Public forum debate
Public forum debate, also known as PF Debate, or PFD is a style of debate practiced in National Forensic League, National Catholic Forensic League competitions, and many other State and Major leagues across the United States. It was first introduced by the NFL in 2002 as "Controversy Debate".
Public forum debate can be compared to a nationally-televised debate, such as 'Crossfire' in which the debaters argue a topic of national importance, typically one involving foreign or domestic policy as opposed to the more philosophy centric topics of Lincoln-Douglas debate. Similar to policy debate, the debate in public forum debate is conducted by teams of two people alternating speeches for their side, either affirming or negating their topic. In contrast to policy and Lincoln-Douglas debate, there is little focus on extreme speed or arcane debate jargon or argumentation theory; instead, successful public forum debaters must make persuasive and logical arguments in a manner that is accessible to a wide variety of audiences. Public forum debate also focuses on not only logical, but research based arguments. Students can do their own research, but there are also a number of services that provide research for the debaters. It is expected that arguments will be supported with evidence, rather than just rhetoric. Because of its strong relevance to the real-world and ability to develop life skills, public forum debate has exploded in popularity since its introduction into high school debate by the National Forensic League. Some might think of Public Forum debate as a less formal form of NEDA Debate.
Each team will ideally argue both sides equally (usually twice, however larger national tournaments include six rounds, plus additional "break" rounds) or, as suggested by the NFL website, will start with a coin flip. Whichever team won the flip used to be able to choose speaking order or which side to advocate, and the team that lost the flip was able to choose from the option that is left. (i.e., if the winners of the coin flip choose to advocate "Pro," then the losing team can decide speaking order). However, in some states the pro side always speaks first. In other cases, entire states adopt rules toward this in formal debate. In Minnesota for instance, all formal debates begin with the pro. Unlike in policy debate and Lincoln-Douglas debate, in public forum debate, the proposition or affirmative side does not necessarily speak first. The NFL website states that, while states may choose whether or not to include the coin toss, the NFL encourages it; and all NFL tournaments will be conducted with a coin toss in public forum, to allow for uncertainty and strategy.
In this speech, one of the members of the team gives arguments either for or against the resolution, depending on which side the team is speaking for. Strictly speaking, the custom in public forum debate dictates that when debaters speak (both for speeches and crossfire), they should face forward towards the judge, sometimes from behind a lectern. However in some tournaments, it is customary for debaters to remain seated and face each other during crossfire. Next, the other side is permitted to give its first four-minute constructive speech in which not only arguments may be presented, but rebuttals to arguments from the first speech as well. However, rebuttals are almost always not presented until a team's second constructive, and are frowned upon in some states/tournaments, and the first constructive generally consists exclusively of prepared material.
Following this speech, the first speaker from the first team joins the first speaker from the second team at the podium if one is provided (in the absence of one debaters stand by their desks) and the first three-minute "crossfire" begins. The first speaker begins crossfire by asking a question to the second speaker. In crossfire, the two debaters directly ask each other questions and answer questions of their opponent. Crossfire may be used, like cross-examination, to ask revealing questions in an attempt to expose a weakness in the opponents' arguments, but it is often used as a way to further develop and attack arguments through discourse.
After crossfire, first team's second speaker gives a four-minute rebuttal speech. After they have rebutted their opponents case, they move on to "rehab" their own (rebut the opponents rebuttals in an attempt to nullify them. Although, this only applies to the second speaker as the first team should not have had any points rebutted yet.) Then, the second speaker of the second team gives a four-minute constructive speech following this same format. Following this speech, another three-minute crossfire ensues between the two second speakers.
The first speaker of the first team then gives a two-minute summary speech of the debate, which includes further rebuttal of the opponents case and reiteration of the first team's case, and the first speaker of the second team does the same. After this speech, all four debaters participate in "Grand Crossfire". Grand Crossfire is similar to crossfire except that all four debaters can ask and answer questions of each other. The speaker that gave the first summary speech begins Grand Crossfire by asking the first question. This Crossfire is usually completed with all four debaters sitting down.
After Grand Crossfire, each team's second speaker has a chance to give a two-minute speech called the "Final Focus," the first team giving this speech first. This speech is also referred to as "The Last Shot" (depending on what state you are in), a holdover from the event's earlier days. In the Final Focus, the speaker is given one last chance to explain exactly why his or her team has won the round. No new arguments are allowed in the Final Focus, but new evidence to support previous arguments is allowed (although discouraged.) This speech is often the determining factor for a judge's decision in a closely contested round, as it allows the judge to hear which arguments/evidence each team views as the most important to his or her case, and summarizes the entire debate.
In NFL sponsored tournaments the winner of a debate round earns 6 NFL points, and the loser of the round earns 3 NFL points. These are the same points given for policy debate and Lincoln-Douglas debate.
A Public Forum debate follows this timing schedule:
|Team A: First Speaker: Constructive Speech||4 minutes|
|Team B: First Speaker: Constructive Speech||4 minutes|
|Crossfire (between first speakers)||3 minutes|
|Team A: Second Speaker: Rebuttal||4 minutes|
|Team B: Second Speaker: Rebuttal||4 minutes|
|Crossfire (between second speakers)||3 minutes|
|Team A: First Speaker: Summary||2 minutes|
|Team B: First Speaker: Summary||2 minutes|
|Grand Crossfire (All speakers)||3 minutes|
|Team A: Second Speaker: Final Focus/Last Shot||2 minutes|
|Team B: Second Speaker: Final Focus/Last Shot||2 minutes|
Each team also has a total of two minutes of preparation time ("downtime" or "prep time"), which they can use before any of their speeches. This time is spent at the debaters' discretion (plotting arguments, finding weaknesses in the opponents' case, etc.). Each team is allowed to use its allotted prep time in whatever increments it chooses. The debaters ask the judge to use prep time as needed, and then tell the judge when they are ready to begin their next speech. The judge then stops the clock and records the time remaining of the original two minutes, which that team can use . Although it is not common practice, certain national tournaments, specifically Yale, have been known to give teams 4 minutes of prep time. 
Resolutions (topics to be debated) change every month. Past and present resolutions include:
- December 2015: Resolved: On balance, standardized testing is beneficial to K-12 education in the United States.
- November 2015: Resolved: In response to the current crisis, a government should prioritize the humanitarian needs of refugees over its national interests.
- September/October 2015: Resolved: The United States Federal Government ought to pay reparations to African Americans.
- NSDA Nationals 2015: Resolved: The benefits of First Amendment protection of anonymous speech outweigh the harms.
- April 2015: Resolved: Committing United States ground combat troops to fight ISIL is in the best interest of the United States.
- March 2015: Resolved: In the United States, students should be guaranteed two years of free tuition to a community or technical college.
- February 2015: Resolved: On balance, economic globalization benefits worldwide poverty reduction.
- January 2015: Resolved: United Nation peacekeepers should have the power to engage in offensive operations.
- December 2014: Resolved: For-profit prisons in the United States should be banned.
- November 2014: Resolved: On balance, the benefits of genetically modified foods outweigh the harms.
- September/October 2014: Resolved: On balance, public subsidies for professional athletic organizations in the United States benefit their local communities.
- NSDA Nationals 2014: Resolved: NATO should strengthen its relationship with Ukraine in order to deter further Russian aggression.
- April 2014: Resolved: Prioritizing economic development over environmental protection is in the best interest of the people of India.
- March 2014: Resolved: Single-gender classrooms would improve the quality of education in American public schools.
- February 2014: Resolved: The Supreme Court rightly decided that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act violated the Constitution.
- January 2014: Resolved: Development assistance should be prioritized over military aid in the Sahel region of Africa (As defined by the OECD).
- December 2013: Resolved: Immigration reform should include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.
- November 2013: Resolved: The benefits of domestic surveillance by the NSA outweigh the harms.
- September/October 2013: Resolved: Unilateral military force by the United States is justified to prevent nuclear proliferation.
NOTE: The Board of Directors chose to start with a 2-month topic then revert to the monthly topics in order to help novices learn and improve their skills
- NFL Nationals 2013: Resolved: The benefits of American drone strikes against foreign targets outweigh the harms.
- NCFL Grand Nationals 2013: Resolved: The main goal of US public education should be to eliminate racial and economic achievement gaps.
- April 2013: Resolved: The continuation of current U.S. anti-drug policies in Latin America will do more harm than good.
- March 2013: Resolved: The U.S. government should not require its citizens to have health insurance.
- February 2013: Resolved: On balance, the rise of China is beneficial to the interests of the United States.
- January 2013: Resolved: On balance, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission harms the election process.
- December 2012: Resolved: The United States should prioritize tax increases over spending cuts.
- November 2012: Resolved: Current U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East undermines our national security.
- October 2012: Resolved: Developed countries have a moral obligation to mitigate the effects of climate change.
- September 2012: Resolved: Congress should renew the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.
- NFL Nationals 2012: Resolved: Stand Your Ground laws are a legitimate expansion of the doctrine of self-defense.
- April 2012: Resolved: State mandated administration of childhood vaccinations is justified.
- March 2012: Resolved: The United States should suspend all assistance to Pakistan.
- February 2012: Resolved: Birthright citizenship should be abolished in the United States.
- January 2012: Resolved: The costs of a college education outweigh the benefits.
- December 2011: Resolved: In the United States, current income disparities threaten democratic ideals.
- November 2011: Resolved:Direct popular vote should replace electoral vote in presidential elections.
- October 2011: Resolved: Private sector investment in human space exploration is preferable to public sector investment.
- September 2011: Resolved: The benefits of post-9/11 security measures outweigh the harms to personal freedom.
- NFL Nationals 2011: Resolved: That the United States should intervene in another nation's struggle for democracy.
- NCFL Grand Nationals 2011: Resolved: In a democracy rights created by legislation are preferable to rights created by the judiciary.
- April 2011: Resolved: The United States federal government should permit the use of financial incentives to encourage organ donation.
- March 2011: Resolved: North Korea poses a more serious threat to United States national security than Iran.
- February 2011: Resolved: Wikileaks is a threat to United States national security.
- January 2011: Resolved: In the United States, plea bargaining undermines the criminal justice system.
- December 2010: Resolved: Cyberbullying should be a criminal offense.
- November 2010: Resolved: High school Public Forum Debate resolutions should not confront sensitive religious issues.
NOTE: The resolution used to be: Resolved: An Islamic cultural center should be built near Ground Zero. Due to much controversy, the NFL changed the topic to the one above within 24 hours. PFDebate.com's blog posts and ensuing comments document the responses to both.
- October 2010: Resolved: NATO presence improves the lives of Afghan citizens.
- September 2010: Resolved: Allowing deep water offshore oil drilling is in the best interest of the United States.
- NFL Nationals 2010: Resolved: Current trends in American political dialogue compromise meaningful democratic deliberation.
- NCFL Grand Nationals 2010 Resolved: That the constitutional right of freedom of religion has wrongly evolved into freedom from religion.
- April 2010 Resolved: On balance, government employee labor unions have a positive impact on the United States.
- March 2010: Resolved: Affirmative action to promote equal opportunity in the United States is justified.
- February 2010: Resolved: In the United States, organized political lobbying does more harm than good.
- January 2010: Resolved: President Obama's plan for increasing troops in Afghanistan is in the United States' best interest.
- December 2009: Resolved: That merit pay based on student achievement should be a significant component of K-12 teacher compensation in United States public schools.
- November 2009: Resolved: Failed nations are a greater threat to the United States than stable nations.
- October 2009: Resolved: When in conflict, the United Nations should prioritize global poverty reduction over environmental protection.
- September 2009: Resolved: United States policy on illegal immigration should focus on attrition through enforcement rather than amnesty.
- NFL Nationals 2009: Resolved: That the United States should normalize relations with Cuba.
- NCFL Grand Nationals 2009: Resolved: A society has an obligation to ensure adequate health care for its citizens.
- April 2009: "Resolved: That the Employee Free Choice Act serves the best interests of the American people."
- March 2009: "Resolved: That, on balance, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has improved academic achievement in the United States."
- February 2009: "Resolved: That, on balance, the rise of Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC) has had a positive impact on the United States."
- January 2009 "Resolved: That, by 2040, the federal government should mandate that all new passenger vehicles and light trucks sold in the United States be powered by alternative fuels."
- December 2008: "Resolved: That, on balance, social networking Web sites have had a positive impact on the United States."
- November 2008: "Resolved: That the United States government should implement universal health care modeled after the French system."
- October 2008: "Resolved: That the United States should significantly increase its use of nuclear energy."
- September 2008: "Resolved: That the United States should implement a military draft."
- NFL Nationals: "Resolved: US policies established after September 11, 2001 have substantially reduced the risk of terrorist acts against the United States."
- NCFL Grand Nationals: "Resolved: That the US Government should increase social services for indigenous peoples in America."
- April 2008: "Resolved: That the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 will successfully mitigate economic slowdowns over the next year."
- March 2008: "Resolved: The US system of presidential primaries is contrary to democratic values."
- February 2008: "Resolved: That Russia has become a threat to U.S. interests."
- January 2008: "Resolved: In a democracy, civil disobedience is an appropriate weapon in the fight for justice."
- December 2007: "Resolved: That the United States would be justified in pursuing military options against Iran."
- November 2007: "Resolved: That eliminating United States government budget deficits should be prioritized over increasing domestic spending."
- October 2007: "Resolved: That the United States should encourage the implementation of a soft partition of Iraq."
- September 2007: "Resolved: That the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated."
- NFL Nationals: "Resolved: That the private ownership of handguns should be banned in the United States."
- NCFL Grand Nationals: "Resolved: The President and Vice President of the United States should be elected by a direct vote of the American citizens."
- April 2007: "Resolved: United States corporations should honor all prior commitments to employee pensions."
- "Guide to Public Forum Debates." University of Vermont. University of Vermont, n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2014. <https://debate.uvm.edu/dcpdf/PFNFL.pdf
- National Forensics League. "Guide to Public Forum Debate" (PDF). National Forensics League. Retrieved 17 November 2012.