Follow Up: Adjusting Your Strategy on the Sept/Oct PF Topic | Champion Briefs
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September 22, 2016

Follow Up: Adjusting Your Strategy on the Sept/Oct PF Topic

By Lindsay Mahowald

Now that we have a few tournaments under our belts, and arguments from debate camp have been successfully developed, the September/October topic is getting increasingly more complex. There’s an expanding selection of literature and arguments, a number of which would be successful in a variety of settings. With many more tournaments left to go, let’s try to break it down to some of the major points and strategies.


There are many different framework strategies that could be effective on this topic, some more consequentialist and some on the basis of morals, each of which could be persuasive if weighed effectively.

First, it’s important to define exactly what is entailed by a switch to the probable cause standard. Some would argue that the difficulty of this topic is that it’s so hard to explain the intricacies of probable cause and how to enforce it. However, this can be used to your advantage in-round, because you can define probable cause based on your evidence and out-maneuver counter arguments to make your interpretation stick. Many teams will argue that this switch necessitates search warrants, while others will argue that it simply means more evidence is necessary before a search can be conducted. There’s plenty of evidence out there suggesting that the two standards are virtually the same and that in the standard wouldn’t at all change the type of searches conducted. Find evidence to support your interpretation, and if you argue it effectively, you can win rounds simply on the definitions game.

The vast majority of pro cases on this topic, like it or not, find their linkage through the reduction of searches under a probable cause standard. Whether you’re running trust, zero tolerance policies, or discrimination, the idea that searches become more fair or that students are treated better is a very prominent part of aff argumentation. One the one hand, you can argue from a moral/legal perspective, students in schools are currently being deprived of their rights; forcing the administration to have substantive evidence stops rights abuses and provides justice for all students. A framework placing justice for students over all else could take the debate away from con ground and give you the advantage. On the other hand, many teams find success arguing from a consequentialist perspective - by running arguments like trust, and explaining that they are a prerequisite to student education. In explaining that students aren’t being educated because of the current standards, you can make a strong case for changing them.

On the con, teams will likely have success arguing from a consequentialist perspective. The easiest way to find success is to link into lives, which can be done in any number of ways - from fewer protections in schools or increased violence because of more zero tolerance policies. Lives are obviously a prerequisite to education; they are a prerequisite to just about everything, and they are easy to weigh in virtually every circumstance.

Case-Level Arguments

Pro: I am of the opinion that the best argument to run on the pro for this topic is trust because I think it allows the pro team to link into the best impacts. If students trust the school system more, they are more likely to get a good education and less likely to do drugs or commit violent crimes - many studies exist making this very claim. The important thing is understanding how to link into trust because it can be done in a variety of ways. Fewer searches is a pretty obvious one - search students less and they’ll trust the system more. However, keeping your argument this simple makes it easier for a con team to anticipate what you’ll do. You could argue that this change in standard necessitates the removal of administrative searches, or that there is a subsequent decline in zero tolerance policies, both of which would lead to increased trust. In addition, you could argue that probable cause removes a lot of stereotyping - students can’t be profiled easily or searched without evidence proving they’ve done something wrong, which decreases racism. This serves the dual purpose of preventing minorities from being part of the school-to-prison pipeline and increasing trust between them and administration. By keeping your links varied, or using many, aff teams can prevent con from easily turning their trust argument.

Con: The con has many different avenues that would work well. They can argue that the probable cause standard is not different, and even increases invasive searches, or they can argue that decreasing the number of searches in schools with a new standard deprives schools of important protections. Although saying that increased violence due to fewer searches is a fine argument and linking into lives that way is very simple, I would advise con teams against running it. In doing so, they concede that the number of searches goes down, which makes it impossible to contradict any aff team that links into their arguments through fewer searches (virtually all pro teams). Though most pro teams are constrained by the need to argue for fewer searches, con teams do not share this burden, and I encourage con teams to deny that there would be such a decline. The best way to do this is to change the conversation, arguing that searches either increase in quantity or in their invasiveness. This can be done in several ways, but most stem back to a school’s desire to maintain the ability to search students. For example, changing the standard may prompt schools to hire more SROs, because they think that an inability to search students as easily makes them more necessary, or because (According to Cornell’s law journal) “A teacher has neither the training nor the day-to-day experience in the complexities of probable cause that a law enforcement officer possesses.” Changing the standard may prompt more zero-tolerance policies for the same reasons. By arguing that searches get worse in your linkage, no matter how you impact it, it’s fairly easy to link turn pro’s arguments about a decline in searches. In my mind, that’s the easiest way to win a round as the con team.


Weighing impacts on this topic is particularly important, especially for the pro side, which arguably has a more difficult time impacting arguments. These are a few weighing strategies:

Con: Risk of harm outweighs student freedom. Pro teams may argue that student’s rights are being infringed upon because searches are too easy to conduct, and justify a switch to probable cause by providing justice to students. Counter this by explaining that the risk of violence from changing standards outweighs the vague idea of rights for students on magnitude - school violence is much more damaging than providing increased rights to students who probably won’t notice the difference is beneficial.

Pro: Trust preempting violence. Many neg teams will be arguing a basic case that puts a decreased amount of searches at fault for increasing violence in schools. The best way to combat this is to weigh it against an increased level of trust in the school system. Many studies indicate that when students trust the system, they are both more likely to come forward about acts of violence they know may happen (i.e. anonymous tips) and significantly less likely to commit violence in the first place. If you can prove that trust is the root cause of school violence, pro can preempt con’s arguments by solving the real problem.

No matter what you end up prioritizing, remember the key metrics: time frame, probability, magnitude, and scope!

Congratulations to teams who have had success thus far and best of luck in the next few weeks!