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Op-Ed: How You Can Become a Better Congressional Debater By Martin D.K. Page “What is the current status of the Roma in Europe?” A fellow competitor asked me something along those lines during a debate on the Romani People during the 2010 Yale semifinal. It was a very basic but important question, and I didn’t know the answer. Because I didn’t know the answer, I dodged the question, saying that it “wasn’t the point.” Predictably, I did not compete in the final that year, and my ballots weren’t particularly kind to me. If you know me, you know I don’t like talking about my competitive career because what’s done is done. But this gaffe provides a great example of what happens when you don’t pay attention to the importance of topic knowledge in Congressional Debate. I had gone to camp the summer before and spent long hours working with my coach—I knew how to put an argument together and how to speak well. On that Sunday in September, that wasn’t enough if I didn’t understand the situation facing the Roma in the status quo. In all debate events, but particularly in Congress where the “Topic Analysis” isn’t a long-standing institution in briefs and practices, there is a near total focus on what arguments to make and how to make them. Holistic understanding of the broader context, history, and importance of topics is lacking. But as the Roma taught me, true success in Congressional Debate depends directly on how much you understand the fundamentals of the legislation and its subject. Success in debate depends on more than just claims, warrants, impacts, and refutations. In order to execute your speech effectively, you need to know what you're talking about. "Cards" are never enough. If you don't make an effort to understand the background, you’re depriving yourself of the unique educational opportunity to expand your understanding of the issues facing our world. Every issue you encounter in debate will have hundreds if not thousands of arguments on it—cutting two or three of them isn’t going to substantially increase your understanding of the issue. Understanding the broader context of issues will benefit you for the rest of your life and allow you to think critically about the issue rather than relying on arguments you find on the website of [insert Think Tank Name Here]. Where’s the fun in learning to argue if you aren’t learning to argue for yourself? Here at Champion Briefs, we’re trying to make it easier for you to accomplish this goal. The beauty of Congress lies in the challenge of preparing multiple arguments and adapting to what has already been said in the round. We want you to be able to continue to come up with your own arguments and think critically on your own, so we’re not providing written briefs for Congressional Debate. But with our weekly news videos and topic analyses for Congressional Debate legislation at major national tournaments, we hope to make it a bit easier for you to understand the basics of each topic that comes your way. The best way to do this is to keep up with the news every week. That way, you’ll already know the recent events surrounding most legislation, and you’ll be able to make connections between different regions and issues. While there is no replacement for fully reading The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, Isabella, Joe, and Miles are some of the smartest people I’ve worked with, and they will do more than just bring you the news. They’ll provide in-depth analysis and ask provocative questions that could lead you to interesting arguments or legislation ideas. Over the course of your Congressional Debate career, you’ll see many bills and resolutions that don’t pop up in the news every week. Plus, for tournaments, you’ll want something a bit more in-depth than news coverage on the topics. That’s why we’re providing in-depth topic analysis videos for elimination round legislation at a slew of National Tournaments this year. In addition to providing vital background, they also offer analysis and potential impacts of passing or negating the legislation. We hope that our affordable resources for Congressional Debate and Extemporaneous Speaking can help you better wrap your head around the topics facing you in rounds. We want you to continue to think critically about topics and form your own arguments, but we hope we can give you some cool ideas. And we’ll make sure you don’t get burned by a basic question about the Roma.