The Value Behind Lincoln Douglas Debate by: Olivia Bottorff

I’ll never forget the moment when I told my best friend in Speech and Debate (a regionally ranked Team Policy debater) that I was going to compete in Lincoln Douglas debate my junior year of high school. “Olivia, that’s not real debate” she smiled as she spoke as if explaining simple addition to a kindergartner. “All you’re talking about is concepts that you can’t change, do TP, you can change policy.”

You see, I hail from Region 6, and in my day it was the TP capital of NCFCA. In my three years in the league we, as a region, received top speaker and back to back national championship titles in policy debate, and yet, I decided to be one of the few black sheep (so I thought) of my region and debate VALUES.

To my friend’s credit, she was right. I didn’t change a thing with any of my debates. My junior year I spent 9 months discussing rehabilitation v retribution of criminals without enacting a single policy in a round. Instead, I talked about the purpose of government, I talked about morality, I talked about ethics. I questioned, thought through, and contradicted the norm. I was able to form a fully thought through opinion about how criminals should be treated at 16 years old because of LD.

I haven’t stopped seeing the value of Lincoln Douglas Debate, often referred to as “value debate.” As an almost 21 year old college junior I am prepping to take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and as I began studying I realized how much of this exam is logic based. Law schools want to know your ability to think all the way through a thought and critically evaluate ethics and decisions. LD set me up for success so well in this area.

Here are a few ways LD has helped me in college and beyond and why you should at least try value debate outside of being prepared for the LSAT.

1. Learning Logic
This seems like a no brainer, after all, LD is a logical debate, but you would be surprised by just how many people come to college and argue with logical fallacies. The ability to think through a thought logically and arrive at a conclusion without a logical fallacy is huge. Professors and other students alike will not respect your argument or point if you do not know how to argue it. Things as simple as “I don’t think this was graded fairly” how did you arrive at that conclusion? Does that conclusion make sense all the way through? “I don’t think you graded this fairly because I got a bad grade and I don’t get bad grades” is an illogical argument as your ability to earn good grades in other classes is irrelevant to this particular assignment. “I don’t think this assignment was graded fairly due to the fact I carefully followed the instructions on the syllabus and did not make any errors to my knowledge.” This argument is much more arguable even though both approaches want the same goal in the end. People will be much more likely to listen to your point of view if you can back it up logically.

2. Seeing both sides to an issue
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gotten into political, theological, and all around controversial discussions inside and outside of classes and had to be able to see both sides of the issue to understand it. One of the best examples of this was in a counseling class I was in, entitled Substance Use and Abuse. One evening, the professor asked us “Should the government be allowed to force rehabilitation on people for drug abuse?” The class had a deer in headlights moment as he asked two people to come up and discuss the issue. Over half the class was unable to argue for the side they did not morally agree with. However, because of my debate experience I was able to quickly able to find some pros and cons to both sides and come up with an argument for both. I ended up “winning” the debate even though I was arguing for the side I personally felt was wrong because of this ability.
I tell you this because this is a question that we would have to deal with in a line of work that is typically not political and hardly anyone knew how to approach it. We have to be able to form an opinion on things while understanding the merit of both sides. Seeing black and white issues is a very dangerous business.

3. Understanding meaningful concepts early.
The social contract theory by John Locke is one of my favorite things to bring up in college.

  1. It can be applied to almost every political discussion.
  2. I look so smart when I bring it up. I say this partly because it’s true, but mostly because people respect people they think are smart. Understanding philosophical concepts like social contract theory and being able to discuss said meaningful topics shows your intelligence and understanding for the issue on the table. Professors will ask your opinion more, your papers will sound more scholarly, and like I said before, people will respect you more if you look like you know what you’re talking about. In short, value debate allows you to think critically in a way policy debate doesn’t allow you to. How many other places are you going to be asked to debate the ethics of both sides of an issue outside of value debate? Not very many. This is instrumental to becoming a good communicator, a good student, a good listener, and a respected opinion. Many people can argue, not many can debate. Be one of those people.

I guess I might not have changed much inside a round of LD. I didn’t enact policy or reform a movement, but I challenged societal norms and honed my own critical thinking skills enough to prepare for a test very few can take. LD prepared me for these things like nothing else did. I might come from an TP region and I might have debated values rather than policy, but I was prepared for the real world. So, my TP loving friend might not have seen the value of LD when we were teenagers, but believe me if anything is a real debate it’s debating value.

Are you trying to wrap your brain around LD this year? Remember to check out the LD Guide (Look for it in the SHOP) or schedule a coaching appointment today.