Students at a college designed specifically for home-schoolers scored big at the National Educational Debate Association tournament, bringing home eight trophies and a college award for an outstanding first year in intercollegiate debate.

Patrick Henry College had three of the four semifinalist teams in the novice division, one of the four semifinal teams in the open division and one of the two Lincoln-Douglas finalists.

Patrick Henry College, located in Purcellville, Va.

The National Educational Debate Association believes “a debate is an exchange that, when witnessed by a member of the general public, would be viewed as comprehensible and enlightening.” Last week, students discussed whether “the United States should significantly decrease its dependence on foreign oil.”

Lincoln-Douglas is a one-on-one format in which novices and experienced debaters compete. Debate teams compete in the novice division if their members have been in fewer than six tournaments. In the novice and Lincoln-Douglas divisions, PHC students won second place. In both divisions, PHC students showed great tenacity as they endured narrow, split decisions from the panel of judges who voted 4-3 in both final rounds.

“We knew our students had what it takes to win, but even this success came sooner than we anticipated,” said Michael Farris, president of Patrick Henry College. “We wanted to be highly competitive as soon as possible, but our students dedicated themselves to doing the necessary hard work to excel.”

Paul McNiel, a freshman who earned fifth-place speaker in the novice team division, said he learned more from debate than he would have guessed when he started.

“I learned research. I learned about thinking. I learned about speaking the right way and appealing to people,” he said.

PHC President Michael Farris also heads the Home School Legal Defense Association.

Only one other college had as many participants in the semifinal rounds as PHC, which “is a remarkable achievement when we realize that 10 percent of our entire student body was in the semifinals at the national debate tournament,” said Farris.

Jeremy Purves (Visalia, Calif.) won second place in Lincoln-Douglas, and Eric Papetti (Huntsville, Ala.) was the second-ranked Lincoln-Douglas speaker. Brian von Duyke (Newark, Del.) and Aaron Thompson (Phoenix, Ariz.) won second place in the novice team division, while David McKennett (Port Alsworth, Ark.) and Patrick Molloy (Porterville, Calif.) won third place. McKennett also won the second-place speaker award in the novice division. Paul McNiel (Morehead City, N.C.) and James Kimball (High Point, N.C.) won fourth in the novice division. McNiel won the fifth-place speaker award. Melissa Hurter (Honey Brook, Pa.) and Laurie Wilson (Fresno, Calif.) won fourth place in the open team division.

The National Educational Debate Association gave the college the special-recognition award for the school’s outstanding new debate program.

PHC opened its doors in September 2000 and has about 90 students enrolled, nearly all of whom live on campus. Located on 106 acres in Purcellville, Va., the school relies only on two sources of income: tuition and fees (an average of $12,000 per student annually), and donations. Consistent with its commitment to remain debt-free, the college bought its property free and clear. More than 300 supporters from 45 states and military personnel stationed in three other countries made contributions, according to Farris. About 66 of PHC’s acreage were obtained “through the generosity of supporters in Virginia and across the country who believe in Patrick Henry’s academic mission and its commitment to have no debts,” he noted.

“When we began building the college, we promised to be financially independent. We promised we would not receive government funding of any kind, and that we would not accrue debt,” Farris said.

Though PHC is uniquely geared toward continuing the higher education of home-schooled high-school graduates, the college also accepts applicants from “traditional” schools who meet the rigorous entrance requirements. Teens interested in PHC also have the opportunity to participate in the college’s Capital Focus Teen Camps, which are specifically designed for young people in their high-school years who want to learn how to apply a biblical worldview to current issues.

Teen campers will spend one week on the PHC campus, located just an hour from Washington, D.C. Workshops and classroom sessions at the camp will be taught by PHC professors and other experts in the field of government, which is the college’s academic focus. Along with outings to nearby historical sites, monuments and centers of American government, campers will have a chance to engage fellow students in lively debates and town-hall meetings.

Modeled after PHC’s unique apprenticeship-style approach to education, the camps are intended to help prepare students for future careers in politics, journalism and constitutional-law fields.

Currently, PHC offers only a bachelor’s degree in government but was approved by the Virginia State Council of Higher Education to add a classical liberal arts major beginning in the 2001-02 school year. Farris said a large number of potential classical liberal arts students have shown a strong interest in the college’s apprenticeship model. Students will be mentored in one of two tracks: The creative writing track will give practical training in producing short stories, poetry, novels and other literary works, while the education track will prepare students for teaching in private and home schools.

“A classical liberal arts education at Patrick Henry College will appeal to students who wish to influence our popular and literary culture. Most of our students come from a home-school background. They have achieved a high level of ‘outside-the-box’ thinking. Adding classical liberal arts will allow more students with fresh thinking to participate in this innovative apprenticeship approach to higher education,” Farris said.

The college has four full-time faculty members for the Classical Liberal Arts program, two of whom have completed Ph.D.s and two of whom are expected to complete their Ph.D. programs within the year.

Likewise, the Department of Government has five professors, four of whom hold doctorate degrees. Students in the government program have the opportunity to perform legislative projects for members of Congress and explore the field of journalism. One such student is Aaron Thompson, a 19-year-old freshman from Phoenix, Ariz. Home-schooled for his entire educational experience, Thompson first learned of PHC through the Home School Legal Defense Association.

“I was looking at several different [political science] colleges,” he said, but “it was the apprenticeship model that attracted me” to PHC.

The youngest of three home-schooled siblings, Thompson is the only family member to move away from home. His two older sisters attend Arizona State University in the same town as his parents. Thompson says he enjoys his five classes and the college experience PHC provides, adding, “It’s a real challenging school — they’ve intentionally designed it to be really difficult.”

But difficulty doesn’t stop this freshman from tackling his subjects head-on. Even though he’s taking freshman classes, the courses are “directly applicable to a government major. I like it a lot more, whereas in other majors (at other colleges), the freshman classes have little or nothing to do with the actual major itself.”

Thompson was first inspired to enter the field of politics through his participation in the YMCA’s Youth and Government program. Now he’s involved in the organization of PHC’s student government. The student body, which is evenly split down the gender line, is currently drafting the student-government constitution, preparing it for submission to the student senate.

“It’s actual experience on a small level of how politics works. Then when you get to the [upper-class] levels, it’s the real-life experience,” said Thompson, who noted the student-government formation has “been my favorite part of the whole year.”

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