Of course, our two teams got slaughtered. They maybe won a single round out of the twelve rounds debated, but oddly they weren’t discouraged. If anything, they were more enthusiastic than ever to get back to work, gather and organize evidence, refine their cases, study vocabulary specific to the resolution, and practice delivery skills. We went to a few more tournaments that year, and although none of the four had much of a win-loss record to show, all four of them enjoyed the challenge and acknowledged the value of the effort they put into it. We parents were hooked.  

The next year we got serious, starting in August with a “Speech Boot Camp,” a two-week public speaking intensive designed to help new students past their initial resistance to public speaking and get used to writing, delivering, and critiquing several types of speeches. Although three of our four original students graduated and went off to college, we talked it up and recruited enough new students to double our size; “The Liber” (our club name) had eight debaters, including my daughter number four. It was a much better year, as we had a degree of experience under our belt and knew what to expect. By the following year, our club had doubled in size again; several of the second-year debaters planned to give platform or interpretive speeches; and we were blessed to see tremendous growth in confidence and skills in all of the students, especially those who had been so shy and anxious in the beginning.

While it’s inspiring and satisfying to see so many young people develop their communication skills through speech and debate, what’s even more exciting for me is to see how homeschool debate culture so actively nurtures character development as well. With a wide age range of debaters (12 to 18 in age), it is not at all uncommon to see a little 12-year-old girl cross-examining a six-foot 17-year-old boy, or vice versa. The supportive, gracious interaction between students of all ages and levels of experience demonstrates that the homeschool debate world is truly one of social excellence. Not only are the kids well dressed, polite, and enthusiastic, but almost all of them are serious about their faith and believe that the real reason they are there is to bring glory to God, to honor Him by striving to honor one another, and to prepare themselves with skills to better speak His truth into a world so desperate for truth. Nowhere have I seen these values so universally embodied by young people as I have at homeschool debate events. 

Will debate take time? Yes, possibly a lot. Money? Yes, some, especially for travel. Will it be worth it? Absolutely. I am confident that if you were to ask a hundred homeschool graduates who did debate, “What were the most important or valuable things you did during your teen years?” they would, in the high 90-percent range, affirm that speech and debate were the most beneficial and formative, even—or perhaps especially—the ones who resisted the idea at first. My kids certainly would.

So, I encourage you to make the effort this year to observe a homeschool debate tournament. With clubs and events all over the country, you can find one, and however far you have to drive, it will be worth it; I promise. Even if you ultimately decide against joining a club or participating in a league, you’ll come back inspired and more hopeful for the future, having seen so many confident, capable, articulate young Christian men and women. And very possibly you’ll come home determined to find—or even start—a club for the 2012–2013 school year. For information about debate clubs and events in your region, check with your local homeschool group and your state organization, and visit one or both of the homeschool leagues’ websites: