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Wednesday, 05 March 2008 00:00

Taking back America for Christianity

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God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America by Hanna Rosin. Harcourt, 2007. 304 pages

Every once in a while a book sees print that inadvertently tells the unwashed what the elite thinks of them. Massa waltzes out of the Big House —Washington, Manhattan, Beverly Hills — rubs elbows with the field hands, and then retreats to the Big House to write the other massas about conditions on the plantation. Sometimes Massa morphs into an amateur anthropologist, breathlessly explaining to fellow denizens of the West Side or Georgetown the mores of the poor dumb savages she has encountered in the foreign wastelands of Tennessee, Kansas, and Wyoming.

Hanna Rosin is one such anthropologist. Recently she dared to leave Washington, D.C., to travel every day to “far away Virginia,” as her children viewed her journey, to study the aborigines at Patrick Henry College, an evangelical institution designed to offer students, particularly those educated at home, an outstanding undergraduate education in the liberal arts and a chance to break into D.C. politics.

Homeschooling, as most people now know, is both widely practiced and widely accepted in the United States. Though states vary in terms of regulating this educational movement, homeschoolers exist in all 50 of the United States. In some states, indeed, tens of thousands of students receive the bulk of their education at home. Attorney Michael Farris, a long-time home education advocate and founder of the Home School Defense League, imagined and then created a college whose mission would be “to take back the land.” Farris founded Patrick Henry College with the idea that its students would enter American institutions and make a difference in those institutions by way of their faith.

In God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America (798-0-15-101262-4, $25), Hanna Rosin attempts to explain certain the beliefs and practices of what she clearly regards as America‘s Bushmen (please excuse the pun): evangelicals, homeschoolers, Michael Farris, and the students at Patrick Henry College. Though Rosin covers religion for the Washington Post — or perhaps because of this fact — she nevertheless seems so flabbergasted, so taken aback, by evangelicals and their views of the world that readers may well wonder whether she‘s been properly socialized (a concern raised by Rosin about homeschoolers).

Near the beginning of God’s Harvard, for example, Rosin compares her own views to those of the evangelicals:

I work and leave my children for several hours a week in the charge of a babysitter who is (gasp!) not related to me. I firmly believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old, or whatever the current scientific consensus says. I have many beloved gay friends and have never once suggested to any of them that they enter into reparative therapy to “cure their disease.”

Shocking stuff, indeed!

Rosin’s arguments are foolish on several levels. Homeschooling parents hire babysitters the same way other parents do: they look for trust. Rosin next claims to possess a scientific view about the age of the earth, but then grants to science the same credulity which she condemns in evangelicals — the origins of the earth are ”whatever current scientific consensus says.” Finally, her remarks about her beloved gay friends not only misinterpret what most evangelicals say regarding homosexuality, but also smack of condescension.

Since nearly all of Patrick Henry’s students are products of home education, Rosin has much to say about homeschooling. “Home school families,” she writes, “have no school communities or obvious support system, so they tend to group around gurus or schools of thought.” She asserts that few homeschoolers had ever sat in a real classroom before coming to Patrick Henry. Books written for home school moms, she tells us, “read like sharia law, with strict instructions on how to dress, date, and run a home, with dire consequences for disobedience” (Rosin never explains these consequences, though the possibilities sound quite exciting. Does the evangelical husband take the car keys away from his wife if she wears a mini-skirt? Does he organize a public stoning if she flirts with the butcher? What happens?).

Whatever else in God’s Harvard may be true, Rosin’s comments regarding home schooling are dated, false, and silly. For a glimpse at the world of home education today we need look no farther than Asheville. The following are some of the activities available to home educated high school student this year: dual enrollment courses at A-B Tech; home school sports teams in football, boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ soccer, girls’ volleyball, swimming, and tennis; a home school madrigal group; seminars for homeschoolers in Latin, biology, AP English Literature, world history, biology, art history, and public speaking; four major home school dances; home school apologetics groups; home school moot courts; a Math Counts club; at least four home school book clubs (Time for a personal note: your reviewer has home schooled his four children for 19 years. Two have graduated from college, one has gone to law school, a third is in college, and a fourth is a seventh grade homeschooler, where he studies high school Latin, Algebra I, plays basketball and soccer, and participates in Boy Scouts, Math Counts, a home school science club, and numerous church activities). Besides attending Patrick Henry College, Asheville homeschoolers in the last three years have gone to Brown, Furman, Carolina, Christendom College, State, Baylor, Vanderbilt, UNC-A, UNC-W, UNC-G, Appalachian, and a dozen other institutions of higher learning.

In regard to home education, God’s Harvard is about 15 years out of date. Rosin’s snide attitude, her failure to understand the religious convictions of others, and her niggling criticism of evangelical lifestyles (Rosin seems to feel that the teens she describes would somehow be better off fornicating, smoking weed, and getting drunk on the weekends) only reveal the provincial attitudes that mark our “betters” these days.

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