Public and Home School Speech and Debate

Making sense of the many opportunities in several educational options

My enthusiasm for speech and debate is broader than most think. As you know, I’m leading publisher in three specific leagues (NSDA, NCFCA, Stoa), but I’m often caught in the confusion between public and home schools. This article will try to sort out the two.

Judges and others observe a student performance at a speech competition.

Judges and parents observe a student performance at a speech competition.

I’m most heavily committed to NCFCA and Stoa, the homeschool leagues, but my roots go all the way back to the National Forensics League (the former name of the NSDA). I was thrown into a debate coaching position in Wahpeton, North Dakota, in 1995. I had no idea what I was doing, relying duteously on sourcebooks. Though I was drowning in information, I was extremely impressed with the activities of speech and debate. It took me very little to perk my interest, and I was soon hooked.

When the homeschoolers started debate with HSLDA in 1996, I jumped right on board. My family at the time—though I was a public school teacher of English while coaching debate—was giving homeschooling a try. It was a rather new idea of education, at least to us, and I’m glad to say that we continued to homeschool for 25 more years. (We decided to return to public education for some of our kids last year, which is another story in itself.)

The rest of my 20 years is history. I began publishing my own sourcebooks for homeschoolers. Our first Blue Book came out in 1998. Today, the Blue Book is the most coveted sourcebook for policy debaters nationwide, and we have other sourcebooks to cover other events of speech and debate. For eighteen years I’ve worked with hundreds of champions and coaches to bring the best resources possible to speakers and debaters in the homeschool leagues.

Enter Public Schools

I’ve not totally resisted the public school league, but it has been difficult to play along. I suspect this is for many reasons. First is the religious difference: both homeschool leagues are explicitly Christian. Second is the contextual difference: speech selections, dress codes, debate theory, and the like have not mixed well over the years. Third is the “attitudinal barrier” between the two forms of education: public schoolers have thought homeschoolers weird, and homeschoolers have thought public schoolers of the devil.

These barriers have changed considerably since 1995. Two decades later, I find:

  1. Religious perspectives have mellowed. The 80s and 90s were decades of religious intolerance, and a lot of it was wound up in courts. I remember those days well, the first exodus from public schools because of religious convictions. But the laws have settled greatly what is allowed and not allowed in public schools. Today I have found much acceptance for spiritually-minded students in the public schools, especially in speech and debate communities. And though teachers are not allowed to proselytize, many speech and debate teachers are Christians.
  2. Contextual differences have balanced. The first debate format of the homeschool league was policy debate. One significant irritation homeschoolers had with policy debaters was the practice of speed debate. Homeschoolers were repulsed by it and did all they could to reduce its use. However, as Executive Director Scott Wunn of NSDA noted in my podcast last week, the final rounds of NSDA policy debate consisted of the slowest speeches of any of the debate events. Contextually, speed debate cannot be used as a barrier to entry any longer. This goes for many speech and debate events, too.
  3. Stereotypes of each have faded away. This is perhaps most pleasing to me. The stereotypical homeschooler is not so separated from public life anymore. Likewise, the stereotypical “government schooler” (government was often used derogatorily to suggest tyrannical nature of public education) has softened. I’m not sure these stereotypes were ever true, but suffice it to say that most home/public schoolers do not fit them today. This fading of the stereotypes have encouraged families like ours to come out and support some movements within public education.

I wholeheartedly support the rise of speech and debate. I always have. And I believe that no matter what choice in education you find yourself in—public, private, charter and home—you will find a place to participate. And you most certainly will find it most exciting!