And what an excellent activity. The day I witnessed my first debate, I knew, this was it. Speech and debate is a tool used to “train minds for action” (1 Peter 1:13, our ministry’s key verse), a key to fulfilling the Great Commission and move mountains in our world.
While waiting for awards to start in Seattle, I struck up a conversation with a dad. I knew him just a little, his son attending our camp last year. I had seen his wife more often at previous tournaments, but he was the chaperone this time around.
“I don’t make it to many of these tournaments,” he said. “Boy, are they impressive. I am so optimistic for the future.”
I hear this often. These kids are sharp. I, too, am optimistic when I see these young people do so well, and I attend as many tournaments as my time (and money) allows. Not all dads are able to do so, and I love to talk with them when I can. I inquired further about why he was so optimistic, asking, “What makes you say that?”
Think about that question. Before I share what this dad said, think: Why are you pumped up about speech and debate? It probably isn’t trophies, as you may think comes to the mind of someone who loves competition. Some avoid the activity because of its competitive nature, making the naive assumption that we folks are “all about winning.” I suppose there have been some over the years who gloat as they take their trophies. Okay, whatever. Here’s a little secret from someone who’s trained the top winners in the league: champions don’t worry about such things. Ironically enough, when they begin to grasp that their prize is beyond the trophy, they start to win.
Here’s another common reason: scholarships. Tough to blame parents for thinking that. Colleges consider speech and debate kids top-notch, best-of-the-best students to lift their academic reputations. Thousands of dollars can be saved for competitors (particularly debaters) who have stacked up winning records. Competitive forensics on your transcript opens doors for post-secondary education unlike most (any?) extracurricular activity.
Even if awards aren’t stacked to the ceiling, students still come out strong. Simply having debate on a high school transcript tells an employer, “This gal is focused” or “That guy is smart.” Communication is not a hurdle for alumni competitors. They handle interviews confidently. They make friends easily. There’s so much going for the graduate of speech and debate. Their future’s so bright, they’ve gotta wear shades. (Over the kids’ heads, but parents will appreciate that one.)
These kids are awesome; I’m so proud of them. All of them–even the ones who struggle in adulthood. Speech and debate is no silver bullet to raising perfect children. I have 15 children. The older I get and the more children my wife and I raise, the more we’re convinced that a silver bullet to parenting doesn’t exist. That said, in my opinion–and the opinion of the dad I was talking to–speech and debate is the best shot we’ve got.
This dad’s response had little to do with the kids, not even his own son. When I asked what made him so excited for this program, he got very personal: “These kids move me.” And then he explained his observing the event, Persuasive Speech. Paraphrasing a little: “I listened to the final round, and they genuinely challenged me to focus on God and on important issues of our day.” He referenced several other events. “In the debates, I had previously thought one thing, until I heard such-and-such debater argue against it. I had never thought of some of the things they brought up. The oratories, the questions they got in extemp and impromptu and apologetics–all I can say is wow. These kids are delivering the truth unlike our generation ever did, or even tried.”
“They’re training minds for action,” I returned.
Please forgive me. This was a shameless plug, referencing our ministry’s verse. Sometimes I can’t help myself. We pour our all into kids, to train their minds for action–in and out of the tournament. They learn to think, speak, and persuade. Spending a week with these focused students, you leave impressed. More so, you are captivated, rivited, moved.
The dad recognized my sales pitch for our events. “Yeah,” he smiled. “We’ll be there this summer, don’t worry.” Then more seriously, “You helped my son do well. Thank you for all that you do.”
I cannot tell you how much this moved me. I’m not an emotional man, but I definitely felt the lump in my throat. Thank you, Lord, for the encouragement, I thought. I changed the subject. “I have an idea.”
“What’s that?” he said.
“How about we get every homeschool family in the nation involved in speech and debate?”
Not missing a beat, he said, “I’m in!”
Call me a dreamer, but I believe it would be awesome if every homeschooler were involved. All 2 million of them. All training their minds for action, confidently moving into life, their jobs, politics and government, churches, the economy. Strong, confident, Christ-loving adults starting families of their own. This dad and I are like-minded. We invest in our children’s competitions, in their training, in their resources–whatever it takes to give them the opportunity to compete. Why? If we’re honest, it is because they move us.
Republished from Monument Publishing. Cynthia Jeub contributed to this article.