Debate Teaches Action, Not Apathy

I spoke with a debate parent from another state. The parents in her club were concerned over an article I published on a non-Christian website. She felt she was going straight to the source, one Christian to another. This quick summary isn’t too far from how it played out:

This is a picture of a scrimmage at camp. The coach guides the students through the arguments to help train the students to think and persuade.

This is a picture of a scrimmage at camp. The coach guides the students through the arguments to help train the students to think and persuade.

Me: “Did the parents have any problems with my article?”
Coach: “No, but they are concerned that you would actually go on this problematic, non-Christian website and post anything at all!”
Me: “So they don’t have any problem with my article, but they have a problem with me engaging with non-Christians?”
Coach: “Exactly.”

Folks, this is a problem with Christians, not non-Christians. Why on earth would I avoid the opportunity to engage a community of people whom I have the opportunity to influence? Debate does not advocate wall building between groups of human beings, but I suppose some parents seek to shelter their children from any outside influence, especially when they try to resist the influence we may have on others.

The parent I talked to wasn’t totally unreasonable. I understand her and her club’s concern, and we filled an entire hour of thoughtful conversation. True, posting on this non-Christian website brought attention to the site that wouldn’t have otherwise been there. The argument, then, goes like this: ignoring the site is better than acknowledgement. The debate coach above made this point several times in our conversation, thinking I didn’t quite understand her or her club’s position.

Oh, I understand, all right. I just couldn’t disagree more.

Debaters are taught to research everything, even those opposed to what they believe. Those who refuse to engage in opposing views are typically losers at debate tournaments; they are ignorant in the positions that most threaten their own, and they rightfully lose in the argumentation games. Ignoring opposition is like a child sticking her fingers in her ears and singing “la la la la” to avoid the discussion. It’s childish.

If alienation is your goal as an educator, academic debate will never cease to frustrate you.

I have big issues with this idea that we, as home educators, should work to alienate others from our influence. Such a maneuver does more to alienate YOU than the group you’re trying to ignore. You are into building a fortress around your own worldview, and if you’re not careful, it becomes a wall, a prison. You’ve persuaded no one, other than perhaps the few people you have within your walls.

For those debate coaches who advocate debate as a means to control their kids and teach them what to believe, get ready for a rude awakening. Your debaters are growing up to be thinkers. The activity of debate trains people HOW to think, not WHAT to think. They will be victors of the truth, and that may just become unfortable to you. They’ve been trained in how to call out fallacies, they’re articulate and persuasive when they do, and people will listen.

I consider that awesome.

In the Way They Should Go

I’m preparing to launch the very first Training Minds For Action Conference in less than two months. We’re about 35% full so far, and I suspect we’re going to sell out. It’s sort of a “get young people ready for the world” type of camp, but I believe the For Action Conference is different than any other in this regard: We aim to empower, no matter what God is calling the young person.

No matter what the calling. This is rare among Christian ministries.

Most camps geared toward Millennials zero in on WHAT to do. They train kids to get involved in or believe in such-n-such. Political campaigning, social change, feed the poor — perhaps very noble things, but they are focused on what, not how. We’re not so interested building them up to become what we want them to become. We aim to give them the tools to engage the world.

To put this idea another way: We’re out to train attendees up in the way they should go. We have some pretty dicey speakers coming to the conference (check them out here). None are claiming attendees should do exactly as they’re doing, but they all are encouraging attendees to take up the calling God has in store for them. God is calling the Millennials out of their boxes to take action in the world, and this conference is meant to be the catalyst for these exciting times.

Though we’re aiming for Millennials, older adults have asked to join us, and even younger teens. It’s open to any group, really, though we’re aiming toward Millenials.

For Action Conference

January 2-4, 2014
Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • judy

    Bravo! I wonder if parents are fearful that as their debaters learn the ideas of the opposition they may begin to reconsider their own previously held beliefs. But it is also true that the opposition is listening to their comments and may be reconsidering their beliefs, too. My children range in age from 47 to 57 and grandchildren from 2 to 30. Parents will find life a lot easier if they accept the fact that their children will change their thinking about a lot of things and much of it may be contrary to their own beliefs. Parents should listen. The kids may have a thing or two to teach them.