Is Speech & Debate the Right Outlet for Your Teen?
- Chris Jeub The Old Schoolhouse
- 2010 16 Mar
The greatest academic opportunity that homeschoolers have today is, hands-down, speech and debate. Speaking and debating in a competitive environment (known as "forensics") is a nationally recognized homeschool extracurricular activity.
Junior high and high school students nationwide practice in the fall to compete in the second semester of the school year. They prepare speeches and debate topics set forth by the leagues. Unparalleled by their public school counterparts, these students build up quite a resumé that is a strong complement to leadership and speaking skills.
How do homeschool families get involved? I am the president of Training Minds Ministry, an educational nonprofit ministry that caters to homeschool families desiring to build communication skills in their students. We host the nation's largest debate and speech camps and conferences, and we launch classes for students every fall. I have more information about these opportunities, but let me first run through the basics of academic forensics for your homeschool.
The NCFCA and Other Leagues
There are three leagues available for homeschool students, the largest and widest reaching being the National Christian Forensics & Communications Association (NCFCA). Although the league's official numbers aren't posted online, it is rumored that more than five thousand affiliate families are currently participating in the league.
The NCFCA creates the speech and debate rules for competition, hosts open tournaments and monitors regional ones, and hosts the National Tournament every June (the end of the competitive year). Christian Communicators of America (CCA) and Christian Communicators of the SouthEast (CCofSE) are two off-shoots of the NCFCA that serve smaller (but growing) regions of the United States. Rules and debate resolutions vary among all three leagues, but all three are intended exclusively for homeschoolers. Last summer California (the state with the largest number of forensic participants) began a new league, Stoa, which is anticipated to host the largest tournaments in the nation.
The National Forensic League (NFL) is, by far, the largest league in the nation and does include homeschoolers, but it is considered a public school league. I personally advise homeschoolers to avoid the NFL because of its questionable worldview. However, I have known homeschool families to prosper in the NFL.
When you and I were attending high school (assuming it was in the public school system), we typically labeled certain individuals as the "cool kids." Usually those were the jocks—football players or sports enthusiasts. The "nerds" were those in forensics, the Bill Gates types who are now corporate executives and six-figure wage earners.
The exact opposite is true in homeschool circles, where the speakers and debaters are the cool kids too. At homeschool conferences or within local communities that have a strong forensics program, you may have noticed that the students with the best leadership skills and brightest futures are those who participate in speech and debate. And no wonder! Forensics trains students for leadership opportunities far beyond their high school and junior high school experience. Students learn to speak confidently, to articulate themselves to ruling judges, and to think through the most complex logical and political dilemmas.
Bottom line is that homeschool forensics is one way of carrying out the instruction found in 1 Peter 1:13: "Train the mind for action" (NIV), my ministry's key verse. God has big purposes for your children, and homeschool forensics trains them for action in the world.
The communities of speakers and debaters that have developed since 1996 (the founding of the NCFA) has been incredible. Students have gone on to the best colleges and universities, into civil service and pastorate positions, on to mission fields and families—all with discerning minds to do good work. I couldn't be more proud of our students.
Time Commitment and Calendar
Before your student makes a commitment to participate, it is good to get an idea of how much time it will take to be involved in the various activities and what the school year's calendar looks like. I'm confident you will find it worth your time, but it does take commitment on the part of the homeschool family.
Carefully consider attending a speech and debate camp during the summer months. In August, we hosted a conference in Colorado in which students from around the country came to be trained in Team Policy Debate, Lincoln Douglas Debate, and Extemporaneous and Apologetics speaking.
Classes typically start in the fall, the time when most homeschools start. We host online courses, anywhere from special one-night workshops to twelve-week courses. Local clubs can be found—typically meeting once or twice a week—to prepare for local, state, and regional tournaments. Contact information for state and regional directors can be found on the league websites.
These tournament opportunities start sprouting up in November or December, usually as practice or round-robin scrimmages. Sanctioned qualifiers run through the late winter and spring months. In the NCFCA, April is the month when most regional tournaments are held; at these tournaments, students can qualify to compete in the National Tournament.
June is when the largest league's grand finale takes place. A large representation of students from all corners of the nation gather for competition. The new debate resolutions are announced at Nationals. Ministries like mine start planning and writing curriculum to rev up for the next cycle year of "training minds for action."
As you can imagine, this would take ample time. Like any sport, involvement—especially for serious competitors—tends to soak up time. There are two things to remember when considering speech and debate.
First, be confident that you need not pour your entire life into the activity. There is no qualification/disqualification or "making the team" mandate for joining any of the leagues mentioned above. Most tournaments are open to everyone (only the final tournaments are invitational only), so a committed student can enter tournaments and compete. Granted, those who put more into their preparation will get more out of it, but I have seen great results from modest involvement.
Second, consider the vast amount of knowledge your children will gather in this activity. True, forensics is much like a sport in respect to its competitive nature. However, students also gain extensive knowledge about the debate topics and extemporaneous current events. They learn how to become interpreters of literature, as well as masters of communication skills. Homeschools can pull together several disciplines in this one competitive event.
I know, you want an exact number of hours this activity takes. That's tough to do because, as I already said, you get what you put into it. It is safe to say that students who attend a two-hour club every week through the fall (along with a few more hours of preparation work at home) will have a satisfactory competitive season in the spring. I've seen students pour countless hours into preparation, and these students end up being national champions.
The list of websites provided below can help you get you started. Feel free to email our office at firstname.lastname@example.org with specific questions. We'll try to answer your questions the best we can.
You're in for a great journey as you get involved in this community of homeschool speakers and debaters, leaders who will be part of a generation who will rise up for righteousness. I hope to see you at some tournaments!
Competitive Speech & Debate Tournament Events
For those of you who are new to the world of speech and debate, here are some common terms and their abbreviations to help you get better acquainted with the events and get you started on the right foot.
Although specific events do vary from league to league, and even from year to year, they are generally divided into three categories: Platform or Prepared, Interpretive, and Limited Preparation or Extemporaneous. Students typically use the same speech all year with the exception of Limited Preparation.
Platform or Prepared Speeches: written by the student, memorized, 8-10 minutes long
- Expository (Expos): explains a topic through the use of visual aids
- Original Oratory (OO): given on any topic the speaker chooses
- Persuasive (Pers) or Original Advocacy (OA): intended to persuade the audience to adopt a particular point of view or course of action
- Original Prose and Poetry (OPP): written to tell as a story
Interpretive Speeches: based on published works, memorized, 8-10 minutes long
- Dramatic (DI): develops one work of emotional literature for performance
- Humorous (HI): similar to DI but humorous
- Duo (Duo): develops one work of literature for dual performance
- Open (OI): enables students to present a wide variety of literary styles and sources, even their own
- Thematic (TI): a selection of three or more readings related to one theme; may be from the same author or different authors
- Oratorical (OI): from a speech originally delivered by a real person
Limited Preparation or Extemporaneous Speeches: prepared at the tournament with a limited amount of time
- Apologetics (Apol): four minutes to prepare a six-minute speech on a topic related to defending his/her faith
- Extemporaneous (Extemp, NX, or FX): thirty minutes to prepare a seven-minute speech on a current event topic
- Impromptu (Imp): two minutes to choose one of three topics and prepare a five-minute speech
- Team Policy Debate: competitors either advocate or oppose a resolution that calls for a change in policy regarding a current political issue
- Lincoln Douglas Debate: one-on-one, named after the famous debates between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln
Let's Get Started!
Training Minds Ministry
Hosts training camps in the summer and fall, and a large conference every year in Colorado. Classes teaching introductory speech and debate skills (started fall 2009).
The leading publisher of homeschool speech and debate curriculum. Several of the league's most notorious coaches have resources for your students. Corporate site:
As I mentioned, there are currently three homeschool leagues available for students, the largest being the NCFCA. www.ncfca.org
Blue Book Report
Team Policy debaters prepare around a particular topic for the year, and an entire community of debaters studies together with daily news items, bulletin boards, and more. *This article published on March 19, 2010.
Chris Jeub is president of Training Minds Ministry and owner of Monument Publishing, both leaders in the development of camps and resources for academic speakers and debaters. Students enrolled in his programs have enjoyed competitive success throughout the twelve years of ministry. You may contact Chris at email@example.com.