Category Archives: History

An Updated List of TOC Qualifying Tournaments in Policy Debate, 1992-1993 to 2021-2022

When I was on the Tournament of Champions Policy Debate Advisory Committee in the late-2000s, I created a spreadsheet that tracked the history of TOC bid tournaments by level. At the time, I was able to compile information from 1997-1998 through 2009-2010. The spreadsheet was a useful resource for preparing or reviewing TOC bid tournament applications, and it was also helpful for anyone researching regional or national circuit participation trends.

While working on my recent post about declining participation, I decided to update this spreadsheet to include information through the current (2021-2022) season. I was also able to find information from a few older seasons. The spreadsheet — which is publicly available here (and embedded below the fold) — now includes complete information from 1992-1993 and 1994-1995 through 2021-2022; I couldn’t find information for 1993-1994 or for any seasons before 1992. If more issues of Rostrum are eventually digitized, I hope to fill in more gaps.

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What If? The High School Policy Debate Topics That Finished In Second Place, 1995-2021

During each year’s policy debate topic selection process, I usually think quite a bit about the slate of potential topics. But when the voting ends, I tend to forget all about the topics that weren’t selected and get to work on the topic that won (eventually; I mostly continue focusing on the current year’s topic). I assume most people have a similar experience.

As I thought about today’s NFHS announcement of the final two candidates for the 2022-2023 topic, I wondered about the topics that weren’t selected. I can remember a few of the second place finishers, but most have been completely forgotten; it’s difficult to even find many of them.

In this post, I decided to do something about that. Using a variety of sources including emails, the NFHS website, the NSDA’s Rostrum archive, and my personal archive of historical debate materials, I have compiled a list of the second place finishers in the policy debate topic selection process dating back to the 1995-1996 season. This covers most of the “modern era” of high school policy debate.

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Glass on Neg-Neg Theory

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 February 2012, David Glass wrote an article in Rostrum proposing a new concept called “Neg-Neg Theory.” A play on the Plan-Plan Theory of the early 1990s, it challenged the assumption that the affirmative team must affirm the resolution: “rather than the affirmative being obligated to defend the resolution, the affirmative could take the initiative of proving the resolution to be incorrect or false.” Glass then attempted to lay out the corresponding affirmative and negative burdens that would be established if the affirmative opted to take a negative approach to the resolution.

I don’t recall much reaction to Glass’s article at the time. While an increasing number of affirmative teams kritiked or impact turned topicality during this era, I don’t remember any that cited Glass directly. Unavailable online, the article was then functionally memory-holed for the rest of the decade.

After a long hiatus, Glass’s article returned to The Discourse during the 2019-2020 season when a few affirmative teams began directly citing it to support a counter-interpretation against topicality and framework arguments. I believe but can’t confirm that Westwood was the first to do so.

In this post, I will explain and critique Glass’s Neg-Neg Theory. I will also share the full text of his article so that students can more easily read, study, and debate it.

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If You Want A Glimpse At The Issues Of Tomorrow, Listen To A High School Debate Today: Revisiting Two 2018 Debates About Vaccine Mandates

One of my favorite things about being a long-time debate coach is the exposure it has given me to a wide range of public policy controversies. Jim Fleissner delivered a speech about this at the Barkley Forum Coaches Luncheon in 1995 that that I really like; I republished it here in 2010.

One of Fleissner’s points is that “an often neglected facet of [debate coaches’] teaching” is “the substantial body of knowledge acquired by your students.” As part of that argument, he makes this observation:

How many times have you heard a news report about some startling new development, only to realize that you heard about it years ago in debate? For example, the first time I encountered the notion that there were forces that might cause the collapse of the Soviet Union resulting in dangerous regional instability was in a high school debate over a decade ago. Silly academic dream-world arguments? I say if you want a glimpse at the issues of 2005, listen to a high school debate today.

For me, watching the ongoing fights over COVID-19 vaccine mandates has been the latest example of this feeling that debate anticipated the news. This can sometimes be unsettling or confounding, but it can also be inspirational and rewarding. In a sense, it can confirm that what we’re learning matters and that our research is successfully grappling with difficult controversies. I’ve been thinking a lot about two rounds in particular, and I thought others might find this reflection interesting.

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A Hard Job That Keeps Getting Harder: The Reasons Why Debate Coaches Quit Are The Same Today As They Were In 1965

Debate coaching is a difficult job that has become even more difficult because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last March, coaches were forced to scramble to salvage the rest of the debate season after schools and large parts of the economy were shut down. They figured out how to teach and coach and judge online, taught students to compete online, and struggled to sustain their debate programs amidst often severe budget cuts.

Now debate coaches have been forced to figure out what to do next. Some are back in in-person classrooms with inconsistent (or non-existent) masking and social distancing policies. Others are still teaching and coaching online. Some are bouncing back and forth between the two. When will in-person tournaments return? Some already have, but no one in a position of public health authority is making that decision. Coaches are mostly on their own to decide what is safe and how to continue coaching debate during an ongoing pandemic. And all of this responsibility has been added on top of their “regular” jobs as teachers or professionals in other fields.

It’s overwhelming. Anecdotally, many coaches have decided to give up on debate either temporarily or for good. Others have significantly scaled back their involvement. Coaching shortages were already a pervasive problem before the pandemic. Now, the outlook for the debate coaching profession seems grim. How many coaches will quit before the pandemic is finally “over”? How many debate programs will permanently end because they were unable to recruit and retain a committed coach?

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Papka on (Excessive) Conditionality and the “Middle Ground” of Dispositionality

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 this installment of the series, I am highlighting Ouita Papka‘s article about conditionality from the 1986 Debater’s Research Guide. At the time the article was written, Papka (now a successful chef and restaurateur) had just won the National Debate Tournament for the University of Kentucky. Her article’s main goal was to help students better answer negative strategies that include multiple conditional counterplans. Papka also proposed an alternative, “middle ground” status for negatives to consider when introducing counterplans (soon to be called “dispositionality”) that was pioneered by Kentucky during her senior season.

It is interesting to trace the historical norms about conditionality and off-case positions since the time Papka’s article was written. For most of the 1990s and into the early-2000s, it was uncommon for negatives to introduce multiple conditional counterplans. During that era, dispositionality became a more common alternative disposition, and one conditional counterplan was typically considered the maximum acceptable degree or “amount” of conditionality.

This began to change in the second half of the 2000s. Notably, the 2006 NDT Final Round included two conditional counterplans and the 2009 NDT Final Round included four conditional counterplans and one conditional kritik; at the time, both were shocking deviations from expected conditionality norms.

In the 2010s, negative teams increasingly introduced multiple conditional counterplans and kritiks, and successful theoretical objections to conditionality became relatively rare. As a result, debaters in 2021 are facing the same challenge that Papka identified in 1986: “being affirmative in a debate round where the first negative presents four conditional counterplans.”

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Practicality, Feasibility, and Plan Writing: Morello’s Critique of “The Retreat From Policy Advocacy” (From 1991)

I noted a few weeks ago that I had some “remainders” left to share from my research about plans in policy debate. One was the 1999 Rostrum article by Kenneth Grodd that bemoaned the decline of plan writing. Another is a 1991 conference paper by John Morello that made many of the same arguments; it is the subject of this post.

Morello’s paper is a contemporaneous reaction to the changes in plan writing that I documented in my series (especially part four, about the rise of topical and plan-inclusive counterplans). Seeing the dramatic reduction in plan size and specificity that took place in the 1980s, Morello argued that this was important proof that NDT-style policy debate had abandoned its vital function as a training ground for civic argumentation. “When advocates are excused from the duty to defend the practicality of the proposals they advance,” he argued, “they are learning an argumentative lesson which has little applicability beyond the competitive world.”

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The Decline of Affirmative Plan Construction: Revisiting Complaints from 1999

Most of the research I completed about plan writing made its way into the recent six part series, but there are still a few “remainders” that I wanted to share on the blog. This is the first one.

In the same 1999 issue of Rostrum that published David Cheshier’s article about effects topicality, another article article was published that criticized the state of plan writing in policy debate. It was written by Kenneth Grodd, the Director of Debate at St. Pius X in Atlanta.

Articles critical of “modern,” national circuit-style policy debate were common in Rostrum during the 1990s. When contemplating whether and how to criticize current debate practices, I find it helpful to revisit these earlier complaints. Sometimes, they identified emerging trends that were indeed troublesome. But with the benefit of hindsight, they can also often seem to have significantly missed the mark. Either way, I think it is valuable to understand how critics of particular debate practices explained their gripes.

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Lambertson on Plans and Counterplans (from 1943)

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.

To this point, the articles in this series have been from the most prolific period of published debate scholarship: the 1970s and 1980s. But earlier eras also offer insightful articles that still hold resonance today. In this installment of the series, I will highlight a 1943 article about plans and counterplans. It is one of many interesting findings from my recent deep dive into the history of plans.

Written by Floyd W. Lambertson, a Professor of Speech at the Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa), it includes an early theorization of standards for evaluating plans and counterplans. The most interesting part is that Lambertson surveyed several other debate coaches (including A. Craig Baird and Alan Nichols) and documented their perspectives on plan writing, the role of plans in debate, and the affirmative and negative burdens associated with them. This gives contemporary readers insight into the era’s “community consensus” about plans and counterplans.

Current students will recognize many similarities with the controversies that still exist today about plan specification, solvency burdens, and counterplan competition. More than two decades before the formal development of the policymaking paradigm, the basic foundation for counterplan theory as it has been understood for the last fifty years was already being developed. Most histories of the counterplan don’t start until the paradigm wars of the 1970s — until a few years ago, that’s when I thought they were first introduced — but understanding these earlier origins can provide important historical context for the counterplan theory battles of later eras.

The full text of Lambertson’s article is below.

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The Evolution of Plans In Policy Debate, Part 6: Policy Testing, Planicality, and Hypothesis Planning

This is the sixth and final 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. The fourth article documented the other major development of the 1980s and early 1990s: the topical, plan-inclusive counterplan, which shaped debate through the 2000s. The fifth article discussed the rise of “normal means” PICs and process counterplans during the 2000s and 2010s and documented the plan writing adjustments made in response to them. This article covers the current era of debate, including a discussion of planicality and the emergent “hypothesis planning” approach to plan writing and counterplan competition.

In his 1979 summary of the hypothesis testing paradigm, David Zarefsky wrote the following about plans:

1. The wording of the proposition receives increased importance; the specifics of the plan to implement the resolution are of less importance. For the terms of this paradigm, nothing is being adopted, so the mechanics of the plan are of relatively trivial significance. The function of a plan is to illustrate the principles embodied in the proposition, thereby focusing the argument upon those principles. But all debate about the plan itself is conditional, or hypothetical, in nature. Consequently, it may not always be necessary to present a plan—the principles of the proposition may be self-evident. If a plan is presented, it need not have the specificity of a piece of legislation, since it is not being submitted for adoption. Should some difficulty be discovered in one of the plan’s peripheral features, the plan could be amended, so long as the amended version still embodied the principles implicit in the proposition.

By contrast, the wording of the proposition is of central importance, since the proposition is the hypothesis being put to the test. Any different statement of a proposition assumes the character of an alternate hypothesis. In order for proposition x to withstand the challenge that alternate hypothesis y could account equally well for the phenomena being discussed, a specific defense must be made for proposition x—not just for “a change” or even for a direction in which change should proceed. Hence the genre of “justification” arguments is of special significance. For example, the proposition that the federal government should establish, finance, and administer programs to control air and water pollution fails if reason cannot be given for each of the three indicated actions, for action by the federal government, and for controls over both air and water pollution. To do less might call for an alternate proposition, but not the specific one at hand (Zarefsky 1972). Or, as Trapp summarizes, the key question for the judge is, “Does the affirmative case provide sufficient reason to affirm or justify all of the terms of the resolution?” (Trapp 1976).

In 2021, no high school or college national circuit policy debate judge would self-identify as a “hypo-tester:” no contemporary judge knowingly adopts the hypothesis testing paradigm when evaluating debates, and very few are probably even aware of its existence. But while hypothesis testing as a paradigm has completely fallen out of favor, hypothesis testing’s influence on 2010s and early 2020s debate is remarkable — and almost universally unnoticed.

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