BY KARL MOEGLEIN
Only one thing is shared between every single style of debate: the presence of a resolution. This presence allows for focused and educational rounds. However, the existence of a resolution is not enough-- it must be good itself. The amount of substantive arguments a debater is able to make comes from their understanding on a resolution, so well-written resolutions allow for more in depth debate.
In policy, there's one resolution throughout the year, so over the course of their high school career, a policy debater will know four topic areas extremely well. Public forum and Lincoln-Douglas styles increase the number, with resolutions coming out monthly and bi-monthly respectively, but even these events don’t come close to the immense breadth of knowledge that can be gained from parliamentary debate.
With resolutions changing round to round, the best parli debaters are often not only the most informed parli debaters, but are some of the most informed debaters all together. However, resolutional confusion can make that education faulty.
The issues with resolutions every round are certainly not entirely avoidable, since to write over 20 perfect resolutions for a single tournament would be near impossible, but current topic-writing in Oregon continues to hold back the circuit from gaining legitimacy, creating better debaters, and educating the students who participate.
The myriad of ways the state continues to write topics that limit education is almost impressive.
“This House would give back the land”, which was used last year at the University of Oregon, is a prime example. The topic has the ability to talk about very serious issues, and greatly increase knowledge about indigenous rights. However its lack of specificity ends up destroying any real chance of an educational round. Most teams, as the negative, prepped cases about Native Americans and hoped the affirmative would do the same. Some teams were successful in this strategy. Native Americans certainly are a group who had mass amounts of land taken from them, and many teams and both sides decided to use this interpretation. However, many rounds were cluttered and confusing. Some rounds became messy with theory arguments about the affirmations choice of advocacy, while others simply had poor rounds because they followed an interpretation that didn’t have room to be debated.
Similarly, “This House believes security should be valued over liberty,” may as well be a topic area, since, in Oregon, it comes up nearly every tournament in some way or another. While questioning the values of liberty and security and how they interact is important, the way this resolution is commonly written is another example of how likely educational rounds devolve into rounds that are lower quality.
After all, there are countless policy resolutions which could pose the same ethical and moral questions without repeating the same resolution.
On a separate level, the currently frequent occurrence of non-policy resolutions creates another plague for Oregon parli. Resolutions involving “this house” believing, preferring, and fearing, were all used at Willamette as the primary verb within resolutions. And though, of course, not every round has to follow the exact structure of “the USFG should take a specific policy action”, the number of confusing ways that resolutions are worded further muddles Oregon parli.
But perhaps the biggest issue lies in what starts so many of Oregon’s resolutions: “This House” is inherently bad for fairness, when it is used almost every single round.
Few could argue that the resolution “This House would legalize marijuana on the federal level,” could be debated with any actor other than the USFG, but this resolution still appeared in this exact, unclear phrasing at Willamette. And leaving the actor up in the air does nothing but increase confusion, without any chance of increasing education.
Often, this lack of clarity skews ground. The negation must not only prep for a variety of plans, but also a variety of affirmative actors. Thus, though topic writers should not limit the actor to the USFG, since using other actors can be extremely educational, sticking with “This House” merely makes inevitable abusive definitions and useless theory arguments that waste the time that is supposed to be spent debating.
Luckily, solving this problem is not difficult. In fact, of all the changes to make to parliamentary debate, fixing resolutions seems to be the most straightforward: bad resolutions leads to bad debates, and in turn this creates less education.
When tournament directors simply take a step back and look at the kind of debate they want to encourage, the answer lies in writing better resolutions. By fashioning more thoughtful and fair resolutions, Oregon can continue to increase the value of its circuit: not measured by the success of teams who cross the border for the land of California debate, but by the merit of of the students who come out of Oregon itself.