Editor's Note: In December 2013, Armand Domalewski composed a letter to the director of James Logan High School's MLK Invitational suggesting that, in his opinion, the tournament could be significantly improved if it were to take a different approach in regards to the drafting of parliamentary debate resolutions. While Mr. Domalewski's letter produced no significant changes at the 2014 MLK Invitational, the fact that Mr. Domalewski had written the letter created a bit of a stir amongst coaches affiliated with the community. Most coaches did not read the actual letter, so intentions were ascribed to the missive that made it seem inflammatory and unnecessarily provocative when the letter comes across as a reasoned, polite, and constructive criticism of perceived flaws in the composition of MLK's resolutions. We reprint the letter here, with Mr. Domalewski's full knowledge, so that you may decide for yourself whether the ideas and their presentation were uncalled for, or necessary, or something in-between. The letter was also signed by five coaches, including Jon Thorpe, coach of Bishop O'Dowd High School. The letter was also undersigned by debaters who had won the MLK Invitational.
BY ARMAND DOMALEWSKI
I have coached speech and debate at Mountain View HS, Los Altos HS, Evergreen Valley HS, and Dougherty Valley HS, and I currently work for the Coast Forensics League writing parli resolutions. My kids have always enjoyed attending MLK and regarded it as one of the premier tournaments in the state.
The only exception have been my parli debaters, who have routinely returned from MLK questioning the quality of resolutions. After reviewing the resolutions myself, I had to concede that my debaters had a point. Here are just a few examples of resolutions from last year.
“USFG should take action on climate change.”
This resolution is incredibly unfair for the negative. It does not specify what action should be taken, which allows the affirmative to come up with the most obscure environmental policy possible. The negative is forced to spend its 20 minutes of preparation time not knowing what to prepare for.
“Congress should authorize America’s wars.”
This resolution is very badly phrased. Some of the teams at the tournament interpreted it to mean that Congress should somehow support the current wars America is fighting, others suggested that the US start new wars, while still others thought it to mean that wars should never be started without Congressional authorization. Rounds devolved into topicality debates, robbing debaters of the education of actually discussing current events.
“The television is more significant than the computer.”
In addition to being almost impossible to affirm, this topic suffered from the problem of having nothing whatsoever to do with current events. As a coach, I tried to encourage my students to learn about current events, economics, political theory, philosophy, and the like. Random topics such as this one made my job a lot harder.
Many of the other topics were just as problematic.
At the 2013 Parli Tournament of Champions, which gathered 22 top-ranked parli teams in the country, debaters were surveyed on their opinions regarding resolutions at various tournaments. Not a single debater said they were satisfied with MLK resolutions. There were only two other tournaments at which resolutions received unanimously negative reviews. The first one was the GGSA State Qualifier, which has since then hired a different resolution writer. The second one was Stanford. MLK can overtake Stanford as the most prestigious parli tournament in the country – it only needs to improve its resolutions.
Lest you think that this was just the case of high school debaters complaining about everything, other tournaments received very positive reviews in the survey. Resolutions from the Coast Forensics League State Qualifier, for instance, were favorably rated by every single respondent. I am listing them below to provide an idea of the kind of resolutions preferred by the parli community:
1. Presidential drone strikes against American citizens are morally justified.
2. The US federal government should significantly raise the federal minimum wage.
3. On balance, the US has been a positive force in the Arab Spring.
4. The US federal government should create a path to citizenship for most or all undocumented immigrants.
5. The US federal government should approve the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Finals. The US federal government should arm the Syrian rebels.
The above resolutions featured a healthy mix of policy, value, and fact topics, they divide up ground evenly and clearly between the affirmative and the negative side, and – most importantly – they all relate to current events.
The survey of debaters at last year’s Tournament of Champions is not the only indication of the fact that the parli debate community dislikes MLK parli resolutions. I have discussed this issue with former debaters and fellow coaches, and they invariably shared my concerns and they have agreed to have their names included as signatories on this letter. I would love to see MLK become the benchmark for all parli tournaments. I believe that improving the quality of resolutions would go a long way toward achieving that goal. I know many respected coaches in the community who would be more than willing to step forward and help out with the 2014 MLK parli resolutions.
Armand Domalewski, et al.
Mr. Domalewski, a regular POI contributor and staunch advocate for better debate resolutions, competed in NPDA parli for Santa Clara University and San Diego State University. He was ranked 15th in the nation during his senior year and placed second at the Pacific Coast Championship. Mr. Domalewski coached Mountain View, Evergreen Valley, and Dougherty Valley. His debaters have won the National Parliamentary Debate Invitational, the Stanford Invitational, the Parliamentary Debate Tournament of Champions, and closed out Santa Clara Spring. Mr. Domalewski has a B.S. in Economics from Santa Clara University and is currently a tax policy research associate focusing on tax credits for alternative energy and low-income housing. Mr. Domalewski serves as a member of the POI Advisory Board.