A day hardly goes by where someone asks me about this “whole speech and debate thing,” especially in homeschool circles. I had a college student from Georgetown University ask me some pointed questions. If you’re asking questions, perhaps these answers will help you, too.
Why is speech and debate such a prevalent activity among Christian families who homeschool? Why do Christian parents choose speech and debate for their children?
The ministry I run (Training Minds Ministry) is based on 1 Peter 1:13, “train the mind for action.” Christian educators view training the mind similar to how a soldier prepares for battle: preparation and training is key. I have found no better preparation for action than academic speech and debate. All the pedagogical objectives in Christian education is wrapped up in competitive forensics. Traditional public education has a history of treating it as “extracurricular,” giving speech and debate clubs little or no attention at all. Home educators tend to better understand its tremendous curricular value, and many of those who get involved make it a central part of their homeschool plans.
What skills does speech and debate teach, and how do they help debaters to live in accordance with Biblical values?
The subtitle of my curriculum publishing company (Monument Publishing) contains the answer to this first half of the question: “Think, Speak, Persuade.” I typically remind people that it is IN THIS ORDER. The activities surrounding speech and debate are complex — composition, research, structure, logic, rhetoric, truth, falsity and fallacies, etc. The elements of persuasion are wrapped up in the speech events and, of course, debate.
As for the second half of your question, Christians have had a rough history. I believe God is a god of logic (1 John 1:1) and reasoning (Isaiah 1:18), not a dogmatic, narrow-minded god who wants his people pounding bibles over people’s heads. Speech and debate allows for an arena of competition to strengthen the student’s speaking skills to ultimately engage the world in a way that glorifies Christ’s love for all mankind.
In your experience, does participating in speech and debate encourage children to be more active in other activities related to political or civic engagement? Are debaters better prepared than their peers to go to college and enter the workforce?
The homeschool speech and debate world is a small subculture in the somewhat-small homeschool community. Without fail, students who grow up in this environment become the sharpest thinkers in their post secondary lives. In fact, they often report to me how shocked they are at how inept most others are at giving speeches, taking business opportunities, working hard toward career objectives and goals, and handling themselves in group and leadership situations. They enter adulthood a head above the rest, no matter what field they enter.
Training Minds Ministry runs a conference that does exactly this: the For Action Conference. It is in response to the problems we generally see with the millennial generation, the apathy and lack of ambition young people seem to have a reputation for. We have leaders who have made civic, political, collegiate and entrepreneurial strides while at very young ages — many of them from the homeschool speech and debate community. Check out the speaker list at https://foraction.