How I Survived Homeschooling in Bill Gothard’s Cult: Part One

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Norbert Posselt.

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Alexa Meyer’s blog Life of Grace and Peace. It was originally published on June 26, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Conclusion

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Part One

With much encouragement from my husband I’m sharing my experiences with Bill Gothard and the ugly influence of Gothard’s Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP) and Advanced Training Institute (ATI – his homeschool program) teachings on my life. After reading many of the experiences of others, I felt that my story would just be redundant since we all seem to share similarities. My husband assures me that what I learned and how I dealt with Gothard would help someone – and so I hope.

The beginnings of what I think of as my personal “Dark Ages” started in my 13th year (Aug. 1988), a year after being pulled out of public school to home educate. There’s nothing like being told the day 7th grade started, and after taking all the trouble to get ready that morning – clothes on, check; hair done, check; makeup, check; pep talk, check – to “never mind going to school, you’ll be doing that at home from now on.” With my foot out the door and my bag over my shoulder, I thought it was a joke. When I realized they were serious and asked why, I was told that I was “out of control and rebellious, so to bring you into line you’re being taught at home.” That inspires cooperation!

From what I could tell, being rebellious meant that I wasn’t open to them, sharing my every thought, dream, etc., I was physically pulling away from them, not wanting to hug my dad frequently, spending time by myself, asking questions (which evidently meant I didn’t agree with them).

Basically, I wanted privacy and for my dad to stop paying attention to me (attention that made me uncomfortable), and they wanted to control everything about me. They had already tried Josh McDowall’s stuff with me the previous year, which I thought was a little overboard since more rules and guilt trips don’t help anyone. I’m sure that I was a little sullen and mouthy since by my understanding all my crying out for help to my mom, and sometimes my dad, didn’t get any results. My dad continued to sit too close, tickle my knees or ribs at will, make me hug him frequently, sit alone with me and pry into my deepest thoughts, humiliate me in front of my peers and adults by sharing my personal habits or spiritual revelations I had, make jokes about me, twist and turn my words (manipulate) back onto me when I would sit down and express my concerns about them – I could go on, but I don’t want to bore you. In addition to asking my mom to talk with dad about giving me some space, I asked my youth pastor to just come sit with me during a talk with my parents and help me make sure that my point got across to them. Nothing, of course, came of that. I tried several times at many “family devotions” during and after dinner, to confront my dad (like I had been taught to do-Matt.18) about this strangeness I felt between us. I was always “wrong (i.e. don’t know what you’re talking about), confused, misguided, so you should spend more time searching your heart and the Bible to see what Jesus wants you to work on.” I tried this approach from the age of 11 to about 15, and then gave up since everything I said was always turned back on me (it still is to this day).

After my “rebellious” first year home schooling, my parents decided that I needed Character Building. I guess I wasn’t enough of a character already! So after talking to a friend who knew a friend who had a similar “problem”, my parents were introduced to Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) – or Basic Training – through the Character Sketches. (These character sketch books were full of character words, their meanings, stories taken from the Bible, and an animal assigned per character word to teach the how to demonstrate the particular character, i.e. faithfulness.) I remember the first time I looked through that book thinking “Seriously?! I’m supposed to learn how my parents want me to behave by reading how animals behave? We’re going to spiritualize animal behavior?” It seemed really kooky to me, but I wanted to keep the peace, so I cooperated. Boy was I in for a treat at the IBLP seminar we went to that spring (1989)!

At that first Basic seminar (I was 12), my dad made sure we all met Gothard. It was very brief, but I didn’t like him and thought it strange how like my dad he was – same first name, hair and eye color, body build, voice tones, manner of speaking and hand gestures.

The most unnerving trait they shared, which became apparent about 2 years later when I met him again, was the sexual undercurrent.

I recognized that particular type of tension because I dodged that sitting-too-close, inappropriate-tickling, alone-at-night-deep-probing-questions, forcing-affection and being-called-girlfriend tension from my father my whole life.

Another thing that seemed strange, yet obvious, to me was how odd it was for people who are married and probably have kids to listen and take to heart a man’s interpretation of the Bible, who has never left home or married let alone courted anyone (to my knowledge at 13) and had no experience whatsoever of raising kids. Wow! Really?! The rules he was spouting seemed endless and silly, focusing on only physical things that we should do, never the true Grace and Peace that Jesus brought us all after the cross.

So after attending Basic and learning all the things we must do to receive God’s favor (Wait a minute! I thought that was un-merited because of Jesus!), and, apparently, to fit in with this club, life became a burden.

It was already rocky enough, what with being the only child who was blessed with her father’s laser beam of religiosity, demanding my every thought, confession, loyalty but never my questions or concerns about anything to do with my parent’s authority. I call that blind loyalty, and ironically my parents taught me, no required me, to be a deep thinker and self-analyzer, to always question things, especially establishments and authority.

Did anyone else’s parents require complete transparency (even if nothing was there), daily Bible study at the ungodly hour of 6am (okay, I’m so Not a morning person!), regular self-analysis to see where you’re wrong and how you can be more like Christ? Or the room raids and confiscations when you’re gone, public humiliations by talking about your private struggles or personal habits? Or have the limits on youth group involvement and the focus on staying pure, pointing out that I’m inherently a sinner, so I have to keep myself pure and modest so I don’t tempt anyone and become a stumbling block? The way my dad talked he had me believing that every guy over the age of 12 had one thing on their mind most of the time, so it was my job not to encourage them. Later I would wonder how to turn him off! After witnessing my father come home from work one day (when I was about 14) and thank us for praying for him that day, because he’d been tempted by a beautiful red haired woman in a suit, I knew for sure that my dad was one of those males he’d been warning me about. It took years of being married to my wonderful, non-ATIA, Godly husband before I released my prejudice against most men.

A lot of the teachings from IBLP my parents had already been teaching me for a while. Some of the new things were the Patriarch stuff, women wearing only dresses, no make-up, long hair, stay at home, having babies (no birth control) and the courtship idea. The teaching that people are supposed to follow all these rules (most of which are made by man), which are “backed up” by Bible verses used out of context, to be “right” with and blessed by God, weren’t new to me. It was, however something that I was finding oppressive and didn’t think was right. What I saw through my parents and the numerous churches we attended was those in positions of “authority” (power, really) abusing their position saying, “Jesus died for you because He loves you and wants to save you. (His blood wasn’t powerful enough? I have the power to make Jesus my Redeemer or Savior?) But He accepts you as you are. Accept Him so you won’t burn in hell (Didn’t Jesus take the judgement of the world and bring Peace between man and God?).” Then after you accept Him – really, who wants to burn in hell? – they teach all the things you have to do to continue to stay “right” with God. The backstabbing, ostracizing, cruelness comes the minute you questioned anything or didn’t agree exactly the same way. Aside from studying how Jesus behaved after the cross (as well as before!) and noticing that He certainly never acted that heartless way, it just didn’t feel right.

It’s what Jesus wants from us, to be hateful towards someone who doesn’t think, act or dress like us?

Really?! That shows Love?

Well, after contemplating suicide three times my 13th year, shortly after turning 14 I raised my fist to God and told Him to take this “Christianity” and shove it! If this was Him I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. He was going to have to show me who He really was for me to have anything to do with Him. He, thankfully, didn’t disappoint me! About five months later He encouraged me to read Song of Solomon. He showed me His Love, He wooed me and became my best friend, confidant, lover, teacher, most especially my Hope. I know to the core of me that He was the only way I made it to 18 reasonably sane and alive.

Reflections of a Homeschool Graduate: Part Two

Homeschool

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kallie Culver’s blog Untold Stories. It was originally published on June 16, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part One

Homeschooling: The Girl Behind the Mask

For my family, homeschooling was both a calling my parents felt and a practical venture for a season. I am the only child, in my family of nine children, who was homeschooled from Kindergarten through 12th grade. My parents initially started homeschooling my older sister and I for practical reasons. At first it was because the Christian school my older sister attended did not have room for both of us the year I was supposed to enter – so, rather than put us into two different schools, my mom chose to school us at home that year.

At that time, we lived in California, where my father was completing his Master’s in Divinity with the Master’s Seminary under the leadership of John MacArthur. It was also during this time that my parents befriended and came under the mentorship of Gary and Ann Marie Ezzo, the founders of Growing Families International, the authors of the well- known parenting book Baby Wise, and subsequent parenting curriculum Growing Kids Gods Way. After graduating from seminary, my father took the position of Texas State Director for Growing Families International, which allowed us to move back home to our family ranch in the Texas panhandle. For the three years my father held that job, it required him and my mom to travel all over the state of Texas and to surrounding states for numerous leadership and parenting conferences, often on a weekly basis. Given how extensive their travel schedule was, my parents found that homeschooling was a practical choice to continue.

However, after my Father resigned from that position and settled into life at the ranch permanently, the decision to homeschool moved from just being a practical one to something my parents felt God was calling our family to continue. Some of my parents’ best friends in the area were already homeschooling as well, and through them we had discovered an active homeschool group in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle area, known as the Santa Fe Trail Homeschool Association. We soon joined this group and met many family friends in the area who also homeschooled. Many of these families were also members of ATI, (Advanced Training Institute, under the leadership of Bill Gothard) so although we never officially joined ATI, we soon began to actively participate in several of their events, programs, and social networks. As we began to get more deeply involved with these homeschool circles, adopting the mindsets, teachings, social norms, and beliefs became second nature. The more time we spent and the deeper relationships we formed, the more natural it became.

Never for a moment did I ever think I would leave that community, much less question it, feel betrayed by it, or have aspects of it haunt me for years after I left it.

One of my greatest struggles in life stems from the fact that I have been a people pleaser from a young age. For a long time I believed my worth as a person and happiness in life were determined by the number of friends I had, making people happy, keeping the peace, and fitting in. I see now how that drive and belief affected everything about my young life. I can even see it intricately interwoven into my choice to adopt my family’s faith at eight years old.

For years, if someone asked me to put Jesus or my faith into one word – it was the word “Friend.” I remember, as a child, watching my friends and other members of my family go to the front of the church every first Sunday of the month for communion, but I was never allowed to go. So one Sunday when my father came back to the pew, I asked him, “Why can’t I take communion?” His response was that communion involved having a relationship with Jesus, and this was a way for those who wanted and lived out a relationship with Christ to remember Him and commune with Him. Of course he put that message in words that an eight year old would understand, but the heart of what I remember him saying was that you had to be friends with Jesus to take communion. That was something I could understand and was something I did not want to be left out of. So that day, right there in that pew I asked my dad if he could pray with me. In my simple understanding, I asked Jesus into my heart and to be my friend that would never leave me. That friendship is what I have clung to for years.

From then on, for many years, prayer for me was talking to my best friend. I could pray about whatever I was really feeling and I was never rejected or admonished for that. This is also what led to my first love for writing, as I began journaling at the age of nine, where I wrote to Jesus instead of in the common Dear Diary format. I have numerous journals saved in a box under my bed telling the saga of my childhood in letters to Jesus. That tradition stayed with me well into college, until I began to doubt whether even that friendship I trusted for so long would survive. Even then the journaling habit remained, while I just left the salutation off and continued writing in a conversation style wondering some days if the God I had been writing to for so long was really listening or had ever actually listened for that matter.

Through these years of being in a spiritual wilderness questioning everything, it has also been that foundational friendship that I keep coming back to. I know from both friends and others with similar backgrounds that, once they found the courage and were willing to strip away every aspect of their faith adopted because of family expectations, the community, a sense of obligation, or a lack of knowledge about any other alternative – for many there was nothing left. For those who have chosen to walk away from faith altogether, I value and respect them just as much as those who I know have wrestled to find new understandings of faith, because I know that, growing up the way we did, to make that decision is probably one of the hardest they will ever make. Choosing to hold up our beliefs to the light of truth and be deeply honest about what we can really stand behind with integrity is no small feat.

It would be so much easier in many cases to just be silent about how you really felt and keep up a mask for appearance’s sake. For me, when I strip everything away that I am holding onto just for loyalty, for loved ones, or for fear of the truth – I could never completely dismiss the relationship I have felt and built with God from a young age. It’s not for a lack of questioning the idea; it’s more that I know now, through countless sleepless nights wrestling over it with gut wrenching sobs, or laying there in the blackness with silent tears coursing down my cheeks, that despite all my confusion, my anger, my deepest fears, or my unanswered questions, I still can not deny that a relationship of a lifetime is there.

What makes me believe that? It’s not the numerous hours I spent in church, reading scripture, memorizing scripture, studying or debating doctrine, or living the quintessential Christian life. It’s the comfort I found as a child in believing I had a friend who actually cared. It’s the peace I grasped for as a teenager, who spent years hiding a paranoid fear of the dark and of rape. I can never forget the number of nights that I spent with a lamp on knowing that God was the only one listening and how prayer was often the only means for finding any sleep. It’s the faith and expression of God my husband saw in me that I couldn’t even see myself. Even though my faith and how I daily experience a relationship with God have changed, and even though there have been many days questioning its very existence – I know it is still there. Christ’s life still draws me with his exemplary compassion to serve and love people around him. There is a mystery, a silence, a peace, a love, and a source of life beyond me that still beckons me to rediscover faith on my own.

When it comes to honestly evaluating my thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and experiences concerning homeschooling, however, I see now that it was a perfect mask. It was a place where my people-pleasing personality, self-doubt, and self-hatred made me readily embrace the more legalistic homeschooling culture I was surrounded by.

I was twelve when I attended my first ATI Basic Seminar, and I went home vowing to never listen to music with a drum beat in it and to memorize all of Romans 6, 7, and 8. Next came the Advanced Seminar, followed by the Anger Resolution Seminar, both of which I came home from with lists of notes and new resolutions to follow. It frustrated me to no end at the time that my dad would never commit to actually joining ATI, and so I did my best to be a loyal follower without actually being a member. My sister and I excitedly signed up for the King’s Daughter Magazine, which we looked forward to every month to read about other girls out there living just like us learning how to be godly young women preparing to be godly wives and mothers.

I lived and breathed teachings on purity, modesty, and courtship, making sure I was a pristine example with every outfit, action, word, and thought. I watched the Character First! videos countless times, memorized the poems and songs, learned how to play them on the piano, and began to dream of the day I could go to a training center to teach it myself. That dream would later come true when I was seventeen and moved to the Oklahoma City ATI Training Center for my spring semester to work with the Character First team. The list of experiences I had and the norms I adopted are too many to list.

So what began as a lifestyle and calling for my parents, for me became a lifestyle and mantra of my own.

Homeschooling was the only right form of education, because even considering the alternative would mean admitting my doubts, questions, and envy of other kids my age that went to school. Those emotions I felt were weak and selfish, so I hid behind judging them for being different and felt sorry that they didn’t have parents who heard God like mine did. Judging them, preaching at them, pitying them, and praying for them became second nature, hiding the honesty of my envy and confusion. Just writing that makes my heart ache, when I think about the girl that I was back then. I think of the friends and extended family that I know who put up with me, while I pushed them further and further away with my arrogant self-righteousness. A girl so desperate to hide the world of fear I lived in. A girl who touted the good girl routine like her life depended on it, because to ever put down that mask was unthinkable.

Emily Freeman could not have worded my life more perfectly when she wrote, “I was a good girl and I wanted to be a good girl, but it often kept me from saying what I really meant.” In fact, my desire to be good even kept me from exploring my own opinion, and I grew up to believe that my opinions didn’t actually matter much anyway. I avoided vulnerability for fear of being rejected or being labeled as needy. Good girls aren’t needy; they are needed. And so instead of living free, I lived safe.

To admit I wanted or needed something different meant I questioned God and my parents. To be myself was something I was convinced no one wanted or cared to even notice. I gobbled up legalism, rules, and doctrine like they were food for my soul. A list to perform… Perfection and routine… I could do that. It would take years before I realized I was on a train headed for nowhere but endless heartache. It would take my entire world being shattered before I would come to understand that not only was God not looking for me to be perfect, but also people who really loved me weren’t looking for that either. In reality, all I wanted was to feel I belonged, but instead all I knew how to do was to try to fit in, and my efforts continually left me wanting.

Brene Brown so poignantly states, “We either own our stories (even the messy ones), or we stand outside of them— denying our vulnerabilities and imperfections, orphaning the parts of us that don’t fit in with who/what we think we’re supposed to be, and hustling for other people’s approval of our worthiness. Perfectionism is exhausting because hustling is exhausting. It’s a never-ending performance.”

This was my world.

Homeschooling for me was a never-ending, exhausting performance.

Part Three>

The Reluctant Rebel: Gemma’s Story, Part Three

Homeschoolers U

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Gemma” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author.

< Part Two

Part Three: Sophomore Year

I had apparently made enough “progress” by the following fall semester, my sophomore year, that I was allowed to return to a wing with my friends and my old RA. However, it wasn’t long before I came to the definitive conclusion that Dean Wilson was an evil man by watching how he “counseled” one of my roommates who was dealing with a serious personal issue. He engaged in some of the most blatant, disgusting, misogynistic victim-blaming I have ever heard come out of a man’s mouth, and left my roommate even more grief-stricken and overwhelmed than she had been before.

Somehow it was easier to see the evil clearly when it was being inflicted on someone else.

That year, my RA and another popular student wrote a petition to the administration for the loosening of some of the more restrictive rules, especially regarding the interaction of male and female students. This petition was actually relatively successful, and in the aftermath it seemed like people could breathe again. I remember going to an off-campus basketball game shortly after this and seeing girls and guys in the bleachers, rubbing shoulders and leaning back against each other’s knees—just like normal college kids would do. It made me happy—my friends and I acted like this in high school. It seemed normal and familiar.

I also remember, in the time between the delivery of the petition and the administration’s positive response, my RA hiding—literally hiding—in her dorm room, ducking from the view of the window, or sitting in the hallway trying to breathe and slow her rapid heart beat. She had done the right thing, but she was terrified of Dean Wilson, and of the nameless atmosphere of fear we were all drowning in. She laughed at the absurdity of her “hiding,” but the feeling was real and we all knew it.

Academically, the school was living up to its reputation. In fact, I think one of the reasons the student life issues were so important to everyone is that we had so little chance to socialize as it was. Most of our time was spent studying, trying to conquer the unconquerable mountain of work we were assigned. My classes were extremely difficult, but very rewarding. Most of the professors seemed genuinely to enjoy their students. Some would routinely hold court in the dining hall between and after classes, answering questions, doling out advice, mostly just joking around or facilitating lighthearted debates.

But there was a growing split between the administration and the Office of Student Life, on the one hand, and the academic side of the school, on the other. We started to articulate it even then to outsiders who asked: the education here is great, but the culture is oppressive. Dean Wilson took it personally that the professors—and let’s face it, many of the students—were smarter than he was. He and his favored students started ruminating on the pride of intellectualism, the vanity of worldly philosophy, and the greater goodness of purity of heart and devotion to Scripture. It was spoken of as an either/or dilemma—smart, prideful, sinful people vs. lowly, humble, pure people.

It was around this time that several friends and I had started a campus group called the Alexis de Tocqueville Society. We semi-regularly published a journal of academic writing, book, music, and movie reviews, and opinion pieces. We also hosted guest lecturers on a variety of topics, from international relations to medieval literature to film criticism. Our stated mission was to further intellectual dialogue on campus. It was definitely an intellectually-focused club, but our mission was to serve the campus as a whole, not to show off. But ATS attracted the “wrong” kind of students, and it wasn’t long before “ATS” became a byword for “troublemakers.” We embodied that “intellectual elitism” Dean Wilson hated so much, and the administration began to view us with suspicion.

I now recognize this anti-intellectualism and many other of Dean Wilson’s teachings in what has been written recently about Bill Gothard and other authoritarian homeschool leaders.

For instance, Dean Wilson repeatedly admonished us not to take up another person’s offense—a teaching so bizarre and idiosyncratic I recognized it immediately when it appeared recently on the Recovering Grace website. Another example is this page from the ATI Basic Seminar textbook. Again, I discovered this only recently, but was shocked to see how neatly it summed up so much of what the students branded as “rebels” endured from our fellow students and from Student Life and the administration:

Basic Seminar Page

I know these teachings seem commonplace to those who grew up in systems like these. You have to imagine how bewildering and alienating these judgmental attitudes seemed to those of us who literally had no context to understand how we were being perceived, or why. I didn’t go into college wanting to be a rebel. I was a good, homeschooled, Christian girl. I memorized Scripture by the chapter, volunteered at AWANA, and played praise songs on the piano. I’d never even had a boyfriend before college. But at PHC, just by living my (good) life and being myself, I was branded a “rebel.” It was like there was this invisible line I was constantly crossing, which everyone could see except me. The only people who made sense to me were the other “rebels.” After a while, it just got psychologically demoralizing. I don’t even know what you people want from me, so fine, I’m a “rebel.”

Dean Wilson was a strong adherent of Doug Wilson and the Pearls. In our weekly small-group wing chapels, we were given writings from Wilson and the Pearls to study and discuss.

Here, for example, is the actual handout we studied in one wing chapel, probably during the 2003-2004 school year. The name and book title are mysteriously missing, but anyone familiar with the material can recognize it as a page straight out of Debi Pearl’s Created To Be His Help Meet.

ctbhhm

From what I’ve heard, the men were indoctrinated with these materials even more than the women. It wasn’t like everyone on campus necessarily accepted these things at face value—in my wing of relatively fashion-forward women, I remember us all kind of giggling at one piece of Doug Wilson’s that condemned high heels. But even if everyone didn’t accept them, the presence of these writings and teachings added to the overall atmosphere. Now, it entered the minds of everyone that girls who wore high heels were sluttier than girls who didn’t. Now, wearing heels meant something it hadn’t meant before.

Mike Farris has recently distanced himself from people like Gothard, Phillips, Wilson, and other extremists and has claimed that he rejects their teachings. I think it is true that he, personally, does not hold to many of their more extreme beliefs.

But he allowed these extreme views to circulate on his campus with a stamp of official approval.

He allowed his hand-picked Dean of Student Life and this dean’s favorite, very conservative students to dominate the campus culture with their extremism. He should have known this was going on. If he knew, he never said anything.

And Mike Farris had no qualms about saying something when he thought something needed to be said! Once, a student wrote an article for the student newspaper with the Slate-esque headline of “Why Bono Is A Better Christian Than You.” This piece prompted Farris to respond with an entire chapel sermon on why cursing is bad and demonstrates that one is not a true Christian. Afterward, he spoke jovially with the author of the article, slapping him on the back in a “no harm, no foul” kind of way. But not surprisingly, this response had a chilling effect on the further publication of controversial pieces in campus newspapers.

Another time, Farris got wind that some students had been dabbling in libertarianism. This prompted another chapel sermon, a fiery one in which he denounced libertarians as no better than child molesters.

So it’s not like he ever hesitated to address campus trends that bothered him, publicly and personally.

My best guess is that Mike Farris and Paul Wilson personally benefitted from a campus culture of total submission to authority. Many ultra-conservative students came from backgrounds that said parents, pastors, and government must be obeyed without question and respected without complaint. Questions and complaints were no better than defiance, and defiance of authority was an unforgivable sin. It was very easy for these students to add “college administrators” to that list of unquestionable authorities.

Knowing what I know now, I can see where that mindset comes from. At the time, I thought I was surrounded by a bizarre species of human who spoke some kind of foreign code. At least, I never could seem to get through to them with normal English words, or logic, or questions like Where in the Bible does it say it is evil to question a college administrator? And many of them—especially the young men—didn’t even seem capable of looking me in the face when I talked, or acknowledging anything I had to say. I think Farris tacitly (and Wilson explicitly) approved of this state of affairs, because it gave them power and control over the student body.

That, or he just didn’t know that his students were being forced to study patriarchalist writers and imbibe cultic teachings under the guise of not only administrative, but religious authority—but he really, really should have known.

One final example of the split between the academic and student-life cultures on campus came towards the end of my sophomore year. A reporter from the New York Times, David Kirkpatrick, came to visit the campus for a story he was writing. Reporters were on campus all the time. PHC was huge media bait during its first few years in existence, and the administration was only too happy to show us off to the world. At first, it was kind of fun to interact with reporters, but after a while, you just feel like a specimen being examined. I guess it never occurred to the administrators that it’s actually really hard to pay attention in class when there’s a massive camera in your face. The students joked about campus being a “fishbowl,” a double reference to the utter lack of privacy within and the constant prying eyes from without.

At any rate, when David Kirkpatrick arrived, he came to visit my class. I was taking a course called “Modernity, Post-modernity, and Society,” a political theory elective intentionally modeled on a graduate-level, seminar-style course. We were reading and discussing Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition on the day Mr. Kirkpatrick sat in on our class. At the end of the class, he complimented the students and the professor on the level of engagement with text we had displayed. He himself had read The Human Condition—in graduate school—and he noted that we had handled the text as well as any of his graduate classmates had.

I was, of course, pleased with the compliment—but even more pleased that this reporter from the New York Times had seen the good side of PHC, the academic side, before encountering whatever weirdness he was sure to find if he hung around long enough.

And it didn’t take long at all. By the time I got to lunch, he was in the dining hall, surrounded by a table full of girls in long prairie skirts. The article led with a photo of students walking on campus, noting that students “may show affection publicly only by holding hands while walking”—one of the more arcane rules from the rulebook.

There was no mention of Arendt or graduate-style seminar courses.

Part Four >