Disads and Diseases

Tuberculosis is seen in the western world as a matter of history: a deadly foe vanquished by modern science, right there next to polio, rubella, and those other weird things they vaccinate you for as a little kid. In the developing world, however, Tuberculosis is a matter of life and death. It kills more than a million people a year, and it's no picnic for over 10 million others who have an active case. TB also has the nasty tendency to co-infect AIDS sufferers, becoming a leading cause of death for people with AIDS.

Unlike, AIDS, however, TB is treatable and curable. Aside from some rare drug-resistant strains, antibiotics do an excellent job eradicating the disease. There's a reason we don't see much of it in the developed world, after all. Most countries stricken by TB have the minimum level of healthcare infrastructure to treat TB, and the diagnosis and treatment is straightforward as diseases go. The only reason that these millions of people continue to suffer from TB is lack of access to treatment, by which I mean money.

So consider, if you would, a hypothetical affirmative plan: "The United States Federal Government should give 10 Billion dollars in foreign aid to governments and NGOs to cure TB." Imagine you are a negative with the most basic negative toolkit: Topicality, Harms, Inherency, Solvency. How do you formulate a strategy against the TB plan?

Well, obviously this case isn't topical under the 2009 resolution, but a re-worded version of it would be very topical under the 2007 resolution, so imagine that it's 2007 and you don't have a serious T argument.

Inherency won't get you very far. The United States gives a large amount of public health assistance, but it's not enough to eradicate TB, and it looks like foreign aid spending will get cut in our current economic malaise.

The Aff has a pretty easy case to make to establish Harms, too. You can't really deny the impact of Tuberculosis, it's death toll is well-documented and it's effects are well-known.

You might be able to chip away at Solvency some. Some of the money will probably be stashed away by corrupt governments, some people have drug-resistant strains, some places don't have the health infrastructure. These takeouts will definitely not be able to negate the entirety of the Aff's solvency claims, though. The simple truth is that you can cure a lot of Tuberculosis with 10 billion big ones. The aff would solve plenty of harm.

So what is a negative to do? Our basic toolbox is clearly insufficient to handle this aff. One of my old coaches gave me this piece of advice when it comes to attacking affs: for all of the things that we aren't doing in the status quo, there is a reason we aren't doing it. Tapping into this reason is usually a pretty decent way to start forming a negative strategy. And of course, the reason we aren't spending 10 Billion dollars on TB in the status quo is that 10 Billion Dollars is a lot of money. If we just dumped 10 Billion dollars with no real source of funding and no chance of getting it back, we could very well pull the plug on our barely-breathing economy. We might even kill more people than we save.

In the real world, problems don't exist in a vacuum, waiting to be solved. Government influences complex systems by means of blunt instruments, so sometimes a well-intentioned idea causes more problems than it solves. As a negative, pointing out the unintended consequences of plan can be a powerful strategy. These arguments are called "Disadvantages," ususally shortened to Disad.

Like an affirmative plan, Disads are usually presented in a few different components.

The Impact is actually the end of a disad's story, but it's the easiest to explain. An impact is "Something Bad Happens." The Economy Crashes, Disease overtakes the world, A civil war erupts into a world war. Pretty much anyhting that can be a Harm can also be an Impact, with one important difference: Harms are happening (or will happen) in the status quo. To win a Disad, the Neg must win that it's impact is not going to happen in the status quo.

This is Uniqueness, whether or not a disad is "unique" to the aff's plan. It's a bit of an akward name, but an important concept. After all, if the war is going to start anyway, then it ceases to be an argument against plan.

The most important argument that the Neg needs to win a disad, though is the Link, the argument that the aff's plan will cause the impact. A link argument usually describes a chain of events, like a bunch of dominoes all standing in a row. Plan knocks over the first domino, which knocks over the second domino, which spends too much of the governments money, which means we need to raise taxes, which means the US economy will fall into a depression, which means the world economy will fall into a depression, which will cause another world war just like the Great Depression caused World War 2. Millions of people will die.

Of course, for the negative to win a disad, they have to win all of those links. If the aff wins that this additional spending will not crash the economy, they don't have to contend with the prospect of World War 3. This is why, as a negative, you make your disads rely on as few links as possible, and as the affirmative you want to be prepared to seek out the weak link in the chain and defeat it with better evidence.

There are other ways that the aff can defend plan against a disad as well, but that list is long enough to warrant it's own article. One additional consideration that I'll fit in here, though, is that just winning the existence of a disadvantage is not enough for the neg to win. If the aff's harm is proven worse than the disad's impact, then there's still a good reason to do plan. If we can save a million people with plan, a disad impact of "Ryan gets a headache" is not a reason to vote neg.

Debate and Game Design

Maybe you get this with other hobbies too, but my favorite part of coaching debate is getting to have the exact same conversation with people every time they first hear that I coach debate. Goes a little something like this:

Me: "So I coach a high school debate team."
Them: "Oh really? What do they... uh... debate about?"
Me: "Well, the topic changes every year, this years is Alternative Energy"
Them: "So, uh, what side are you on?"
Me: "You have to debate both sides of the resolution."
Them: "ohhh..."

Switch-side debate is a pretty mundane feature of the activity for anyone who's been doing it more than 10 minutes, but it's fundamentally incongruous from the image that most people get in their heads when I say the words "debate team." Debate is about advocacy, and advocacy surely involves taking a side.

This, like most of the big misconceptions people have about debate, stems from the fact that they don't understand that it is a game, and designed top-to-bottom to function as a game. Debate has much more in common with Chess, Counter-Strike, and Judo than it does with, say, actual policymaking. All four activities are games, but the reason that I use those particular examples is because they share another important commonality: they are all games that are inspired by something in the real world. I use inspired by rather than simulate here very intentionally; these four games are all much closer to each other than the "real world" activities they are connected to (Politics/Legal System, Medieval war, Modern war, and Hand-to-hand combat, respectively).

Quick aside: I'm using this particular set of activities (Chess, Counterstrike, Judo), in hopes that you if you aren't familiar with board games, video games, or martial arts, you are at least familiar with one of the above. And feel free to substitute Risk, Football, or Call of Duty if they're more familiar to you.

The common thread between Debate, Chess, Counter-Strike, and Judo is that they were all designed, and that their designers had to make choices over what exactly in the real-world thing should be included in the game and how and why. A student of Judo would learn many techniques that they could use to defend themselves from real-world attackers, but there are valid defensive moves that are not legal in Judo. You can't kick someone in the groin, for instnace, or use a weapon. Counter-strike is one of the first video games to feature realistic models of real-world firearms, but a character that takes a bullet in the leg can still move around as normal.

The point of Judo and Countestrike and Chess isn't to provide the most realistic simulation of their real-world equivalents. The game designers hand-pick elements of the source material because they provide for an interesting and balanced game. Some "rules" in the source material provde an interesting gameplay twist - the Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists have different weapons available, you can't capture/kill the king and instead must get him to surrender - but others must be excluded for the good of the game. After all, if Judo were a faithful simulation of hand-to-hand combat, someone might end up dead at the end of every match.

Now, just because these games all have designers, that doesn't mean that that designer is a single person. Dozens of people have been involved in the design of Counterstrike and probably hundreds or thousands have been involved with the design of Chess. Think, for instance, of how many people have ever served on an offical rules-making committee for American Football, a game not even 200 years old. Of course, this form of distributed design is taken to the extreme for policy debate. Just who is the designer for policy debate, anyway?

If you've ever judged or participated in a policy debate round, you should answer "Me." Any time a meta-debate issue is brought up in a debate round (including Topicality, Conditionality, K Framework), we are designing the game. Together. As we play it. Pretty trippy, huh? This is part of the magic of this game we call debate: we can participate in its design merely by playing it.

I'd like to see meta-debates involve a more deep discussion of what makes a good game. I think that "fairness" and "education" are really shallow ways to look at game desgin. Yahtzee is fair. SAT flash cards are educational. I wouldn't devote hours and hours of my life to either one, though. How many viable strategies are there to winning a policy debate round? Do they interact in interesting ways? What type of skills does the game reward, and with what tradeoffs? How can we make the game more fun and accessible without sacrificing the deeply satisfying experience it provides.

I think that the best piece of marketing ever done for a game is for the boardgame Othello. It says it right on the box - "A minute to learn, a lifetime to master." This is the holy grail of game design - something that is intuitive and fun and easy to pick up, but has enough depth to satisfy a lifetime of study. The reason that Chess and Judo and Counter-Strike have stayed around for so long (10 years is an eternity in PC games) is that they are great at this. We do a pretty good job in debate as well, even if people don't really consider "game design" when they are extending their T argument in the 2NC.

And I swear to god, the first debater to win a theory argument by citing Sirlin or Rouse or Koster gets a 30, no questions asked.

Hammers, Screwdrivers, and The Stock Issues

I'm no expert on debate history, but I think that one of the driving
forces behind innovations in debate is one simple reality: it's darn
tough to be a negative. Those pesky affirmatives get all the time in
the world to craft their 1ACs, and us negatives only get a few
precious moments of prep time to cobble together a round winning
strategy. Living here in the real world also makes the prospect of
defending the status quo pretty tricky. The one thing that every
political ideology seems to agree on is that the world isn't all
puppies and rainbows right now.

Which is why the debate community has crafted quite an extensive
toolkit for the negative through the years. The problem is, learning
this entire toolkit all at once is overwhelming, you need to use a
hammer for a little while to really appreciate the reason for the nail
gun. The most basic negative toolbox has 4 tools, which are the four
stock issues that the affirmative needs to prove to win the round.
Topicality is a big enough subject for it's own article, so I'll focus
here on Inherency, Harms, and Solvency.

There are two different strategies for attacking an Affirmative's
harms scenario, which inolve two concepts that re-occur quite a bit in
the debate universe: takeouts and turns. Takeouts are
arguments that mitigate the impact of a harm. They might reduce the
size of the harm ("Fewer people in poverty die of starvation
than the affirmative claims"), lessen the probability of the
harm ("The affirmative says that a war with Russia is likely if we
don't act, but Russia knows that they would lose this war so they'd
never attack us"), or lengthen the timeframe ("They say that
the world will run out of oil in 2025, but we prove that we have until
at least 2100, which means we'll be able to come up with new
technology in the meantime").

Takeouts implicitly assume that the "bad thing" that the affirmative
describes actually is a bad thing. Turns take the opposite approach.
As it turns out, there is some debate amongst smart people over
whether some things are good or bad. Take Free Trade, for instance.
Some economists argue that free trade around the world is the best way
to grow the economy and prevent war. Other economists argue that we
are better off protecting our domestic industry by restricting free
trade. This means that if the affirmative's harms story centers on
free trade, as the neg we have the option of arguing the other way.
They say trade good, we say trade bad, or vice versa. This is a tough
strategy to do right, but it can be a powerful tool. Teams might not
take time to prepare for arguments like "pollution good," and we can
use that to our advantage.

Inherency, you'll remember, asks the question "If plan didn't
happen, would the harms continue." One of your options as a Negative
is to answer this question with "no." If the neg is going to win on
inherency, they have to prove either than (1) the Aff's plan is going
to happen in the status quo or (2) something else in the status quo
will solve the harm. Proving that plan will happen in the status quo
is tough to do, mostly because aff's tend to pick plans that aren't
being done. However, if you can catch a team unawares by finding their
plan buried in an omnibus spending bill, you've got a pretty easy road
to victory. If the aff's plan itself isn't going to happen in the
status quo, you can occasionally find something else in the status quo
that is going to solve. This also has limited potential, however. At
the end of the day its pretty easy to find some harm out there that
the powers-that-be aren't doing enough about.

Fortunately for the negative, it's much harder to fix problems than it
is to find them, so there's usually an argument to be made over
Solvency. Just like harms, we can attack solvency with takeouts
(plan won't have the intended effect) and/or turns (plan will have the
opposite effect). In those two categories, there are some re-occuring
patterns in successful solvency arguments. Does the plan solve part of
the harm but not all of it? Does the plan make the problem better now
but worse in the long term? Lots of things have to happen for the plan
to solve - are they missing evidence that, say, people will actually
take the social service offered to them? Are the aff's solvency cards
based on faulty predictions, bad science, or biased experts? There have
been more than a few Neg rounds won by finding a part of Solvency that
the Aff takes for granted and exploiting their lack of evidence.

Now, it's important to mention that as the neg, all of the stock issues are
options you have, not requirements. The aff has to prove the entirety of their case by defending the stock issues, but aside from a few exceptions that I'll mention later, the neg has the luxury of picking and choosing. Maybe you want to run your best solvency turns along with some harms takeouts. Maybe you can concede solvency and turn harms. Maybe you want to go all in on inherency. Now, knowing which issues to pick and choose is a more complicated question, but remember that as the negative you have the power to focus the debate on the issues that you think you can win. And if you win, say, that plan doesn't solve, it probably doesn't matter if the aff wins that their harms are really big.

It won't take long for you to learn the limitations of these tools, but they are important tools nonetheless. It's also important to note that this is about the point where you are ready to actually have a debate in the standard policy format, which I recommend you do, actually.

Writing the rules: Arguing topicality

Human beings, by and large, are terrible at staying on topic. When you sit around with your friends, someone brings up the Presidential race, so then you talk about politics for a while. Someone mentions that he caught Obama's speech on the TV at the campus coffee shop, which reminds someone else of how she just discovered how awesome their mocha lattes are, which causes you to chime in about how you can't afford lattes anymore and you make your own coffee at home. Suddenly you're debating the relative merits of French Press v. Coffee Maker, when you started by debating Obama v. McCain.

And there's nothing wrong with that. It's in our nature to make connections, and it's fun to let a conversation wander between friends. However, what if we had to pick a winner and loser out of this debate? How do you care my argument about a french press leaving in the essential oils stack up against your point about the cost to businesses of Obama's cap and trade policy? Or, if we had agreed ahead of time to debate coffee makers, would it be fair if my opponent's 1AC talked about how awesome her cast iron teapot was?

Which is why there is a general rule in policy debate that "the affirmative's plan must adhere to the topic." But how do we determine whether or not a plan is on-topic, or in debatespeak whether it is "Topical"? For a more concrete example: what is the definition of poverty? The federal government provides one (aka "the poverty line")... do we use that one? What if the aff's plan is to raise the federal poverty line (IE extend our current slate of social services to more people)? That plan extends social services to people not "living in poverty" (by the federal definition, anyway). Does that mean it's non-topical? What if they prove that there are people who can't afford basic necessities even if they live "above the poverty line?"

All of these questions are up for debate. Think about that one for a second, because it's a powerful notion. In a competetive debate, the rules themselves are decided during the round. This is the first example most people encounter of a meta-debate, a debate about debate. There are many types of meta-debates (or theory debates, as they are more commonly called), but Topicality is perhaps the most important.

So how do you argue that the affirmative is non-topical? If you're the negative, there's a general form to follow to make a T argument. First of all, you construct an Interpretation of the resolution. Usually this is done by defining one or more words in the resolution. For the poverty T that I'm constructing, you might define "Poverty" by citing the government, who says that a single person making less than $10830 is "living in poverty."

The next step is to show that the affirmative is in Violation of your interpretation. For this plan, the violation argument is fairly straightforward. Raising the poverty line increases social services only to people who aren't living in poverty by the current definition.

Occasionally the violation argument is somewhat more complicated. For example, what if the Affirmative's plan does something topical, and something not-topical, for example: increase medicaid benefits globally, and also extend them to people above the poverty line. This might be an example of "Extra Topicality," or a plan that takes action in addition to a topical action.

Or perhaps the affirmative is only topical after considering the "effects" of plan. For example, the government could institute price controls on prescription medicine, which would mean that Medicaid recipients could buy more treatment at the same price, effectively a social service. This might be an example of "Effects Topicality," where a plan meets the topic only though a chain of events.

Both of these debates (Effects and Extra T) have some additional nuance to them, but I want to introduce the terms here.

The next part of a Topicality frontline (What you would read in a 1NC) is a set of Standards that defend your interpretation. Think of this as "reasons your interpretation is better than any possible aff interpretation." There are a bunch of different arguments you can use to show why your interpretation of the Topic is a good one, but they fall into a few general categories:

The Limits that an interpretation puts on the resolution are important. A looser interpretation of the resolution will allow more cases to be topical, meaning that the neg will have more cases that it needs to prepare against. A too-big topic would make life pretty hard for the negative; they would just have too much work to do to get ready for all the different aff cases. On the other hand, a too-small topic would get boring pretty fast, and the aff would have no chance to take advantage of their unlimited prep time.

But it's not just the raw size of the topic that's important. Ideally there should be a certain unifying theme to the affirmative's arguments, a "direction." We generally use the metaphor of Ground. Imagine we're about to have a snowball fight, your friends versus my friends. Before we start throwing snowballs we stomp a little line through the front yard. You point to one side and say "that's our side!" your team builds up some barricades on your side, my team builds up a little snow fort on my side. Then when we start our snowball fight, everyone knows what's going on. Duck behind this wall to take cover, throw snowballs over in that direction, watch out for snowballs coming from over there.

You might end up with some snow in the face, but everyone knows what's going on. Our game has some organization. If there wasn't a clear division between "my side" and "your side," it'd be chaos. We'd be throwing snowballs at our own teammates, nobody would know where to take cover, and someone would probably end up punching somebody in the face. Such is the case in debate. That clear division of ground is necessary to preserve the organization of the round. The negative (and the negative alone) ought to be able to advocate reducing social services for people living in poverty, for instance.

The Source of an interpretation also is somewhat important. There are some arguments for and against legal definitions, dictionary definitions, definitions from expert in the field, etc, but far more important is that a definition have intent to define. If I say that "During my years in college living in poverty, I consumed truckloads of Ramen," I don't actually intend to define poverty as including all college students. I'm using the word for effect, not in an earnest attempt to determine what is poverty and what is not.

So you've proven that the aff's plan doesn't meet the best interpretation of the resolution... what now? What should the judge do with that information? If you're the neg, you want Topicality to be a Voting Issue. In other words, you want to tell the judge "if we win Topicality, we win the round, regardless of other issues." There are a bunch of reasons that T ought be a voting issue, but there are two concepts that capture most of the reasons. Allowing the aff to run non-topical cases is a violation of fairness, and the only way to preserve the education value of the round is to have some focus on a topic. There's a lot to say about fairness and education as their own subjects, but those are the most important reasons that T should be a voter.

T is probably the most technical subject that new debaters have to learn right away, but don't be intimidated. There are some strategic implications that arise from whether or not you get a kick out of T debates, but you don't necessarily need to be a master of meta-debates right away. It's one of those things that you'll have to learn by doing.

Making your case - the Stock Issues

It might not make sense to follow this pattern strictly, but it seems like the best place to start explaining how a debate round works is to talk about what happens in the first speech. So let's start at the beginning. The affirmative speaks first, and in their "First Affirmative Constructive" or 1AC they are tasked with building a case "affirming" the resolution.

There are many different approaches that the affirmative can take to affirm the resolution (especially considering the long history of policy debate), but the vast majority of affirmatives will present a plan. Most high school resolutions are very broad, for example this year's is "The United States federal government should substantially increase social services for persons living in poverty" There's a lot of different different social services the government offers, many different ways for the government to "substantially increase" them, and many different kinds of "persons living in poverty." The aff generally finds it to their advantage to advocate a more specific policy option, and presenting a plan is how to do that.

Let's say I'm the affirmative and I choose the following plan to advocate: "The United States Federal Government should expand Medicaid coverage to all persons meeting the United States federal poverty definition." I haven't thought too hard about the wording, but I'd expect that similar plans will be popular next year. Reading the plan itself won't take me much time, so I'd use the rest of my 8-minute 1AC to build a Prima Facie case. Prima Facie is a latin term borrowed from the legal system which means "on first appearance." Basically a prima facie case is a complete justification for my plan. There are four parts that make a complete affirmative case in policy debate, we call them The Stock Issues: Topicality, Harms, Inherency, Solvency. THIS is a popular pnemonic.

Topicality is whether or not the aff's plan fits under the resolution. The Aff gets to prepare their 1AC ahead of time, meaning they effectively get "infinite prep time." If the Neg came prepared to debate social services for poverty and the Aff's plan was to fund a NASA mission to Mars, it's not very fair to the neg. For my Medicaid plan, however, the aff has a pretty good argument that their plan is topical. I'll describe some of the specifics of how to argue T in a different article, but one important thing to note is that the aff's plan is generally assumed to be topical until the Neg argues otherwise. Most affs don't spend much time arguing T in the 1AC.

The second stock issue is Harms, or the reason why we need plan. This is usually a reason why the Status Quo - more latin, for "the way things are right now" - is bad. There are a bunch of different "harms" that apply to persons living in poverty, but our case would probably focus on a lack of access to health care. You can live "under the poverty line" and still not qualify for Medicaid, especially if you don't have any kids. Many of these people have jobs and able to meet their basic necessities, but would be unable to pay for any type of medical emergency. Something as simple as breaking an arm in a car accident could cause them to spiral into bankruptcy or worse.

Inherency is a little bit trickier, mostly because it has a bit of an archaic name. Inherency is whether or not the harms are "inherent" to the status quo. The way I like to put it is, "If the plan didn't happen, would the harms continue?" As an affirmative, there are two possible attacks I'd need to defend against. First of all, I'd need to make sure that my plan, as written, won't happen on the status quo. If my plan had just passed (or will soon pass) through both houses of congress and was unlikely to be vetoed by the president, I'd have some serious inherency problems. I'd also want to show that no other action being taken in the status quo is likely to solve my harms. For example, if an insurance company were to start a low-cost insurance program targeted people below the poverty line who are uneligible for medicaid, I'd probably want to present some evidence that that program is not likely to succeed.

Solvency tends to be the Stock Issue that attracts the most argument. After all, it's easy to find problems, but generally much harder to solve them. Solvency is whether or not the affirmative's plan will improve the status quo or "solve the harm." My Medicaid plan would solve by offering the government's Medicaid insurance to everyone who makes less than the Federal Poverty Line. This expansion of coverage would reduce preventable disease and lower the bankruptcy rate. If this was a real round, then attaching some data and warrants to those claims would be a priority for my 1AC.

I've got plenty more to say about all of the stock issues, but that serves as an introduction. These are the components of an affirmative case, but they are also the first tools that the negative can use to win the round. If the Negative wins that, say, the Aff's plan doesn't solve (maybe medicaid coverage isn't enough to meet the needs of this demographic), then the neg wins the round.

What is an argument?

I'm worried that by starting with this topic that I'm going to scare everyone away or bore them to sleep. Someone once told me a story about some intro to philosophy class they took in college; the first thing the professor does is places a stool on the table and asks "What is a stool? What is it about this thing that makes it a stool?" The rest of the lecture involves discussing this stool and its stoolishness.

Yuck. I promise I'm not going to do that. trust me. It's going to seem like I'm doing that, but what I'm really doing is giving you a big bucket of Legos. You remember discovering Legos, right? They're so simple, so mundane, and yet once you wrap your head around the ways they fit together you can create amazing things.

In debate, our legos are called "arguments." I don't mean "argument" like "I got in an argument with my mom when she discovered my stash of Eminem CDs," but a somewhat more technical meaning of the term. So what is an argument?

The way that debaters define and talk about arguments is borrowed from the work of a Mr. Stephen Toulmin, who I usually introduce as "A British Dead Guy," which, as I recently learned, is inaccurate, as he is actually quite alive.

Anyway, Toulmin's model of argument starts with a Claim. This is the thing being argued, the thing that I am trying to persuade you of. "The Sky is Blue" is a claim. "Barack Obama is a United States citizen" is a claim. "Stephen Toulmin is alive" is a claim.

It's a concept that's easy to illustrate, because I can claim pretty much anything. Note, however, that a claim is not an argument all by itself. You might agree with me that Obama is a US citizen, but I haven't created an argument until I provide some reason that Obama is a citizen.

But if I tell you "Barack Obama is a United States citizen, he was born in Hawaii," now I've done more than make a claim. I've also given you data - "He was born in Hawaii." This particular piece of data is pretty easily verifiable. There is a physical record of Barack's birth in the form of a birth certificate. You could go to Hawaii and inspect this document yourself if you were so inclined. You'll find that most (but not all) data is something that can be verified - statistics, studies, observations, and other things we can see and hear.

The third part of an argument is a Warrant, which is implied in the argument above, as it is in many shorter arguments. If I wanted to be more explicit, I could say "Barack Obama is a United States citizen, he was born in Hawaii. According to the US constitution, anyone born in a US state (like Hawaii) is a Citizen." The Warrant is what connects the claim to the data. Put another way, it answers the question "Why does this data prove this claim?"

Warrants are very important in debate, as I'm sure you're aware that one can use the same piece of data to prove contradictory claims. In the race between two arguments - "The economy will improve next year, interest rates are up" and "The economy will get worse next year, interest rates are up" - it is the argument with the better warrant that will win the day.

Okay, enough theory. Claim, Data, Warrant. You've got your Legos. And yes, for you pedants out there, I am aware that the plural of LEGO is LEGO and you should always type it in all caps. Sheesh.

I guess this is what they call a lesson plan

Have you ever tried to teach someone a card game? Hearts, Spades, Crazy Eights, Whatever, it tends to be pretty straightforward. This is how your play your hand, play this card and you take a trick, once in a while you shoot the moon. Easy.

Unless that someone has never played a card game before. Then you have about a dozen conversations like this:

"...And then you take a trick"
"What's a trick?"

"...Face cards are all worth 10"
"face... cards...?"

There's a whole vocabulary that is 2nd nature after you've played a few card games, but it's a big ol mess for someone who doesn't know the lingo.

This is the challenge of coaching novice debaters. Your students come to you with nothing. They don't know the rules, they don't know the lingo, they don't know the format, they really don't even understand the objective.

I mean teaching people stuff is always hard, but freshman debaters are jumping into an entirely new world. The high school basketball coach doesn't have to start by teaching kids to dribble.

And I'm no expert in pedagogy, but I'm aware that different people learn things in different ways. Unfortunately, you're pretty much stuck being an "auditory learner" at Rosemount Debate. This year I typed up some lecture outlines, but it's tough for the people who really would have rather read a book.

I am aware that there are textbooks for this type of thing, but that approach has a few problems. First of all, I'm an egomaniac so I'm sure I'd have a whole laundry list of problems with the book. Also, I can't make kids buy the book and pretty much none of them will. Also, the task of reading 4 or 5 different textbooks to try to pick my favorite seems daunting.

The freely available materials on the subject are also universally terrible. Ever read the "Policy Debate" category of wikipedia? Yeesh.

So I've decided to prepare a series of articles providing an introduction to policy debate, mostly to scratch my own itch, but perhaps other people will find them useful too. Wouldn't be the first time I've started on some kind of grand debate-related project and gave up, but I think that starting now will give me time to at least put something useful together before next season.

Right away I'm planning on writing "What is an Argument", "How a debate round works", and "The Stock Issues". Anybody have any good ideas for stuff I should cover?