The Stoa Speech and Debate League released its list of voting measures for the 2016-2017 school year. Whether or not you’re a member of Stoa, you may find my analysis helpful in understanding how I believe a speech and debate league should grow and prosper.
For the past few years, the Stoa Speech and Debate League struggled with what business people call “scope creep”: lots of debatably great yet poorly executed ideas, resulting in frustration and anxiety for its member participants. I’m happy to see some of its 2016 ballot proposals attempt to rectify this problem.
I was particularly blunt in 2014 (see How Stoa Could Impact, But Isn’t), where I criticized the league for its lack of…
- Simplicity = whittling down the current complexities of the league, and
- Planning = undoing some of the bad ideas of the past, or at least revising them.
The league hasn’t grown nearly as fast as it did in its initial days, and I believe it is because of the scope creep that made participating difficult.
Simplicity and planning should be two guiding forces of any growing league, and that is how I leaned on most of the proposals in the Stoa Spring Member Vote for 2016.
New Board Member Candidates. Two board members rotate off the board, and two are on the ballot to replace. Not much of a choice, but the two that appear on the ballot appear to be nice selections for leading the board.
Here is what I would have liked to see. The board needs an executive team. Take special attention to the NSDA, the public school and largest league in the nation. There is a distinct difference between the Board of Directors and the Executive Staff. This allows everyone to take on the enormous task of running their national tournament (the executive team’s responsibility) while keeping the direction of the league wholesome and intact (the board’s job). It is not uncommon to see the mentioned “scope creep” happen in staffs that are overworked and lose focus because of it.
Bylaws Proposal – Length of Board Term: APPROVE Change to 4 Years. Something else that adds to scope creep is the inconsistent desire of the Board of Directors. Rotation of board members sounds like a great idea, and I definitely like that idea over board members who never seem to go away. However, the result has been overly enthusiastic champions of untested ideas that have exhausted the league’s resources and its members.
I suspect this is the thinking behind the proposal of extending the board term from 3 to 4 years. I personally think it should be 5, but four is fine by me. The extended number of years will not consolidate power, which is the reason for a limited board time in the first place, but will help ensure more balance and wisdom in future direction.
There are three proposed changes to speech events. I wish these proposals would have been positioned differently, because I fear they will cause more confusion than clarity. Anyway, this is how I am rolling with each.
- Remove Breakout Impromptu from NITOC: YES. Breakout Impromptu is a unique event solely intended for NITOC, allowing everyone who lost at nationals to participate for the remainder of the week. I never liked the idea and will be happy to see it go. However, I’m disappointed the league is not attempting to bring the original Impromptu back as a main event at NITOC. Mars Hill Impromptu is not a worthy substitute; it lends to confusion as to how similar it is to apologetics and shoehorns impromptu into an evangelical tool rather than simply impromptu. I am voting to remove Breakout Impromptu, but I wish I was voting to replace Mars Hill with regular Impromptu.
- Reduce Speech Events by Eliminating 1 wildcard: YES. When I served on the board in 2011, enthusiastic California leaders wanted to present two wildcards. Bless their hearts, but I steadfastly stood in their way. My reasoning: for a growing league to expand its events will exhaust areas of growth and the events will only be well attended in California, not the rest of the country. How prophetic that turned out to be. I’m voting to eliminate one of the two wildcards, an idea that even larger leagues do not adopt. Keep wildcards simple.
- New Speech Wildcard Event: COLD READING. Here’s why I will be voting for “Cold Reading” over “Limited Persuasive.” Both events seem worth doing, but over the years of wildcards, too many events overlap with each other, causing coaches and students much confusion. Persuasive is already an event, and limiting it doesn’t seem to gather much educational value. “Cold Reading,” on the other hand, is a whole new skill being taught that I think would impact learning.
In summary, I’m voting for simplicity and planning in all of the above. It may appear that I’m veering from these with my decision to move forward with the Lincoln-Douglas proposal, but I’m really not. Let me spend some time on this one next initiative:
Lincoln-Douglas Debate Change: #3
There are three proposals on this vote:
- REVERT: Go back to one resolution per year,
- STATUS QUO: Stick with the current two resolutions per year, including NITOC, and
- FORWARD: Adopt three resolutions per year, one uniquely written for NITOC.
Truth be told, I never liked the way we’ve been doing Lincoln-Douglas debate since 2013 (#2). Juggling two resolutions throughout the year is not as educational as it sounds. Debaters “hope” they get one resolution or the other, and “hope” they get one side or the other, rather than debate them on face value. My vote is for ONE resolution at NITOC. Either #1 (revert the way it used to be) or #3 (move forward with the way the public schoolers do it, kind of). Unfortunately, the way this ballot is arranged, my preference is split, so I’m going with #3.
I originally opted for #1, opting for simplicity over the current conundrum of the untested, unfounded two-resolution NITOC. But I changed my mind after reading Travis Herche’s analysis. Travis reminded me and his readers of the purpose of value debate and insisted that the status quo of Stoa’s convoluted two-resolution system was not how the originating league did Lincoln-Douglas debate. But neither is one resolution.
For a moment, consider how the NSDA (the originators of the debate format) does Lincoln-Douglas debate. They consider LD debate a more fluid, flexible debate format than policy. As it should. They adopt five resolutions per year: four released every two months during competition, one for their national tournament. Such a strategy forces LD debaters to be value debaters, not topical debaters, which is more in line with its educational purpose than the way the homeschool leagues do it.
I sure wish the Stoa Board didn’t have #1 as an option, for I fear people will vote for the way it used to be done, or policy debaters will vote for a change that suits their understanding better. A vote for #1 is a vote backwards and a harm to Lincoln-Douglas debating. A vote for #2 is a vote to keep a complicated, unplanned system in place. But a vote for #3 is a step in the right direction: making value debate the central, educational core of Lincoln-Douglas debate.
Resolutions (both #3s, and why)
Honestly, I believe all the resolutions are good. I can’t wait to dig into them, and my award-winning authors at Monument Publishing will gladly produce source material for participants this summer. That said, I lean toward the following for good reasons.
Lincoln-Douglas Debate: #3. The resolutions proposed are…
- When in conflict, the United States ought to prioritize assimilation over multiculturalism.
- The needs of the public ought to be valued above private property rights.
- In United States foreign policy, idealism ought to be valued above realism.
- When in conflict, achieving a critical mass of minority students in settings of higher education is more important than racial neutrality.
- Denying American citizens who join terrorist organizations due process of law is justified.
Allow me to propose the reason I weigh my choice: balance. When desiring a proposed resolution, you have to fight the urge to choose a resolution based on your desire to debate one side of the resolution. As I think through each of the above, I see strong opinions on one side, weak opinions on the other, and a lop-sided resolution to be debated throughout the year.
#3 appears to be a policy resolution because of “foreign policy” in the wording, but it really is not. The debate is clearly centered on conflicts between “idealism” and “realism.” Applications and examples in current policy as well as the US’s 240 years of foreign relations are fodder for debates. I see much balance in arguing for idealism and realism in conducting sound foreign policy. These, I believe, are the best kinds of value debates—balanced, with plenty of issues to debate—which is why I’m voting for #3.
Team-Policy: #3. There are three resolutions proposed by Stoa. Again, they’re all worthy of a year of debate. However, #3 floats to the top for me…
- Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially reform its agriculture and/or food safety policy in the United States.
- Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially reform its laws governing the rights of employers, employees, and/or labor organizations.
- Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially reform one or more of its means-tested benefits programs.
My thoughts on Agriculture Policy. I wish there wasn’t and/or in this. Agriculture is plenty broad (like WAYYYY broad) and “food safety policy” could have stood on its own. Food safety would have really been a dicy topic, considering some people’s convictions on GMOs and the like. But this resolution will be mixed with incredibly boring issues like beet farming subsidies (my apologies to beet farmers who think this is really exciting). Therefore, #1 doesn’t get my vote.
My thoughts on American labor. Good resolution. “Labor organizations” will open the debate up beyond just employee/employer issues. Perhaps the resolution committee had good reason to complicate the resolution with “laws governing the rights of employers, employees, and/or labor organizations.” I would have preferred “laws governing labor,” and keep it at that. Nevertheless, I can roll with this resolution.
But #3 I like the best. Poverty has never been addressed head-on by homeschoolers in either NCFCA resolutions or Stoa resolutions, and though that word “poverty” is not in the resolution, this is what the resolution is about. The economic discussions would be awesome. And the humanity of it, tugging at both the heart and the head, would have great clash.
Personally, I’ve been viciously attacked for my views on poverty (see the comments in this article, in particular…wowza). My family has somewhat-proudly lived much of our life within the poverty line. I feel I have much to say about American means-tested benefits, because we refuse to take any of them. This has caused incredible, vile hatred from champions of welfare and government-assistance programs, as if I’m judging poor people.
Please, give me the opportunity to expand on my “judgment” of myself. Make my day. I’d love to sink deep into the economics of such criticism.
But the resolution isn’t one-sided, which seals the deal for me. A debate team can go whatever direction they would like on reform. For those looking for a definition of “means tested benefits”: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/means-tested-benefits.html. And here’s an article I wrote in 2012 analyzing Paul Ryan’s likeminded attempts to reform the system: The Idea of Upward Mobility to Combat Poverty.
I hope this helps in your voting come May 1. Feel free to make comments below. For the sake of simplicity and planning, may these initiatives move forward to a simpler and more thought out future of Stoa.