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.

12 thoughts on “Brainwashed Shock Troops

  1. Coco Mama July 17, 2013 / 2:59 pm

    Very interesting, Thanks for sharing:-) I would bet in some ways the university still was not prepared for a well spoken, wide thinking young women:-) Have you completely turn away from faith? Or just from your parents version?


  2. Headless Unicorn Guy July 17, 2013 / 5:24 pm

    Put simply, the commenter quoted above is right.

    Two commenters, actually.

    The second and third paragraphs are mine, and are an answer to whoever posted the first paragraph.


  3. Headless Unicorn Guy July 17, 2013 / 5:28 pm

    A little more:

    …because the truth of their beliefs, they were certain, was manifestly obvious to anyone and everyone.

    1) Wading through C++ documentation that assumed all the nuances of the language required to understand the documentation were “manifestly obvious to anyone and everyone”, i.e. “Everybody Knows That!”

    2) “You obviously do not have a Rational Mind. If you had a Rational Mind, you would agree completely with Me.”
    — Ayn Rand


  4. Headless Unicorn Guy July 18, 2013 / 9:49 am

    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.

    Remember what the original Joshua Generation (in the book of the same name) did to the Heathen Canaanites they found living in the land they were Taking Back.


  5. nickducote July 18, 2013 / 4:46 pm

    Wow, this is my story almost word for word! Even with how my father insulted my secular university education on multiple occasions, behind my back to extended family, because I was starting to disagree politically. It’s like in all our discussions of history and politics, he enjoyed having someone who agreed with him more than someone to possibly learn from.


  6. DoaHF July 18, 2013 / 6:13 pm

    ^ Went to their pagan festivals, began having sex, and got speared through?


    • DoaHF July 18, 2013 / 6:14 pm

      To Unicorn guy’s question:
      Remember what the original Joshua Generation (in the book of the same name) did to the Heathen Canaanites they found living in the land they were Taking Back


      • Headless Unicorn Guy July 19, 2013 / 2:02 pm

        Actually, I was thinking of the commands to Exterminate the Canaanites, but you went to the flip side. And both are germane to the subject.


  7. Chasm December 8, 2013 / 10:05 am

    Is it impolite to mention the truly tragic reality that all of this was done to you and your parents in order to sell them books, videos and course material and get them/you/your kids to vote, donate, and activate for the Republican party? And make no mistake: they are succeeding wildly. I admire all of you for speaking out, and I truly hope that young people are leaving in droves.

    seems to me to be the point of all of this, and I’d like to hear if any of you were recruited into political action in the course of your schooling, besides just the debate team.

    Of course Ferris is an original signer of the Cor Manifesto, which is about all you need to know that he is a grifter. That really does have to be the moment the church and republican politics formally colluded, and sure enough, homeschooling was there.

    and course materials and worldview?


    • Heidi Underhill December 9, 2013 / 10:30 am

      OK – so I agree some home school parents may be like that. But not all. I choose to home school because at the time I worked evenings and wanted to be with my kids. Other home school because there local schools are awful. There are a ton of reasons people home school. Many home schoolers do not follow any of the people you mentioned. I think it is really important that these adults are speaking out and sharing their experiences.

      At the same time, it is wrong to lump all home schoolers into the same category. It is not helpful. One of the main problems is abusive families that are following cult like leaders blindly.

      If one wants to fix problems then s/he needs to look at the problem and solve it. You don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.


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