Homeschoolers keep the faith
For some homeschoolers, political causes shape daily lessons. Is this education - or indoctrination?
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HSLDA recently launched a project called Generation Joshua that offers high-school level civics lessons through an online curriculum, provides opportunities to join a voter-registration drive, and coordinates student volunteers to help in local races where a conservative Christian candidate is in a close contest.Skip to next paragraph
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Generation Joshua's director, Ned Ryun, says that positioning students in campaigns is a great way for them to learn - even as they reap benefits for the candidates. In the 2002 elections, Mr. Ryun sent teams of high school and college students to seven tight races in Missouri. With moms as chaperones, these students phoned conservatives to get out the vote. Six of their candidates won.
Programs with conservative Christian ties, such as Generation Joshua, the Student Statesmanship Institute, and TeenPact want to ignite a passion for politics in young people.
They take a captive audience - homeschoolers - and offer them camaraderie with other like-minded students, a sense of purpose, and a feeling that they can make a difference. It's a potent combination.
Homeschooled kids are also a good fit for politics because they have more flexibility to pursue a subject in-depth than their public-school peers, says Elissa Nowland, who completed her high school degree at home in Andover, Mass., and is an alumna of TeenPact.
Jared, Elissa, and Hope Hodge of Waltham, Mass. - homeschoolers who all went through TeenPact - praise the system that educated them and take exception to the criticism they sometimes hear raised by the media - that they are being led like unthinking sheep into political activism.
They point out that homeschooled students score above average on standardized achievement tests, according to the National Home Education Research Institute. They also tend to do as well or better than conventionally educated students on the SATs. And high school graduates have seen increasing rates of acceptance at prestigious colleges.
In some cases, they also hold opinions that fly in the face of the mainstream that surrounds them.
"It's too hard to be conservative here [in Massachusetts] for us not to be thinking," Elissa says. "Conservative Christian homeschoolers are big on critical thinking, so they wouldn't be led by the nose."
Scott Somerville, staff attorney for HSLDA, insists that the organization exists simply to promote homeschooling. "It's not that the religious right is using homeschoolers to advance their agenda," he says. "It's that homeschoolers on both the left and right oppose the government's interference in teaching their kids."
No one is saying that Mr. Farris and his compatriots don't have a right as individuals to promote their viewpoint in the halls of Congress. But critics are troubled by the idea of taking an organization - the HSLDA - that purports to support all homeschoolers and making it the feeder system for an evangelical Christian political network.
For some homeschoolers, however, it's all about democracy in action. "Belonging to organizations that line up with our beliefs is to be encouraged," says Treon Goossen of Concerned Parents of Colorado, a home-school support group. "But it can't replace personal activism and the right to one's own viewpoint."
For Hope and some other homeschoolers, the politically active path they're on is one they see as beneficial for the country as a whole. It teaches critical thinking and encourages an acute awareness of current events - crucial requirements for the citizens of a healthy democracy.
"As Americans, if we don't take advantage of what our democracy offers, then we will lose it," she says.