College for the Home Schooled

NYT has articles on Patrick Henry College in the Sunday and Monday editions. The first, “Ever Mindful of Bible, Chastity and the Rules” paints the picture of a school in a rather odd time warp.

Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., does more than train home-schooled students. College administrators say that it also provides Evangelical Christian home-schooling parents with a campus culture uniquely suited to their values—where the core curriculum includes a semester of “biblical reasoning” and students are expected to graduate with their chastity intact.


Campus televisions block transmission of MTV and VH1 because the college considers the cable music channels’ programming to be racy. Students’ computers come equipped with a software program called “Covenant Eyes” that monitors the Web sites they visit.

But the most popular rule among parents, administrators say, is also the most controversial among the students: the Patrick Henry “courtship policy.”

Before spending much time alone with a female student, a male student is required to call her father or guardian and ask permission to court. Even with parental permission, displays of affection on campus are limited to holding hands while walking. If they stop moving, they must let go of each other’s hands.


Every student takes a course called “Foundations of Liberty,” which teaches that democracy rests on biblical principles, traditional sex roles, limited government and private property rights.

Aside from the issue of slavery, the course suggests, that the early America was nearly ideal. In a recent seminar on de Tocqueville’s depiction of the early Republic, for example, Prof. Robert D. Stacey quizzed the class: “Who is chiefly responsible for the raising of children? Mothers, right? Sounds like a certain home-schooling movement I know.”

Oh, goody. Indoctrination masquerading as higher education.

It gets better. “College for the Home-Schooled Is Shaping Leaders for the Right” would indicate that people are actually taking this seriously.

Of the nearly 100 interns working in the White House this semester, 7 are from the roughly 240 students enrolled in the four-year-old Patrick Henry College, in Purcellville. An eighth intern works for the president’s re-election campaign. A former Patrick Henry intern now works on the paid staff of the president’s top political adviser, Karl Rove. Over the last four years, 22 conservative members of Congress have employed one or more Patrick Henry interns in their offices or on their campaigns, according to the school’s records.


The college’s knack for political job placement testifies to the increasing influence that Christian home-schooling families are building within the conservative movement. Only about half a million families around the country home-school their children and only about two-thirds identify themselves as evangelical Christians, home-schooling advocates say. But they have passionate political views, a close-knit grass-roots network and the financial support of a handful of wealthy patrons. For all those reasons, home-schoolers have captured the attention of a wide swath of conservative politicians, many of whom are eager to hire Patrick Henry students.

Great. Just what the conservative movement needs: to be taken over by people raised in total isolation from society and with college degrees that didn’t require them to confront conflicting ideas. This is the path to marginalization.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    What’s really sad is that the NY Times thinks this is a new phenomenon. Two words: Bob Jones. BJU has even stricter policies – although the courtship policy is something I haven’t heard of. At the BJU library, men and women sit in different areas. Women are required to wear dresses or skirts, and they have chapel five days a week.

    And I suspect if the Times actually did any reporting, they’d find a number of similar campuses across the country.

  2. Paul says:

    Oh, goody. Indoctrination masquerading as higher education.

    As opposed to what we have today? (smirk?)

  3. McGehee says:

    No, James, this is what the NYT wants its readers to think homeschooling is leading to.

  4. TM Lutas says:

    This seems to answer every unimportant question about such an institute of higher learning. What’s the important question? I thought you’d never ask. Does the place turn out serious scholars who can earn a living and advance the arts and sciences? Are people who get a degree at least as prepared as other young adults to face the world?

    Where’s your respect for diversity?


  5. Meezer says:

    I agree with McGehee. The educational establishment is under threat and this is one of the responses: homeschooling threatens us all. They’re not under threat enough to actually make some changes, but they are afraid they will be, so they are trying to cut out the legs from homeschooling, charters, etc.

    I am in the teacher certification program at Big-10 U and I can tell you a few things about indoctrination and refusal to allow, let alone entertain, “conflicting ideas.”

  6. Jim says:

    Homeschooling appears to be one of the hated enemies for NEA (along with school testing). It appears to be the next logical step in the homeschooling network. Is it the college I would want to attend? No but what great institution of learning was pefectly formed? Give it a few years and see how it develops, it is possible that a consevative school that is non-military oriented (unlike VMI) could be a success.

    I am still angry about Al Franklins little deception regarding BJU.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Oh, I know there are other schools like this out there. But they’re largely on the fringes. If 7 percent of the federal interns are coming from this place–with only 240 students!–then something is definitely wrong. This is clearly an environment that breeds fanaticism.

  8. bryan says:

    James, context, context, context.

    It’s not 7 percent of *federal* interns. It’s 7 percent of white house interns *this semester.* No indication of where the other 93 percent come from, and whether that number is a steady 7 percent, or a fluke of having a number of well-qualified candidates (not to mention some well-connected adviser somewhere).

    I think the NYT has done its job well. You’re spooked.

  9. James Joyner says:

    I find the trend worrisome. If this were a group of Muslims who’d come up in the similar manner, everyone would think it was a problem.

  10. jen says:

    I’m glad someone brought up Bob Jones – it’s the first thing I thought of when I was reading the post.

    This is clearly an environment that breeds fanaticism.

    No, it’s an alternative environment for college kids and their parents who don’t like what’s happening in the secular system. Look, I’m an evangelical Christian who worries about the ability of those kids to adjust to real life when they leave the cocoon of their fundamentalist upbringing, but it’s their decision to attend Patrick Henry. How is that tiny little college a “trend” or likely to breed fanatacism? There are a ton of conservative Christian colleges all over the United States and most of us who attend them are normal, productive citizens.

  11. Paul says:

    Oh come now James.

    The “ruling class” is decidedly ivy league. Go down a list of any on the big names in politics (or the media) and tell me where they went to school. Harvard, Yale, etc etc. It is not that these schools offer an educational environment that is not available elsewhere. It is an incestuous relationship.

    I bet 90% of the names that shape the news come from 5 schools. Where is the horror there?

    One could argue they have their own culture and this offers much needed diversity.


    BTW as a note of explanation there was not supposed to be a question mark after my smirk above, that makes it look odd. Just a typo.

  12. James Joyner says:

    This particular one is aimed at people who have never had exposure to American society. They cloisture these poor kids from birth through age 22 and indoctrinate them. Most of the religious colleges out there still let kids live a more-or-less normal life plus they’ve likey gone to a real school at some point in time. Graduates of this school reach adulthood never operating outside parental supervision. It’s essentially brainwashing.

  13. Paul says:

    YEP— Them kids study the bible and don’t have premarital sex, it’s fanaticism I tell you, fanaticism.

    The 1950’s what a radical era.

  14. James Joyner says:

    Ivy League schools aren’t an indoctrination system. Students are encouraged to actually challenge ideas presented to them. Sure, the professors are more liberal than the society as a whole–but not all of them are. And the profs are of a variety of religious and political backgrounds.

  15. James Joyner says:

    Who, in the 1950s, spent their entire life to age 18 never leaving the house, “educated” entirely by mommy, and then went off to a college where they couldn’t hold hands with their girlfriends unless they were walking?

  16. craig henry says:

    I think you are overstating the degree of cloistering that goes on with most home-schooling. Home school families often band together for field trips, social events, etc.

    And how is this any different than the Amish?

  17. James Joyner says:

    The Amish live in their own little world and don’t bother anyone. They’re not being hired up by the Republican party as interns, for example.

  18. craig henry says:

    I didn’t realize my party had instituted a religious test for interns. My bad.

  19. Lana says:

    Wow. Do you know a great many homeschooled children and parents?

    Homeschooled kids are *not* sequestered in their homes until age 18. Indeed, I can’t think of any of the hundreds of kids I know personally that are not currently involved every week in a variety of community projects, volunteering at food pantries, visiting nursing homes, and even working part-time while in high school.

    They have hundreds of opportunities to interact with people of all ages since they don’t spend all day in traditional schools.

    As for the scare quotes around “educated” by mommy, I have it on very good authority from my college-aged kid’s professors that the profs would love to have more students like my children in their classrooms.

  20. jen says:

    James, I have several friends who homeschool their kids. These kids are not sequestered at home all day long and they’re not taught exclusively by “Mommy” either.

    1. Many home schooled kids have teachers for certain subject that the parents don’t feel qualified to teach themselves. Kids are in classes (very small, maybe 5-6 kids) for those subjects.

    2. Many home schooled kids are involved in community activities such as sports or theater. Not to mention church activities.

    3. As Lana said, many have jobs and because of their more flexible school schedule, they’re able to work more and tend to be better employees – more responsible.

    4. Home schooled kids seem to be getting a much better, well-rounded education. Look at the kids in the National Spelling Bee – a lot of those finalists are home schooled. They graduate earlier than their peers and often take jr or comm college courses while still in high school. They score higher on the SATs and they do better in college.

    5. Often they’re more mature than their peers.

    6. Often they’re more cultured – have an appreciation for the arts and are more aware of current events (I’m talking news here, not pop culture).

    I’m speaking generally, but also from the home schooled kids I’ve known personally. Sure I have reservations about some of the limitations of home schooling, but I’d lean in that direction if I had kids given what’s happening in the public schools these days.

  21. dw says:

    I feel like I have to pile on too.

    I’m a strong supporter of public schools, and I believe that vouchers and charter schools are nothing more than extensions of those “Christian academies” that sprung up in Mississippi after segregation. However, I have no problem with homeschooling — if it is done right.

    I’ve known a number of parents who have homeschooled. Some are better teachers than what I had in the “at least we’re not Mississippi” quality schools of Tulsa. Some are just out to indoctrinate their kids in a rigid fundamentalism that collapses the moment the kid sees the real world. It’s a mixed bag… but so are public and private schools.

    The homeschooled kids had peers. They rebelled against their parents. They played outside. And most of them did quite well in college after making the adjustments. (And not all these parents are raging fundies — I knew some atheists who were homeschooling because they didn’t like the didactic their local elementary school embraced.)

    Stop being so simplistic. It’s the same sort of thinking that surrounds the “public schools = bad” mentality I keep hearing people spout without facts.

  22. SwampWoman says:

    James, I have several home-school kids in the 4-H groups at the local fair and they are NOT totally segregated. They participate in community events, sports, etc. They go on field trips with other home-schooled kids. They are alarmingly computer literate. They have to pass the same type of tests as their (public-schooled) peers in order to progress. Two of my nieces are home-schooled and if they read the description of home-schooled children as completely led by mommy, they’d think that was pretty hilarious.

    OTOH, I also know some kids that are “home-schooled” because mama and daddy can’t be bothered to get out of bed in the morning and get them to school, let alone teach them. THOSE are the children you should be worried about.

  23. Michael Strickland says:

    Homeschooled children who follow the standard curriculums sold in the US are head and shoulders above those who are in the NEA corrupted cesspools, both in academic accomplisment and social development.

    Linear thinkers who accept a concept of right/versus wrong generally accomplish more in life than people those who are educated in an atmosphere of conflict.

  24. bryan says:

    James, I’m going to add to the pile as well. I teach at least six college students who were home schooled. They are all among the brightest, most intellectually interested students I have. There are a number of home schooled students on our campus as well. Most are in the honors program and perform well above their public school-educated fellow students.

    True, they don’t drink, do drugs and have premarital sex, but if that’s the mark of an educated, non-sheltered individual, well …

    You don’t normally make overly broad generalizations based upon a lack of evidence (and yes, two articles in the NYT are a lack of evidence), so I’m really disappointed in your stance on this.

  25. James Joyner says:


    Many if not most of the studies I’ve seen indicate that home schooled kids perform above the median on standardized tests and so forth. Nonetheless, I’m opposed in principle to the idea of home schooling and especially an educational environment thats primary focus is religious indoctrination. If they spend the first 22 years of their life in such an environment, the likelihood of them emerging as normal adults seems quite low to me.

    Others have noted that the public schools and especially universities have a leftist bent. But any significant public or private university will produce graduates all along the political and philosophical spectrum. Yale has produced people ranging from Hillary Clinton to Clarence Thomas. This school’s mission is to indoctrinate religious zealots. I find it troublesome in its own right.

    I’m mainly concerned, though, that the GOP is using this type institution as a recruiting base for a disproportionate share of its future leadership. That’s the road to extremism.

  26. bryan says:

    “Nonetheless, I’m opposed in principle to the idea of home schooling and especially an educational environment thats primary focus is religious indoctrination. If they spend the first 22 years of their life in such an environment, the likelihood of them emerging as normal adults seems quite low to me.”

    Hmmm. I think you should unpack that statement in an entry on your blog. Again, you seem to think that the primary focus for such homeschooling is religious indoctrination. I would question that assertion.

    I would further question the assertion that “the likelihood of them emerging as normal adults seems quite low to me.”

    Care to operationalize “normal”?

    And just so we’re clear, I’m the product of a public school education and my two children will probably attend public school, so it’s not my dog that’s in this hunt.

  27. Rae says:

    Hmmmm, indoctrination. And isn’t it the prerogative of all parents to rear their children in whatever philosophical, political, religious manner in which they choose?

    Ivy league colleges encourage questioning of what is presented to the students as truth?

    Professors not all liberal? (In true logic, this has to be true (all), but please look up an article in The Atlantic [] concerning the number of professors who are registered democrats). When was the last time a you heard a kid encouraged for presenting a case for faith to her college professor in front of her class?

    The news has rarely presented an accurate depiction of the one million (not half) home educating families. Instead, they choose the worst examples, the extremists that are isolationists. How many of those people actually send their kids to a university? Rarely, if at all.

    The media doesn’t like home schooling, so it selectively chooses the examples that it protrays in order in influence those viewing to agree with their perspective.

    Isn’t it also the prerogative of senators to hire the aids of their choice?

    I think that the majority of home educating parents choose to reject what they feel is indoctrination of their children to accept whatever is presented to them as truth. They want to rear children who do question and also have the ability to logical discuss and politely debate the issues at hand and to back up their belief systems better than the standard post-modern relativisim that most people attempt to support their illogical arguments with.

    Btw, yes, I am a home educating mother. My girls are brilliantly intelligent, giftedly socially- able to hold conversations/relationships with people of any age, active in their communities, able to analyze and logically discuss many issues. They have best girlfriends that are home educated and publically educated. They consistently impress people with not only their knowledge, but their sincereity and consideration of each other and those around them. Are they perfect? Heck no- they mouth off occasionally and have turned in assignments late only to receive an F. They heckle and tease their sisters when tired, bored, and feeling a bit naughty. But they are each others best friends and talk to us about anything and everything. And, yes, they are quite innocent of many things. We were able to tell our daughter ourselves what the word f*** means. She asked us, we told her. It warmed my heart to know that at 12, she had never heard the word and came to us to find out what it meant. We want to present things that they will be surrounded by when the time is appropriate; when they have the tools to accurately examine life around them. They have also been educated about other religions and taught that they are not better people because of their religious choices and practices. We have educated them that to make assumptions without information, from various sources, is ignorance.


    P.S. Personally, our daughters want to head out to our alma mater, Mizzou, so they aren’t interested in Patrick Henry. The kids that go to Patrick Henry College choose to go there. What’s the big deal? They know exactly what they are getting into, so why fuss about it for them?

  28. Rae says:

    Oh, P.P.S.

    Our oldest daughter has had the lead role in the Children’s community theater the past three years and her younger sister is giving her a challenge in keeping that role. They are decorated competitive swimmers-one has the Olympics as her personal goal. The third desires to be an entymologist. One wants to be a veterinarian and figure out a way to eliminate homeless pets and unwanted litters. The oldest plans to be journalist and wants to travel. Isolation?

  29. Jeff Sharlet says:

    Conservatives aren’t the only concerned by this kind of Times reporting. Over at The Revealer, a new “daily review of religion and the press” I edit for New York University’s Center for Religion and Media, we ran a short commentary (“Evangelical Borg,” March 8) on Kirkpatrick’s reporting and the absurdity of the Times assigning a “conservative beat.” We combined it with a critique of the Christian Science Monitor’s coverage of Chinese Christians. Both make the mistake of assuming all Christians — or all conservatives — are the same. At

  30. Jim Armstrong says:

    I really have to comment on this. There is no way you can justify such claptrap as this. Breeding religious zealots? Want to define that term, or is it anyone who holds a strong belief that doesn’t conform to your own? So they were homeschooled – my goodness, doesn’t that just make them little mindless zombies! And then, to add to the horror, they choose to go to a college that embraces the same beliefs as theirs, instead of belittling and ridiculing them. Excuse me, but if there is anyone who is a mindless zealot, it is you, sir!

  31. Nick Danger says:

    James seems to think that “home schooling,” not having children shunted off into some institutional setting most of the day, is some recent, radical innovation that produces “non-normal” adults.

    In fact, institutional schooling has only been the norm for the last century in industrialized countries. For the previous four million years, across the vast majority of people, it was the norm.

    It’s the massive institutionalization of children and the bizzare age-segregation involved that is the radical experiment.

  32. Nick Danger says:

    Oops, I meant to say “For the previous four million years, across the vast majority of people, home schooling was the norm.”

  33. Anonymous says:

    I can’t resist.
    I am a (female) homeschooled student, and at the moment I am *considering* attending Patrick Henry College. According to James, this makes me a dangerous extremist. Hurrah for me!
    Ok, so I don’t wear pants that look like they’re vacuum-packed to my butt. I’m not gonna throw myself at the first googly-eyed boy that makes me feel special. I enjoy reading Virgil and Dante. I enjoy reading the newspaper and actually thinking about and weighing what the articles say. Yes, I believe in an absolute right and wrong. No, I don’t think James Dobson is the pope. Yes, I am an evangelical Christian. No, I don’t think the Left Behind series qualifies as good literature, or even true theology. Hmmm…well, considering all of that, I really *don’t* think I’ll be getting myself blown up in the next Waco, no matter what James seems to think. Suffice to say, the previous posters know what they’re talking about. Listen to them. Open your mind a little. 😀