Monthly Archives: June 2021

Headspace: Suggestions for Debaters

I’ve mentioned before that mindfulness training can be an effective way for debaters to improve their mental toughness and perform better in high-pressure contest rounds. One of the most popular tools for practicing meditation is Headspace, an app that provides guided meditations and other mindfulness training programs. For debaters seeking to improve their mindfulness in preparation for competition, I strongly recommend giving Headspace a try. To help students get started, I’ll share some debate-specific suggestions below the fold.

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The (Unnoticed?) Standardization of High School Policy Debate Resolutions

One thing I like to do when researching a new debate topic is to review the list of old resolutions to see if and when similar issues were debated before. This can often provide useful ideas for arguments to explore, but it also offers an interesting historical perspective on the evolution of debate topics over time.

When investigating previous analogues to this year’s water resources topic — the 2003-2004 ocean policy topic, the 1985-1986 water quality topic, and the 1970-1971 pollution topic are the closest — it struck me how standardized topics have recently become. Until relatively recently, topics tended to vary in word choice and format from year to year. Even after the U.S. federal government became the standard agent of action in the 1960s, there was still significant year-to-year variation in mechanisms/verbs. These, too, started to standardize in the 1990s and 2000s, but since 2010 there has been yet another noticeable increase in topic standardization.

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Solt on Types of Counterplans and Constraints on Negative Fiat

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives is a series highlighting “old” debate theory articles that are particularly thought-provoking, influential, or illuminating and that active debate students would benefit from reading.

In 1989, Roger Solt identified twelve types of counterplans that were relatively popular during that era of policy debate. Solt’s categories are:

  1. Foreign/international counterplans
  2. International organization (of which the U.S. is a member) counterplans
  3. Private (self-interested) institution counterplans
  4. Private (public-interested) institution counterplans
  5. Fundamental change to basic form of government counterplans
  6. Radical topic-related reforms counterplans
  7. Sub-federal level of U.S. government counterplans
  8. Process counterplans
  9. Exceptions counterplans
  10. Offset counterplans
  11. Advantage counterplans
  12. Uniqueness counterplans
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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Schunk on Fiat, Pseudo-Inherency, Circumvention, and Process DAs

I’ve long believed that students can learn a lot by exploring “old” debate scholarship. But with a few notable exceptions (like Solt’s “The Disposition of Counterplans and Permutations”), most students have little exposure to the ideas that circulated in earlier eras of debate. To help students “connect the dots” between older debate scholarship and contemporary controversies and arguments, I will occasionally dig into my archive of articles to highlight ones that are particularly thought-provoking, influential, or illuminating.

The first article I’ve selected — John Schunk’s “Affirmative Fiat, Plan Circumvention, and the ‘Process’ Disadvantage: The Further Ramifications of Pseudo-Inherency,” published in 1981 — explains a theory of fiat that is still relevant to today’s controversies about plan texts, circumvention arguments, and process DAs and counterplans. Distinguishing between “legitimate” inherency and what he calls “pseudo-inherency,” Schunk argues that most circumvention arguments (as they continue to be argued today) misunderstand the meaning of “should” in a policy proposition.

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“‘Planning’ Your Way To Victory”: Plan Writing Advice From 1982

In parts three and four of my series about the evolution of plans in policy debate, I explained the dramatic changes in prevailing plan text norms that took place in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1982 — right in the middle of this era of profound plan text changes — Jeff Arrington contributed an article to the Debater’s Research Guide which sought to provide debaters with practical advice about plan writing.

Written from the perspective of a competitively successful, just-graduated college debater, the article provides a valuable glimpse into how plans were conceptualized during this era. Comparing Arrington’s advice from 1982 to the advice that students might receive about plan writing today helps crystallize the significant changes in norms about plans over time.

The full text of Arrington’s article is included below.

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The Evolution of Plans In Policy Debate, Part 4: Topical and Plan-Inclusive Counterplans

This is the fourth article in a series about the history of plans in policy debate. The first article explained the early history of plans, covering the 1910s to the 1960s. The second article discussed the era beginning in the late 1960s and ending in the mid-1980s. The third article covered one of the significant developments in the late-1970s and 1980s: extra-topicality. This article discusses the other major development of the 1980s and early 1990s: the topical, plan-inclusive counterplan, which shaped debate through the 2000s.

Recall Kass Kovalcheck’s claim in 1979 that “the decade of the 70’s in forensics actually begun during the 1966-67 academic year” because that season’s resolution — Resolved: That the United States should substantially reduce its foreign policy commitments. — “permitted the affirmative, for the first time, to both define the terms and select the topic.” As Kovalcheck explained, “Judges quickly perceived that it was unreasonable to expect an affirmative team to deal with the totality of the topic, and few doubted that such changes as recognizing Communist China, ending the Vietnamese War, pulling troops out of Europe, or even altering the world’s monetary system were not significant. Negative teams, then, had to be prepared to debate four or five topics, each requiring separate analysis, separate evidence, and separate plan attacks, and this multiple topic approach was the harbinger of the 70’s.”

The trend of broader topics continued throughout the 1970s and beyond, and its impact on the argumentation norms of debate cannot be overstated. In the previous article in this series, I discussed one of two major developments in negative strategy during this era: extra-topicality. But it was the other negative innovation — the topical counterplan — that had a broader and more long-lasting effect on plan writing and the content of policy debates.

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The Evolution of Plans In Policy Debate, Part 3: Extra-Topicality

This is the third in a series of articles about the history of plans in policy debate. The first article explained the early history of plans, covering the 1910s to the 1960s. The second article discussed the era beginning in the late 1960s and ending in the mid-1980s. This article covers one of the significant developments in the late-1970s and 1980s: extra-topicality.


As plans continuously expanded during the 1970s to include ever-greater details about implementation and enforcement, negative teams were forced to search for new strategies that would push back against this trend. In assessing these developments in an article in 1981, Edward Panetta summarized the state of debate during this era as follows:

Throughout the years debate has been a constantly changing process. Essentially, time limits have been the only static element in an activity that has in many ways changed radically. Today, for example, the comparative advantages case and turnarounds to disadvantages are accepted practices in the activity. These changes in the process have had the effect of increasing the probability of affirmative victory. The debate community has also continuously selected broad topics which tend to concede yet more ground to the affirmative. It is often very difficult for negatives to find a counterplan which is generic or nontopical under a wide topic.

Often the innovations in the debate process result from a perceived imbalance in the activity. The comparative advantages-case, turnarounds, add-ons and broad topic have evolved because there was a need to increase the likelihood of affirmative victory. These changes in the activity have attained their objective.

At the championship level of high school debate it is not uncommon to find the affirmative winning a decisive percentage of rounds. This imbalance is heightened in rounds judged by college debaters. Often the negative debater finds him/herself dumbfounded by a judge’s decision. Many judges vote affirmative in instances either when the affirmative has minimal significance or because of a negative failure to win a disadvantage.

The time has come to rectify this imbalance, and increase the likelihood of negative decisions. The negative must attempt to regain the ground lost to the affirmative because of changes in debate.

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An Analysis of Plan Texts from the Elimination Rounds of the 2021 NDCA and TOC

As part of my research on the evolution of plan texts in policy debate, I compiled the plan texts read by affirmative teams in the elimination rounds of the 2021 NDCA National Championship and Tournament of Champions.

In total, there were 49 elimination rounds at the NDCA and TOC. Thirty-six plan texts are included in this sample. Missing plan texts are due to two factors: I excluded critical affirmatives without traditional plan texts, and I was unable to locate the 1ACs from a few debates.

For reference, the 2020-2021 resolution was:

Resolved: The United States federal government should enact substantial criminal justice reform in the United States in one or more of the following: forensic science, policing, sentencing.

What observations can be made about this collection of NDCA and TOC elimination round plan texts?

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The Evolution of Plans In Policy Debate, Part 2: The Plan in the Age of the Disadvantage

This is the second in a series of articles about the history of plans in policy debate. The first article explained the early history of plans, covering the 1910s to the 1960s. This article discusses the era beginning in the late 1960s and ending in the mid-1980s.


Policy debate changed dramatically in the late 1960s and 1970s. Kass Kovalcheck, the Director of Forensics at Vanderbilt University, summarized these seismic changes in a “debate in the 1970s” retrospective published in 1979:  

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The Evolution of Plans In Policy Debate, Part 1: The Early History

Affirmative plans have played a role in policy debate since its inception, but that role has been perennially controversial. Freeley and Steinberg’s textbook defines “plan” as “the affirmative’s method of solving the problem claimed in the justification as needs or harm. It must produce the advantages claimed by the affirmative.” While this seems straightforward, disputes about plans and their function have roiled debaters and judges for more than a century. As debate’s broader argumentation norms have changed, so too have disputes about plans.

In this series, I will attempt to summarize the historical development of plans in policy debate. My goal is to provide additional context for contemporary disputes in order to improve debaters’ and judges’ understandings of these deeply-rooted disagreements. This will hopefully improve the quality of future debates over these ongoing (and likely never-ending) disagreements. Part one covers the early history of policy debate — from the beginning of the twentieth century through the 1960s.  

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