The Lessons I Wasn’t Supposed to Learn: Andrew Roblyer’s Thoughts
The 6 years I spent involved in the NCFCA changed my life. I would wager, however, that my life was not changed in the way that many of the adults in NCFCA leadership wish that it had been. The dream, espoused to us students many times over the course of our competitive careers, was that we would leave that league trained to do battle against the evil influence of the world, to defend our beliefs, and to convert people to Christianity. It was, in essence, a conservative (and at times fundamentalist) evangelical pipe dream: a veritable army of thinkers and speakers to fight the good fight and defend their view of the Bible, Truth, and God.
Well, I came out of the league a pretty good thinker and speaker, but I’m also out of the closet, a mainline progressive Christian, and a moderate liberal. And I am all of those things in large part because of those parents and leaders, some of whom are probably quite disappointed that I didn’t use my influence for their specific idea of what was “Good.”
But before I expound upon my NCFCA experience, I must preface with this: When I set out to write this piece, I did not set out to talk about anything negative. My experience is one that I normally recall quite fondly (mostly because of the friendships that came out of it), but in reading the other posts this week, some very vivid and painful memories have returned to the surface, and I feel the need to discuss them. These negative memories center around the league leadership, not the coaches I worked with or really even the parents I knew. The few criticisms I have included are not intended to be directed at any person’s integrity or reputation. Many of the adults in leadership while I was competing and coaching are people I have a great deal of respect for.
So, here are six things the NCFCA gave me, including some lessons that I don’t think they intended me to learn.
- The NCFCA gave me peers, for the first time in my life. Growing up, I was always “the smart kid.” I hated that term, but as it was the only way I knew to get respect from both my peers and the adults in my life, I worked hard to perpetuate it. As a kid, I always had my nose in a book, had very few close friends (but the ones I did have were wonderful), and spent a lot of time alone. I wasn’t unhappy by any means, but I think that was only because I didn’t know what it was like to have peers. The students in the NCFCA challenged me. Collectively, they are some of the most intelligent, dedicated people I have ever met, and I consider myself exceedingly lucky to have met and grown to know and love so many of them.
- The NCFCA taught me that communication is key. More than anything intellectual, my time in the league developed the innate passion within me to be in relationship with people. Communication was prized above anything else, including research and academic prowess. It didn’t matter what you knew unless you knew how to talk with people and not at them, in a way that they could understand. This tenet influences decisions I make and endeavors I undertake to this day.
- The NCFCA taught me how to ask questions. Whether through cross-examination in debate, extemporaneous speaking, or impromptu, I learned how to ask powerful questions both to gather information and to test the information I had already gathered.
- The NCFCA taught me that adults are not superior to adolescents just by virtue of their age. I guarantee you that this was not the lesson that I was intended to learn, because the league leadership rarely empowered us as young adults outside of the debate rounds. We were looked at and spoken to like children while we were expected to think, speak, and behave like adults. Even as legal adults, alumni were placed in a special category of judges, being the only ones to have our ballots read for legitimacy, regardless of our reputations. On the flip side, I can’t tell you how many adult arguments and feuds I saw during my time in the NCFCA, but I can tell you that there were just as many as between students. My time in the league removed any illusions that communication and maturity became easier as adults, which prepared me for the “real world” in a huge way.
- The NCFCA taught me (but didn’t mean to) the value of both transparency and trust. More specifically, it taught me that answering the question “Why?” may be one of the most important things I can do as a leader. This was due in large part to the lack of transparency and trust between the league leadership (especially the board of directors) and many of the students. In this area, our questioning skills were often cast in a negative light and we were dismissed. I remember speaking with a friend about this and saying that it felt we were on a Christian Soldier assembly line, and the adults in the league were trying to control how we behaved and thought at the end of the process. What they didn’t realize is that much like in the film I, Robot, that method of control provoked exactly what they sought to minimize.
- The NCFCA taught me that getting know a person’s heart and individual situation is of paramount importance to the development of relationship. I saw relationships ruined time and again because legalism got in the way of true listening and understanding. The integrity of the “assembly line” I mentioned earlier often seemed more important than the individual students and parents involved. This was not as much a top-down issue as it was ubiquitous: most rule violators were problems to be dealt with. This continued through our time as alumni, dovetailing with the way that we were categorized and talked down to mentioned above.
The people I met during my time in the NCFCA are dear to my heart, including many of the people in league leadership that I knew. Many of these issues are issues that would likely develop in any institution like NCFCA, but as it is NCFCA we are discussing this week, it is NCFCA I have written about. Nobody involved in the league leadership was ever a “bad person,” and they all gave so much of their time and energy that it’s a wonder they don’t all have grey hair. But the league was not perfect, no matter how much I want to remember that time in an entirely positive light. And it’s important to talk about how we perceived both the great and the not-so-great because those things have clearly contributed to who we (as authors) are as people.
So, when people who were or are involved with the league read this, I hope you know that I bear you no ill will. I still to this day recommend the league to students I work with, because it helped make me who I am today. And I think that’s pretty awesome…even if that person isn’t exactly who the league hoped I would become.