Arne Duncan, then Secretary of Education, said in 2010, “debate is uniquely suited to build skills required of a modern citizen, including critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.”
Most of us in the world of education would agree that competitive debate is a valuable activity for students of all skill levels, however, the style of debate preferred or which format a student new to debate should begin with, is, well, up for debate…
Debate teaches useful skills for other academic pursuits and prepares students for life in general, in many unique ways. Most notably, debaters build confidence speaking in public and expressing their ideas eloquently. The comfort level developed when speaking in front of others is useful in so many areas of life, from school presentations, to job interviews and classroom discussions in both high school and college.
Depending on the league you join, there are a variety of styles of debate. Parlimentary, Lincoln-Douglas, Team Policy and more recently, Cross Examination Debate, are the most common debate formats seen at the High School and College levels. For the purpose of today’s discussion, we are going to focus on Lincoln-Douglas (LD) and Team Policy (TP), as one of these two are where most students new to debate begin. Ah, but where to begin? There are many reasons why a student would start with one over the other and those reasons are as varied as the students themselves, so to help a prospective debate student decide where he or she should begin, let’s look first at each style and the pros and cons of starting with each.
Team Policy debate is the oldest format of debate practiced at the high school level. It is a very popular format of debate and consists of two teams of two competitors and involves the proposal of a plan by the affirmative team to enact a policy (a pre-determined resolution), while the negative team offers reasons to reject that proposal. Team Policy is evidence driven and throughout the debate, students have the opportunity to present, share evidence and cross-examine one another. A judge or panel of judges determines the winner based on the arguments presented.
Lincoln-Douglas by contrast is one on one debate and is focused primarily on discussing the merits of competing ethical values, in a persuasive manner. The famed debates between senatorial candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in the 1850’s inspired the name and format for this style of debate. Evidence is considered important in LD debate, but it does not have the level of importance and focus as it does in TP debate. Emphasis instead is placed on speaking clearly, logically and persuasively.
So, now that we have laid out the two formats up for discussion, which is the best for a new debater to begin debate with?
For many years, families have been told to start with TP, in large part because the student will have a partner to prepare and tag team with and having a “buddy” to share the load and debate spotlight with can for some, be encouraging and comforting. Working as part of a team has the obvious benefit of growing that very skill set… learning to work well in a team setting, which as we all know is a very important life skill.
Challenges that arise with this team approach, can for some students, however, create frustrations that include, difficulty in finding a partner, dividing up evidence research and preparation responsibilities, and disagreement on each partner’s role in the actual debate. Issues such as these can pose an overwhelming and frustrating challenge for students who are new to debate altogether and are learning how everything works. They may find that having to navigate the additional aspect of role assignments, considering another’s opinion, work ethic and personality too overwhelming. Also, for novice debaters, having a partner can in some cases be used to rely too heavily on the other partner’s skill set, confidence or opinions and the fullness of their own capabilities remains unearthed.
LD debate solves many of these issues because the student does not have to seek out a partner and rely on another for research, preparation or adequate performance in the debate round. They rely on themselves and get out of the experience in large measure, what they put into it. For students who are independent and work better on their own, relying on their own capabilities and effort often proves more satisfying with LD.
Even those who think they could never do debate on their own, without a partner, often times are pleasantly surprised by the LD experience.
The thought of writing their own case and getting up on their own to debate an opponent, can seem terrifying and nearly impossible to accomplish, however, with proper coaching through each step of the process, students emerge on the other side of their first tournament experience, with a gratifying sense of accomplishment and realize that they can do it indeed! This leads to greater confidence moving forward in the tournament season, but also gives greater confidence to take on new challenges in the speech & debate arena.
Personally, I recommend LD to most first time debate students, with proper coaching support because I feel the sense of accomplishment a student gains from researching, preparing, arguing a case and overcoming personal fears through the process delivers a sense of strength and confidence that is a tremendous life lesson and
can also be a huge benefit in future team settings.
While both formats of debate offer their own set of benefits, challenges and learning opportunities, considering each student individually is always the best first step. To prospective debate students I say, whichever format you choose, throw yourself into the opportunity with hard work and determination! Tremendous personal learning, growth and wonderful friendships will be your reward!
Join Stacy in LD her Foundations of LD Club this fall. Lasting Impact is excited to offer online clubs in both LD and TP. Click HERE for the complete list of Clubs. We even have a class/club for younger students. Click HERE for the complete look at the fall classes.