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Stoa: Return Original Duos

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Update: Stoa's leadership was kind enough to reply, and we relay their response here. The board/speech committee's response can be read below this petition.

To the Stoa board and speech committee:

Thank you for your sacrificial servant leadership in making Stoa a better speech and debate league. God is working in marvelous ways in Stoa speech and debate, and we appreciate the effort you invest into decision-making throughout the year.

We write in the same spirit - To serve the Stoa families.

Therefore, we believe there is an important issue related to Duo Interpretation that deserves your attention. According to both the Executive Summary of Changes and the Duo Rules for the 2015-2016 season, no original Duos are being allowed for competition, and only 150 extra words are permitted. In the 2014-2015 season, no such restrictions were in place.

We believe that such a rule change is ultimately detrimental to the larger Stoa community and deserves a vote from the Stoa membership. Because it is currently too late to have members vote on this issue, we advocate that you restore the Duo Interpretation rules to the former guidelines which allowed original pieces and did not add a restrictive word limit (so as to not disadvantage those who have already prepared their original pieces and senior forensics students who would not benefit from a vote next year). Then, submit this rule change as an option in the 2016 Stoa Member Voting Issues for Stoa membership to vote on during the spring.

Please hear our defense for the old rules as well as our justifications for requesting an official Stoa vote to determine the fate of the Duo rules if you continue to desire changes.

We provide 8 reasons:

Reason 1: The rule change harms Stoa’s democratic principles.

According to the Stoa website, “Stoa was established on the model of our nation's founding fathers with a commitment to limited central government and maximum local control.” Deciding for Stoa as a whole whether or not Duos should be allowed to include original pieces and then not enabling the Stoa membership to vote on this change takes away the voice of the people of Stoa and places too much power and control in the central government of the Stoa board.

We note that the voices of Stoa members particularly matter because Stoa attracts highly committed, mature Christian families. By God’s grace, Stoa families represent some of the finest when it comes to having Biblical wisdom and passion in discipling our next generation. Though most families are single income, that they are willing to invest such a large amount of time and finances into club and tournaments speaks volumes about their commitment and maturity. Appropriately then, Stoa exists to serve its members. As Stoa’s past presidents have said, “We are your servants” and “Stoa exists to serve its people.”

Now, if the Stoa community at large has a good reason to prefer these new rule changes and wants to vote them in, we would not see such a large disapproval rate (3/4ths disapproval according to the social media poll pictured above). However, the Stoa membership had no vote or voice whatsoever in this process. The Stoa board's decision decide by fiat that Duo interp should be radically changed does not serve the majority of Stoa members who believe such a rule change is unwarranted. The vast majority of Stoa members we dialogued with about this issue have expressed significant dislike for this new measure.

If the Stoa board wants to serve the Stoa community in this rule change, such a change by fiat very much belies that claim. In any organization, its true values are revealed more by its actions than its official claims. In this case, an intrusive decision was made without the consultation of the Stoa membership. Some may interpret this to reveal an increasing centralization of power with less regard for Stoa members, belying the very reason Stoa was established apart from another league. To change the Duo rules then seems to violate the sense that Stoa exists for its members.

Note that participation numbers for individual interpretives for the 2014-2015 season on reflects the high value the Stoa community places on original pieces.

Dramatic interpretation: 114

Humorous Interpretation: 192

Original interpretation: 276

Clearly, the members of Stoa value originality. Because this is such a significant issue, it deserves a vote before the rule change occurs. We respectfully ask the Stoa board to respect the desires of its membership.

Reason 2: The rule change is a double standard.

A. A double standard is in place in the way that the rules were changed.

When the Stoa Board asked the Stoa members to vote whether or not they wanted to replace Open Interpretation with Storytelling, they were asking them to vote for an event change. Similarly, changing the old Duo rules to the new version of the Duo rules is effectively an event change as well. If the Stoa board told the Stoa members that OI would be eliminated and replaced with DI, that would be an event change. In this situation, the Stoa board is doing virtually the same thing with the Duo rules. Preventing original pieces in Duo Interpretation is like changing Original Interpretation to DI or HI, which would not happen without member consent. Neither was the spring member voting issue to replace OI with Storytelling passed automatically; that event change was sent to the Stoa members for review. However, the Duo rule changes were not sent to the Stoa members for review, even though the rule changes are effectively the same as an event change.

B. A second double standard is in play.

In original interpretation, one can easily create an original piece and include as many added words as one desires. But why change Duo Interpretation and leave OI? How is OI different from Duo Interpretation other than the number of people doing the speech?

If the goal for interpretive events is to “improve the academic rigor and the quality/competitiveness of the event,” and if original pieces supposedly decrease the quality of the event, why did Stoa not change OI? Do we consider OI a less academically rigorous event and of less quality/competitiveness? If so, why? OI is just as legitimate as any other speech event and is in fact valued by our league. Further, Stoa membership as a whole showed their desire to keep OI as a regular event instead of replacing it with storytelling. It is very clear that the members of our league value the opportunity for originality in interp.

And if OI bears the same quality and rigor as Duo, there is no reason why original pieces should be taken out of Duo Interpretation while kept in OI. There appears to be a double standard in play when it comes to this rule change.

Reason 3: The rule change decreases the educational value and quality of the event.

A. Stifles creativity.

Creating a piece of literature from scratch demands just as much, if not more, imagination and mental exercise than using a pre-written work. One has to create and fine-tune a detailed plot, develop characters, and create dialogue and narration. Allowing original Duos enables competitors to approach the event not only as actors but also as playwrights. While they still learn to interpret literature, competitors will also learn to create it. Original pieces allows students to find their own unique voices and draw from their personal life experiences and ingenuity to create new ideas and stories. Further, rigorous editing and multiple drafts are still required. With this rule change, competitors are discouraged from using their imagination and creativity to discover new concepts and write creative new plots. This restricts students to narrower confines instead of encouraging them to think outside the box.

B. Increases amount of similar pieces.

As competitors can no longer create their own pieces, many may resort to similar well-known works for Duo pieces. Further, last year, even if competitors could use common works of literature, they could make them unique works because one could add/change as many words as one desired. However, because competitors are now forced to use a pre-existing piece with very few word additions, Duos from the same source are likely to resemble each other. This could reduce the effectiveness of otherwise competitive Duos.

C. Prevents certain great literary works from being used.

Many excellent, high-caliber pieces of literature are not written in a way that is usable for students competing in Duo interpretation. While great pieces of literature can possess excellent literary merit, they often do not have suitable dialogue and parts structured to be used as an interpretive piece. Not only does this rule change remove all original works, but it also restricts all added words to 150 words. If competitors are not allowed to change a script substantially, many great literary works are ruled out of the question and cannot be used.

D. Decreases the interpretation’s thematic depth.

One thing that many of us love about Stoa is that we can insert deep themes into our speeches. Often, literary works are not written to already include these complex themes explicitly. Unfortunately, 150 words is usually far too short to allow one to fully analyze and draw out a great theme that adds depth to an interpretation, let alone insert something like Scripture into one’s piece. Ultimately, the quality of the works presented will decrease, not increase. As for less rigorous Duos, low quality pieces will always exist whether or not a word limit exists. Poor pieces will be weeded out by judges just as with any other event.

Reason 4: The justification for the rule change is too vague.

According to the executive summary for the rule changes of the 2015-2016 year, the event was changed to “improve the academic rigor and the quality/competitiveness of the event.” But who defines what is of high quality? Is a Duo about Robin Hood (Kulmann-McFarland, 2013-2014 NITOC champions) considered low quality because it may not have a clearly defined theme? This Duo had highly-competitive partner coordination, hand motions, and voice inflection. Further, it was an extremely creative take on an old classic. Does a Duo about the story behind the hymn It is Well With My Soul (Busler-Busler, 2014-2015 NITOC champions) become low-quality because it is not very energetically oriented and mainly original? This Duo had a very well-developed storyline and Christian themes. Both of these Duos ranked first in the nation for their respective years. Neither would exist if this rule change had been in place. Who decides what is high quality and what is not? Should not the Stoa families have the privilege to make that evaluation, especially since Stoa attracts highly committed Christian families serious about discipling our young people? Indeed, Stoa parents who make up most of the judging panel ranked these two original pieces very highly.

Furthermore, what is meant by “academic rigor”? How can we know if a literary work is academically rigorous enough? Are there non-original pieces that are not high-quality? Academic rigor appears to be a vague standard. Ultimately, we do not believe that sufficient warrants have been made to justify this rule change, and the justifications and standards provided are not clearly defined.

Reason 5: The rule change decreases the Duo population.

As noted above, historically, DI and HI have had lower participation as compared to OI. The Stoa community clearly appreciates the OI category because it offers the freedom to create a good story without being restrained by the 150 word limit.

If you limit the Duo Interpretation category in the same way as the DI and HI categories, we are not convinced that the event will have the same number of competitors. In fact, as empirics have shown, its attendance will likely decrease. Less people will experience the incredible growth one receives by participating in interpretative speeches, and those speeches may be looked down on for their low attendance, non-workability, and limited amount of freedom.

Reason 6: The rule change centralizes “non-academic-ness” into OI.

When you take away the ability of someone to make an original Duo, they will bring their piece to a speech category that will allow for it. Right now, OI is the only place where original pieces and pieces with added words exceeding 150 are allowed. If your plan is to get rid of original pieces because you believe they are less academic, we believe the plan will backfire because most competitors will simply express all their ideas in OI instead.

Reason 7: Summer preparation is wasted.

Competitors use the off-season to begin preparing their pieces. We know some families who have already poured hours of work into Duo pieces under the old rules, and some have even finished their entire script. This rule change, announced August 2015, will eliminate these pieces, wasting all of their hard work. In effect, those who have completed their original Duo scripts over the summer now face double the work as they have to start from scratch. Changing the rule during late summer makes light of competitors who have invested their time in preparing for the coming season.

Reason 8: The rule change is not guaranteed to solve.

We do not believe that this rule change will actually solve for the “harms” it was created to solve for. First, it will decrease the overall quality and competitiveness of the event instead of increasing it (see reason 3).

Second, even if there are problems inherent to original Duos, we believe the change will promote a less compliant attitude to follow rules. Historically, when restrictions come into place, they often increase a problem instead of decreasing it.

Last year, to boost professionalism in the Broadcasting event, commercials were removed. Nonetheless, individuals still found ways to spice up the event with humor, and many of the most successful competitors were those who thought outside of the box and were creative.

In the end, when Stoa moves to become more rule-centric and restrictive, the stifling atmosphere will increase the desire of many to look for loopholes in order to be creative and competitive.



We note that the repeal of this new Duo rule change will not be disruptive. The Stoa board simply needs to reinstate the former rules used for the 2014-2015 season. Those who plan to participate in Duo under the new constraints can continue to do so without interruption, and those who plan to or have completed original pieces will no longer be disrupted either. And Stoa members who oppose this rule change will be reassured with a renewed confidence that our leadership does indeed continue to reflect the values by which Stoa was founded - that our league exists for the members, and not the members for the league.

In the end, for all the reasons provided above, we respectfully appeal to you to reconsider and reverse this rule change. Thank you once again for the sacrificial leadership provided by each of you on the board and speech committee in serving our Savior through serving Stoa families.


Stoa Board/Speech Committee's Response, 9/14/15:

The Speech Committee has received your letter regarding Duo Interpretation. Thank you for your interest in this event, and your willingness to share your concerns with us. The Board and Speech Committee have read the concerns and will consider changes next summer when rule reviews and changes take place. Stoa has always been committed to having the new season documents finalized by September 1st.

We understand that it may be disappointing to find that work you have done over the summer has changed, but it is not possible for the necessary reviews to be initiated until after NITOC. We encourage students to consider using any work done over the summer by entering that piece into Open Interpretation.

Rule changes are proposed by the Speech Committee and approved by the Board. The Board and Speech Committee do listen to ideas and suggestions from those who contact us. We evaluate all the problems and ideas and endeavor to make the best decisions possible considering all the information available. We encourage new ideas from the Stoa membership and often implement them.

The main purpose of any change is to improve the academic rigor and quality/complexity of the events. Some examples of prior rule changes include:

When Duo went from a single source event to an "open" event;

When Duo went from an “open” event to a single source event;

When a prop was added to Dramatic and then taken away again;

When the commercial was taken away from Broadcasting.

We understand the desire for original works, but hopefully this helps to clarify the situation. We are convinced that our membership will continue to strive for excellence in all events.


Debbie Snyder

Speech Committee Chair

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