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>Was It Worth It?

By Pat J. Sikora

The 1998-99 debate season has ended for all but eight California teams-16 young people. As we look back on thousands of hours of practice and research, hundreds of pages of evidence, dozens of rounds in many tournaments, and who knows how much sacrifice of time, energy, and money from the debaters' families, we may be tempted to question, "was it worth it?" In fact, it would be wise to count the cost and weigh the benefits.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24 the Apostle Paul reminds us that "in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize," but he encourages each person to "run in such a way as to get the prize." In California, 16 young people won the coveted prize of qualifying for nationals, and dozens won speaker awards in qualifying tournaments. But what about the rest of us? Was it worth it? Whether your students won or lost, qualified or didn't win a round, I'd like to suggest that if they competed at all-even in one tournament-they gained some very important life skills that will serve them long after the thrill of nationals has faded.

Communication Skills:
The stated goal of HSLDA debate is not to qualify teams for nationals, but to "provide a means for home schooled students to learn and exercise analytical and oratorical skills to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ." Nationals rewards those who have excelled in these skills, but any student who learned the skills, who stood in front of a judge and presented a case, has learned basic communication skills.

Think back to September or even January. Look at the many ways your students communicate more effectively and more persuasively than they used to. Did they improve in their nemesis areas? My son, Joshua, received "slow down and articulate!" on more than 90% of his judge comments-both in club and in tournaments-all season. It seemed he'd never learn. But at APU, only one judge out of 12 mentioned that he spoke too fast. He learned an important skill. We are thrilled.

Did your student move from utter terror of speaking to a calm presentation? Did his eye contact improve? Did she stop clutching the lectern? Did he connect better with his audience? Did she reduce the number of vocalized pauses-and umm? Did he become more persuasive? Did her writing skills improve? Then it was worth it.

Mastering a Complex Topic:
Campaign finance reform challenges policy makers and think tanks alike. It's a complex topic with serious ramifications at every turn. Yet our students handled it admirably. Where else would high school students have the opportunity research, evaluate, and develop an understanding of such a topic? Where else do you see high school students reading, understanding, and arguing Supreme Court precedents?

Did your student's research skills improve? Did he learn his way around the Internet? Did she learn to think logically, critically, and analytically? Is it easier for him to see both sides of the issue now? Then it was worth it.

Winning and Losing:
Everyone likes to win. No one likes to lose. And worse, no one likes to see their children lose. Most of us would rather walk over hot coals than see our children face the disappointment, even humiliation, of loss. But the reality is, some kids win and some lose. In fact, some you never imagined could or would win, do, and the ones you knew would win go down in defeat.

We have lots of reasons, of course. Poor judging, power matching or protecting, home team advantage, God's will. Whatever. The reality is still that some kids win and a lot more lose. You know what? Life isn't fair! If you are over 21, you know that. It's a tough lesson for our kids to learn, but debate can help.

Did your student learn to win graciously and lose graciously? Did he learn to accept the judge's verdict as from God's hand? Did she learn to stop complaining and making excuses, and rather, learn from the comment sheets or verbal critiques? Did he learn to rejoice-truly rejoice-with those who won? Did she learn to empathize with and console those who were disappointed? Did he learn to pick himself up, dust his case off, and go to the next event? Did she learn to find the good in the performance of others? Then it was worth it.

Driving home from the last two tournaments, I made a list of life skills that my teams have learned from debate this year. There were more than 50 items and I'm still adding to the list! As I have watched students statewide develop and grow this season, my heart has rejoiced at what I see God doing in the next generation. Was it worth it? I think so.