[eDebate] Topic Ain't So Bad - Haters Could Not Have Done Better

Adam Farra adamhfar
Thu May 24 11:01:27 CDT 2007

I think the topic committee did quite well, and the effort put in  
(especially by Gordon) was inspiring.

"Resolved: that the United States Federal Government should  
increase constructive engagement with Iran, Syria, Afghanistan,  
Lebanon, or

This explicitly would not have worked, and the committee discussed  
why at length (I know because I was watching the broadcast when they  
were discussing "Constructive Engagement.")

Rather than getting into that - I think I'll just address the reality  
of the situation: debate topics are an unusual phenomenon - to be  
good they need a large literature base, but they can't be  
unmanageable. They need a set course of action to be taken, but that  
course of action can't be exceedingly narrow. They need to be  
relatively traditional in the framing of issues (so that they still  
look like policy debate topics), but they need to take into account  
the mistakes of the topics of yesteryear. All of this makes the  
process of creating a topic exceedingly difficult  (if not  
impossible), because debate inevitably bastardizes the literature  
base that it sets out to research - the job of the topic committee is  
to simply figure out how to minimize that effect and to still have an  
educational topic. If you don't like the topic, then you're probably  
of the camp that doesn't like the way debate is now (which is fine,  
but you have bigger fish to fry than the topic's wording).

There is no doubt that the topics produced are a little wordy and  
somewhat jargonistic - welcome to the world of foreign policy in the  
Middle East. I don't think there was a way for the topic committee to  
have made the topic "simpler" to understand while not making it  
unmanageably large. If you want to debate the Middle East in a  
sophisticated fashion (i.e. not throw around "Axis of Evil Good/Bad")  
then you'd better get familiar with an encyclopedia of vocab we don't  
hear everyday - everything from Strategic Depth to Sykes-Picot to  
Orientalism to Mahdism to the name of every political organization/ 
party in the Middle East. It's going to be a jargonistic topic, and  
if you're not up for expanding your vocabulary then you can be  
assured that this WILL NOT be an easy topic for you (whether you're a  
novice or have been debating for 7-8 years).

Thanks topic committee! And especially thanks to Gordon!


On May 24, 2007, at 11:08 AM, scottelliott at grandecom.net wrote:

> Resolutions matter. I was asked to take over a university debate  
> program this
> Fall and switch it over from Parlimentary/Public Debate/I.E. to an  
> policy debate program. This means I am having to start over from  
> scratch, or
> having to convice students who have done one form of debate to  
> start doing
> policy. Or, I have to recruit from either the student body at large  
> or from my
> argumentation classes.
> The resolution matters. It matters a lot to a coach of a small or  
> new squad.
> Looking at this morass, I am seriously considering holding off  
> switching to
> policy debate for at least a year.  There is little chance of me  
> recruiting
> students if I have to give them one of these resolutions as the  
> starting point
> of there debate odessey. If this continues, I guess I will just  
> suck it up and
> keep one less program in the South (and now absolutely NONE in the  
> entire state
> of Louisiana, and there used to be at least five)from doing policy  
> debate, which
> many of you may enjoy, but I find rather tragic. Simply put, there  
> is more than
> one way for people to vote. I think some program directors will  
> simply vote
> with their feet.
> I have thought long and hard this week about the logistics of a  
> small program
> trying to grapple with these resolutions. Other than running the  
> same kritik
> every round, I just do not see how a small or new program (read one  
> coach, less
> than 8 debaters) can even begin to compete at the NOVICE level with  
> these
> resolutions. It would take me an entire year just to get my Israel  
> file
> together (with all the link stories, c-plans and answers, etc.) and  
> I have been
> in policy debate for over 20 years!
> Would the following resolution have been so bad?:
> "Resolved: that the United States Federal Government should  
> substnatially
> increase constructive engagement with Iran, Syria, Afghanistan,  
> Lebanon, or
> Egypt."
> Is this example of a straight forward resolution something I could  
> go to my new
> department chair, recite from memory and explain? Yes. Is this  
> something I
> could recite from memory and explain the a freshman college student in
> Louisiana? Absolutely! Could I build a new program based on it? I  
> believe so.
> I just do not understand why every year the resolutions get worse  
> and worse.
> They are all hypertechnical, poorly written, and just plain bad. My  
> conclusions
> are that either the system of resolution writing is horribly  
> flawed, or the
> people who write them have a flaw, or both. I think we have too  
> many topic
> committte members with their "debater" hats on when they write these
> resolutions, rather than having their "debate coach" and "program  
> director"
> hats on. Worse, they forget that there are multiple target  
> audiences for each
> year's debate resolutions.
> Currently, and rather obviously, the only audience targeted this  
> year was the
> most elite of the policy debaters, only those who have been steeped  
> in foreign
> policy debates for the past six years. I think that novices,  
> students who work,
> students in argumentation classes, new programs, small programs,  
> program
> directors who are searching for more support from their  
> administration, and
> former debaters who would like to watch a debate round, have been  
> ignored. It
> truly breaks my heart to look at these resolutions and to feel totally
> alienated from an activity I love and believe to be an important  
> teaching tool.
> When people start commenting, the responses have been basically  
> that no
> community input will be considered--too late, topic committee has  
> met, you will
> take these resolutions, whether you like them or not. No, I do not  
> have to take
> it.
> We were thinking of hosting a rebirth of the Mardi Gras tournament  
> for policy
> debate in the Spring. Now, I don't think we will even be in the  
> policy debate
> form of forensics for at least a year. The only other option I see  
> is to start a
> new organization, al la CEDA in the 1970's, as an alternative form  
> of policy
> debate geared toward small programs; teaching college students  
> policy and value
> debate with a limited, but necessary research focus; and regional  
> debate.
> Sadly, this is what CEDA used to be.
> I normally do not put my title or credentials at the bottom of my e- 
> mail posts
> because I would rather people look at the argument rather than the  
> credentials.
> But today I will.
> Scott M. Elliott, Ph.D., J.D.
> Assistant Professor and Director of Forensics
> University of Lousiana-Lafayette
> _______________________________________________
> eDebate mailing list
> eDebate at www.ndtceda.com
> http://www.ndtceda.com/mailman/listinfo/edebate

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