Brainwashed Shock Troops

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on July 17, 2013.

Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and probably the most visible Christian homeschool leader, is fond of calling his generation the Moses Generation and my generation the Joshua Generation. Christian homeschooling parents, he says, removed their children from the perils of Egypt (aka the public school system) and educated them in the wilderness (aka homeschooling them) in order to send them forth to conquer Canaan (aka take America back for Christ). This really is the entire point of Christian homeschooling (as opposed to homeschooling done by those who may or may not happen to be Christian but do not have religious motivations for homeschooling). This is also why Farris’s daughter started NCFCA—to train Christian homeschool youth in argumentation and debate in an effort to prepare them for their assault on “the world.” In that light, I recently saw an interesting comment left on a Homeschoolers Anonymous post:

The idea that someone thinks that they can find really bright young people, teach them exceptional skills of debate and argument, and then unleash them upon the world as adults while still controlling their thoughts and attitudes is nothing short of insane. Young people have been growing up into adults who reject the authoritarian views imposed upon them for literally centuries. Why does this group of fundamental Christians – who often behave abusively to that self-same group of bright young people – think that they are exempt from the questioning and breaking away process that all young adults do as they grown into independence?

Because they believe they have completely brainwashed their young people into absolute loyalty to The Party as part of their training/indoctrination. Like the Uruk-Hai coming from the spawning pits below Isengard, they were raised and indoctrinated to be living weapons and nothing more.

Why do they think they are exempt from their best and brightest living weapons breaking away? Divine Right, of course.

My father spoke at my graduation. It was a homeschool graduation held at a local church, of course, and each father presented his son or daughter and gave a short speech. I was preparing to begin university the following fall. In his speech, my father said that many people had questioned his wisdom in sending me off to a secular university, asking whether I was ready for that. His response, he said, was that the real question was not whether I was ready to attend that university, but rather whether that university was ready for me. His confidence in my performance disappeared over the following years as I did indeed become “corrupted” by my time at university, and halfway through college my father launched into a tirade against me in which he brought up his remarks at my graduation and told me, his voice full of emotion, that those who had warned him against sending me off to a secular university had been right, and that he wished he could go back and undo that.

What happened?

Put simply, the commenter quoted above is right.

It is completely unreasonable for Christian homeschool parents to think that they can train up ideological clones whom they can train in debate and argument and then unleash upon the world without at least some of them going rogue or asking questions they shouldn’t. If these parents limit their children’s interaction with the world outside of their religious communities and avoid teaching their children critical thinking skills, creating ideological clones is simpler. But if you’re going to train them in argumentation and debate and then send them out into the world to wage ideological war on your foes, well, that’s more complicated. My parents equipped me with the very tools that ultimately led me to think my way out of their mindset, and meeting and getting to know people in “the world” meant that I realized the portrayal of “the world” my parents had given me growing up was wrong and extremely backwards. The system my parents constructed around me, in other words, was built with an internal weakness.

Why, then, did my parents have so much confidence? The commenter quoted above does have a point when referring to divine right—my parents believed that they were right, that their ideology was sound and true and demonstrably so. They therefore assumed that if they equipped me with Truth, that would be enough.

That I might grow up to disagree with them on what is true and what is not wasn’t really a concern, because they believed that the truth of their beliefs was completely obvious to anyone with eyes. When they would talk about people who “left the faith,” they would always attribute it to some sin—the person just wanted to have premarital sex, or to be able to be selfish and not care about others, or what have you. In their conception, it was never a disagreement about fact that led people once saved astray, but rather fleshly desires—because the truth of their beliefs, they were certain, was manifestly obvious to anyone and everyone.

There was something else, too, something more related to Christian homeschooling. My parents believed they had hit upon the perfect formula for raising children who would never fall astray. They believed this because this is what they were told by the books, magazines, and speakers of the Christian homeschool world. And they had done everything on the list from keeping me from friends who might be bad influences to teaching me with curriculum that approached each issue from a Christian perspective. This, quite simply, is what I consider the number one reason my father said what he did at my graduation. He was convinced that he had produced a culture warrior, following the proper formula and all of the proper advice, and that I was, in a sense, infallible—that I couldn’t possible go wrong.

But what was I, really?

I was chock full of apologetics arguments and conservative talking points, but utterly without lived experience or any real understanding of the arguments against the ideas my parents had taught me. After all, I’d never really interacted with people with different ideas or beliefs and my parents provided me only with straw man versions of opposing arguments in order to then knock them down. I’d grown up in an echo chamber and was happy contributing to that echo chamber, but I had no experience stepping outside of it.

I wasn’t a culture warrior. I was a teenage girl who thought she knew everything and wanted very much to please her parents.

How NCFCA Taught Me to Fight Sexism: Philosophical Perspective’s Thoughts

How NCFCA Taught Me to Fight Sexism: Philosophical Perspective’s Thoughts

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Philosophical Perspectives” is the author’s chosen pseudonym.

Being a woman in the NCFCA was confusing.

It was a high-pressure, high-performance situation – or, at least, it was for some of us. I know a few people who were able to engage with the league as a hobby, taking a “if I win, great!” attitude – but me and my friends were never that laid back. We worked hard, labored long, and got deep into out rounds. We were gunning for Nationals, and then the national championship.

We traveled around the country for tournaments, saving up to pay entry fees and airfare, cutting corners by staying with host families when we were competing away from home. We figured out how to live in suits for days on end, what shoes to wear to tournaments so that we could look professional and still walk at the end of them, and how to make second-hand suits look “modest” and fashionable.

The larger purpose of all of this was to learn how to think critically, to be able to eloquently and winsomely communicate a “biblical worldview” in the culture at large – we were supposed to become world-changers and culture makers. It was a compelling invitation, and one I took seriously. I dreamed of becoming a professor, and writing books that would change the way that people thought about faith and reason, or changing foreign relations, or implementing better, fairer, and more just foreign aid. I wanted to have a career where I could have a voice, where I could influence people for the better and make a lasting impact on the world.

It didn’t take long, though, before I realized that my invitation to become a world-changer came with a caveat. While my male friends were planning and preparing for high-powered careers in politics and law, I was warned not to be unfaithful by “pursuing a career,” any career at all.

See, while my male friends were supposed to go to impressive colleges to make their way in the world and change policy, I was supposed to go to a Christian school only so that I would be better able to educate my children. Oh, I was still supposed to be a world-changer – but the sphere in which I was supposed to work was already prescribed. My intellectual development was important in as much as it made me better able to birth and raise future world-changers. 

My public person was to be shaped by this future. The tone with which I spoke in rounds, the ways in which I asked cross-ex questions, the clothes I wore, and the people I hung out with were all policed to make sure that I was working towards this end. This came through in ballot comments – while my male peers were praised for their forthright honesty, I was told to be “less aggressive” and “more lady-like”.  I was given fashion advice on ballots – “that black suit-jacket is too masculine – you should wear more color”, “it’s distracting that I can see your bare leg under your slacks when you sit down,” “I don’t appreciate it when women wear pantsuits. Skirts are more appropriately feminine”. Between rounds, watchful mothers would pull be aside to reprimand me on taking off my suit jacket to reveal a sleeveless shirt (and therefore my bare shoulders). Women I didn’t know would come up behind me and pull my shirt down if there was a gap between its bottom and the top of my slacks.  I was scolded for sitting on floors in hallways (not lady-like!), and questioned about my conversations with male friends (leading them astray?). While every parent was watching for my suitability as a future wife, I met very few adults who actually took interest in my speaking skills.

At the same time, I was surrounded by powerful women. Women ran the tournaments, coached the clubs, initiated the conversations. People like Teresa Moon and Christy Shipe were strong, thoughtful, assertive leaders. They certainly didn’t seem to be yielding to men at every turn. And they weren’t the only ones. While their husbands were working, our mothers were pioneering a completely new movement. The women around me modeled powerful leadership in the face of incredible opposition, yet taught submission and subservience that they rarely showed us. To their credit, they modeled what a full life that didn’t include a career could look like – but they also sent me very mixed messages about what I (as a woman) were supposed to do with my life.

The NCFCA was where I got most of my cues, as a young adult, about my purpose in life and the avenues that were open to me. When I conformed to the (spoken) standards of “biblical femininity,” I was a role-model, a shining example of what a homeschooled girl should be – thoughtful and smart, yet “modest” and self-effacing. But I was never one to follow the “do as I say, not as I do” model of teaching. So I decided to behave and speak in the ways that came naturally to me, which I also saw lived out in the women around me. I was a leader, so I acted like one. I spoke kindly and thoughtfully, but directly. I made decisions and acted on the Christian principles I’d been taught – principles of love, equality, justice, righteousness, and freedom – even when others disapproved. I made responsible choices. And I pursued the dream I’d always dreamed – of a university where I would be challenged by new ideas, where I could think rigorously and work hard. I wanted to study philosophy, so I could learn this history of the ideas and theologies I’d held dear, and so that I could more thoroughly understand my own faith.

And my star fell as quickly as it had risen. The parents who had held me up as a role model quickly changed their tune. Few voiced their concerns directly to me, more just stopped talking, stopped investing, stopped asking me what I thought.  A few made their objections clear in indirect ways. I heard disapproval second hand, from their kids – often couched in how they were concerned about how often I traveled to tournaments without my parents, or questioning my relationships with various male peers, or my wardrobe. Sometimes it would come up in conversation, when I told adults about my plans for the future. They would say, “I wish you all the best!” followed by a litany of the things that they would never let their daughter do (go to college / a secular college / live away from home / pursue a career / etc.) There were a few parents who continued lukewarm encouragement, but only after I stopped talking about pursuing a philosophy degree (philosophy departments were not only the bastion of liberalism, but also hotspots of professorial trickery, where fast-talking faculty would trick you out of your faith and your virginity).

When I eventually did attend my secular alma mater, far from home, I lost touch with most of the homeschool parents I’d known. The people who had said they were invested in my growth and development disappeared as soon as I departed from the path they endorsed for me as a woman – even though I was still invested in their vision of being a world-changer, and I’d embraced the bold female leadership and the determination to fight for what was right that I’d seen lived out. The rejection I felt was confusing, and it was painful. 

In retrospect, I think the NCFCA taught me skills that led to my professional success, but set me up for failure, and, probably to its surprise, taught me how to recognize and fight sexism (though I wouldn’t have used those words then).

As many others have said, in debate I learned how to think, how to argue, and how to speak publicly. I internalized the message that I could be someone important and influential in the world, and that my voice and my message was valuable. Yet, when I tried to act on that message, I was shut down and sidelined because of my gender. The unintended gift of the NCFCA was a desire to fight for what was good, and right and true, and a willingness to pursue it regardless of the consequences. So I fought to go to college, and I fought to be heard when others would silence me because of my gender. I fought to stay in college when others disparaged the usefulness of my education, or question the “waste of money” (commentary I never heard directed towards my male peers). I fought to pursue a career, and I am still fighting against sexism in the church.

For the strength, determination, and tools to fight, I thank the NCFCA. 

A Brief History of Homeschool Speech and Debate

A Brief History of Homeschool Speech and Debate

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator


“There is warfare. We are soldiers. We have weapons.”

~Shelley Miller, NCFCA Oregon State Representative, 2013


As we embark on our Resolved: series, you will see a lot of acronyms being thrown around. I figured it would be helpful for those unfamiliar with the homeschool speech and debate world to see a brief summary of what those acronyms mean. The following history of the key organizations and individuals is important to keep in mind as a general context for reading the posts this week.

HSLDA Debate

Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) began a homeschool debate league in 1996. Christy Shipe (then Farris), the daughter of HSLDA’s chairman and co-founder Michael Farris, started the league when she was a senior at Cedarville University. The goal of the league, according to Michael, was “to improve your child’s reasoning powers, clarity of thinking, and ability to stand for the truth of God’s word.” Whereas competitive forensics sees the skills of forensics as ends in themselves, homeschool debate sees them as means to a larger end: “to help homeschoolers address life’s issues biblically, with God’s glory, not their own, as the focus.”

The very first national tournament was held in October 1997 at Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville, Virginia. Christy Shipe was the tournament organizer. The debate team from Cedarville, of which Shipe was a part, played a crucial role in the beginning. Deborah Haffey, Cedarville’s debate coach at the time, was influential in Shipe’s love for debate. HSLDA’s original debate teaching materials featured Haffey. And the very first homeschool debate summer camps — as far as I can remember — began at Cedarville, via the university’s Miriam Maddox Forum, led by Haffey, Jonathan Hammond, and later Jeff Motter.The final round of HSLDA’s first national tournament, by the way, took place a separate venue than the rest of the tournament. It occurred at the 1997 National Christian Home Educators Leadership Conference in front of 400 home school leaders from 44 states. It was judged by Michael Farris, Deborah Haffey, and Bob Jones University’s debate coach, Dewitt Jones.


After five years past, the homeschool debate league had grown significantly. HSLDA decided that the league should become a distinct entity from itself. So the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association was created in 2000, co-founded by Christy Shipe and Teresa Moon. The association’s original seven-member board of directors included: Shipe, Moon, Todd Cooper, Michael Farris, Skip Rutledge, Deborah Haffey, and Terry Stollar. NCFCA’s stated goal is “is to train students to be able to engage the culture for Christ.” From the very beginning, NCFCA had a significant amount of in-fighting, resulting in a rapid burning-through of its leaders. Todd Cooper, NCFCA’s original president from San Diego, was booted almost instantaneously. My father, Terry Stollar, became the second president, and resigned after significant disagreements with the board. The first two presidents — as well as Moon, who served as Director of Forensics — all hailed at some point from California, which is interesting considering what I will later mention about “Region 2” and its split from NCFCA. Mike Larimer took over the presidency after my father. Teresa Hudson is NCFCA’s current president.

While debate was primarily the focus when the league was under HSLDA, NCFCA branched out significantly in their more diverse inclusion of speech events. As of today, NCFCA includes two types of debate — Policy and Lincoln-Douglas — as well as a variety of speech categories — biographical narrative, oratory, persuasive, duo interpretations, humorous interpretations, apologetics, extemporaneous, impromptu, and so forth.


Crucial to the growth of both HSLDA debate and later NCFCA was Communicators for Christ (CFC). David and Teresa Moon began CFC in 1997. Teresa was also the personal debate coach of many of NCFCA’s original “legends.” In the early days, the Moons traveled around the country, from state to state in their motor home, with a team of student instructors — later termed “interns.” As CFC taught speech and debate to other homeschool parents and students, it served as a “feeder” of sorts into NCFCA.

As CFC’s popularity grew, Teresa expanded CFC’s focus from homeschoolers to Christian schools in general. She refashioned the for-profit CFC into the non-profit Institute for Cultural Communicators (ICC). Today, ICC continues its CFC tours, but also offers “a variety of programs, events and teaching materials designed to help all Christian students, from all educational backgrounds — public, private and home — [to] become ‘cultural communicators’ — people who can impact their culture through excellent communication of the truth.” ICC’s stated goal is “to provide support and guidance to Christian schools, churches, and community education programs as together we train well-rounded communicators.”

A crucial concept about ICC’s goal is embodied in their “Flood the Five” conferences. The premise of these conferences is that only 5% of Americans are “ready” and “willing” to command any sort of public platform. So ICC “is committed to coaching Christian speakers to flood that 5%.”

HSD (HSD) was created by Andrew Bailey, an NCFCA alumni. HSD is an online forum for competitors, alumni, parents, and coaches from all over the country to connect. HA’s Nicholas Ducote was a board administrator on HSD for four years, and also owned the site (after Bailey and McPeak moved on) for two years, from 2007-2009. I myself used HSD significantly to market Plethora, my research book series, from 2001-2005.

HSD features threads on the current year’s debate topics, on homeschool league politics, on ideas for improving debate skills, and — well, and everything else. Some of the most popular threads on HSD in the past had nothing to do with speech or debate. The most popular threads were the “Just For Fun” and “Controversy Corner” threads, where us homeschool kids would argue about everything from free will versus predestination to that year’s presidential candidates. We would also create role-playing games and fictional stories about each other, projecting fellow competitors into soap opera storylines or superhero graphic novel contexts. HSD was, and continues to be, extraordinarily popular. When competitors would actually gather in person at national qualifying tournaments or the national tournament itself, it was always a highlight to meet in person these people you would socialize with digitally for the year prior.

HSD became a microcosm of some of the speech and debate world’s important developments: the promotion of evidence and research books, the promotion of summer camps, the connecting of alumni with current competitors to pass on both competition strategies and life lessons, and a channel for graduates to help younger kids work through questions about faith and humanity. HSD was also the starting place for the Great BJU Protest of 2009.

The Great BJU Protest of 2009

In 2009, NCFCA announced that the National Tournament that year would take place at Bob Jones University. This caused an outcry from many competitors on account of BJU’s extreme legalism and history of institutionalized racism. Some competitors believed the board made a poor decision that could hurt the image of both Christianity as well as homeschooling. This issue was also exacerbated by two other issues: how NCFCA allegedly ignored California’s previous suggestion of Irvine as a location, and how the previous year NCFCA also held a national tournament event at a Shriner’s Temple. Going from a Shriner’s Temple to a place popularly conceived as racist and small-minded infuriated quite a few people. As early as March of 2009, months before the tournament happened, members of HSD were considering how best to address this — some suggesting a boycott of the tournament, others suggesting petitioning the board to change the location, and others suggesting wearing stickers or walking silently out of the opening ceremony when BJU would give their “come to BJU!” talk.

In the end, a petition was sent to NCFCA leadership to change the location. Mike Larimer, then-president of NCFCA, gave what one of the protest’s organizers called “an expected non-response.” But the petition picked up when alumni from all around the country started showing overwhelming support for the protest. (I myself proudly signed the petition, though I was long graduated from the league. Standing up for what you feel is just and right is what this whole training was about!) As support for the petition ballooned, and word got out that protestors were planning a “walk out” of the opening ceremony, the NCFCA regional coordinator of Region 8, Lisa Kays, did something highly controversial. Kays sent an email to all the other regional coordinators. In her email, she demanded (1) that any competitors from her own region that signed the petition must immediately remove their names, and (2) ban anyone that is unwilling to remove their name from competing at the National Tournament.

Yes, you read that right. Lisa Kays, one of the heads of NCFCA leadership and who is now on the board of ICC, wanted to ban people from the National Tournament for speaking up against legalism and racism. As one of the protest’s organizers said at the time, “I am incredibly saddened to see this. This is nothing less than strong arm tactics against a very legitimate and very respectful protest.”

As it turns out, this protest organizer was not the only one who was saddened by this tactic.


In 2009, after years of strained relationships between the leaders of Region 2 (primarily California) and the national leaders of NCFCA, secession happened. Due to differences in governance philosophy, the structure of tournaments qualifying students for Nationals, and allegedly how certain NCFCA leaders (mis)handled the BJU Protest, California broke from the homeschool forensics union. A new speech and debate league was formed, STOA — which is not an acronym but a reference to ancient Greek architecture. While there are several accounts discussing STOA’s split from NCFCA in 2009, and while the official date is listed everywhere as such, it seems that the original genesis of STOA as an organization began in 2008, as evidenced by STOA’s original blog post dating back to August of that year. This split was announced on HSD in July of 2009 with the title, “California secedes from NCFCA. NO JOKE!”

The original leadership for STOA were Lars Jorgensen, Scott York, Marie Stout, Jeff Schubert, and Dorr Clark. Lars Jorgensen, who was the NCFCA regional coordinator for Region 2 since 2004, was the one who officially announced the split on August 10, 2009. STOA’s goal does not differ significantly from NCFCA’s: “to train Christian homeschooled students in Speech and Debate in order to better communicate a biblical worldview.”


As of today, there are two homeschool speech and debate leagues: NCFCA and STOA. HSLDA continues to sell speech and debate material geared towards these leagues. Many of the original movers and shakers are still involved. Christy Shipe is still on the board of NCFCA. Teresa Moon continues to run CFC and ICC. Lisa Kays, one of the key players attempting to shut down the BJU protest, is on ICC’s board. Scott York continues as president of STOA.

And most curiously, a lot of us competitors who frequented the HSD forums a decade ago still frequent that forum to this day. There’s something about HSD that feels like home.