“Ideas have consequences,” as American scholar Richard Weaver famously said, “and debate is one way for homeschool parents to help their students understand the importance of what they believe.” The National Christian Forensics and Communications Association (NCFCA), a national homeschool speech and debate league, says that their goal in offering debate to students is to “[train] young people to be able to think critically and communicate effectively about all issues in a manner that pleases God.”
Basic Debate Formats
Most leagues offer two basic formats of debate: Lincoln-Douglas and Team Policy. Both formats have a topic called the resolution that students research and debate for the competition season, and students alternate between defending the resolution (the Affirmative side) and opposing it (the Negative side) during each tournament. During the round, affirmative and negative speakers alternate speeches, and both have to opportunity to cross-examine their opponent during the round, and prepare for a few minutes before each speech. Both styles require a lot of research, but Team Policy emphasizes government policies, while Lincoln-Douglas tends to focus on the philosophies behind those policies.
- Team Policy Debate: Team Policy debate is two-on-two, with debaters competing in two-person teams. They find their own partners and usually compete together for the entire season, and often for several years. In NCFCA, topics alternate between domestic and foreign; for instance, Resolved: The United States Federal Government should significantly reform its criminal justice system; or Resolved: That the United Nations should be significantly reformed or abolished. Teams generally develop an affirmative plan- a specific policy change to advocate when they are affirming the resolution (e.g. a specific way the United Nations should be reformed). The Negative team then attempts to show that the Affirmative team’s plan does not affirm the resolution (e.g. it does not significantly reform the United Nations), or would not work in the real world.
- Lincoln-Douglas Debate: Lincoln-Douglas (LD) debate is a one-on-one style generally referred to as values debate. The resolution Resolved: That economic freedom ought to be valued above economic security, is a Lincoln-Douglas resolution. LD debaters generally focus on the values on either side of the resolution. For instance, in this resolution, the speakers may focus whether personal liberty or general welfare should be valued higher, and talk about the reasons why one or the other should be preferred when they conflict. LD rests less on policy changes and more on the values that cause a government or an individual to choose one policy over another.
Preparing to Debate
Students preparing for debate often use source books that contain articles on issues surrounding the resolution and pre-written affirmative and negative cases that debaters can use or adapt. They are a great resource for beginners and advanced students who are starting to research a new topic. Debate camps are sometimes offered, hosted by debate leagues or experienced debaters and alumni; and there are several debate clubs in Minnesota where students can research and practice with other debaters. The Minnesota Homeschool Speech and Debate website has current information about helpful resources including sourcebooks, classes & clubs, debate camps, blogs and more.
Debate resolutions cover a broad range of issues. Lincoln-Douglas debaters in NCFCA have tackled issues like the moral obligations and legitimacy of government, national security versus freedom of the press, and economic freedom versus economic security, while Team Policy debaters have researched political issues such as the U.S. election process, the structure and policies of the United Nations, and American policies towards Russia and the Middle East.
Why Learn to Debate?
Debating on both sides of an issue gives students a thorough understanding of it and teaches them to respect ideas they disagree with. By the end of the season, most students know which side they agree with and are well equipped to defend that belief. They have also seen the reasoning that goes into their opponents’ views, even arguing it themselves, and understand why someone may reasonably disagree with them. Debaters learn that if what they believe is true, the questions they ask throughout the season will ultimately strengthen that conviction as they find answers. When classmates, professors, or coworkers question their beliefs or lifestyle choices or propose new viewpoints, debaters are prepared to evaluate those ideas in light of God’s Word, develop convictions, and stick to them.
Researching for debate gives students a lot of information to draw from when they stand up to speak, training students to speak spontaneously on subjects they are familiar with. It also allows them to become comfortable with the pressure of speaking in front of an audience, defending their position, and responding to their opponent with limited preparation. All the speeches in a debate round are timed, teaching debaters to find the key issues to focus on; and cross-examination lets them dig further into their opponent’s reasoning to expose flaws.
Debate is an enjoyable and educational activity for many high-schoolers, giving them the opportunity to study relevant, complex issues, enjoy the thrill of competition, and develop their speaking skills; but it is more than that. Ultimately, debate is a tool that uses discussions about government morality and American policies to help homeschool parents train their students to understand what they believe and why, to neither fear nor dismiss challenges to those beliefs, and to discuss them with people who disagree in a way that honors the other people and their ideas.
Ideas have consequences, and debaters learn to choose their ideas carefully.
For more information about homeschool debate in Minnesota, visit the Minnesota Homeschool Speech and Debate website: www.mnhsd.org.
L. R. Skeate competed in speech and debate throughout high school, winning awards at local, state, and national tournaments, including 2013 Minnesota Lincoln-Douglas Debate Champion and Region V Impromptu Champion. She has been able to return to judge at several tournaments and is currently enjoying spending time with her family while honing her speaking skills in a work environment and earning her degree in Business.