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Rules, Norms, and Theories

Many of you travel to tournaments outside of your region to gain experience debating students in other states. It is a great way to make new friends, as well as to see the cases other debaters are running.

As you travel, you may notice other regions debate in different ways. Debate theory is not taught the same throughout Stoa. Various coaches have a variety of ways they instruct their students, while simultaneously staying within the Stoa debate rules. Let’s explore a few terms—rules, norms, and theory—to help clarify the differences you may experience.

The Debate Committee writes the rules, which are ultimately approved by the Stoa Board, and are available on the Stoa website under For Members/Debate Documents. The rules should be read every year as there can be changes from year to year. You should also have a copy of them with you in debate rounds. The rules include specifications of the time limits, speaking order, and rules of evidence. The rules are not debatable and are the same for everyone.

The existence of regional norms is a phenomenon that has occurred over the years in which different areas of the country have unique ways of writing their cases. Some areas like to have criterions in Team Policy Debate (TP), while other areas do not. Some even put values in their 1ACs. Some areas think these things should not be included in TP and should only appear in Lincoln Douglas Value Debate (LD). Norms are only preferences and not rules. Once you understand a regional norm, you have a couple of options: you can embrace the norm and structure your cases in a similar way, or you can choose to debate irrespective of the norm.

Debate theory tends to be a little stickier. Theory gets into topics such as topical counter plans, whether a value-criterion should be included in LD, whether stock issues are relevant, etc. Like norms, there can be debate theory differences throughout the country. Debate theories are debatable, but they are not rules. When you come across various theories, you have the same choices as with norms. Embrace the difference, possibly try something new, or debate the theory and challenge them with what you hold to be the better way.

As you compete this season, be sure to follow the rules, understand the norms and theories, and embrace (or debate!) the differences. Understanding how to navigate these nuances can help make you a better debater and give you valuable skills for all areas of life. If you decide to go against the flow in terms of norms and theories, do so in a respectful manner. Remember, as children of God, we are ultimately on the same team, seeking to build each other up in the faith. So, be calm, and debate on.

Your Stoa Debate Committee


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