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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
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.
As part of an upcoming instructional series, I traced the evolution of plan texts in policy debate from their earliest introduction to the present day. It is obvious to any observer that plan writing has changed dramatically over the decades, but I wanted to explore the motivating factors that influenced those changes with the goal of helping current students improve their plan writing.
In order to demonstrate the changes that I will discuss, this post includes example plan texts from 36 different college debate seasons from 1970 to 2021. For each year, I have included that season’s resolution and an example plan from a competitively successful team.
I added a new five-part video series to my YouTube channel about debating the case in the 2AC. The videos cover strategy, signposting, argumentation, efficiency, and how to practice. Students of all experience levels should find them useful, but some of the content might initially be too advanced for beginning and intermediate debaters. The total runtime for all five videos is approximately one hour.
I’ll embed the playlist below the fold.
There are many factors that go into how you should prep for the beginning of the year: the size of your squad, how much time you have, what tournament you are going to etc. For the purpose of this series I will assume the following:
1. Your squad has 2-4 people (coaches or debaters) who can reliably be counted on to produce useful debate work
2. You will be making your debut at Greenhill or a similar large TOC tournament
3. You have a decent chance of making it to the doubles (4-2 record or better)
Debate arguments often operate like fashion trends; they emerge on the scene, gain popularity, that popularity peaks and then declines. Some arguments, like multiple counterplans, then experience a resurgence years later. For some time now it has been very difficult to gain any traction by going for framework arguments on the affirmative vs negative critiques. This is partially because judges get tired of hearing trite theory debates, and also because as the K has gotten more and more mainstream the idea that it is “abusive” has become a tough sell. However, many greedy negatives are not content with 4 entirely plan inclusive counterplans- they also want to use framework to moot the remaining shards of 1AC so that they can pick up an easy win. Because of this, you as an affirmative must be able to pick up on when it is happening, and competently extend framework.