Branden Yeates, member of the Stoa Debate Committee and Stoa alumnus, shares an exciting new proposal.

Dear friends: greetings from the StoaUSA Debate Committee! We pray you have all had a great 2023 so far. We are speaking to you now for a very particular purpose: to discuss Lincoln Douglas.

We love LD, and I’m pretty well qualified to say that, as I’ve loved LD since I was 13 years old. I have happy memories in and out of rounds debating with my fellow LDers about history, government, economics, deep philosophical questions like whether Half Life 3 would ever be released – you name it, we argued it. LD is near to my heart and near also to the heart of Stoa’s mission. LD is our “ethics debate.” It is concerned less with “what could we do?” or, “what are we doing?” but rather with “what should we do?”

That makes LD a unique event in Stoa’s debate trifecta. And as we’ve been reviewing the state of Stoa LD, our conclusion is that the way we have built LD is showing signs of strain. We see at least three reasons why:

First, repetition, and not the nice kind that’s “key to learning.” As single-resolution LD seasons go on, our rounds get increasingly repetitive. They become largely populated by the same applications and values, and by the same sets of rebuttals. A few winning cases and just one or two values take the stage – and indeed, values overall have been hollowed out. 

Second, this creates a shallow LD meta, especially once the same arguments have been rehashed for months. Innovation and interest drop off and rounds are increasingly won by marginally better statistics or one more Harvard study rather than by solid philosophical argumentation or effective historical analysis. The monumental is too often exchanged for the minute. 

Third, LD has become dominated by evidence rather than by ethics. Proper research is important to LD, but stats are by no means supposed to be the most important factor. We are concerned that together these trends are turning LD into “lesser policy in less time.”

It is also worthwhile to note that one-resolution LD is atypical in American forensics; three-resolution LD has been considered the gold standard for Lincoln Douglas for many years, and the National Speech and Debate Association, which is the largest middle and high school league, uses five resolutions each year.

In light of all this, we would like to propose the following change: in the coming months when the Stoa vote comes out, there will be a proposition on the ballot to move our league from one-resolution LD to three-resolution LD. We would have one resolution for each major section of the year: in the fall/winter, in the spring, and in the last 1-2 months of the season including NITOC. 

This restructuring will change the game. LD will no longer consist of a single case and a single suite of applications and a single (often neglected) value over the course of an entire year. Instead, more cases and more values will need to be argued in more contexts. LD will require more history and current events and philosophy, and will have to lean more on a shared universe of ideas that span multiple resolutions. No more “off-the-shelf” solutions that work for a whole year. 

As a result of this change in structure we believe that Stoa LD will become more competitive. We hope to see LD debates centered on value and philosophy clash with a rich environment of applications. This can help us get back to the essence of LD debate: LD that orbits around ethics as its center of gravity. We believe our LDers can take this change and run with it. If there is a concern this will make LD harder: you’re welcome! A greater challenge lends itself to greater excellence. And anyway, if Team Policy teams can research and write new cases throughout the year, we know our LDers can too.

But we expect there will be other genuine concerns about this proposition. Frankly, when it was first proposed I also had concerns. I competed in one-resolution LD for years and coached it since I graduated. There’s a lot about one-resolution LD that I like and it’s what I know – maybe you feel that way, too. There may also be a concern that instead of creating richer debate this idea may actually lead to even shallower LD meta, since debaters will have less time to work with each resolution.

However, my first response is that we already have a shallowness problem with one-resolution LD, so that argument is what you’d call a “non-unique rebuttal.” And my second response is that three-resolution LD is guaranteed to make us engage with more ideas over the course of a year. Even better, the shorter amount of time to compete under each resolution will discourage passively running the same case month after month. Innovation will be required, as will continual reading, researching, writing, and rewriting in the face of greater competition. No resting on laurels: change will be a constant, so even if we interact with each individual resolution less, we’ll be interacting with more debate content in total – we will have no other choice. And I believe that will move LD in a positive direction.

Three-resolution LD represents a major adjustment to Stoa’s LD rules, which is why we are putting it to a vote and sharing the news with you far in advance. We need to think this through together over the coming months. Therefore, we will be hosting multiple public discussions on this subject. In addition, if you vote this proposition through, we can promise you a full rollout of training on three-resolution LD at Stoa Academy this summer, in Tournament-in-a-Box, and in other resources. The Debate Committee will work with you and work for you, we will support you and answer your questions over the coming months, so please: engage with us. Our goal is that when this proposition is put to the vote in a few months, you can make the most informed decision possible.

We look forward to hearing from you, and we hope that you will join with us to: “Triple the Value!”

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