Theses on NPDL-TOC

BY ARTEM RASKIN

Disclaimer: All opinion articles posted on this website are solely the opinions of their author, and do not represent the opinions of the National Parliamentary Debate League or its Board of Directors.

1. Parli debate is good. It offers unique educational benefits not offered by prepared debate events. Resolutions changing every round prompts students to learn about a greater variety of topics. Coach prep is limited, so students learn to craft arguments on their own. The lack of printed evidence forces students to come up with quality analytical warrants to support their claims.

2. Because parli debate is good, it must be made available to more students in more regions. We should start by making it more widespread in the states where it does exist, and then move on to new states.

3. Making parli debate more available would require the entire parli community to pool its resources. To coordinate this, a national organization such as NPDL is necessary. No local organization has either the incentive or the means to set up parli in other regions. Step one is to build up NPDL. Step two is to expand parli.

4. The NPDL Tournament of Champions is key to making NPDL a national organization. Students and coaches who care about NPDL-TOC have an incentive to get involved in the governance of NPDL. Further, the fact that NPDL-TOC draws competitors from multiple regions allows NPDL to run its league meeting during the tournament.

5. For NPDL-TOC to remain a truly national tournament, its judge pool must be representative of the diversity of styles in parli debate accross the US. No student should feel like their debating style makes it impossible for them to succeed at NPDL-TOC. If students don’t think NPDL-TOC gives them a chance to succeed, they won’t show up. If qualified students don’t show up, NPDL-TOC would cease to be a championship tournament for the entire parli community. That would undercut the ability of NPDL to spread parli to new schools and new regions.

6. The two main styles in parli are lay and tech. This is a massive oversimplification, but it’s not inaccurate. The calls in 2018 to establish a non-technical TOC were counterproductive, and the calls in 2019 to make NPDL-TOC entirely technical were equally counterproductive. Lay parli will always exist. Tournaments reliant on NPDA judges can only develop near universities with NPDA teams, which means that they will not develop in most of the US. Tech parli will always exist. Students will always come up with new strategies that give them a competitive edge, and some regions are bound to accumulate enough alumni judges able to understand those strategies. Both lay parli and tech parli exist today, and both will exist in the future, so the judge pool at NPDL-TOC should reflect both. I don’t think either the 2018 NPDL-TOC or the 2019 NPDL-TOC found the right balance, but I do think a balance can be found.

7. TOC Director elections are a way for the parli community to decide what balance it wants. In most other speech and debate events, the community gets no say in this decision, so the NPDL process is an improvement. But it’s still an imperfect process, because school representatives factor many issues into their votes, not just what kind of judges the candidate would hire. Debates about the judge pool should be held separately from elections, and the outcome of these debates should be written into the TOC code. TOC Director should become a more logistics-oriented position, and we should not rely on one person to be the final arbiter in all of our debates.

8. The hired judge pool for the 2020 NPDL-TOC should be selected by a three-person committee composed of the TOC Director and two Board-appointed members. The Board should seek to appoint one member with tech debate background and one member with lay debate background. The current system of all-or-nothing TOC Director elections drives polarization by making the losing side feel like they’ve been shut out of the process entirely.

9. MPJ has proven itself to be the best way for different styles to coexist. For MPJ to work, all judges should have clear written paradigms. Without that, students who have met the judge before have an advantage over the students who haven’t. During our last league meeting, we added language that “judges must provide substantive written paradigms, in the opinion of the TOC Director.” This addition expanded the discretion of the TOC Director, which is the wrong direction to move in. Instead, the Board should develop a specific list of questions each judge should be expected to answer. This questionnaire should be made open for public comment significantly prior to NPDL-TOC.

10. Some people think that tech parli is better than lay parli. Some people think that lay parli is better than tech parli. But one thing we can all agree on is that parli is better than no parli. As long as parli remains unavailable to the vast majority of students in the US, the question of how to expand parli should take precedence over the question of which style of parli we prefer.

11. I have sent a draft of this op-ed to all the candidates running in NPDL elections. In weighing whom to vote for, I hope that representatives take into account how the candidates respond to the issues raised here. Regardless of who wins the election, I hope that we end up with a TOC Director committed to running an inclusive tournament, bringing together the different parts of our community, and expanding access to parli debate.


Artem Raskin is the head coach at Washington High School, and serves as the treasurer for the NPDL.