Three years ago brought a bit of a turning point for the Singleton household, when a new speech and debate club was starting in our area. I had heard about the National Homeschool Speech and Debate League (now National Christian Forensics and Communications Association–NCFCA) but honestly felt that it was something only available to those other home schoolers. You know what I mean–those on a more academic track than we had chosen in the past, the families that appear on the cover of home schooling magazines, wear matching outfits, have perfect haircuts, and study at the kitchen table in dust-free homes with fresh-cut-flower centerpieces … homes that have never seen dirty dishes or piles of laundry and would never resort to frozen lasagna for dinner.
Still, we attended the general informational meeting. As a parent, what I heard intrigued me. Through competitive speech and debate my students could learn logic, analytical reasoning, critical thinking, teamwork, and interpersonal skills and have a broadened life experience. It is about more than just trophies and competition. Home school speech and debate is about being effective, godly communicators capable of bringing about change in the world around us. Who would not sign up for that?!
With our lives already busy with activity, we had to make real decisions about schedule changes for our family. My husband and I decided to try this new club for a few weeks and then determine whether or not to continue. After those few weeks, we agreed to press on and learn more.
THSC was bringing Communicators for Christ (CFC) to Texas, and I was told it would be a great six-month jump-start into the League. It was so much more! CFC is a national conference that brings interns—national competitors—to your backyard, inspiring parents and students to pursue this worthwhile goal of making students cultural communicators who can effectively communicate, defend their faith, and change the world.
We found ourselves at the CFC Conference in San Antonio in 2003, trying to keep up with all the new information we were learning. We became instant debate addicts! I asked my children where they saw themselves in three years. “Winning tournaments” was their response. Up to that point, I had been the one dragging them to club meetings and to the conference; speech and debate was my choice. However, while attending the CFC Conference, they became hooked.
The alumni and interns who ran the conference were national competitors. Their introductions had a common theme: “I didn’t want to do this; my mom made me. I’m so glad she did; I have learned so much! Speech and debate has changed my life. The first year I came in last place, and now I’m National Champion.”
Did I mention that my children hid behind the couch at the first debate meeting we attended? Now here we were, just two months later, and they were buying into the vision of home school speech and debate—so much so that we followed CFC to their next conference on the tour and attended a second conference!
That first year was a bit rocky, but we persevered. My son Alex and his debate partner were able to compete in the Regional Invitational (RI) tournament that first year. My daughter Ashley qualified for the RI her second year with an expository speech on sharks. My daughter Emily qualified for the RI her second year of extemporaneous (current events) speech competition. But more important than ribbons or trophies are the invaluable lessons they have learned along the way.
At fifteen, Emily still has a few years of participation ahead of her. I remember that some of her first few debate rounds were very telling. They were so entertaining! Her comments on the Constitution and Washington, D.C., were just not true, but she did not know she sounded so convincing! What a great opportunity to study our government–its agencies, policies and practices–and the Constitution, along with its impact on us today. Now she follows current events with great enthusiasm. Every year she impresses her father and me as she shows such amazing growth as a speaker.
Alex, once impetuous and impulsive, is learning to be more purposeful, disciplined, and humble in all things. He still has the same passion with which God blessed him but is learning to hone his skills for more effective communication. His attitude is such a blessing. Alex is always available to help his sisters, his mother, or tournament organizers move tables or boxes or serve in any way he can. This attitude of service is becoming a lifestyle and not just something demonstrated at tournaments. Other parents comment to me about how Alex is always available and helpful, which tells me as a parent that he has become more observant to the world around him as well.
However, our greatest excitement is over the changes we have seen in our older daughter, Ashley, as she participates in the league. Ashley has had to overcome a number of challenges in language arts. As a younger student she struggled with a language-based disability that sometimes made me wonder if English were a foreign language to her. For several years she just did not speak at all. She spent a number of years in language therapy and worked hard just to learn to communicate the basic needs in her life.
Nothing was taken for granted in the area of communication with Ashley. I could never repay the home school community in Texas for their welcoming arms and encouragement. The self-confidence, poise, and validation she has achieved have been nothing short of amazing. Here, Ashley can use her dry wit, and it is not only appreciated but also recognized as humorous. It takes an amazing amount of courage to stand in front of one’s peers and ask to be critiqued.
By participating in speech and debate, students aged eight to eighteen (and their parents) learn not only academic skills of research, logic, and analytical thinking but also character traits, interpersonal skills, and a strong work ethic that will change their lives. They learn to defend their faith and discuss social issues with a biblical worldview.
Participants in Texas home school speech and debate are like family to us now. Every season is like a big family reunion with friends old and new.