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Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 11.52.41 AMI’ve already judged about 12 rounds and debated about 6 this season, besides coaching four topics and parli. It was a good start for tasting what some of the topics have to offer.

2016–17 should be a great season! Here’s why I’m excited.

I’ll go ahead and assume you are a likely reader of the blog and have the following options:
* Stoa Parli

  • Stoa Policy
  • Stoa LD
  • NCFCA Policy
  • Honorable Mention: Moot Court (NCFCA or otherwise)

Conclusion: you can’t go wrong with LD, Stoa’s policy topic is the best policy topic, and other formats complement your year anyways. So get excited, and get started!

Stoa Parli – (Always do parli if you can!)

Well, parli is our favorite format of debate. Three reasons:

  • Most Adaptive Form of Debate – you learn all three styles of resolution, and have to continually adapt to different case structures, argument structures, and unsure situations. This mirrors real life, and parli tends to prepare you for the ugliness of reality and its unplanned moments. You get less of this in team policy and LD once you’re using briefs, cases, and shared flows.
  • Forms Become Habits – Much of debate is about learning the reasonable and effective “forms:” disadvantage structure, all six responses, the eight main case structures, six classes of mitigating arguments, and so on. In a locked topic or format (LD/TP), you don’t have as much emphasis on the raw forms. Obviously, emphasis on content is preferred over forms, but in the stage of learning the strategies and arguments of debate that last a lifetime, parli gives you more experience here. It’s why we use parli so much at camps – you can immediately implement weighing mechanism constructs in parli, without going out there and researching a ton.
  • Varying Content – It’s easy to coast in parli and not know why you are staying in the middle of the pack. That’s a downfall. But if you push through by pursuing general knowledge that you can really use at any time, then parli – much like LD or TP – can propel you to new depths of understanding. That topics range from culture to news to business to policy to global questions of value to futuristic scenarios means you get to practice the language and empathy of a variety of formats. It’s why I loved parli more than moot court for the Patrick Henry College debate team: only in parli could we discuss the cultural (rather than legal) aspects of important issues.

Obviously, some of you won’t have access to parli tournaments. It’s still my favorite in-club skill, and we taught it at high school clubs before Stoa even existed or any parli was available. Running parli in-club is an excellent way to practice the forms.

If that makes you feel weird, at least play Superfight – we’ve been using it at every camp to teach “claims, warrants, and impacts” to novices, and it’s quite a hit.

Stoa Policy – A+

Food and agriculture sounds boring, right?


As one of the resolution committee members, perhaps I’m biased… doubly so since agriculture policy was my first resolution (2001–02), and I still remembered that Title 7 of U.S. Code is titled “Agriculture.”

There are a few reasons to love the topic:

  • Non-political. Here’s a topic where you get to explore many non-partisan issues, far more likely based on research than speculation. For example: labeling GMOs, regulating pet food, protecting the food supply from bioterrorism, resolving FDA vs. USDA departmental confusion, and even subsidies do not have a clear left/right divide. We’ve thrown together a beginning table of contents on the topic for you. Will add as we learn more.
  • Straightforward. Look up Title 7 of U.S. Code. There are around 115 subsections. Food Policy is slightly more difficult to pin down, but not by much – take a look at FDA and USDA websites for some obvious lists of what’s in the topic. Hooray! No digging needed to find some kind of Chinese tire tariffs hooliganism.
  • INTERESTING. Science, finance, economics, interdepartmental structure, federalism, supply chain, security, health… it’s all there!
  • Literature Base. Some topics don’t have folks writing on them in the exact words of the resolution. Not so with this topic. There are books with the title “food safety policy,” and agriculture research on GAO.gov or SSRN.com sites yield relevant results.

It’s a work-in-progress, but here’s our current table of contents we’re starting students with to get into this topic.

NCFCA Policy – B+

This one is my least favorite of the four, but it’s not a poor or frustrating topic at all.

  • Difficult for AFFs. My main complaint is the same complaint with every multi-directional foreign policy topic: most policy is negotiated, so “one-way” USA changes can’t really go out there and solve the major issues. In foreign policy debating, FIAT power just poses so many barriers to debating the ideal. A massive portion of the literature base won’t apply for AFF, but is a NEG goldmine for generics. Not looking forward to small-minded tiny-whiny cases saving endangered Pandas by threatening sanctions, though.
  • Relevant. China is a BRIC country, a former WWII ally, a nation with a completely different worldview, a country with a richer historical past that leads to longer-term thinking, one of the “big five” nuclear countries, and a major player in the future globalized world. But these guys are at the center of regional and international security, trade balances, currency, and international cooperatives against totalitarianism and terror.
  • Historic and Futuristic. China is a study in trade rather than isolation for U.S. foreign policy with unlikely friends – the opposite of our odd distance from India, the world’s largest democracy. Take a look at the National Intelligence Councilpredictions, the U.S. National Security Strategy, and the Quadrennial Defense Review, word-searching for “China” to see what the intelligence community thinks about China. Grab the Library of Congress history of China for a deep background that doesn’t take too long to read. Look to long-term thinking for NEG generics.

Stoa LD – A-

Needs of the Public vs. Private Property Rights is a philosophical debate if there ever was one, but can be turned into a highly practical debate too. It’s a perfect resolution for policy debaters doing a crossover into value debate.

  • Economic. While there is rich philosophy behind both sides of the topic, there is also a massive pile of data. Many of the relevant stories go beyond data to personal fiefdoms, corruption, and use of power, bringing human nature into the equation – not just ideals. Whenever we’re talking human behavior, we’re talking incentives and economics.
  • Philosophical. We’re recommending that debaters select a couple philosophers and adopt their thinking as a “school of thought” for the season. For example, an AFF might choose to go with Hobbes while a NEG represents Locke in a direct clash of social contract theorists on the nature of property and government duties to secure.
  • Tough to Internationalize. I’m recommending that debaters parametricize the resolution down to “Western Democracies,” since it is in the West that “private property rights” really were developed and flourished as a concept. But don’t go too far. If you make this debate about the USA now, you’ll be ignoring 95% of what’s out there to debate. The USA had a massive Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) initiative, for example, smashing AFF theories of the need for military bases, but only in the present moment only for the USA, so it’s in AFF’s interest to expand the topic to include Europe if they wish to discuss security. Where to draw the line is always tricky for debaters, so plan on some debates scoping the topic.


Wow. Rehabilitation versus Retribution – it’s such an important topic.

  • USA-Relevant. The USA has just 5% of the world’s population, but more than 25% of the world’s prisoners, at a rate massively higher than even Iran, China, and totalitarian regimes. Our obsession with “punishment” via prison is a national disaster that should be explored by conservatives who have never taken a second look at the horrific data showing the failure of our current system.
  • Tough to Internationalize. Justice is THE debate of philosophers, for over 3,000 years. Dive into Hammurabi, Draco’s laws, the history of prisons, and various philosophizing on the meaning of justice. I hope several will read Plato and Aristotle to explore their own thinking on justice, in addition to N.T. Wright’s amazing chapter on Christian Justice in “Surprised By Hope.” But… what about all the other countries? Because it’s a US-based league it’s tough to handle, when you combine the topic with the fact that the U.S. is an extreme anomaly in justice systems. What if a NEG argues to exclude the U.S. entirely, for being too extreme? There is certainly grounds for such an argument.
  • “CJS” is a real problem. I’m hoping the NCFCA changes this. We’ve gathered several definitions of the notion. Most of them list a number of items in sequence of criminal justice, beginning with investigation but usually ending with punishment. Unless rehabilitation is also punishment (making the rez have symbolic logic issues), then what one of my camper’s just argued may become pretty realistic: most rehabilitation isn’t part of “criminal justice.” In fact, that’s a case idea for NEG: rehabilitation is great, but the kind that should be done should not be done inside the criminal justice system, but instead afterwards.

Honorable Mention: Moot Court

High school moot court is picking up traction. This format is excellent for teaching students to get past their silly “clever” cases that homeschool parents have been voting up in recent years. Moot court forces you to grapple with the heart of the literature base. Looking forward to the NCFCA rule announcement on the rules, because given other philosophies towards judges, the whole judge-interaction piece seems pretty tough to manage…


It’s a great year to pick up debate! And an equally great year to go from serious to national-class debater. Ethos is stoked to partner with you in tackling the topics this year. Woot woot.

Time to hit the library.

Go debate.

Isaiah_McPeak-squareIsaiah McPeak is the Head Coach and CEO of Ethos Debate. He has over 10 years experience in speech and debate, coaching 5 national champions and placing top 5 in multiple leagues himself. Outside of the debate world, he’s had years experience as an intelligence analyst, writer, rhetoric teacher, and communications coach. He is also the CEO of the new startup, statUP.

Isaiah is also author of Upside Down Debate, a 5-star rated book that teaches debate from a life-transference and Classical Rhetoric perspective.

You can work with Isaiah during the 2016-17 season through Ethos XL 2.0.

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