I just got off the phone with the director of a major nonprofit who is thrilled about the quality of kids coming out of the homeschool debate world. He’s so pumped, he can barely stand it. Funny, though, I got several calls last week from folks who were not.
I have advocated for homeschool debate from Day One, since 1996 when the Home School Legal Defense Association started the first homeschool debate league. (You can read my history here.) From the beginning, I considered it everything homeschoolers wanted to teach their children: logic, reasoning, communication, history, literature, etc. Hands down, academic debate (and speech, too) is the best curricular activity available for homeschoolers. Today, after nearly twenty years of advocating for it, debate is considered the “homeschool sport.”
Not just a debate junkie like me, but lots of people are excited about these young people. College admissions folks, politicians, nonprofit leaders, employers, entrepreneurs — we love what is coming out of the homeschool debate community. Debaters are the sharpest, most well-versed, and daring young people imaginable. They are natural leaders in the midst of change. If you know this community like I do, you have much more confidence in the future than most others.
But not everyone is hunky-dory about them. Some are disappointed, even thinking poorly of the activity because of it.
As I mentioned, I’ve gotten some calls from friends, even homeschool leaders and debate coaches of many years experience, concerned over some alumni who are challenging some of the major subcultures of the greater homeschool community. I even spoke to a local pastor who, quite publicly, tied the activity of debate to playing with the devil himself. (I plan to blog on this conflict later, but I’m still trying to sort it out; it has some deeper, more bizarre elements to it.)
For a guy like me who has made homeschool debate his life, I’m personally vested in this — in all sides, too. Some of these homeschool debate alumni — now adults — are former students of mine, even coaches whom I have employed in the past 15 years of running camps and writing curriculum. They’ve used the power of the Internet to criticize homeschooling and other subcultures that I advocate. The pastor mentioned above — though I haven’t subscribed to his preaching for a decade — used to be a favorite expositor of mine. I consider it an absolute joy to facilitate debate camps across the country that pump out champions in the competitive year. I also collaborate with coaches all across the country (even the world!) to develop curriculum that empowers debaters to be the top champions in the nation, and we have a strong track record of our work.
I’m in deep. You see, I don’t just see this as an academic activity; I see this as a biblical responsibility to “train the mind for action” (1 Peter 1:13). My convictions couldn’t be stronger.
Why is there any doubt at all in the generation of debaters that we raised up?
I suspect that disillusionment has set in because we played mind games on ourselves. We have forgotten what our goals were when we started this machine in the ’90s. We’ve actually achieved them, and now we’re surprised. In three areas:
- We Wanted Transformation, Not Conformity . Our debaters are growing up and actually transforming themselves and the status quo. Trouble is, we (parents, educators, leaders) are some of the defenders of the status quo. We are uneasy with some of the things the young people are coming up with.
- We Wanted Engagement, Not Isolation. Yep, we tooled these kids up with the best communication and thinking skills on the planet. Why wouldn’t we expect them to engage a fallen world? It’s risky and perhaps dangerous, which also makes us uneasy.
- We Wanted Action, Not Apathy. For all the complaining we parents do about the deadbeat Millennial generation, I’m surprised to hear from people who are uneasy when they actually go out and do something.
Are you on board with training young people to be nonconformists, leaders, and action agents? If you are, don’t be surprised when they actually become these things. I’m going to expand on these three in coming days. I’d love to hear what you think.
Does the activity of debate harm or help young people?