Warning!! Long, thorough article!! To close out this year’s resolution analysis articles, here are the NCFCA TP and LD reviews! As with the resolutions, I’ll be going over the pros and cons of each option and then offering my opinion on which I believe is the best resolution. To provide some guidance, I’ll be rating each topic in two categories. First will be educational and engagement potential. Here I’ll basically be judging each topic on their ability to prevent the year from going stale, and value to students as a learning opportunity. Secondly, each topic will be graded on its ability to facilitate competitive debate rounds, basically which topic will generate the greatest quantity of fair, even debates. I’ll look at balance, breadth of aff and neg arguments, and the available research on the topic. Each category will be rated on a scale of 1-3, with 1 being the best topic for that category and 3 being the worst.
1) RESOLVED: The European Union should substantially reform its immigration policy
Stepping into another nation, or to put it more accurately, several nations’, shoes comes with a new perspective on the world. Most traditional team policy resolutions are written with the United States federal government as the agent of change. This resolution acts as a changing of the guard, putting the EU in the forefront of the debate. Meaning that competitors won’t be able to rely as much on common knowledge or previous experience with US law and policy. The structure and power of the EU is very different from that of the US. It has a parliament and commission which represent citizens’ and the broad European interests respectively. It has a variety of courts, including the European Court of Human Rights, one of the globally leading authorities on international human rights laws. Balancing the plethora opinions and interests of multiple nations which compose the EU continues to be a challenge for the organization and handling that during the season will be stretching and engaging for students. Simply put, the EU is probably more complex structurally than the US so there will be a ton to learn throughout the year. Additionally, with twenty seven different member interests at play, there will be no shortage of either new cases, or fresh approaches on established cases to ensure each tournament will have unique takes on the topic to look forward to.
What is so interesting about this topic in comparison to traditional USFG topics is that the debate will take place primarily in the third person. Your average judge and student probably doesn’t have EU citizenship, so saying, “we have to pass the case to save our country” really won’t carry a whole lot of weight. This is great news for competitors! When the judge is not directly affected by the hypothetical outcome of the round, risk of bias or preconceived conclusions decreases substantially. On the converse, immigration is a very touchy topic politically, so even with a different part of the world at play, judges still certainly have opinions on immigration. Even still, with the EU handling the question of whether or not to take in more or fewer migrants, judges should ultimately be more open minded than with a US topic. Substantively examining the topic reveals a few concerns as far as fairness is concerned. The first is that the research pool is going to generally be pro-immigration, at least the among more mainstream European research groups. Finding an abundance of evidence that the EU should aggressively cut back on immigration, while certainly existing, will be more difficult than pro-immigration proposals. That being said, the topic is bidirectional, meaning AFF teams can either increase or decrease immigration, so neither side will be at a unique disadvantage based solely on side selection. The second competitive concern is the breadth of the topic. As stated above, the EU is a large and complex structure. There are lots of different components of the body to reform and adjust. NEG teams could potentially be confronted with a very long case list to research come regionals. Visa adjustment cases will probably be quite common and usually don’t link to super strong disadvantages. Depending on what Aff cases become popular negative debaters may be hitting cases without a ready brief more often than normal. So if AFF teams pick obscure, pro-immigration cases, the research pool and element of surprise will be on their hand. NCFCA judges are traditionally a bit more conservative leaning, so using broad stereotypes, they will be more on the anti-immigration side of the debate, so bias may flow NEG in this instance. Overall, those competing elements should create a fairly balanced, and evidence-centric, season.
2) RESOLVED: The United States Federal Government should substantially increase its development assistance to one or more of the following: Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala.
The NCFCA has been long overdue to handle a South American resolution. Aside from Mexico and occasionally Brazil or Venezuela, US foreign policy with South American nations really doesn’t hit the front pages. This hyper specific resolution puts smaller, yet incredibly important countries, on the forefront of the discussion. These nations have unique governmental structures, cultures, interests, and needs that students will have to understand on an individual level to comprehend the topic properly. Additionally, choosing when to deploy developmental assistance and how much to give, has been a very tumultuous discussion amongst US foreign policy experts since the post-WW2 Marshall Plan. Policymakers have to consider the need of the receiving country, the needs of the peoples weighed against the need of the state, whether the state can be trusted to manage the funds well, US domestic budgetary concerns, other relevant nations who have relations with the country of interest, the purpose of the aid, the international signals the aid sends, etc. and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This topic is a great educational opportunity for students to explore the peoples and policies of nations that often times get underscored by larger global debates. That obscurity also means the debates will continue to be engaging as the year develops. By April, judges and teams most likely won’t be in a position where they feel like the same debate happens every round. The diversity of motivations, nations, and opinions on this topic should keep the debates lively through the season’s end.
“Increase” not “reform.” The fact that this resolution uses a directive term rather than a suggestive one narrows the topic in a substantial and healthy way. By this, I mean, that aff teams are required to increase developmental aid, rather than using the term “reform” and letting debaters make the decision about whether or not they should increase or decrease that aid. In my opinion, every single resolution should be worded this way. Debaters will know going into every round at every tournament whether they need to be pro or anti developmental assistance. Compare this to the above EU topic. Debaters could be pro-immigration on AFF with a new visa policy to promote immigration from India one round, and then be pro-immigration the following round as NEG when debating against a restrictive border policy. That level of unpredictability increases variance. Whenever there is variance, the ability for debates to be determined purely on in round skillful performance decreases. Debaters may go 3-3 at a tournament rather than 4-2 only because they were put in more pro-immigration rounds than anti-immigration and vice versa. Returning to this topic, at a six round prelim tournament, every debater knows they will have to defend an increase in developmental aid three times, and refute an increase in that aid an additional three times. This leaves less up to chance. And when debaters invest so much into a tournament, everything possible should be done to make sure that effort isn’t stifled by bad luck.
3) RESOLVED: The United States Federal Government should substantially increase humanitarian assistance to one or more countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
I won’t elaborate too much on this topic, the primary benefits of the discussion are very similar to the above resolution as both have to do with foreign aid. The distinction being humanitarian assistance is more focused on human rights concerns like drinking water, food supply, electricity, internet, clothes, and the recourses necessary to bring nations out of the third world. Developmental aid more focused on nation building and brining a nation over the cusp from an infant first world nation into a fully sufficient, vibrant country. The educational differences then mostly come down to personal preference. Debates surrounding developmental aid will weigh US interests against the need to develop strategic partnerships with other nations. Humanitarian assistance debates generally orbit around the question of whether or not the US can effectively spend money on saving human lives from starvation, poverty, war, etc. The other distinction is obviously the area of focus. The cultures, governments, and interests of the nations of sub-Saharan Africa are very different from those of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. While both groups of nations are certainly struggling, the African nations generally more than the South American ones, the reasons behind those struggles are different. Some stem from old cold war communist influences, others simply due to climate and geography. The South African nations have traditionally Roman Catholic religious influences, and sub-Saharan Africa has a large mixture of Christian and Muslim influences. Overall, both topics will be widely educational and engaging. I’d give the edge to the South American topic because those nations go slightly under discussed in the media platforms and research outlets that most students are familiar with.
There is really no difference between this topic and the South American one when considering which resolution is better for fair and balanced debates. Both use the mono-directional terminology of “increase” rather than the bidirectional term “reform.” That means the topic will almost inherently be balanced from a competition perspective. Each team in every tournament will have as many chances to defend a substantial increase in aid or assistance as negating that increase. So even if for some reason, judges are wildly biased against increasing aid to Africa, each team will have the same amount of opportunities to use that bias to their advantage, as well as overcome it during the prelim rounds. That’s just a hypothetical though. I really don’t see judge bias being a major issue. Foreign aid is certainly a hot button issue, but the debate usually comes down to the specific question of whether or not the debate is actually effective, which is exactly what a policy debate should be about. Every judge is going to agree more people should have access to clean water, but not every judge will agree that the US aid program is effective in increasing access to that water. Looking past side bias, we see that the available research to students is rich and diverse. Analysts have been studying the effectiveness of foreign aid for decades and there are no shortage of passionate university and think tank research teams publishing accurate studies on both sides off the debate. Whether a team is on AFF or NEG with this resolution they should have every tool they need to succeed in any given round.
Recommended topic: I think the NCFCA hit it out of the park with these resolutions. The EU one is a very cool wild card that would make for an extremely unique season where each tournament is a roller coaster of creative new affirmatives pitted against quick thinking, scrappy negative strategies. The other two topics both use a superior wording structure for competitive debate. Tournaments will have far less variance and reduce frustrating results that come down simply to getting bad aff/neg pairings. The consistency the South American topic brings, along with its underdiscussed content focus, puts it at the topic of the priority list. The African topic is in about the same category as the South American one, but due to the recency in topics about terrorism and the middle east, it isn’t quite as unique as the other options. Students only have so many years to compete in high school forensics, each year should have as unique content as possible combine with extremely balanced topics that reward skill and strategy rather than luck of the draw.
NCFCA’s LD resolution options have been released and are almost directly responsive to hot button issues that have been circulating American discourse over the last four years. But while there is recent debate on these topics, arguments about the merits of democratic structures and immigration stretch all the way back toe the founding era. With so much history, there are a lot of elements to consider when deciding which option to select. To aid in that process, I’ll be going over the pros and cons of each option and then offering my opinion on which I believe is the best resolution. To provide some guidance, I’ll be rating each topic in two categories. First will be educational and engagement potential. Here I’ll basically be judging each topic on their ability to prevent the year from going stale, and value to students as a learning opportunity. Secondly, each topic will be graded on its ability to facilitate competitive debate rounds, basically which topic will generate the greatest quantity of fair, even debates. I’ll look at balance, breadth of aff and neg arguments, and the available research on the topic. Each category will be rated on a scale of 1-3, with 1 being the best topic for that category and 3 being the worst.
1) RESOLVED: In democratic elections, the public’s right to know ought to be valued above a candidate’s right to privacy
Release your tax returns! Release your tax returns! Sooner or later in most major elections, calls for a candidate to provide the public with information about their personal income, religion, or family life arise. Are these requests well founded? After all, the winner of a democratic election will generally be leading a population for the next several years. Shouldn’t the public have the best possible knowledge of that person available to them when they decide who should lead them? But is it humane to force a candidate to display their personal life on a projector for all the world to see? The back and forth of the questions form the basis as to why there is so much to examine under this resolution. The basic idea is relatively benign. However, the ethics of that idea start to twist and turn, creating a complex discussion on an important social issue. Students will grapple with fundamental ides of democracy, privacy rights, the ethics of social media, and the basic value of knowledge. That being said, this topic does lack the “punch” the other two options provide. The stakes aren’t quite as high on the outset. Obviously the outcome of a major democratic election can shape every area of public life, but the ethics of public disclosure are only a small facet of the democratic process. The smaller scale of this topic does mean students will engage with a very specific selection of philosophies, but that smallness does mean the end of the season could feel far more repetitive than other options.
The benefit of a small scale, specific topic like this one is that, while judges are certainly interested about the content of the debate, they may not already have strong convictions about the discourse of the round. Bias is inescapable in debate to certain degree, but well worded resolutions can mitigate judge bias. In all honesty, many judges may not have ever considered the value of public disclosure in a campaign, and whether it is fair to a candidate to dig up their past failures as negative press. This means students get more leeway than normal arguing on either side of the “political spectrum.” Because the party lines aren’t so clear on this topic. If this topic is selected, debaters shouldn’t have an inherent advantage walking into a round simply because they are aff or neg. Researching this topic may be a bit difficult at first, as this kind of issue is most heavily discussed in media articles rather than philosophy journals and essays. Not to say public knowledge of candidates private affairs is a new debate, but it’s mostly a secondary issue in democratic literature. That kind of scarcity however, will most likely encourage greater creativity amongst students, incentivizing them to find advantageous ways to present their merits. The terms themselves are also pretty straightforward. “Right to know” stands out as the most vague term at first glance, but even that shouldn’t lead to a definition dominated season. Debaters will have a pretty good idea of what their opponent will say walking into a round. This means that this topic will truly be about in round execution and will consistently reward the more skilled debater.
2) RESOLVED: The principles of direct democracy ought to be valued above the principles of representative democracy
The first question you’re probably asking yourself upon reading this topic is, “well, what are the principles of direct versus representative democracy?” And in the ambiguity of that answer lies the primary issue with this topic’s competitive viability. A primary part of LD debate includes redefining your terms to include the benefits of your opponent’s arguments. Essentially try to convince that the opposition is arguing for you. While this style of debate is certainly applauding, it does tend to circumvent the primary clash of ideas in favor of a debate about whether or not the ideas are even in conflict. Competitors on both aff and neg will be heavily incentivized to argue the “principles” of one form of democracy are the same as the other and that their opponent has thus ceded the debate. There is a potential for this topic to mimic the kind of critical thinking democratic philosophers and statesmen employed when crafting the Magna Carta, the Constitution, and other historical documents, however, the unfortunate reality is that the nuance may slip through the cracks. The differences between direct and representative democracy are not always apparent, and often times are more of a question of pragmatism rather than principles. For example, even if direct democracy’s principles are more valuable in theory, its is simply not practical for citizens to directly vote on every single legislation or action the government chooses to take, as such, representative democracy is a logistical necessity. The lost nuance ultimately means that the debate may not actually be about the merits of direct versus representative democracy and devolve into something else. Judges and competitors alike could ultimately become frustrated that rounds lack direct clash. Expect to see rounds where “two ships pass in the night.” Is there much to learn on this topic? Of course. However, competitive LD debate may not be the best forum to delve into these issues.
Debates are most competitive when there is minimal to no side favoritism and the resolution is setup so the best debater in the round will win consistently on skill alone, rather than gimmicky tactics or the luck of a coin flip. Interestingly enough, the likelihood of rampant definition debates does actually balance the resolution very well. Since debaters will be able to consistently incorporate portions of their opponent’s argument within their own, any kind of side bias will most likely be mitigated. Ultimately that means, successful debaters will have to heavily emphasize the points of disagreement and why the judge should favor their arguments on those points. But the educational problems with this option bleed over into the competitive analysis as well. This topic has very little predictability. Any given round a debater on either aff or neg may choose a variety of different ways to frame their principle, or define their principle to include the opposition’s, or present very concrete ideas of the terms of interest. And although these strategies aren’t anything new for LD debate, this resolution increases the potential for volatility between round to round. Meaning debaters may lose rounds, not because they are less skilled, but because they simply didn’t have time between tournaments to prepare for that given round’s particular flavor of democracy. While this topic is incredibly interesting, there may simply be too many moving parts to create a consistently competitive debate environment across all skill levels.
3) RESOLVED: Immigration is a human right
Discussing immigration in a values debate setting is a unique opportunity for students to consider the philosophy of immigration, a discussion that is not really looked at too often. Media outlets, authors, and governments are generally considered the policy elements of immigration. However, when discussing whether or not immigration is a human right, the questions change from “can an economy sustain increased immigration” to “should our economy sustain increased immigration?” The question of practice is replaced with one of principle. The term “human right” is nothing to sneeze at. It forms the basis of a substantial amount of international norms and laws. The topic as currently worried puts a concept (immigration) that students are already familiar with, but encourages them to think about that concept in an entirely different way. Debating the topic should be very engaging as both an observer and a participant. As will be discussed below, aff has a bit of an uphill battle with this resolution at first glance. Meaning, in order to balance the side bias of the topic, aff debaters are going to have to research experimental methods to approach the topic. Creative thinking within predictable parameters. Every topic should meet this benchmark. Students should be given the opportunity to critically examine a topic to find new ways of presenting issues while still presenting an argument the judge and opponent will be generally prepared to process. I think the structure of this topic provides an optimal platform to facilitate that process.
This topic is super cool, but it’s also super frustrating. Monodirectional topics that use is/is not rhetoric create incredibly competitive and straightforward rounds that still allow for a fair amount of creativity. One debater will simply be saying X is Y and the other will say, no, X is not Y. This structure means debaters can only run one direction with their arguments, and that is directly into their opponent’s arguments. This kind of direct clash is what judges look forward to in around and what debate is designed for. While the theory of a “is/is not” topic may be great, the one issue with these particular iteration of that formula is the content carries with it some pretty heavy politics. Immigration itself is a hotly debated issue, and while any immigration topic would be politically polarizing to a degree, debating immigration should still be an option for competitive debate. Combining immigration with human rights terminology, however, forces the aff to take a much more partisan position. Rather than saying immigration is good or beneficial, or even ethical, this topic puts the aff in a position to defend immigration as a human right, central to the very essence of being human in the 21st century. That position may simply be too great a position to bear. With that being said the simplicity of the resolution may give students enough time to really delve into the depth of the topic to create ingenious ways to present the aff side of the debate. If students can come up with solutions to overcoming the adamant position aff is required to take, this topic would then have the potential to generate a vibrant competitive season.
Recommended topic: I recommend the immigration topic for the 2021 NCFCA LD season. When sitting down to write this piece, I was not expecting to recommend the immigration resolution. However, after reflecting on the structure of the topic and educational merits of the option, I think it’ll be very fresh and engaging topic for students and judges alike. It takes a traditionally policy based issue and puts a new spin on it. Yes, the topic may be a bit neg sided initially, but within the simplistic nature of the is/is not resolution structure lies a golden opportunity for affirmative speakers to generate uncommon strategies for their side. If the goal of topic is to promote creative thinking within predictable parameters, this resolution hits the nail on the head.