Debate Background

I was active in academic debate for over a decade as a theorist, participant, web guy, judge, and coach. I had some success as a competitor both in high school (third at NFLs) and in college (cleared at both CEDA and NDT). I volunteer with the District of Columbia Urban Debate League, which I wrote about here.

Until 2010 I published several websites for high school and college policy debaters and coaches, including, which is still active under new ownership.

I myself have been debating in various format for quite a long time. I have a tape of what I beleive in my first debate ever. At age six I debated the merits of Garbage Pail Kids on WNYC. Listen here (I come on about 7:30 in). Unfortunately, the recording ends abruptly because the source tape was broken.

Undebatably, A Useful Tool for D.C. Schools


Sunday, June 24, 2007; Page B08

The Senate is often referred to as the world's greatest deliberative body, and it is home to some of the most important debates in the world.

Yet in its shadow has been a school system that is deficient in academic debate -- the training ground that has taught many senators their craft and has prepared countless Americans for their professions. As recently as five years ago, there was no organized debate in the District's public schools. Since then, the District of Columbia Urban Debate League has had success, but it faces enormous barriers.

First Debate Ever

My good friend and mentee Marco DeSena asked that I post this here in the blog, because it's kind of buried on the site. It's my first debate ever.

At age six I debated the merits of Garbage Pail Kids on WNYC. Listen here (I come on about 7:30 in). Yes, I know it gets cut off, and right in the middle of a good part.

You'll note that my views on market-oriented economics were already largely formed!

The Problem of Plan-Contingent Counterplans


NDCA Newsletter, June 2002

The Problem of Plan-Contingent Counterplans
Phil Kerpen
(Phil Kerpen is a policy debate theorist, frequent judge, and operator of and

Debate theory develops in an ad-hoc fashion to regulate the excesses of

Back to The Future: Deductive Resolutional Focus

|, February 28, 2002

Resolutional justification should be the paradigmatic basis for debate theory.

Has Kerpen lost his mind? What sort of demented reactionary, regressive move is this? What about the problem of counterwarrants? What about critiques and counterplans?

Debate Theory Ossification


Rostrum, April 1999

Debate theory grows out of practice. Because of its pragmatic roots, it is typically supremely rational. Through time, however, justification for theoretical constructs are lost, and soundly justified procedures become ossified into anti-educational semi-rules, or even immutable rules in the eyes of some people. This is what has happened to most of the stock issues. The stock issues were designed for a judicial model of debate. While such a model certainly has its merits Ulrich comes to mind), it is not descriptive of debate as currently practiced. In a judicial model, it makes sense for there to be clearly established burdens that the affirmative must overcome with a high degree of certainty. When debate shifts to a Congressional/legislative model, however, those burdens become far less certain. A requirement of unqualified solvency, for example, just doesn't make any sense for a policy maker. If students are learning how to determine whether a policy should be adopted, then they should learn that a policy with a certain chance of solving should be adopted if it would have no adverse effects.

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