Friday, March 18, 2011

No Debate About These Homeschooled Kids

DAY 10 OF 46

I've gotta tell ya: Yesterday, I was stunned.

I walked by a gymnasium full of teenagers at a large Baptist church in Keller, Texas, and the din emanating from the huge hall with horrible acoustics was... about as loud a murmur as you get in an airport terminal.

I didn't walk by just once, catching the kids in a freak moment of good behavior. No, I walked by a number of times (because I was lost in the labyrinthine building!). One wall of the gym was glass, and I could look inside and see the kids - hundreds of them - milling about in groups, chatting and laughing, fidgeting and walking around, but completely devoid of the hyperactivity, hyper noise, and pandemonium most people expect from today's teenagers.

What Was I Doing There?

Completely out of character for me, I had volunteered to judge a regional debate tournament for homeschoolers. Hundreds of kids being educated at home by their parents have been in this event all week, but I signed up for just yesterday evening and this afternoon. I had little idea what to expect, since I'm not around kids much at all. I've none of my own, you know, and my nephews and niece all live in Michigan. I see teenagers at church on Sundays, but not usually in packs.

I mean, "gangs."

Oops - I mean, "groups."

So, why did I bother volunteering?

The tournament had been organized in part as a fundraiser for a local family whose son - who had just graduated from homeschool high school - was critically injured in an automobile accident last year. Driving to his summer job one morning near Fort Worth, he got T-boned by a speeding motorist in a pickup truck.

After countless surgeries and hundreds of hours of physical therapy, this young man remains in a relatively vegetative state, unable to communicate except for slight twitches and eye movements. Remarkably, his doctors say his progress has been consistent and discernible, and friends have joined family members in providing in-home therapy every day, all day, since his latest release from the hospital.

As a high school student, he had been an avid participant in these debate tourneys, so the homeschooling community decided to use this spring's event as a way to show support for his family, whose medical bills continue to mount by the day.

Genuine Difference

I must say these are some of the best-behaved, polite, articulate, and confident kids I've ever seen. Being homeschooled, and considering the negative stereotypes about homeschooling in our culture, you'd think a lot of them might have had their childhood beaten out of them by strict fundamentalist parents. But nope; they were eager, poised, good-natured, and quick-thinking. Not exactly traits of kids who've been repressively denied their individual personalities.

One of the debates I helped judge had a timekeeper who must have been 8 years old, but who conducted himself like a modest teenager. The kids in that event had to give an impromptu speech on a previously undisclosed topic, and while a couple of them plainly didn't understand the topic they drew from a hat, they all made winsome efforts at trying to convince we three judges they knew what they were talking about.

Kinda like politicians, actually.

Which really struck me as one of the prevailing purposes for these debates. I quickly got the impression that the parents of these kids genuinely wanted them to end up in careers with an impact on public policy and social discourse. Many homeschoolers are evangelical Christians with deeply conservative politics, and they believe that one of the reasons America is lapsing into decline stems from a lack of coherent, resolute conservative leadership in our country. Which, of course, is true. It's just that instead of bemoaning the status-quo, these parents hope they're on the front-lines of positive change.

And they've raised their kids to believe they can be part of the solution to our country's problems. In the first debate, where I served as the lone judge, four remarkably bright and ambitious teenagers - all in charcoal gray suits - staged a mock courtroom trial on the merits of the Jackson-Vanik amendment.

Never heard of it? Neither had I, but I learned from these kids that the Jackson-Vanik amendment is a “freedom-of-emigration” requirement of Title IV of the Trade Act of 1974. Apparently, it's become a major sticking-point in the continuing debate regarding the normalization of trade relations between the United States and Russia.

Specifically, these debaters argued whether or not Russia had satisfied basic human rights requirements so that free trade between our nations could be enhanced.

Good grief - did you study stuff like this when you were in high school? I certainly didn't.

I'm actually glad to be going back this afternoon. Who knows what else I can learn?


  1. "They were eager, poised, good-natured, and quick-thinking. Not exactly traits of kids who've been repressively denied their individual personalities."

    That's great writing and a great endorsement of homeschoolers. Thanks for taking the time to write out your thoughts. I enjoyed this entry...And I'm glad you know "homeschoolers" is one word, unlike many other people. ;)

  2. As a part of the homeschool debaters I am very pleased to see the impression that our community has left upon you :) I hope you had a good time judging the rounds!


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