Teenagers Taking Over the World: Kierstyn King’s Thoughts
Kierstyn King blogs at Bridging the Gap.
NCFCA and TeenPact were ideologically very similar to me — in some ways, almost extensions of each other. That could be because I was in NCFCA before TeenPact and a lot of the things I learned in NCFCA, TeenPact also tried to teach and hone.
I was 13 when I started NCFCA, and I stopped shortly after I was 15. I was in a debate club in SW FL (region 8!) and I never made it out of the preliminaries. I participated in persuasive, extemporaneous, oratorical, and occasionally impromptu speech, and Team Policy debate. My team was one of the few girl/girl teams.
Because I never got far, I didn’t experience as much craziness from mothers in other clubs. I remember ballots that had me in tears – one tournament I did an oratorical speech, which was Patrick Henry’s speech, and one of the judges wrote down (among other things) that my voice was too girly (because the ankle length skirt didn’t give it away?). This bothered me because it was like the judge wasn’t even listening, and wrote down something that I could not modify or fix, that was completely ridiculous and missing the point.
I had a lot of notes about my performance as opposed to content, though I don’t have any of my ballots to go back to. I remember being frustrated with most of them, because they were so unhelpful and had nothing to do with being a better debater, just, looking or preforming better. There were so many useless comments that I think actually a lot of us stopped reading them. Helpful commentary was so rare that when I found one, I was thrilled. Actually, I think I put it somewhere special at the time.
I wore clothes that were too big, too old, and I felt like a dark little blob in order to maintain professionalism and adhere to the dress code. I always wore skirts because it was easier that way, and because my clothes were larger than they needed to be, I flew under the radar for mothers enforcing dress codes.
There were rumors about why my partner and I didn’t make it to regionals one year: like maybe the judges voted for the boy/boy team because they were boys even though we had done better. I don’t know if it’s founded (though I wouldn’t be surprised) because my parents and the other parents didn’t get along (and my parents like to make things up).
I loved meeting people at NCFCA, and learning how to argue without feeling personally affronted, or personally offending other people. I learned how to think there, and my club itself, was fantastic. After my parents split the club, I was still able to maintain friendships and I realized that this is how life should work. I learned to value tact.
My parents made my experience in NCFCA horrible. They “learned” how to debate, held real life to NCFCA rules and decided that they disagreed with how the other parents were running the club and essentially split it in half. It was miserable as parents pitted against parents and all of us kids were stuck in the middle, powerless.
The club my parents started, was the club that holds the most similarities to TeenPact. Because, it was in the club my parents made, where gender roles were enforced. I “co-lead” the debate team/club with one of the boys. I had to essentially go along with whatever he wanted and let him make all the calls even though he was less motivated. My parents went to great lengths to insure “male headship”. Much like the girl talks at TeenPact.
They had extremely conservative by-laws. Girls who were more liberal, though never directly stated, were seen as trouble – which I think is why they made sure that only the girls they trusted were in leadership positions with/under boys. In hopes that the more liberal girls would follow the example and become less “loud”.
My mom taught (under male authority) in a very…task-master-like way (she made any speech and debate event/meeting miserable, even in the old club – it became so bad my first year that I told her dad needed to pick me up instead, because he wouldn’t berate me the entire way home). When she was starting the new club she essentially told me that I wasn’t good enough, that I was failing, and she was going to fix it (because she obviously wasn’t being hard enough on me?).
After a summer full of her “training” (which felt more like bootcamp) she started teaching the club itself, in a very similar way: very critical, and perfectionistic. I don’t know how the other parents felt, I think that the best thing my parents did for that club was move 3 months after they founded it.
In November, we moved to Atlanta-ish, and I joined a club close to me. I met my first best friend there, and was involved for the rest of the season – I was almost 15. When the season ended in the spring (when I was 15) my parents took me aside and told me “you’re not getting better at this, you’re not going anywhere, it’s obvious that this isn’t meant for you.” I was devastated, because this cut off my only social outlet in a place that I hated living. Which is besides the point, but it hurt so much that I feel it’s worth mentioning.
Really, the biggest comparisons that can be made between NCFCA and TeenPact are that their goals and values are the same. Their goal is to create thinkers to think the way they want them to think. They lure parents like mine, to indoctrinate people to think the way they want them to think. They want to create articulate teenagers to take over the world, they want simultaneously, for women to learn that their place is under men, and never above. That women need to hide their shape, still, and yet remain professional – in their skirts, unless you’re just doing speech, then slacks are permitted. But if you’re taking on (potentially) men in debate? Skirts-only for you, missy! I think this is a subtle way of enforcing the women-are-less idea that pervades so much of this subculture.
The thing that neither of these organizations count on, is their former students actually doing what they were taught to do – think for themselves.