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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Homeschooling's activist right.

Yet another wake-up call to liberals, who seem caught in the conundrum that it's awfully hard for a lot of people marching to the beat of their own individual drummers to fend off a handful of people marching in unison:

The Christian-right Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is organizing up to 4,000 homeschooled kids "to do grass-roots campaigning for socially conservative candidates in hotly contested races throughout the country." The effort, dubbed "Generation Joshua" — round and round the walls of separation of church and state they'll go, till the walls come a-tumblin' down — is not an isolated new developement.

With 81,000 members, HSLDA represents fewer than 10 percent of homeschoolers, according to Steve Grove in the Boston Globe's Ideas section. But it is the only homeschooling organization with political aspirations — especially at the national level — beyond advocating for homeschoolers' rights. "We believe that some day homeschooled young people will help reverse Roe v. Wade [and] stop same-sex marriage," writes HSLDA president Michael Farris, who also heads Patrick Henry College, the finishing school for conservative Christian homeschoolers.

The dilemma is not that liberal and moderate homeschooling parents should somehow discover some sort of rival political agenda to mobilize around. The dilemma is that liberals do not yet have a bevy of organized grass-roots groups all focused on a shared set of goals — but social conservatives do. I don't think the Christian right poses a direct political threat like the advent of some sort of evangelical theocracy because even a really well-organized minority can't simply mobilize itself directly into office. Our political system forces everybody to compromise with somebody along the way. But the fact that conservatism has gained considerable ground in American society over the last forty years is both a tribute to conservative persistence and ingenuity and a testament to a severe failure of liberal imagination. Personally, I rue the day that "protest" became synonymous with liberalism, making us seem like petulant teens complaining that things should be done differently. Sure they should. But by whom? If we're not also in positions to make changes, demanding that someone else do it reveals our own powerlessness. And this is what conservatives learned over the past thirty-five to forty years.

Grove interviews NYU sociologist Mitchell Stevens, who studies the homeschooling phenomenon. Grove writes:

Stevens sees the lack of any national political organizing among liberals and other "inclusive" homeschoolers that approaches the visibility and clout of the HSLDA as symptomatic of the left's broader problems.

"This is really emblematic of a larger story about idealist politics on the left and right," he said. "Conservatives love Washington. It's 'Politics is great, sign me up, let's go, let's figure out how to get our voice heard!' But what the left has done since the 1970s is to talk about how the system is tainted."

The religious right, Stevens says, has made involvement in politics an admirable goal for young people. "Look around. Where are the idealist people on the left going? Are they dreaming of becoming Senate aides, stuffing envelopes on 17th Street?"

Like I said, a wake-up call.

("Reading, Writing & Right-Wing Politics," Steven Grove, Boston Globe 8.15.04)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 18 August 2004 at 10:37 AM

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Carlton F.:

August 18, 2004 02:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

I sometimes wonder how hard it would be to build this sort of effort with young liberal christians. I admit, when I'm feeling particularly cynical of my own atypical world view, i attribute my left-leaning religious convictions to a subconscious need to rebel against the conservative nature of the churches i've had the misfortune of attending (as well as a need to rebel against my mother... probably). The point is, if a large portion of liberal youth are liberal as a reaction to the religious right they may lack the fervor necessary to organize.

The HSLDA can tell 4,000 conservative kids to do something and they'll follow directions just like they do in their conservative churches. Can any group really tell 4,000 liberal kids to do something and expect that they'll obey even when their religious and philosophical convictions are to favor their individualism rather than submit to an outward force?

Hmmm. Still, like you said, it's quite a wake-up call.


August 24, 2004 12:54 AM | Permalink for this comment

I agree with you.

There are moody and cynical Leftist Fundies. They always see the "impurity" of other Leftist/Progressives, thus for fear of being "tainted" or just old fashion self-rightiousness, would rather bemoan others.


August 29, 2004 09:17 AM | Permalink for this comment

Carlton, that is a simplistic comment. The kids are not only conservative, they are home-schooled. They are used to individualistic solutions to problems. Their schooling is individualistic, and, if the vast majortity of home-schoolers I know are any indication (I know many),they arrive at their convictions through more than just outside intellectual influence. They will always care more because they are not saturated by the selfish society in which they exist as a relatively secluded minority. In fact, they will tell you that it is the liberal who is the collectivist, and they are the individualist (not in those words).

You can't get liberal "Christians" to care enough. They obviously do not care for Christianity enough to respect its totality of doctrines and beliefs (theologically speaking). Why should they care about politics?

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