TeenPacters Speak Up: Part Seven, It’s All About Standards

TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Between Black and White. Part Seven was originally published on May 23, 2013.

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Part Seven: It’s All About Standards, by Alessandra

As a national organisation, TeenPact felt it necessary to maintain certain public standards. Whether their slogan was “Turning Students Into Statesmen” or “Changing Lives to Change the World,” one of the end goals of these standards was to set TeenPacters apart from the rest of the world. What they failed to grasp, however, was the concept of equality in standards across the board.

In addition to their routine at the statehouse, TeenPact turned its attention toward the courtroom with its alumni class, TeenPact Judicial. Associated previously with Regent University and Alliance Defense Fund, it now opens its doors at Liberty University. I attended the program – geared toward educating teens about the legal system in a “law school boot camp” style – twice, whilst it was divided into East and West. I first attended TPJ East at Regent, and the following year I attended TPJ West with the ADF.

The concept of “TPA” prevailed at each, but also brought with it new and different standards, with no clear explanations. Take the dress code: professional dress was required for the state classes, and pants or slacks, even as part of a suit, were expressly prohibited for the ladies. At Judicial, however, pantsuits and dress slacks were considered perfectly acceptable attire. I even asked a staffer about this during my first Judicial experience, and was told that “[T]hese were the rules.” No further explanation was offered, and when I attempted to press the issue, I was rewarded with the cold shoulder.

The response provoked questions and doubts as I attended my state class afterward, and had to give up the pants in the name of professional dress.  Even at fifteen, I could not grasp how TeenPact reconciled itself between one standard and another. With the answers I received to my questions, I doubted whether TeenPact knew how to reconcile the differences. Curiosity begs the questions of how and why such a discrepancy occurred, and was allowed to continue. Even so, the dress code was not the only area claiming a double standard.

My second trip to TeenPact Judicial, this time in Arizona, proved more difficult. TeenPact itself almost didn’t let me attend that class, as the boy I was courting at the time was also going to attend. TeenPact was fond of talking about how they loved SR’s – Special Relationships (what they called courtship or dating) – but how they did not want or allow “purple” at events. Pink and blue – girls and boys – were acceptable, but could not mix. To ensure that all acted in accordance with TPA standards, guys and girls had to be in groups in order to associate with one another. I found this problematic at every event I attended, simply because I got along better with the men.

Certain people at events such as National Convention were able to get away with breaking those rules, at least to the untrained eye. Those of us on a lower totem in the TeenPact hierarchy were required to ensure that we had at least three or four people in our group, and never an even split of guys and girls. One did not need to be in a relationship – or even heading in that direction – to risk the scrutiny of the TeenPact staff. As for anyone who was in a relationship, TeenPact always knew about it, and increased their observation of the couple in question whilst at events.

In my case, it took several conversations with a variety of staff members, including a couple we already knew, and multiple promises that we would not act like we were in an SR for the entirety of the event, in order for them to relent and allow me to go. Once there, I spent the entire week being watched like a hawk. For several meals, I refused to eat at the same table as he, lest I get into trouble. Yet, in between all the sessions on legal matters, the staff pounded the idea that all godly men and women should marry and have babies to save the nation.

Looking back, I wonder at what we were supposed to take away. SRs had no place in TeenPact, aside from Mr. Echols – the founder – telling us he was happy to officiate our weddings, but, in the meantime, any semblance of “purple” was not considered TPA. After this talk, usually from the program director of whichever event, the group would be divided by sex. The girls were told how it was their fault if the boys stumbled and lusted after them. Whispers told us those who pushed the line were in need of a change of heart and lots of prayer. We were brought back together and learned how it was important to go forth and multiply.

After all, if we all trusted God to choose the size of our families, we would soon overrun the liberals by sheer numbers. We would, of course, send our children to TeenPact, as well, and then they, too, would follow in our footsteps. Taking back America was well within our grasp. It was practically sinful to turn your back on it.

Whether it concerned how a woman clothed the lower portion of her body, or what she did with the lower portion of her body, TeenPact was fond of making rules. Despite their reassurances that they were put in place to protect us, and inspire us to a godlier standard of living, those creating the rules couldn’t seem to agree on what exactly that standard was. In the end, it didn’t matter what you did or what you wore, as long as a staffer slapped “TPA” across it.

To be continued.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

TeenPacters Speak Up: Part One, Intro to TeenPact

TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Between Black and White. The following introduction was written specifically for Homeschoolers Anonymous to provide background on TeenPact as an organization.

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Part One: Intro to TeenPact, by Kierstyn King

Kierstyn King blogs at Bridging the Gap.

TeenPact is an organization that teaches students about government, political activism, and christian values. Their website says, “Our mission is to train youth to understand the political process, value their liberty, defend their Christian faith and engage the culture at a time in their lives when, typically, they do not care about such things.”

TeenPact started in 1994, founded by Tim Echols. When I was involved, the slogan was “TeenPact: turning students into statesmen.”  TeenPact is currently active in 39 States. Their introduction into the organization takes place at the “State Class” which is four days of training about how-the-government-works (not to say it isn’t saturated with conservative values) and one day of public speaking. After you have attended the State Class you are eligible to attend “alumni events.”

The alumni events they have range from being biblical man/womanhood camps (Venture and Endeavor), to camps specifically tailored to the individual branches of government — Congress, Judicial, and Back to DC which tends to be around the time that the Values Voters Summit takes place (students attend at least one day of the conference as part of the class — or at least did the two years I was there). The two most popular camps are National Convention and Survival.

The goal of every camp, but especially National Convention and Survival, is to “challenge” students’ spiritual walk. Every camp teaches students from an evangelical christian conservative (patriarchal) viewpoint. “Taking the nation back for God” is ultimately what TeenPact hopes its alumni will grow up to do.

For many homeschoolers like myself, TeenPact is one of our only means of socialization — and our only means of socialization outside of our parents’ eyes (because they trust TeenPact, and the group is relatively homogenous). TeenPact offers a seemingly innocent product — a state government class taught by conservative/homeschool-friendly leaders. They offer students an opportunity to meet other people their age, and they help teach students how to think (from their point of view).

To be continued.