A Letter of Gratitude, A Call for Dialogue
By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator
As this project has continued, I have challenged myself to analyze many of the institutions and cultures of my youth. (I wrote about an overview of my experiences and contemporary observations here.) I look very fondly on my time in NCFCA and CFC, but my female peers from high school (overwhelmingly) had a lot of criticism due to their experiences.
All of us believe in the mission of teaching kids to express themselves, think critically, and hone their verbal skills. But many of us have now realized that some of the toxic teachings of religious fundamentalism have negatively impacted many of the children in the league and Christian homeschool debate culture. This is not to say that NCFCA must abandon its Christian motivation and purpose. There are, however, simple steps that could be taken to lessen the negative impact of purity teachings and modesty doctrines.
I speak these words of criticism with a heavy heart because I know the tales of the suffering of many of my peers will be dismissed as atypical experiences or dramatic whining. Each and every one of us approaches this task of speaking about and criticizing Christian homeschooling debate with love, deep respect, and admiration for many of our dear friends from the league. Our criticisms are not a condemnation of NCFCA, CFC, STOA, et al (see here for an overview of the differences in these acronyms). Rather, consider our criticisms a call to “be holy for I [Christ] am holy.” I know perfection is impossible, but Christian homeschool debate taught me to fight for the impossible if I believed it was right.
We will publishing some pieces this week that are very critical of Communicators for Christ and the Moon family. I have fact-checked them and considered each one with an open mind. It is hard for me to comprehend how it could be so bad for some, when my experience was so positive. I don’t say this to diminish others’ negative experiences because, as I read these stories, it all made sense. Yes, things like the pressure of competition or the Body Shaming/Modesty Police didn’t impact me negatively, but I support and defend all the stories that we publish here.
I wanted to include a letter I wrote to Mrs. Moon a while ago, before Ryan and I began this project. I had a feeling that we would eventually get around to NCFCA and CFC, if only because so many of us share that experience on common.
I was chatting with Devin recently about how beneficial my time on tour was for me. He mentioned that a lot of former interns have written to you about their scarring, possibly traumatizing experiences, they had one tour (no details, just very generally). I was honestly very shocked! Devin said I should pass on the kind words to you. I certainly can’t speak for anyone else, but my experience was fantastic. Yes, I had to memorize a sign-language dance to Mary Did You Know, but it’s a great memory.
My adolescence was very troubled. My family got deep into ATI, which I now consider to be a cult. At the first CFC conference I attended in 2003, Caleb Smith’s charisma opened me up to really express myself. From there, I developed critical thinking skills in the networks fostered at your conferences. I remember one conversation I had with you, I think it may have been in Austin in the downstairs coffee shop (I don’t expect you to remember), and I asked you about why CFC operated for-profit instead of a non-profit. You said you had a vision and you didn’t want it to be lost. This really bothered me for a long time and I thought it was a sort of “pat” answer. In the last few years, I’ve come to appreciate the work you did on an entirely new level. You opened up thousands of sheltered homeschool kids to so many ideas and the ability [to] process new ideas. I can honestly say I probably learned more from CFC [about how to think logically and empirically] than I ever did about all the sciences combined in high school. Without CFC, I never would have found debate, which was my only way to process out all the cultist nonsense. I credit debate 100% with where I am now.
Not only did the conferences change me, but the tour experience itself was life-changing. For the first time, I was out of my parents house and given real responsibilities. Emotionally, I experienced the first few months without a sense of impending doom, constant anxiety, and other home problems. I will also never forget that you made some pretty big exceptions to your rules for alumni participation levels to even let me tour with the team. I remember a conversation we had sometime before I toured after a regional tournament. I waited away from all the people partying to try and talk to you, you made it clear that you thought I had a lot of potential, but I needed to focus and buckle down. You were one of the first people to give me any sort of self confidence and sense of purpose.
I thrived in that environment and I kindled my love for teaching. Never again have I had so much “class room” time simply teaching subjects I’m passionate about. The skills I learned coordinating tournaments, administering things, herding participants prepared me for being dropped into Afghanistan with three weeks to design a curriculum, teach it, practice debates, organize, run, and administer a tournament. I know without CFC there’s no way I would have been prepared for that. And now there’s a thriving debate league in Afghanistan – thanks to the determination of Josh McCormick.
Many of us are where we are in large part because of Christian homeschool debate. Ryan and I have the tools to do this because we were trained to be counter-cultural warriors who fight the power in order to defend truth. It is unfortunate that criticism must be leveled at what many of us hold so dearly. Yet we would betray those life-changing lessons if we did not.
We want younger people in these groups to have a better experience, to have the “life-changingness” without the emotional trauma. I don’t know what that means exactly — but almost ten years ago, Ryan Stollar tried to start that conversation and he was punished for it. So we are going to have this damn conversation, whether it is comfortable or not.