The discussion of new affirmatives and Scott’s most recent post about the SPS article controversy intersect at the issue of how we are teaching students to evaluate evidence. I will write more about this over the coming days, but I wanted to chime in with a few thoughts about this meta-issue before discussing more about new affirmatives or about the SPS article controversy in particular.
My agreement with Roy’s initial post was not intended as an indictment of new affirmatives. Instead, I think the proliferation of poor-quality new affirmatives at season-ending tournaments reveals something important about the state of our activity. In particular, the following questions come to mind:
What does it say about the way we are teaching our students that breaking new affirmatives is seen as so strategic at end-of-the-year championships? Why is it that students feel that they have a better chance of winning when they break even a poor-quality new affirmative than they do when reading one of their existing affirmatives?
Does this represent a positive or negative trend? What should we be doing to nudge the competitive advantage toward a style of debate that rewards engagement with the topic literature and the opposition’s arguments more than evasion and trickery?
I don’t think it was Roy’s intention to “call out” those teams that consistently broke new affirmatives at this year’s TOC or to discourage teams from reading new affirmatives in the future. As I have written, there are certainly strategic benefits to breaking new cases and it is good to encourage students to invest the effort required to write a new case and prepare to defend it.