Political Families: A Call For Stories

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Grufnik.

By Shade Ardent.

Political rallies, large families, these are things that often seem to go together.

The homeschooling movement has been one that has been involved in politics from almost the beginning. From Reconstructionism to Calvinism, and other ideologies, politics find a home amongst homeschoolers. Even homeschooling itself has been seen as a political statement. Many homeschooling families see the state as their enemy, bent on taking away their rights. Homeschooling conventions are frequently filled with Reconstructionist, Calvinist, or other politically active speakers, so that even the politically neutral families are exposed to rhetoric.

So it is a natural step that parents move from homeschooling as a political commentary to supporting candidates and political platforms as a family, organizing and attending rallies or protests, or taking part in other forms of political activism. As children, we had little to no say in our involvement in these political activities.

Was your family active politically? What types of political activities did your family participate in? How did it impact you personally and politically? Did you agree with your parents politically? Were you an active participant? How did you feel about what you were told to do? Then? Now?

We would like to hear your stories.

As always, you can contribute anonymously or publicly. Please let us know your preference when you contact us.

*Deadline for “Political Families” submissions: Monday, July 11, 2016.*

If you are interested in participating in this series, please email us at HA.EdTeam@gmail.com.

Life in the Dollhouse: Stay At Home Daughters, by Lea

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lea’s blog Emancipated Atlas. It was originally published on May 31, 2014.

As little girls play with dolls in dollhouses, so Christian fundamentalist parents play house with their daughters, teaching them from a young age that women are to be homemakers- any college degree or job outside the house being considered prideful or sinful. Worse, college degrees for women are not God’s design. This isn’t your average “homemaker in training” evangelical culture, this is an agenda that reaches far beyond training daughters to know traditional life skills. This takes everything you know about conservative Christian womanhood to an extremist level.

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I’d like you to meet several people I have met through the years and was in contact with during my time as a stay-at-home-daughter.

“Wendy”, a late 20-something from Idaho, considers her work to be Pinteresting. She tries to pin 400 things each day. When I talked with her, she said she felt called to “inspire” others and give them a hobby of repinning her pins. When we were friends on Facebook, she listed her work as “Editor of Pins at “Wendy’s” Pinterest.” She takes direction from her parents, from getting her father’s approval every morning on what she wears, to waiting for her mother to choose the meal Wendy will make for dinner. Wendy’s mother still ‘screens’ books and movies to make sure they are wholesome before Wendy and her older sister can read or watch them. Wendy does not make many decisions for herself, without first getting an answer or at least plenty of information from her parents about something. Wendy hopes that a man will come along and marry her- a man who would first have to be interviewed with a several hundred question form and approved by her father before she knew anything about his interest in her, typical of courtship culture ingrained in the stay-at-home daughter movement. Last I knew, she claimed her father’s vision was for her to “refrain from work outside the home” -yet she offered no other clue as to what her father said she should do instead.

“Wendy” seems perfectly happy with her life and being happy and content is important. Yet, she does seem to be oblivious to any other choices available to her. She claims that “deep Bible study” for a few minutes each morning is better than any college degree; that her parents are her shelter from the “evil world” and that if she becomes too educated, she may end up choosing a sinful lifestyle – which she defines as “living outside her father’s home as an unmarried woman.”

“If I become too independent,” “Wendy” said once, “I will not only be disobedient to my parents, but to God who desires all unmarried women to remain at home. I don’t want to live in sin.”

Where did this idea of sin come from?

Doug Phillips, former leader of the now-collapsed Vision Forum empire in the dominionist branch of homeschooling, says in a documentary called “Return of the Daughters” 

“Daughters, by no means, are not to be independent. They’re not to act outside the scope of their father, and then later, their husbands. As long as they’re under the authority of their fathers, fathers have the ability to nullify or not the oaths and the vows. Daughters can’t just go out independently and say, ‘I’m going to do this or marry whoever I want.’ No. The father has the ability to say, ‘No, I’m sorry, that all has to be approved by me.”

You’ve guessed it, stay at home daughters live under the roof of their parents until they marry- even if they never get married because their father couldn’t approve those who asked! Those who follow this lifestyle believe it is sin for a woman to do anything else, thanks to the teachings of Doug Phillips. It should be noted that Doug, an advocate for “strong, godly families” within the conservative homeschooling community was recently exposed for having an affair with a young girl who worked without pay in his home as a nanny. The girl appeared in an interview in the same documentary mentioned above. While his actions do not automatically “nullify” his teachings – sound doctrine does- it does show the rampant hypocrisy and cover-up that occurs in the every day of dominionist and neo-reformed sects.

Generally, stay at home daughters can volunteer outside of the home, as long as they do not go far, work in a family or Christian setting, and are not paid for their work. You will even find them volunteering in local hospitals with siblings or like-minded friends- again without pay and in context and “accountability” of a family.

Steve and Teri Maxwell, fundamentalist homeschooling parents with a number of adult daughters at home, recently posted an article on their family “Titus 2″ blog detailing the ‘benefits’ of adult stay at home daughters. Though they make it clear their daughters stay at home by their own “choice” – I am left wondering if the women know there are other options, and if those options have been presented in an objective manner.

Teri says “Sometimes our girls are asked about their plans for the future. Right now they are 17, 22, and 31. They are all unmarried and living at home.” She does not address the possibility of how she would respond should one of the daughters want a job or desire to attend college. Teri claims her daughters desire the protection and safety of home and will remain there until marriage. This means that they will likely remain at home until they die since Steve and Teri have apparently made legal provisions that the house remains for their use upon their death. Also, the women and their marriages hinge entirely on Steve’s consent and his interviewing an interested young man- of which he has been rumored to have already turned away several. Nicknamed “Stevehovah” by his “homeschool apostate” critics, Steve Maxwell is known for shadowing his daughters wherever they go- from church to speaking at homeschool events and being a middle man between his children and all incoming contact.

Another argument the Maxwells make on their website is that they enjoy having a strong family unit that is inseparable, citing the Ecclesiastical verse “a threefold cord is not easily broken” using the mother and father as 2 cords and the daughters as a single cord. They enjoy seeing their daughters delight and work in their family’s home, making meals together for their parents and enjoying reading out loud to them in the evenings.

“Our culture typically says for young people to leave home when they are eighteen, and often the parents are happy to be free of them,”  says Teri in an article.  “We love conversations with our adult children. We like doing things with them. We like them to… ask for counsel. They are Steve and I’s best friends, and we are delighted that they want to live in our home! Allowing our adult, unmarried children to live in our home provides accountability for them. Our daughters are not isolated, they have opportunities to attend church and attend ministry events outside of our home with us.”

However, what exactly is this “protection” they are talking about? Is it not possible for Christian adults of age to handle their own lives, while remaining accountable to God? Where does personal responsibility come in? Why does a 31 year old woman need a fatherly chaperone? In Wendy’s case, why must her father approve her outfit each day to make sure it is modest when Wendy is nearing 30? What is so dangerous and unsafe about the natural maturing of your children? And, within the Maxwell family, who or whom  exactly made this decision to keep their daughters at home?

The language used by Steve and Teri is loaded with much authoritarian heavy-handedness, making it seem like the family is all about mom and dad’s wishes for the children- and a quick study of the Maxwell family’s belief shows this is explicitly their intent! From parent-centered curriculum for new parents like controversial Ezzo’s “Babywise” to Bill Gothard’s ATI homeschooling curriculum, many Christian homeschoolers, like the Maxwells, believe that children’s lives should be ordered around their parents’ schedules, plans, and wishes.

The voices missing from this discussion, at least in the Maxwell family- are the daughters’ – who have been raised in an isolated sect of the conservative homeschooling community with few social opportunities outside of Christian homeschool conferences where they speak.

Continue reading this piece on Emancipated Atlas.

Ready for Real Life: Part Two, Ready for What?

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Ready for Real Life: Part Two, Ready for What?

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part Two of this series was originally published on September 30, 2013.

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Also in this series: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar | Part Two, Ready for What? | Part Three, Are Your Children Ready? | Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture | Part Five, Science and Medicine | Part Six, History and Law | Part Seven, Vocations | Part Eight, Q&A Session | Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts

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As discussed in a prior post, Geoffrey Botkin of the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences is hosting the “Ready for Real Life” webinar series. “Ready for Real Life” is a seven-part audio series on how Christian homeschooling families should educate their children. Alongside his wife Victoria, his son Isaac, and his daughters Elizabeth and Anna Sophia, Geoffrey Botkin praises Christian homeschooling as a means of resisting a supposedly overbearing government and striving toward Christ. I purchased access to “Ready for Real Life”, and over the next few weeks, I will post content and commentary from the webinar series.

In webinar #1, “Ready for What?”, Geoffrey Botkin argues that Christian homeschooling is more than just education inside the house. Rather, home education is Biblical education. He acknowledge that homeschooling is demanding on parents, especially mothers, requiring a great deal of time and emotional investment. However, such hardships are worthwhile for the sake of one’s children and country, Geoffrey Botkin claimed.

At the 3:50 mark, he assured homeschooling mothers that their efforts were a declaration of defiance against “political enemies” who despise Christ.

“Did you mommies know that simply keeping your children at home and teaching them that B says ‘buh’ and G says ‘guh’ is such a powerful declaration of freedom and academic integrity that your political enemies — and yes, you have political enemies that hate what you’re doing and and all the powers who hate Jesus Christ are losing sleep over your act of defiance and heroic political will. You mothers really are heroes. We want you to know that!”

Christian homeschooling constitutes some of the most important work for the kingdom of God taking place in the 21st century, he told listeners. Homeschooling families are changing the world by teaching math, language arts, and “real” history, he said (an asserting that made me cackle in light of Botkin’s participation in a revisionist history conference this summer).

At the 5:25 mark, Botkin celebrated Christian homeschooling as a challenge to “all controlling” governments, demonizing the American government alongside Russia and China. 

“Home education is the most effective challenge to every runaway, all-controlling government from Germany to Russia to China — every nation that has surrendered liberty to a national curriculum, and that’s what our country has done.”

Homeschooling is more than a “lifestyle option”, he insisted, but rather serves as a way for parents to lead their children through a “very treacherous battleground”. Christians do not want their children to be pushovers for government or culture, he said, so they must find ways to raise their offspring with wisdom, no matter how “confused” the church becomes on real-life issues.

Geoffrey Botkin told listeners that he wanted his children to face the 21st century with “boldness” and stand tall when “enemies scream at them”.

A Biblical foundation for children’s education, he explained, is a correct attitude toward children. Citing Luke 1:17, he invoked John the Baptist turning the hearts of the fathers back to their children to prepare for the Lord’s arrival as a metaphor for the right parental attitude. Geoffrey Botkin used himself as an example of a father whose heart was turned toward his offspring. Initially, he described himself as a former “bad guy” who was once a “disobedient Marxist” before he embraced Christianity. Now, he has rejected the Marxist vision of social transformation in favor of the fundamentalist Christianity vision of changing cultures through families. When his wife Victoria was pregnancy with their first child, Isaac, God turned his heart to his child, he told listeners.

Next, Victoria Botkin spoke at length about motherhood and homeschooling. At the 15:00 mark, she claimed that our “culture of egotism” has encouraged women to see their children as annoyances and assume that their lives are their own (!).

She casts feminism not as a movement that liberates and values women, but as a negative force alongside materialism.

“We have been raised in a culture of feminism and materialism, and of course, those things have been around a very long time. But our generation, I think, may be unique in that we have been raised in such a culture of egotism. Women have been encouraged to think that the only thing that’s really important is self-fulfillment. We’ve been strongly encouraged to think of our lives as our own. We’ve been encouraged to think of our children as a nuisance.”

Victoria spoke of her life as a mother of young children, when she found it difficult to balance child rearing with other activities. For instance, she loved sewing, but quickly grew annoyed when her children would interrupt her sewing time. After reflecting on Matthew 18:9 (“If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out”), she gave up sewing completely so that she could devote more attention to her children. In another example, she heard another woman holding up Maria from The Sound of Music as a role model because she loved being with children. Victoria liked this idea and wanted to have such a relationship with her own children, but struggled to balance time with her children with household duties such as cleaning and cooking. If she incorporated children into household tasks, he realized, she would not need to take time out away from them.

As Victoria continued, she continued to depict Christian homeschooling and child rearing as a task without rest for mothers. At the 18:29 mark, she explained that full-time motherhood and homeschooling meant no opportunities for recreation or socializing.

“We had a relative visiting, a woman about my age who asked me, ‘Well, do you ever get to do anything YOU want to do?’ Her question stopped me cold, and I knew what she meant. She meant going out shopping with a friend, or going out to lunch and an art exhibit like she did. And for a minute I was tempted to go down the road of self-pity because no, I never did do any of those things. But then, it was like a little voice inside me pointed out that this was a trick question, and all of you who’ve been to public school know what a trick question is. And I realized in reality, I got to do what I wanted to do all the time, and not just once a month or once a week or whatever like she did. I got to do what I wanted to do all the time because I loved being with my children. I loved taking care of them and living with them and learning with them, and it was just exactly what I wanted to do, and I got to do it all the time.”

Quoting Psalm 37:4 (“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”), Victoria claimed that when she chose to find delight in her offspring, God made that the desire of her heart.

Victoria Botkin’s commentary troubled me, and not just because of the cognitive dissonance.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the life of a stay-at-home mother, but neglecting all other activities is unhealthy. I love my job, but if I worked in the office from sun-up to sundown seven days a week, I’d be a basketcase. I take great pleasure in gardening, but if I spent every waking moment cultivating my garden without any time set aside for hobbies, volunteering, or a social life, I’d be miserable. Victoria Botkin’s advice is a recipe for burnout, as she fails to recognize the need for balance and rest in mother’s lives.

Victoria elaborated on the content of homeschooling, citing Deuteronomy 6 as a foundational text. Parents not only need to teach children to love God, make disciples, and take dominion of the earth, but also need to teach reading, writing, geography, science, and current events so that they can operate in the world. For instance, homeschooling parents should teach children history so they can see “God’s workings in the affairs of men”, civics so children know how government works versus how it’s “supposed” to work, and media literacy so children recognize how the media “twists” coverage of current events to manipulate viewers.

At the 22:40 mark, she rejected the idea of teaching academic subjects apart from God, insisting that it would render subjects “meaningless”.

“The public schools pretend to teach all these things, but there’s one big difference, and it is a colossal difference. If we are obedient to God’s sacred command to parents in Deuteronomy 6, we will be teaching all these things in light of the sovereign God who made all things and who rules all things by his might forever. And we simply cannot pretend that math, science, or history are secular subjects and they’re neutral. Being taught as kids are in public school that science, math and history were and are random happenings makes them meaningless, and that’s why these are the subjects that were especially boring in public school. Meaningless, random facts aren’t interesting or relevant. As Christians, I believe we need to teach our children to love learning about God’s ways and God’s deeds, and that includes loving to study science, math and so on.”

Children will love what their parents love, Victoria claimed, and thus parents should model a love of learning to their children. If Christians love God, they will long to understand God’s workings in all things, including science and history.

But what if science and history show your children facts that don’t agree with fundamentalist Christianity? What will you do if knowledge leads them to question your fundamentalism? I thought.

Geoffrey Botkin stressed that parents must cultivate correct knowledge about their children. Children are “godly seed”, not pupils or accessories, he argued. The Bible teaches that children are weapons of war, he added, asking listeners if they were truly acting like warriors.

Like other fundamentalist voices, Geoffrey Botkin described children as torchbearers for a fundamentalist agenda.

On the subject of discipline, Geoffrey Botkin insisted on absolute obedience from children. He spoke approvingly of spanking and “the rod”, and discouraged parents from countenancing any form of disobedience from their offspring.

“Discipline is not an option in your home. You have to bring discipline and order to your home. Disobedience is not an option in your home. Children cannot disobey parents, ever, either outwardly or passively. They can’t roll their eyes … We have to be very quick to rebuke them and reprove them in a way that we want. The rod and reprove give wisdom … Did we spank our children? Yes, we did spank our children. And there were times that there were children who were easy to spank, and children that were literally impossible and difficult to spank. And did we want to give up on that? Sure we did. And there were many times when I would come home and I would need to encourage Victoria and say, ‘Honey, were you faithful in obeying the Lord in this? Because when you discipline your children, they will delight your soul, and they haven’t delighted your soul today.'”

Throughout the webinar, the Botkins addressed listener comments. One commenter asked the Botkins how he and his wife could “detox” from the “garbage” they learned in public school. Geoffrey Botkin replied that they must replace their old public school teachings with “Biblical truth”. Public school teachings are part of a larger flawed culture, Geoffrey Botkin claimed. We live in a “dirty toxic nation” that is “pagan”, he insisted, lamenting that many Protestant churches have embraced dubious ideas steeped in Greco-Roman thought.

WHICH Greco-Roman ideas? I thought. Greek and Roman thought was not monolithic. Why are you lumping it all together and discarding it?

Geoffrey Botkin’s disdain for Greek and Roman cultural contributions ran deep. Another listener asked about the role of Latin and classical texts in home education, to which Geoffrey Botkin gave a polemical response. At the 56:11 mark, he associated Latin with “pagan” indoctrination, caricaturing classical thought as anthropocentric and monolithic. 

“Latin was basic to the initiation process of pagan or deeply compromised academics to gain control over the training of each generation of Christian leaders in England and America. And it was the kind of thing that we must be careful about because the classics are pagan. Greek and Roman literature and philosophy is pagan. They were based on the premise that man is the total measure of everything, than man’s reason is ultimate. It’s such a toxic thing if our children begin to pick this up and become arrogant.”

In conclusion, the Botkins’ first installment of the “Ready for Real Life” series urged parents to homeschool their children with fundamentalist principles at the forefront. Their webinar placed great importance on parental involvement, the Bible, and studying subjects through a fundamentalist Christian filter.

Several recurring themes became apparent.

  • Children as Torchbearers — Christian homeschooling, for the Botkins, is a deeply political act. Geoffrey and Victoria Botkins saw their Christian homeschooling efforts as a means of raising children for future Christian dominion. Children were compared to weapons and arrows in a quiver, and their home education was intended to produce future Christians who would resist messages from society and the state. 
  • Dominionism — The Botkins repeatedly presented Christian homeschooling as a means by which Christians were to exercise dominion and train the next generation for dominion. Geoffrey Botkin spoke warmly of spoke of the Christian reconstructionist author R. J. Rushdoony, whose books were required reading in the Botkin household. He even celebrated Rushdoony’s Institutes in Biblical Law as a “dinner table reference book” in the family’s conversations about current events. 
  • Christian Patriarchy — The roles that Geoffrey and Victoria Botkin prescribed for parents and children were heavily gendered. Women were expected to be stay-at-home mothers and devote themselves entirely to the education and upbringing of their offspring. Geoffrey Botkin also encouraged mothers to treat their sons like men, not boys, so as to prepare them to be future leaders. Revealingly, he did not say the same about daughters.  
  • Obedience — The Botkins called for children’s absolute obedience to their parents, as well as parents’ absolute obedience to God and the Bible.
  • Disdain with the Outside World — The webinar was riddled with condemnation of the state, public schools, humanism, feminism, alleged “political enemies”, and society in general. Christian homeschooling was presented as a form of resistance to “runaway, all-controlling government”, in keeping with Geoffrey Botkin’s fears of statism. Public schools were denigrated as ungodly learning environments that stuffed students’ minds with “garbage”. “Anyone who went through the American public education system in the last thirty years is not totally ignorant, but mostly ignorant,” Geoffrey Botkin insisted at the 58:25 mark. Society at large was demonized as “dirty” and “pagan”, with Christian dominion as the only true antidote to its ills. In short, the outside world, with its diversity and secularism, was framed as a malevolent force that Christian homeschool families must resist.

Stay tuned for commentary on the rest of the Botkin’s “Ready for Real Life” webinar series!

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To be continued.

“My Daughters Are Not Going Off to College”: When Homeschooled Girls Are Trapped

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on October 12, 2013 with the title “Homeschooled Adult Daughters Held Captive at Home, Prevented from Getting College Education.”

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“There are too many homeschooled girls who need help overcoming the legal obstacles their parents put in their path to a college education. It also bothers me that the leaders of the Christian homeschooling movement preach that young girls shouldn’t get a ‘regular’ education – that they should only be trained in domestic arts and ‘female’ tasks.”

~ Nick Ducote, “Reflections on Malala, Patriarchy, and Homeschool Advocacy”

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In an effort to “raise up a child in the way they should go,” some Christian homeschool parents are essentially kidnapping their daughters, only teaching “homemaking” skills, even denying and preventing them from getting a college education.

The father is involved in all aspects of his adult daughter’s lives until marriage.

Earlier this week, my young friend, Nicholas Ducote, co-founder of Homeschoolers Anonymous, wrote something that resonated with me.  It hit me hard because this was a path our family was heading down.  He was writing about the plight he has seen among a number of young ladies who are part of the “Homeschool Movement,” the subculture of fundamentalist Christians who adhere to the Patriarchal lifestyle in which the father is very involved in all aspects of his adult daughters’ lives, even through adulthood until they are married — married to a husband approved by the father.

Nick, a former homeschool student, has earned his Master’s degree.  He knows the challenges he faced in getting his degrees. But it struck me how Nick was clearly upset about the injustices he saw facing his female homeschool peers.

In the Homeschool Movement, this educational imbalance among the sexes is not perceived as an injustice whatsoever. In fact, to even think of sending an adult daughter “off to school,” is to some, heretical.  As recent as a month ago, a homeschool mom and friend of mine posted on Facebook that her adult daughters would not be going to college — that she and her husband “just don’t believe in that.”

It makes me wonder: did her parents make all of her decisions when she became an adult?  Probably not.

Here is a screenshot I saved from a homeschool wives group on Facebook several months ago and you can see the similar mindset:

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I used to believe this way.  

In the Homeschool Movement, I was taught to believe that if we sent our daughters off to college, they would want to use that education, get a job, might even earn more money than their husbands.  This was “not right” because husbands were supposed to be the breadwinners and mothers were to be busy at home with the children.   They claimed this was all the work of feminists and the feminist influence on society was breaking up families and demeaning men.

Feminism was the cause of the moral decay in society.

I’ve been a homemaker for nearly 27 years.  I have loved staying home with the children.  It is wonderful for mom to stay home with her children.  But is it the only way?  Is it always possible?  Is it really all that black and white as “they” portray it to be?  Can we have decent families in which a mom works part-time?

Leaders in the Homeschool Movement spend an exorbitant amount of time selling their rhetoric in words and in materials (books, videos, blog articles) sharing what they believe to be the ultimate role of women as homemaker:  how to be respectful and submissive wives, how to cook, sew, how to raise children, etc.

If you are a young girl raised in this environment, your know your lot in life is:  get married to your approved husband, have many children, teach your children at home, and hopefully, your children will do the same.

It is important to note the basis of this ideology. The ultimate goal in the Homeschool Movement is to be fruitful and multiply and “take dominion” of the world.  Dominionism and Reconstructionism are foundational roots from which everything in the movement is cultivated.

Nick then discussed a young lady who has been in the spotlight lately, Malala.  If you are unfamiliar with Malala, I encourage you to read about this courageous young lady who is making her voice be heard in a country where women’s voices are squelched.

“Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani school pupil and education activist from the town of Mingora in the Swat District of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. She is known for her activism for rights to education and for women, especially in the Swat Valley, where the Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school. (Source)

Here is a video Nick included of Malala.  The Taliban tried to assassinate this young lady because of her powerful voice and she survived and her voice is even stronger and now has international attention.   Please listen to this amazing interview.

Nick writes:

What is especially disturbing is when you hear Malala talk about how the Taliban in the Swat Valley of Pakistan wants to take education away from girls. You would hope, in the 21st century, young women would have basic access to education.

I will be loud and proud about my homeschooling advocacy because my heart is broken on a regular basis when homeschooled teenagers trapped in fundamentalism contact me trapped, struggling to assert themselves and pursue the future they want. Sometimes parents deny FAFSA signatures, or they edit their transcript if they apply to an “unapproved” school. I have talked to homeschooled girls who were literally trafficked (for sex and for labor).

Some homeschooled adult daughters fare no better than Pakistani young ladies when it comes to education.

Nick is right.  We expect this kind of thing in Pakistan, but not in the US.  Some of these young ladies who have officially graduated from their homeschool high school are not allowed to even choose whether they go to college or not. College is simply not allowed. They are destined to be a “stay-at-home-daughter,” serving parents, helping with the remaining children at home, help with cooking, cleaning around the house, etc.

In the United States of America, we have young female adults — I said adults — who are living at the home of their Christian homeschooling parents, unable to make adult decisions of where they can live, where they can go to school, who they can be friends with, where they go on the internet, etc.  They are essentially forced to follow the path of their parents.  They are cut off from the outside because their internet use, cell phone use is highly monitored.

Now some of these young ladies go along with this without any dissension. This is the only life they’ve ever known. They have been sheltered from the “world” or society.  Their friends are people from church, from homeschool groups, etc.

This is their norm.

Some may do fine with this. They will allow their parents to help select a husband for them, get married, have babies and continue living the legacy their parents planned for them.

However, there are other young ladies who want to explore life outside of the life and rule of their parents.  They want the opportunity to go to school and further their education. But they are not allowed this opportunity. They are prevented.  How can this be? In this day and age?

These parents hold the keys to their adult daughters’ freedom. They are the ones who decide whether they will turn over their signed homeschool high school transcript. They are the ones who must sign and turn over info for FAFSA documentation for financial aid. They decide whether their daughters can get a driver’s license, work outside the home, etc.

In the United States of America, there are young ladies held against their will in their parents’ homes and they are trapped.

They don’t know where to go. They don’t know how to escape. They don’t know how to get schooling. They are completely isolated.

This is happening in our country — the USA.

When I Rejected Dominionism

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on August 4, 2013.

By now most people have probably heard of the dominionism in homeschooling and conservative evangelical circles — the idea that homeschoolers will change the world by their involvement in absolutely everything, from science to the high arts to politics. Oddly even after I rejected patriarchalism (and courtship and purity), I still saw myself as a huge warrior and herione. I’ll tell you what changed that for me. But first thought I’ll give you a couple quotes of this in homeschool circles.

First here’s what we learn from the Botkins over at Ladies Against Feminism.

Will your children know how to handle business and finance in a down economy? Defend their faith to militant antagonists? Stand firm against a defiling culture? Fight for their freedoms? Take advantage of technological innovations? And see opportunity amid the chaos?

More importantly, what kind of salt and light are they prepared to be? They may be able to name every country in the world, but do they know how to disciple the nations? They may know about the Battle of Waterloo, but do they know how to fight the battles of today – to win? Homeschoolers have proven they can beat the world at geography and spelling. But can we lead in the arts? Can we lead in the gates? Do we know how to take dominion of science and technology?

Notice the idea that we should be the leaders in science and art, and basically everything. We are cultural warriors, we learn here.

Now here’s a second quote over at The Old School House from Gene Edward Veith over at Patrick Henry College.

Christians fight the culture wars. Some persons put their hope in politics, but that doesn’t seem to do much, even if you elect Christians. A lot of Christians are doing things with the arts and film, and I salute all those efforts. But the effort that is the most dramatically successful is what Christians are doing in education. And the homeschoolers are really leading the way in that.

If Christians become more educated than non-Christians, if they become the people who can use their minds and develop their talents, who can write, read, and have knowledge … if those are the Christians, while the non-Christians in many cases are functionally illiterate, who’s going to be the leaders and the culture makers of the next generation? Homeschool kids give me great hope for the future, that we may come back to where Christians are the influential culture makers once again.

Notice that while Dr. Veith appears to steer away from dominionism in politics, he ends back up in the same place.

If we breed the bright homeschoolers enough, and educate them enough, then homeschoolers can shift the culture. As the nature of Patrick Henry College students, this certainly includes law and politics.

With that, it’s no wonder that when I moved to SE Asia, I thought of myself in big leader terms. To be clear, I grew up in a family with a salary (at least at that time) of the working class, so I was shielded from much of the dominion attitude; we never dreamed big enough for speech, debate, law and politics. We could not afford worldview camps and debate. In fact, my family even slacked to an extent in academics. But I was still taught that motherhood was how I could change the world. I was still taught that Christians would change the world — Christians were that awesome. I was still taught that I was. somebody. special.

Then the bomb fell. I arrived in SE Asia, and I was not anybody special. In fact, I remember telling a friend over skype one day, “people think missionaries pull up to villages, and everyone loves them, and the kid’s kiss them. Yea right.” My work was mostly dominated by kids who either tried to steal from us, or who would yell at me. I was also the worst kind of soldier, and would often fight back. In all the day outreaches I did, the kids and people came running, but what they really meant was, “give me treats and goods.” I still loved those days, but it felt superficial enough that I almost preferred the drama of our kids at home.

That is when I finally began to realize that I am not the hero of my own story. I’m not. I did not come here to win over the world. I came here to serve. I came here to love because they need love, and they need to experience the human dignity that was never afforded to them. The kids do not owe me anything, and I was there to love them, change or no change. In fact, this is what the Bible has to say (I wish I had been taught this in a context other than serving a man).

...whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the willing slave of all–like the Son of Man; He did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give up his life as a ransom for many

If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.

And then there is the example of Jesus, who humbled himself to the point of death, even death on the cross (Phil. 2).

My response to Dr. Veith: I do not think the hope of the world is to breed upper middle class Christians with the best education in the world.

Education should never be used as a weapon tool. It’s not a trophy. Instead of focusing on breeding babies and breeding the middle class, we need to focus on all lives. Education is a gift we can give to the entire world, most especially those who have never been afforded one.

I still want to change the world. I hope I’m never too apathetic that my desire to see change dies with me. However, we need to remember that we are first and foremost here to be a servant and to love.

The story is not about us. It’s about other people.

Teenagers Taking Over the World: Kierstyn King’s Thoughts

Teenagers Taking Over the World: Kierstyn King’s Thoughts

Kierstyn King blogs at Bridging the Gap.

NCFCA and TeenPact were ideologically very similar to me — in some ways, almost extensions of each other. That could be because I was in NCFCA before TeenPact and a lot of the things I learned in NCFCA, TeenPact also tried to teach and hone.

I was 13 when I started NCFCA, and I stopped shortly after I was 15. I was in a debate club in SW FL (region 8!) and I never made it out of the preliminaries. I participated in persuasive, extemporaneous, oratorical, and occasionally impromptu speech, and Team Policy debate. My team was one of the few girl/girl teams.

Because I never got far, I didn’t experience as much craziness from mothers in other clubs. I remember ballots that had me in tears – one tournament I did an oratorical speech, which was Patrick Henry’s speech, and one of the judges wrote down (among other things) that my voice was too girly (because the ankle length skirt didn’t give it away?). This bothered me because it was like the judge wasn’t even listening, and wrote down something that I could not modify or fix, that was completely ridiculous and missing the point.

I had a lot of notes about my performance as opposed to content, though I don’t have any of my ballots to go back to. I remember being frustrated with most of them, because they were so unhelpful and had nothing to do with being a better debater, just, looking or preforming better. There were so many useless comments that I think actually a lot of us stopped reading them. Helpful commentary was so rare that when I found one, I was thrilled. Actually, I think I put it somewhere special at the time.

I wore clothes that were too big, too old, and I felt like a dark little blob in order to maintain professionalism and adhere to the dress code. I always wore skirts because it was easier that way, and because my clothes were larger than they needed to be, I flew under the radar for mothers enforcing dress codes.

There were rumors about why my partner and I didn’t make it to regionals one year: like maybe the judges voted for the boy/boy team because they were boys even though we had done better. I don’t know if it’s founded (though I wouldn’t be surprised) because my parents and the other parents didn’t get along (and my parents like to make things up).

I loved meeting people at NCFCA, and learning how to argue without feeling personally affronted, or personally offending other people. I learned how to think there, and my club itself, was fantastic. After my parents split the club, I was still able to maintain friendships and I realized that this is how life should work. I learned to value tact.

My parents made my experience in NCFCA horrible. They “learned” how to debate, held real life to NCFCA rules and decided that they disagreed with how the other parents were running the club and essentially split it in half. It was miserable as parents pitted against parents and all of us kids were stuck in the middle, powerless.

The club my parents started, was the club that holds the most similarities to TeenPact. Because, it was in the club my parents made, where gender roles were enforced. I “co-lead” the debate team/club with one of the boys. I had to essentially go along with whatever he wanted and let him make all the calls even though he was less motivated. My parents went to great lengths to insure “male headship”. Much like the girl talks at TeenPact.

They had extremely conservative by-laws. Girls who were more liberal, though never directly stated, were seen as trouble – which I think is why they made sure that only the girls they trusted were in leadership positions with/under boys. In hopes that the more liberal girls would follow the example and become less “loud”.

My mom taught (under male authority) in a very…task-master-like way (she made any speech and debate event/meeting miserable, even in the old club – it became so bad my first year that I told her dad needed to pick me up instead, because he wouldn’t berate me the entire way home). When she was starting the new club she essentially told me that I wasn’t good enough, that I was failing, and she was going to fix it (because she obviously wasn’t being hard enough on me?).

After a summer full of her “training” (which felt more like bootcamp) she started teaching the club itself, in a very similar way: very critical, and perfectionistic. I don’t know how the other parents felt, I think that the best thing my parents did for that club was move 3 months after they founded it.

In November, we moved to Atlanta-ish, and I joined a club close to me. I met my first best friend there, and was involved for the rest of the season – I was almost 15. When the season ended in the spring (when I was 15) my parents took me aside and told me “you’re not getting better at this, you’re not going anywhere, it’s obvious that this isn’t meant for you.” I was devastated, because this cut off my only social outlet in a place that I hated living. Which is besides the point, but it hurt so much that I feel it’s worth mentioning.

Really, the biggest comparisons that can be made between NCFCA and TeenPact are that their goals and values are the same. Their goal is to create thinkers to think the way they want them to think. They lure parents like mine, to indoctrinate people to think the way they want them to think. They want to create articulate teenagers to take over the world, they want simultaneously, for women to learn that their place is under men, and never above. That women need to hide their shape, still, and yet remain professional – in their skirts, unless you’re just doing speech, then slacks are permitted. But if you’re taking on (potentially) men in debate? Skirts-only for you, missy! I think this is a subtle way of enforcing the women-are-less idea that pervades so much of this subculture.

The thing that neither of these organizations count on, is their former students actually doing what they were taught to do – think for themselves.

The Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute: NCFCA and Growing Up in a Conservative Bubble — Libby Anne’s Thoughts

The Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute: NCFCA and Growing Up in a Conservative Bubble — Libby Anne’s Thoughts

Libby Anne blogs at Love Joy Feminism on Patheos.

As I prepared my debate briefs, scouring the internet for evidence, there were two places I always looked first—the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. A good quote or two that could be applied in argument against a given plan was generally sufficient for my purposes. I filed my briefs carefully in my box and prepared for competition.

I honestly think my participation in NCFCA, known colloquially as “homeschool debate,” was the best thing about my high school years. I participated for four full years, attending debate competitions across my region. I loved it—the buzz of people, the feeling of purpose, and the heady rush I got when stepping up to speak.

Homeschool debate was one of the social highlights of my high school career. At the time, my main socialization events were church, AWANA (bible club), and a weekly arts and music co-op. Homeschool debate gave me one more weekly opportunity to see friends (or at least, the ones who were also in our local debate club) and, wonder of wonders, an opportunity to meet people outside of our local social circle. Debate tournaments were amazing—they served as the gathering points of dozens or even hundreds of homeschooled teens just like me, comprising the largest gathering of young people I found myself in outside of our annual homeschool convention.

And here is where we come back to the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. Homeschool debate was an approved activity for me and many other teens like me because our parents considered it safe. Homeschool debate was founded by Christy Shipe, the daughter of Michael Farris, founder of HSLDA. The goal of homeschool debate was to train up a generation of young people for public speaking and political involvement in an effort to restore America to its Christian foundation. We were those young people.

NCFCA was unabashedly Christian. To participate in homeschool debate, we had to sign a statement of faith. This meant that the teens filling the halls of a given debate tournament were, like me, growing up in Christian homeschooling families. They were there because they shared the mission and vision of NCFCA. They too were being trained to be culture changers—they too were being brought up to embrace their parents’ vision for the restoration of a Christian nation.

As I’m sitting here, all my memories from homeschool debate are pouring over me. There were the long car trips in which we carpooled with others in our club and spent hours singing, talking, and playing games. There were the hotel stays where we congregated with the other debaters late into the night, sipping hot chocolate in the hotel lobby and swapping stories about tournaments and life. There were the times when we stayed with host families and made new friends in the process. There were the tournaments where disaster struck—a car problem, an illness—and memories were made. There were the times I stood up without a shred of actual evidence and used simple logic to overturn the other team’s carefully laid plan, basking in the heady rush I felt as I did so. The conferences, the tournaments, it all comes rushing back, along with the time spent on the homeschool debate forum cracking homeschool jokes with other debaters (When can the principle kiss the teacher without facing a harassment lawsuit? When you’re homeschooled, because your father is the principle and your mother is the teacher!).

And once again I’ve lost track of where I started this essay—with the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. My parents and the parents of the other students in homeschool debate thought they were preparing us to go out and take on the world, but they had a curious way of doing so. Namely, homeschool debate was like having pro-lifers debate each other about whether abortion should be legal. One year the topic was protectorates, and my partner and I created a plan to get rid of the D.C. gun ban. Watching the other team when we got up and presented our plan was always amusing. After all, how could they argue against the second amendment? They couldn’t! Not only would it be hard for them to argue against their principles, but also the judges were generally chosen from among homeschool parents and their church friends, meaning that the audience was one-sided as well. Generally, the other team would get up and argue that because of a case currently working its way through the courts, our plan was not inherent—in other words, the problem was real but was already being solved.

And beyond just this, we all knew that the best sources to use came from the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. If you quoted one of them to back up a point you were making, you were golden. In college, I learned something I hadn’t known before—that those centers leaned right and were generally taken with a large grain of salt. In homeschool debate, no one was going to argue that. In homeschool debate, no one knew that. We accepted the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute as fair and balanced and objective—and our coaches weren’t about to challenge that. The same was true of just about everything about homeschool debate.

Homeschool debate took place in a bubble. Within that bubble, it was great—I learned a lot about rhetoric, logic, and argumentation—but it was still in a bubble. You can’t raise a group completely outside of a culture and then send them out into it expecting them to change that culture without even accurate knowledge about that culture. Individuals raised in a bubble like we were are simply not equipped to do that—and indeed, our understanding and perspective was limited because we were never encouraged to really question and think outside of the box.

It’s funny, I actually think homeschool debate is what started me thinking my way out of the entire belief system. The introduction to argumentation and logic that I received during my participation served me well once I got outside of the bubble and subjected it to questioning. It was that very foundation in argumentation and logic that kept me going, somehow naively unafraid of what I might find or where my questions might take me. I suppose I might say that homeschool debate gave me the tools I needed to think myself out of the bubble, but that I had to recognize the existence of the bubble before I could do that. But of course, none of this is what my parents intended when they involved me in homeschool debate, eager to train me as conservative culture warrior.

TeenPacters Speak Up: Part Six, TeenPact Breakaway

TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Between Black and White. Part Six was originally published on May 22, 2013.

*****

Part Six: TeenPact Breakaway, by Jessica

I remember it clearly. Like a scene from a movie

I remember the exact moment I began to breakaway from the TeenPact message.

And what is funny is that the reason it started to crumble had nothing to do with the misogyny, the hypocritical modesty standards or corrupt election rigging. Instead, it was a young person who dared to speak their opinion; an opinion that the powers-that-be did not share.

First some background.

In March 2002, Alabama legislature was locked in an intense debate over reforming the Alabama constitution. At the same time, the 2002 Alabama TeenPact Session was conveying. They thought it would be the ideal time to introduce us to government in action (and rightfully so).

This was my second year to attend TeenPact. The first year, my involvement was fairly basic. I went to my state class. I learned a lot and really enjoyed socializing with so many people so decided to go to an alumni event: Leadership Summit.

It was there that I bought into the whole TeenPact ideal. The TPA dress code, how to interact with guys, how to keep “sweet” and be acceptable (which I never quite could do). But the biggest thing I learned was the idea of servant leadership. To the TeenPact organization, sacrificing yourself is the only way to be a servant leader. Which is true, in part. However, they failed to emphasis that it doesn’t mean becoming a doormat, an enabler or codependent. Telling impressionable young people…especially young women that to be God-like you must take anger, taunts and other abuse  without providing guidance on assertiveness and boundaries is dangerous. But I bought it. I bought it all.

And it damaged me.

To this day, I am prone to accept abuse from toxic individuals because I feel like I deserve it. I do not establish appropriate boundaries because I don’t feel I deserve them. If I want to be a good Christian, I will want to be abused and mistreated. This has caused a lot of problems in establishing friendships and even in my prior relationships with men (before my husband).

Back to my TeenPact story, though…

After Leadership Summit, I was hooked. I went and worked for two weeks at the National Offices, I staffed a one-day class, and was so ready for my alumni state class!

It was at this week-long class, that I, along with the Alabama TeenPacters, sat and observed the Alabama legislature debate the reforming of the state constitution. My father was a county official and I was very familiar with the state constitution reforming bill. Reforming the constitution would be beneficial for every county and would also alter the language to remove racist terms. I didn’t see a problem with allowing the state to do so. It was thousands of pages longs and the way it had been created was not intuitive to the 21st century. I, however, was in the minority. The rest of the TeenPacters were in a fever that the Democrats (said with all fear and loathing) would add all kinds of liberal propaganda. Like, gasp, the horror, lottery! Even at that age, I didn’t see the big deal in having a lottery. Sure it was stupid and I didn’t want to waste my money on it but so what if it was added to the constitution; if it would improve efficiency and remove racist language, who cared.

While I sat there with my other TeenPacters, a newscaster came along and tapped me and my friend on the shoulder:

“Are ya’ll here to watch the debate?” she asked. “Do you support constitutional reform?”

I said naively, “I do!”

She took me out of chambers and did an interview with me. I was glowing because I was actually expressing my views on an important matter, one that could affect my state!

After the interview and the Senate dispersed (not ever deciding on anything, of course), I walked back with the rest of the group. The Program Director walked up to me and said “I see you were getting interviewed. What about?”

At this time, I had a huge crush on this Program Director and was convinced that we would have one of those love stories that I read about in all my courtship books.

I said proudly, “I told her how I was pro-constitution reform. And I gave her an interview!”

His face went blank. He was shocked. At that moment, I realized I had gone against the TPA code of conduct by disagreeing with them on a policy matter. It should have been obvious to me that constitution reform was something we were supposed to be against since being pro-constitution reform was a “liberal” thing.  To his credit, the Program Director (who I did not marry, thank God) didn’t chastise me or report me to the TeenPact Dad for the week (please, someone, write about the TeenPact parents).

It was at that moment the first seed of doubt appeared about TeenPact. I might not have been aware of it but it was then that I started to realize I was “different.” I didn’t follow the party line exactly. In hindsight, I wish that I had questioned “the look” more.

Looking back, I think I know what was in that look from the Program Director. It was astonishment that someone would think differently. It was confusion that a girl would speak out.  It was suspicion over my ability to critically analyze a problem and come to a pretty good conclusion. All qualities that TeenPact supposedly promotes in theory but in action they are just as harsh on free thought as any other religious or political fanatic.

To be continued.

TeenPacters Speak Up: Part Five, TeenPact and Women

TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Between Black and White. Part Five was originally published on May 22, 2013.

*****

Part Five: TeenPact and Women, by Kierstyn King

Kierstyn King blogs at Bridging the Gap.

To my knowledge, there have only been two female governors in Maine, and none (to my knowledge) in GA. Maine is seen by the staff as the more liberal/wildcard state where things happen there that don’t (or aren’t allowed?) happen in other states. Maine and Hawaii I suppose, because there’s surfing there and every staffer wants to staff those two states.

I know both of the female governors closely. Women taking on a high leadership position that isn’t somehow under a male is almost unheard of. I was shocked when I won “president” at Back To DC in 2007, but I think that was because the dude who was running before was an obnoxious 13 year old who wasn’t even going to stay the whole time and I had previously attended the class and the one other alumni there was on my campaign. I may have won favor with the staff when I shared that I was struggling with running for the position (because *gasp* I can’t lead), instead of running the campaign (because that was completely different).

At National Convention, women are allowed (I wouldn’t necessarily say encouraged) to run for Representative and Senator, and even Vice President. In my time there, I only ever saw Boy/Girl Pres/VP teams, because women running for president, while not directly prohibited was just known to be taboo. I ran for representative but never made it past primaries – although some women definitely are elected, the majority of the faux positions are still filled by males. I know this parallels real life, but here it’s encouraged. Women in leadership positions is allowed, but sketchily, always under men.

In fact, we are told, many times, in no uncertain terms that we (women) are supposed to just go along with whatever the men say – even if we disagree with it, and to not speak up if we do. They’re supposed to lead, after all, and we’re supposed to submit.

In “girl talks” a session where the guys go out (to talk about opening doors) and the women stay inside we learn that modesty is on us. completely. It is our job to cause our “brothers” to not stumble while we’re at class. We’re told exactly how to wear and to not wear items of clothing. In State Classes we must wear skirts, and they must be over the knee when you sit, never too tight when you move or bend over. All clothing must be able to hang or give at least an inch from your body, but simultaneously, should also be cute/professional and not frumpy. Just to be safe, I wore several layers – in the middle of summer, in the hot GA sun – just in case I got wet, or the sun caught something and my one-size-up tshirt were suddenly opaque.

We must be vigilant, and tell our “sisters” if they’re wearing something we think is too tight or revealing. Lady-Staff will confront girls to change their outfit if they feel it’s inappropriate. Because, again, it is our responsibility to show ourselves as non-human-shapeless-forms so our “brothers” don’t accidentally see our bodies and think something bad.

Boys aren’t told how many fingers width a neckline is allowed to be before it’s “too much”. They don’t have to reach up, and bend down to check and see if any skin shows.

But we, we seductresses in our pubescent awkwardness, we must never show any more skin than necessary to avoid heat exhaustion – and even then, pants must be loose!

I hate using the phrase “rape culture” but the more I think about it, the more this perpetuates it – because regardless, it is always the women who are at fault. We are essentially told as much, and this is coupled with “don’t tell a man no” is just a setup for abusive environments and relationships to thrive.

To be continued.

TeenPacters Speak Up: Part Four, My Experience And A Lot Of Parantheses

TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Between Black and White. Part Four was originally published on May 21, 2013.

*****

Part Four: My Experience And A Lot Of Parantheses, by DoaHF

DoaHF blogs at Out of the Chrysalis.

Photo gallery courtesy of DoaHF.

My mom saw a poster for it on the homeschool group’s website. It was being promoted a lot since it was the first year that they gained access to our State. I think I was the only student there who wanted to attend. Amid all the testimonies of hating the fancy (and modest) clothes, hating civics, and it being a struggle to not listen to music or watch television all week, I wondered what was wrong with all these other homeschoolers.

Yes, I had a lot of pride, but I was raised thinking that homeschooling was better than public school and it was unfortunate that public schoolers could not get a 4 day crash-course of in-depth politics training on a state level. I reveled in the homework and the required modest clothing and I had no problem with the rule about media because my media consumption was already incredibly minuscule. The rules about guy-girl interactions was not a problem because of how strict my father was, and all of the guys there were younger than me and not that appealing.

I also had a family background in politics (2008 was an election year and my grandparents and older sister were so caught up in the whirlwind that my leaving for so many days was a big deal around the house) which made me the student who knew it all.

And that was a problem. My whole TeenPact experience I was either patronized by staffers and administrators, or I was the problem that they had to deal with and work around.

One of the staffers inserted a rabbit trail push for John McCain votes/support (we were all too young to vote anyway) and I piped up (in the middle of class) about his immigration bill and his history of non-conservatism. That got me an extremely dirty look from all staffers and I was ignored every time I raised my hand after that — except when no one else knew the answer. (I was down for a couple in-kind contributions to a campaign, so I knew what they were. None of the other students did.)

I definitely stood out in the class as the only student to ask the Aide to the First Lady (She was also a high-level judge) what (the Judge/First Lady’s) stand was on abortion and how she would deal with cases to repeal Roe v. Wade. (I was also very ignorant about how the real world worked. I spouted what I was taught with passion and sincerity.) I was the only one who knew what an “ex-post facto” law was and my team won the Constitution Game because of my knowledge of the Constitution. (Literally, a staffer had to help the other two branches because Congress blew them out of the water.) (Both years!)

And, when I went and visited the 3rd year (I was unable to attend due to financial constraints – and more on that later) the whole alumni class asked that I be allowed to participate on their team. Their requests were turned down by the less-than-amused staffers.

I was completely gung-ho about TeenPact after my experience. I was effusive in my praise and I thought it was the best thing I had ever experienced and I wanted to attend all their other offerings.

Unfortunately, TeenPact is a rich, middle class thing. You pay your own way for everything. And “everything” is not cheap. You get an experience, the opportunity to meet friends, meals, and a T-Shirt. Often the events are far away and even staffers have to pay their own transportation. Housing is an extra cost on top of the $200-$300 event. (Unless it it its own event, like Endeavor or National Convention, which raised the price tag to $400 or more.)

The first year I was in TeenPact I won a scholarship to go to National Convention and found a last-minute ride from Maryland. It was a 750-1000 word essay on What Does it Mean to Be a Conservative.” Reading over it now it is a huge mess of right-wing idealism, including a rant about government distribution of wealth. Back then, I was so excited that I could hardly contain myself.

I spent the week in a mix of pride, boredom, and frustrated anger. There was an obvious problem with popularity. The kids who had staffed multiple places had a huge edge over people who had staffed only their home state or not staffed at all. Their actual personalities were often sickening, but they still received the most votes and applause (or the elections were rigged in their favor). While there is a lot of discipleship and depth in the core groups, a lot of the event was fluffy and I was bored by the big speeches, only broken by the funny skits and attempts at making me play“The Game” (you just lost). Huge promotion of the Ultimate Frisbee tournaments annoyed me, as I was never that in to sports, and all attempts I made at throwing Frisbees resulted in everyone laughing and pointing. I would spend the afternoon wandering the camp looking for people in my group who might not be already with their cliques and might want to do something with me than gawk at Adam whats-his-name in a pink shirt playing with “The Bojangles.”

Because it was the first year that my state had ever had a TeenPact class, I was the only one from my state in attendance. I made a laughable attempt at running for Congress (and was one of the few late entries who actually paid my $10, to my knowledge). My contribution to much talked about and poorly attended silent auction was a necklace set that I hand-made.  It was made fun of for not having a more political or state relevance. (I think, I hid and refused to tell them that I made it.)

The only other person I found who was really a “kindred spirit” was a guy, and as I was not “allowed” to crush on him or spend any time with him without someone else there (I didn’t know anyone except staffers, and I followed the rules that I saw many of the “regulars” breaking) we never really got to know each other very well. Interestingly enough, he is the only one of any of them that I still keep in Facebook contact. And, through him I got to know a couple who are now some of my good friends.

I came home from National Convention tired emotionally. I felt suddenly like TeenPact was not the marvelous place I had once thought it to be. I felt left out and unwanted by the very group I would have given my talents to willingly and eagerly. Unable to afford any other event that year, I began saving what little money I had in order to attend the State Class next year. I also applied to Staff, but I was turned down, which I almost expected. After all, I had spoken up and contradicted a staffer and made myself stick out. I paid for my alumni class all by myself, as my quiverfull father did not have the funds to spend on me for a second year. This is notable in that I was not allowed a job and made this money over the course of a year of saving odds and ends that came my way from neighborhood cleaning or babysitting jobs or from family members. I had no way to make money, so spending that much meant a lot to me.

I aced the alumni class, again proving to have put the most into the assignments and again leading my branch to victory in the Constitution Search. (When teams were picked everyone asked to switch to my team.) I made an effort to work my hardest and to not cause any issues. I was trying to prove myself as a competent person who was a good candidate to staff her own state. I was also at the upper age limit and I knew that this would be my last class.

I wanted to attend Endeavor that year, but I was not able to make enough money and instead looked at the perfectly lit pictures of the other girls having a High Tea and shooting guns in a field thinking about how nice it would be to be able to have that kind of an experience. But their middle class families could afford the airfare or gas, the dresses, the makeup, the scones and high teas, and the price of the event.  My father made about $40,000 a year for a family of 11.

The last year I spent in my home state I applied again to be a staffer and I was turned down again. One of my fellow classmates was accepted, though, as he had gone to National Convention and Survival. He also said that one of that year’s staffers had pushed really hard for him. It figures, the staffer I had interrupted my first class was now an Intern (albeit he never came back to my state).

Now, over 5 years later, I look back on it all with a sigh and a shake of my head. I was young and passionate. I had a lot to give and they turned it down. But in the end, I was the one better off for it. I left that state and have since been able to mediate my passion with real knowledge of the world and the incredible amount of variety and complexity in it. I no longer have “pat” answers to everything and I think I am all the better for it. I also refuse to accept their misogynistic belittling of women. I believe I have the right to wear a pair of dress pants instead of being relegated to a skirt. I think that I have just as much ability and knowledge as any male, as they refused to allow women to be an Intern for more than one year. Men could do it for two years and then if they excelled, they could go on to be a program director and have their own gavel made for them. I acknowledge that I could definitely be a Mayor or a President, which position they never elected a woman into. It was an interesting coincidence, if it really was a coincidence.

I refuse to think of myself less because I did not have the money that the “TeenPact Families” (ie. the blue bloods) had to host events and send their kids to staff 5 states and run expensive presidential campaigns with the paraphernalia, candy, and free T-shirts.

I have saved only my first state class t-shirt with all the names on it. The names are mostly faded and can hardly be seen. I have de-friended most of the Interns (or been de-friended) and have since hidden most of my TeenPact pictures and videos. It is a chapter in my life that I do not regret, but do not like to announce. I prefer that no one remember me or pick me out as one of them. I regret being so conservative and blind. I do not regret getting away and changing.

And I hope that people who read this think twice about endorsing a misogynistic group that exists for the wealthy middle class republicans to indoctrinate their children. They also get together groups of students to do grunt work for HSLDA.  Read about that scandalous mess here.

To be continued.