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The International Debate Society

By Natalie Webb
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #71, 2006.

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Natalie Webb


When parents begin homeschooling, it is often because they want their children to receive a good education, perform well in extracurricular activities, and have time to pursue the things they love. But there's another reason many Christian parents homeschool. They are raising their kids to be moral, upright people who are the movers and shakers of society.

To become world-changers, homeschoolers must be excellent communicators. If we are to influence the world for the better, we cannot spend all of our time reading books in our ivory towers. If we want people to listen to us, we cannot speak about our ideals and convictions arrogantly or illogically. Instead, as the Apostle Paul said, we must be able to give an answer for the hope that is within us: we must be able to speak winsomely if we are to be effective in reaching a lost and dying world. Unfortunately, people are not born with this fundamental skill and it must be learned and practiced.

Communication Simulation

Homeschoolers are the champions of hands-on learning. When studying medieval history, we make armor. Botany and astronomy classes are spent in the great outdoors, while volunteering for a political candidate teaches us the political process. If we are to be communicators, what better way to learn than to actually communicate?

One of the best simulations of real world communication is formal debate experience. Some of the most respected communicators say that debate was the single thing that polished their skills the most. It taught them to write, think, and speak logically-even on the spur of the moment.

Natalie Webb, Petra Anderson, Susan Griffith, Matt Prichford
An online debate! From top to bottom, left to right: Natalie Webb, Custer City, OK; Petra Anderson, Denver, CO; Susan Griffith, Colorado Springs, CO; and Matt Prichford, Silverdale, WA.
My mom was determined that my brother and I would join a debate club at some point in our homeschool career. This might seem fairly simple; however, there was one problem. We lived two hours from civilization. Fortunately, through the various twists and turns of life in recent years, we lived for a short period in an area that had a strong speech and debate network. There I joined a debate group and zealously participated in tournaments. Shortly thereafter we moved again and I found myself back out in the boondocks, hours from people and certainly from debate clubs.

After our move back to the country, I kept up a correspondence with a friend, Petra Anderson. We spoke over a free internet telephony service, which was much like talking on the phone, only without the long-distance bill. We tried to figure out how I could stay involved in debate from 600 miles away. If someone at a tournament had a laptop with the telephony service installed on it, I could be at home on my computer and they could just set "me" on the podium to give my rebuttals and cross-examinations. After a lot of silly ideas, we finally came up with one that worked-an online debate club for homeschoolers who, like me, do not have access to the traditional debate clubs and tournaments. Thus, IDS was born.

Connect With Us!

The International Debate Society (IDS) is an online debate club that teaches novice and advanced debaters alike. Students are coached to think through and crystallize arguments, ask pertinent questions, and communicate winsomely. The mission of IDS is to train articulate communicators that can argue effectively, just as Paul did on Mars Hill.

Weekly small group meetings are conducted by IDS mentors over a free internet telephony program. Beginners are taught the basics of debate theory and structure early in the school year. Later, students with previous debate experience are incorporated into the meetings and add their expertise and another perspective on the year's resolution, while being given advanced coaching and training. As students begin writing cases, debates are held each meeting. Extended critique sessions and drills help debaters to become more proficient. We are concluding a very successful pilot year, during which we served students from three states.

That, in a nutshell, is the International Debate Society.


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