Friday, June 24, 2005

"Whether you like it or not!"

So I read my morning blogs two days ago which all helped to ferment in my frontal lobe (or thereabouts, I'm never quite sure where my neural fermenting actually happens) this mess about the Air Force Academy and right wing Christians in politics, and all this was
happening right after finishing the following article, God And Country: A College That Trains Young Christians To Be Politicians in this week's The New Yorker the night before. Talking about nexus points in life, like wow, deja vu or something like that.

The New Yorker article got me to thinking, which I'm sure was its intention given that my guess is the average The New Yorker reader isn't homeschooling their children and wouldn't likely consider footing the tuition for a college like Patrick Henry [henceforth PH], an institution by and large set up to accommodate students who've been homeschooled. I'm going to take pieces out of the article, and to the greatest extent possible (which is to say not consciously, so I appreciate the danger attendant to this) not take anything out of context and sort of comment as I go along. Here I go:

Here we learn a bit about Elisa Muench, a student at PH, and a bit about the college itself:

Muench, like eighty-five per cent of the students at Patrick Henry, was homeschooled, in her case in rural Idaho. Homeschoolers are not the most obvious raw material for a college whose main mission, since its founding, five years ago, has been to train a new generation of Christian politicians. Politics,
after all, is the most social of professions, and many students arrive at Patrick Henry having never shared a classroom with anyone other than their siblings. In conservative circles, however, homeschoolers are considered something of an élite, rough around the edges but pure—in their focus, capacity for work, and ideological clarity—a view that helps explain why the Republican establishment has placed its support behind Patrick Henry, and why so many conservative politicians are hiring its graduates.

This raises an interesting point, at least it did for me. These "future politicians" are being cultivated from a social and academic background that has largely deliberately kept them out of the mainstream of society at large, and this often has started at a very early age --- well, I guess that's why they're "pure". They then go to college, very likely one of the strongest social formative agents of their newly adult lives, where again they're outside the mainstream. Now that's not to say that you have to attend Faber College with the wild and crazy boys of Animal House to know society, or appreciate, and appropriately navigate society as a whole, but how far outside of society are you when you're this far removed from reality as the vast majority of college students and citizens know it? Not sure ...

Indeed, homeschooling is a big deal in the U.S. today, as the article goes on to tell us:

Now about a million and a half children, as many as two-thirds of whom are thought to be evangelicals, are taught at home. Farris [blogger's note: the president at PH] bought the land for the Patrick Henry campus with four hundred thousand dollars from the Home School Legal Defense Association’s reserves; he raised the rest of the money for the college, nine million dollars, from parents and donors such as Tim LaHaye, the author [blogger's note: co-author, actually, along with Larry
Jenkins] of the best-selling “Left Behind” series. LaHaye’s portrait hangs in the main hall.

Just as a heads up, I'll be talking a bit about Tim LaHaye and his "Left Behind" series in tomorrow's post --- Tim has a special place in my heart, yes he does. Anyway, by and large those who are homeschooling their children are doing so with a religious agenda. That's not entirely the case, but it's true for somewhat better than 50% of those being homeschooled. Let me qualify my opinion regarding homeschooling: My personal experience with homeschooled students [not my own children] is that from an academic perspective they're actually very well-educated, on par with their peers as a rule, and often times better educated. More than anything else I attribute this to the active involvement of parents in the learning process of their children, something you don't see as often as you'd like to with students in public schools.

Three times a year, the White House chooses a hundred students for a three-month internship. Patrick Henry, with only three hundred students, has taken between one and five of the spots in each of the past five years—roughly the same as Georgetown. Other Patrick Henry students volunteer in the White House. Tim Goeglein, the Administration’s liaison to the evangelical community, said that the numbers reflect the abilities of the Patrick Henry students, who “have learned a way to integrate faith and action.” For the White House, it is also a way to reach out to its base while building a network of young political operatives.

Well, do you get a sense of favor being bestowed upon Patrick Henry students? I think you should, surely. Do you wonder, like I do, why it's so important to be able to integrate faith and action? I wonder what that means, exactly? Well, it seems pretty clear how the White
House feels about PH, where G.W. and friends are actively cultivating the future Republicans of American.

Now this gives us some clue as to the curriculum at PH, which on the whole doesn't seem bad, but then you can be sure they're not graduating any Nobel Prize in science winners from the place --- ha, they're lucky if they have science majors:

The curriculum for the first two years follows a “Christian Classical” model—basically, Western Civ from a Biblical perspective. Students read Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Locke, Shakespeare, Milton, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Beckett. They also study Euclidean geometry and biology; the school uses a standard science textbook, but the professor, Jennifer Gruenke, who also has a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, tells students that the earth was created in a week [Blogger's note: For those interested in taking Professor Gruenke's course online, go to PHC Distance Learning: Biology (SCI230DL), where you're told you'll learn the following - Upon completion of this course, students should be able to: Understand the orderly operation of nature as it relates to biological organisms; understand the strengths and limitations of science; integrate knowledge of biology with faith based on biblical principles --- like wow, the two big selling points on the course deal with understanding the limitations vice the power and inspiration of science, and then you get to learn about how to integrate the Bible and faith into biology. Honestly, how'd I miss this stuff when I was getting that biochemistry degree way back when?!? Sign me up, or should it be beam me up?. ] . For the last two years, they switch to a “vocational” model, and receive credit for internships and research projects. Elisa Muench, for example, took a class on how to analyze polls, and is preparing a senior project on political realignments. Most of the students major in government; the few literature majors tend to be girls.

Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, et al., and Oh, by the way, we don't just teach intelligent design here, uh uh, we go for the HARD stuff, we're creationists! ID at least has some semblance of logic to it regardless of however much it may be out to lunch; creationism is from another planet all
together. So we're cultivating our future political leaders from a huge group of homeschoolers who believe in creationism, or at least they're taken through a curriculum where creationism is the explanation for biological development. I myself almost have this sense of visiting the Twilight Zone at this point --- there's definitely a future president in here somewhere, right? Well, according to the article the president of the college certainly thinks so.

Lastly, as I do appreciate that this has gone on overly long for a single blog entry, we have the PH view on women in general:

Elisa [blogger's note: Elisa Muench mentioned above] believes the Bible dictates that “there are different roles for men and women”; as a White House intern, she saw women with young children working “long, long hours,” and she doesn’t want that. Her mother, who had her first child at twenty-seven, tells her that she regrets having waited so long. [Italics is the blogger's emphasis] But the expectation of most of the guys she knows at Patrick Henry—that wives should just “fade out,” that she should instantly take on the identity of a wife and mother “and consider it a blessing”—is not something that she’s comfortable with. “I just think there’s more that God called me to do, and that’s a hard thing to say around here,” she told me.

At PH it seems that it's a really good thing that you ladies have ovaries (those future homeschooled kids gotta come from somewhere), and that you have such great housekeeping skills since you're going to be busy making yourself useful raising those chillin' and cleaning those corners --- Thank you Jesus!

I don't have any problem with someone's faith, Christian or otherwise. I do have a problem with a faith that is out of touch with the world around it and doesn't value women other than for their reproductive and housekeeping skills. But this is apparently where it's expected that the future generation of conservative leaders are going to come from, and it's scary as hell to think that people feel that this is what this country needs. Now to be fair I'm sure that PH is actually just a small response to what would be considered much larger secular training programs at better established schools. But people from those secular schools tend to be a bit more open to the varied nature of the world around them, and tolerant in a way that accommodates as many people as possible, to include evangelical Christians --- gosh, I guess that's why they have a problem as far as the conservative religious right in this country is concerned. Frankly what PH is putting out does indeed concern me, and given how people in positions of influence in this country, be it at the Air Force Academy or on the floor of congress, seem inclined to act with regard to their faith, I'm beginning to believe that we're growing our own version of the Taliban here in this country.


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