Collegiate British Parliamentary (BP) debate has been a new experience for me. No electronic resources, no consulting outside help is allowed. Only your mind, your partner, and perhaps some printed materials (like a copy of The Economist, some fact sheets, or an almanac) drive your preparation.
These fifteen-minute sessions are sometimes energetic and focused; sometimes frantic and panic-stricken. Often, your knowledge base of current events, philosophy, economics, and popular culture dictates how well the round and prep period go—if you know about the topic, you do well. If you don’t, you struggle.
This post will give a short guide on how best to use your 20 minutes of prep time. It starts before the tournament.
Before the Tournament: Reading
Because you can never win if you don’t have a grasp of the issues, your preparation starts with reading. The best debaters are the ones who know history, who know philosophy, and can go deeper with their arguments, refutation, and application. Here is a very condensed basic reading list. These will give you a foundation that you can build on with other books. Want a more comprehensive list? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Read current events—local, national, and international. Read from multiple viewpoints on the political spectrum. The Economist can be especially helpful.
- Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall
- Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? By Michael Sandel
- Common Sense Economics by James D. Gwartney
- Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy by Thomas Sowell
- Plato’s The Republic, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, Hobbes’ Leviathan, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, etc.
- Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency by Richard A. Posner.
- Sacrifice and Sacred Honor: Why the Constitution is a “Suicide Pact” by Peter Brandon Bayer.
“Parli topics can be on literally anything!” you may say. “How do I know what I should focus on in my limited preparation time?” Below are eight overarching categories (credit: Daniel Hugo, Sterling Higa, UH Manoa) that encapsulate 99% of the possible motions you will encounter in Parli (and in Policy & LD for that matter). Every day, pick articles to read from your strongest “bucket” as well as a bucket or two you are weak in. The same can be said for reading books in preparation for tournaments. Don’t know what something refers to? Look it up and see what you can learn!
The Eight Fundamental Conflicts and Values in Debate (and Life)
-The Liberal State
-Two Treatises on Government
-The Conservative Society
-Reflections on the Revolution in France
-Grammar of Assent
-Democracy in America
-Problems (War and Crimes Against Humanity)
-Regions (EU, AU, Oceania, etc.)
Don’t be overwhelmed by the extent of the list. Debate is a lifelong learning activity, after all; you don’t have to learn everything right this second. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.
Bring to the Tournament: Essentials
I know many of you will consult the internet to find arguments. That’s fine (though I personally think you grow more without electronic resources) but I suggest every team have the following printed materials on hand:
1) Maps. Maps of America, maps of the world, maps that specify countries and major geographical landmarks. This will especially help you with any foreign policy motions.
2) Copies of news sources. The latest Economist, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. Current event motions are likely to be recent, and paper analyses give you greater depth and focus that can be used with or without internet resources. These have saved me in many rounds.
3) An almanac. A basic one with key details of the world, countries, exports, GDP levels, etc. Good ones will include historical events and political leaders as well.
4) Issue briefs. When you read, take notes. Have a sheet dedicated to a single issue, its main conflicts, and context (e.g. Myanmar and the Rohingya Muslims, Google and Censoring Speech, Gerrymandering, etc.).
Preparation will never be easy, especially on topics you know very little about. Building your knowledge base and understanding general ways to structure your prep will help as you practice and compete throughout the years. Good luck, and happy debating!