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Doing Lincoln-Douglas debate in high school

Updated on March 4, 2013

LD debate

Lincoln-Douglas debate in high school

Lincoln-Douglas debate, or LD debate, is a one person versus one person form of value debating. Typically there is one topic that changes every two months during the school year. The topic involves some kind of value or philosophical issue for the affirmative and negative side of the debate to engage each other on. Students compete at tournaments during the year where they are required to be affirmative three times and negative three times, before elimination rounds. Those six debates are called preliminary debates. If students do well, they may advance to elimination rounds. The elimination rounds are determined by the number of debaters competing at the tournament. The larger the number of debaters, the larger the number of students entering and competing in elimination rounds. Typically in LD debate the judge doesn’t reveal his or her decision to the competitors but rather fills out a ballot meant to give feedback to the debaters later after the tournament is finished. I however feel strongly that judges should give feedback immediately after the debate so that debaters can ask questions of their judge and have a back and forth conversation about why they won/lost or how they might improve. This is sometimes done, depending on the judge. Reading a ballot later isn’t nearly as helpful as having an open conversation about the debate right after it finishes.

An example of a Resolution debated about between LD debaters is:

Resolved: The United States is justified in intervening in the internal political processes of other countries to attempt to stop human rights abuses. (March/April 2013)

What is more important? Human rights or sovereignty of a country? That is one way to construe the value system inherent in the topic. That raises the question of using examples to make arguments. For example, is it ‘justified’ for the United States to fund rebel groups in Syria to stop human rights abuses of the Syrian government? If Syria is in a civil war, what right does the US have to intervene at all? Why are human rights a concern for nation states? If the US was abusing human rights what would the American response be to Russia intervening to support one group fighting against those human rights abuses?

LD debates aren’t solely about values. They are about arguments surrounding values, examples, metaphors and even evidence. Debaters often define terms and then quote from (hopefully) qualified sources to make arguments more persuasive. It is not evidence driven debate like policy debate is, but evidence can be persuasive. So, some research is necessary. Most research can be found online using the Internet. Reading up on current events related to the resolution is also a helpful way of knowing what to argue.

The educational value of LD debate is strong. One learns about 4 resolutions a year and because students are competing at tournaments, they invest a substantial amount of time thinking, preparing, and arguing on both sides of the resolution. LD debate is also about persuasive speaking and persuasive forms of argumentation, which requires practice with fellow team members and even perhaps discussion with parents, coaches, and other competitors. This form of debate is less intense than policy debate, but also very educational in its nature.

The speech time constraints for LD debate are:

6 minutes - Affirmative Constructive

The Affirmative reads a pre-written case

3 minutes CX - Cross Examination

The Negative asks the Affirmative questions about the Affirmative case.

7 minutes Negative Constructive (and first negative Rebuttal)

The Negative (almost always) reads a pre-written case and (almost always) moves on to address the Affirmative's case.

3 minutes CX - Cross Examination

The Affirmative asks the Negative questions.

4 minutes 1AR First Affirmative Rebuttal

The Affirmative addresses both his/her opponent's case and his/her own. This speech is considered by many debaters to be the most difficult.

6 minutes

NR (2NR) The Negative Rebuttal

The Negative addresses the arguments of the previous speech and summarizes the round for the judge.

3 minutes 2AR The Second Affirmative Rebuttal

The Affirmative addresses the arguments of the previous speech and summarizes the round for the judge.

I have coached LD debate for a few years and competed in a limited amount in high school. I find that those students who enjoy LD debate have a way of mastering the material and understand that preparation is key to success. The activity enhances their ability to think quickly on their feet, and have fun using their minds. LD debate is interesting and judges who are more experienced may tend to find that they themselves have inherent beliefs about which values are more important. It is the task of the judge to step away from their internal beliefs and listen to the arguments presented in order to fairly evaluate who won the debate. Students who do LD are those that like to argue and find value debating interesting and educational.


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