I Teach Debate, Not Agendas

I'm convinced that this kind of "ministry" is much better

In the past couple of years, I’ve put my ministry (Training Minds) on hold to instead focus on my publishing business (Monument Publishing). I have several good reasons for doing so, but I haven’t lost sight of my very personal conviction to “train minds for action.” I’ve faced some criticism for this, but I’m convinced I’m on the right track.

Here's a camp picture of students working together to come up with the best arguments against a case given by their coach. This is "training for action."

Here’s a camp picture of students working together to come up with the best arguments against a case given by their coach. This is “training for action.”

I don’t think there is a ministry out there like Training Minds, and I have struggled to explain to people what it is really about. Based from 1 Peter 1:13, the idea is to train young people HOW to think. Most ministries have missions to change a person’s mind on WHAT to think.

“What” to think isn’t what debate coaches should teach. Issues awareness is a good thing, I suppose. I love and support many organizations that promote a certain worldview or political policy. However, I don’t pretend to think these organizations are not agenda-driven. Though that’s okay, they sometimes leave little room for disagreement or argumentation.

Not with debaters. We teach and welcome discourse. This sometimes surprises those who come to our camps, especially parents and sometimes a student who is used to agenda-driven debate. For the sake of the game of debate, we may offer a solution that is outside the mainstream. We’re not necessarily advocating for the position in real life, but we are at least considering it to help provide better solutions to policies in the real world. At least students learn to understand opposing views.

Herein lies two problems I deal with often. First, I meet educators who find the simple activity of exploring alternative views threatening to their responsibility of educating the young. There comes a time in a child’s liberal arts education where they need to consider opposing world views. I argue that it is much to the advantage of an educator to introduce these views in an academic way, and no better way is available than debate. Keeping young people from debating out of fear that they will be exposed to alternative opinions is just that: fear. 

My second problem has more personal: I get pulled into agenda-driven arguments from well-meaning people who want me to join them in their cause (i.e., WHAT to think, believe and support). This has lead to awkward conversations with people who think I’m out to corrupt the young (interesting, Socrates faced the same accusation). I kind of laugh at the accusation—which usually comes from folks who do not know me or my program firsthand. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I resist the temptation to bend to either of these problems. While I believe the world is becoming a more hateful place, I will not water down the reality of the learning experience. Likewise, I refuse to be pulled into righteous agendas that have little to do with the activity of training minds. My resistance is oftentimes misunderstood as opposition to whatever agenda is pulling me. On the flip side, my tolerance for agendas I disagree are misunderstood as support.

Sorry, but no. I’m not going to list those agendas. I resist the red herring. But if you must have an example, read this article. It was a rebuttal to a TIME magazine spread. Scroll through the comment section, too. There are nuggets of good debate in there.

Debate. That’s what I’m after. And that is what Monument Publishing is set up to deliver.

I suspect there are some people “out there” who believe I’m stepping away from my faith. Or worse, that my training kids to debate alternative views is actually corrupting the young (again, just like Socrates).

Personally, I’m not walking away from anything, but I am most certainly stepping into non-traditional environments and even some hostile debates. I’m convinced this is good, and convinced that this will do more training for debaters than just learning good argumentation. It will make them stronger, more confident and better people in life.

Just in case you’re one of the doubtful, here’s a message from a mother of a young lady who is making a huge impact in her post-secondary life. This testimony says it all, and I’ll leave this “debate” here:

Thankful for you and your ministry. “Training young minds how to think” has given [my daughter] the foundation she has needed this year at college. As you might suppose, the majority of the speech team has no foundation in Christianity, but she has been a light and influence to so many. Even her extemp coach has been impressed with my daughter’s thoughtful analysis on topics that the coach knows she disagrees with ethically and morally. The coaches have even joked about recruiting from the home school circuit. And honestly, for us, the turning point was coming out to Colorado and attending the Training Minds camp. Thanks for what you do.