alabama, and had only a passing view of just a few on a family trip to St. Louis some ten years earlier. Determining whether an animal I had only cursory knowledge of had a better conformation than did another that looked almost exactly the same was a daunting task. I remember our advisor confirming that we seemed to be a bit “confused” after looking at the independent judgments we had made.
Denise and I did not compare notes except in a very general way after the tournament. It did provide a measure of satisfaction that we were engaged in a productive activity for the day and helped render a service to the school, the faculty, and the students. We did make our best effort to be fair and consistent in the results we submitted. Did we actually get it right? Well, that’s debatable.