The Space To Be Human: Jayni’s Story
I was fourteen when I was introduced to CFC/NCFCA. The mother of another large home schooling family approached my mom with the “great opportunity” to provide all of the meals for a CFC conference she was coordinating. “If you make all of the meals the conference fees are waived for your family and I thought of you, since you have so many children.”
The conference was terrible. There were very clear expectations of what each attendee should look like and how they should act. The conference was full of bright, happy, perfect home schoolers with impeccable manners. They all looked like they had stepped out of a Lands’ End catalog. (Lands’ End: the modest J. Crew) I was embarrassed to have to re-wear the only two skirts I owned for a full week. I was ashamed to be a “scholarship” kid. I inwardly raged at the attitude that you were a bad Christian if you were not a good speaker. Naturally shy and introverted, I balked at the idea of ending the week by giving a short public speech.
It was very clear to me that I was an outsider. But by the end of the conference my mother was sold: her kids needed to do this NCFCA thing. And by the end of the conference I was hesitantly intrigued by debate: my mother would support me verbally fighting with people? Awesome.
Looking back at the few years I spent in NCFCA, I am struck by the contrast I experienced. On one hand, every organized experience (both in and out-of-state conferences, CFC, and Masters) were terrible. On the other hand, I met people who saved my life.
The first year I partnered will my unenthusiastic older brother. Wisconsin was very new to NCFCA and there was only one in-state tournament. We were warned ahead of time that all of the “community” judges were biased towards the hosting debate club. We were assured that if we lost every single round it was not an indication of our debating ability. We went 2-4 and I was devastated. I saved every ballot and poured over them incessantly, trying to find the key to my failure. For a league that touted Communicating for Christ there was very little grace for the losers.
The next year my brother went to public school. I was partner-less in a rural area with no club. I turned to everyone’s favorite online phorum to find a partner and debate coaching. It was extremely intimidating: apparently I was the only one who had not spent every waking moment since I was 12 obsessed about debate. I began spending upwards of six hours a day researching (I’ll admit, now, often without a clue about what I was looking for.) I found an out-of-state partner and began pushing my parents to let me attend more tournaments. This meant expensive out of state travel; something my mother had not planned on. My birthday present that year was attending a practice tournament in Indiana.
The comments on my ballots that year were evenly split between admonishments of “have more confidence! =)” and “you are too intimidating and forceful, try to be more lady-like.” The capstone was at that year’s aforementioned state tournament. In a semi-final round my partner and I were debating against the tournament coordinator’s son. Before the round began when we all filed into the room to introduce ourselves to the [impartial] judges and shake their hands, one of them leaned over the table to give this guy a hug and mentioned something that happened at church last Sunday. I shook it off; I knew this team relied on smooth talking for the win, but nobody could ignore my heavy box of evidence. They were affirmative and the case was weak. I jumped out of my chair to cross examine him after the 1A. There was a huge hole in the case and I dived right in. He talked around the question. I asked it again. He changed the subject. I rephrased and asked the same question. It got heated.
I doubt I even have to tell you that we lost the round because I was “rude.” The kicker? The timekeeper was the guy’s younger sister. My father was in the room watching the round and said afterward that when it was clear that I “had him,” the girl stopped the clock and called time.
Losing that round prevented me from going to nationals. Knowing my season was finished, I decided to focus on the friendships I had built through the online phorum instead. The phorum became a huge outlet for me. Thinking about this is still hard, and it’s hard to put into words. Looking back, the largest flaw I see in the home school debate world was the propensity to radiate perfection in everything. Because, obviously, if we’re Christians, we’re perfect.
I was envious of those “perfect” debators, and the more popular and perfect they were, the more I hated them, knowing I could never be them. I was fifteen the first time I typed over AIM that I was depressed. It took a long time to type those words because it took a long time to realize them. My closest friend, the one I had chosen to tell, responded by saying he didn’t think depression was a real thing. As my reputation grew on the phorum, I was increasingly known as the crazy girl, the rebel, the one who took things too far. Outwardly I embraced it. Inwardly I was embarrassed and ashamed. That reputation had a bright side, however. Asking questions like “Why do you believe in God?” sparked deep friendships with the girl from a single-parent home, the boy who was bipolar. These were the friends who supported me when I very shockingly announced I would no longer be a part of NCFCA because I was going to public school.
I was assailed with comments like, “you’re going to the dark side!” People were genuinely appalled; some genuinely thought this was a clear indication that I was no longer a Christian. The truth was that being home schooled in a heavily patriarchal home with an abusive father had led to suicidal depression.
The very fact that Homeschoolers Anonymous exists is a testament to the emotional trauma endured by many, and it’s very important that we have an open dialogue to ask why. Home schooling and debate are entwined worlds for many, and the individual answers will vary.
I rarely think back to my years in the NCFCA. For the most part I prefer to forget it ever happened. When I do think back, I regret that façade of perfection we all felt pressured to adopt. Time has taught me that’s all it is: a façade. I wish that teaching us to change the world with our radical communication skills was not NCFCA’s sole focus: there was no space given to teach us to be human.