The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) recently released the slate of potential policy debate topics for the 2022-2023 season. They were developed in early August at the NFHS Policy Debate Topic Selection Meeting in Milwaukee. The NFHS describes the selection process as follows:
Forty-seven delegates from 19 states, the National Speech and Debate Association, the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues, the National Catholic Forensic League and the National Debate Coaches Association attended the NFHS Policy Debate Topic Selection Meeting August 6-8, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Ten topic reports were presented by authors who, for the past 8+ months, researched each topic area.
State delegates and participants deliberated for three days to determine the final five topic areas: Global Climate Change, Global Geo-Political Crisis: Emerging Technologies, Global Health Security, Russia, and Treaties.
Serving on the 2021 Wording Committee were: Nicole Cornish, Texas (Chairperson); Dustin Rimmey, Kansas; Jennifer LeSieur, Oregon; Colton Gilbert, Arkansas; Sam Normington, Washington; Eric Oddo, Illinois; and Colleen Mooney, Pennsylvania.
Balloting for the 2022-23 national high school debate topic will take place in a two-fold process. During the months of September and October, coaches and students will have the opportunity to discuss the five selected problem areas. The first ballot will narrow the topics to two. A second ballot will be distributed to determine the final topic. Each state, the NSDA, the NAUDL, NCFL and the NDCA will conduct voting in November and December to determine the favored topic area. In January, the NFHS will announce the 2022-23 national high school debate topic and resolution. It will be posted on the NFHS website on the Speech, Debate, Theatre page and sent to state associations and affiliate members.
Identifying problem areas and crafting resolutions is extremely difficult. Because the policy debate topic is adopted nationally, it must meet the needs of diverse constituencies. Developing a topic that creates student interest and promotes high-quality debates for both “classic”-style circuits who rely on lay judges and national circuit-style circuits who rely on professional judges is nearly impossible.
Unsurprisingly, then, gripes abound every year when the slate of potential topics is announced. Many debaters and coaches go even farther, arguing that the entire topic selection process is broken beyond repair and must be immediately overhauled. While some reforms might indeed be beneficial, it is hard to believe that any topic selection system could ever achieve widespread (much less universal) support. There are hundreds of issues that merit selection as a national debate topic, but only one issue is selected for each season. Inevitably, this will disappoint more people than it pleases.
Given this challenge, I think the topic process actually tends to work remarkably well. I am grateful for the (mostly unpaid) labor that so many coaches provide throughout the process. Without their hard work producing well-researched topic papers and carefully crafted resolutional wordings, our topics would be significantly worse.
Below the fold, I will offer a few preliminary thoughts about each of the 2022-2023 proposed topics.