Reprinted from Write These Laws On Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling by Robert Kunzman. Copyright © 2009 by Robert Kunzman. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston.
Generation Joshua and HSLDA
“A Few Good Soldiers”
“America is in a culture war. A few good soldiers can make a difference. Equip yourself and come join the battle!” So proclaimed the founders of Generation Joshua, a civics program from the Home School Legal Defense Association begun in 2003. “Our goal is to ignite a vision in young people to help America return to her Judeo-Christian foundation,” its leaders explained. “We provide students with hands-on opportunities to implement that vision.” As I began my homeschooling research six years ago, the birth of Generation Joshua caught my attention. Here was a civics education program aimed at homeschoolers, one that clearly sought to help nurture in students an idea and practice of citizenship informed and energized by their deep religious convictions. Perhaps the homeschooler president of Michael Farris’s dream would emerge from such an education.
Designed primarily for high-school-aged students, Generation Joshua combines online components with periodic opportunities for face-to-face interaction and real-world political engagement. The online elements of the program include extensive civics coursework, adult-moderated “chats” about current events, and thousands of bulletin-board forums where students can post entries on topics ranging from immigration reform and international relations to popular movies and rules for courtship.
This civics education program extends far beyond a virtual electronic community, however. Students are encouraged to participate in summer camps, voter registration drives, regional clubs, and an intriguing feature called Student Action Teams (SATs). These adult-supervised teams of students engage directly with the political process through participation in electoral campaigns. In fact, several victorious candidates for state and national offices have credited SATs with playing a pivotal role in their races.
But assisting with current political contests, while certainly appreciated by candidates, is ultimately a means to a much broader end. An ABC World News Tonight profile described Generation Joshua as developing “Christian soldiers with a mission to take back America for God, ”and GenJ leadership clearly agrees. Founding director Ned Ryun designed a strategy of creating a new generation of leaders who will bring their Christian values and commitments with them into the public square of policy, politics, and culture. “Great movements begin from the grass roots, from the bottom up,” he told one magazine interviewer. “With the homeschooling movement, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg so far. In another ten or fifteen years, we may see a disproportionate number of homeschoolers in positions of highest leadership.” In the first six years of its existence, Generation Joshua has seen steady growth in its membership, with a 2008 roster of more than four thousand students.
Michael Farris sees Generation Joshua as playing a vital role in the long-term goals of HSLDA and conservative politics. “We are not homeschooling our kids just so they can read,” he told the New York Times. “The most common thing I hear parents telling me is they want their kids to be on the Supreme Court. And if we put enough kids in the farm system, some may get to the major leagues.” It was Farris who coined the program’s name. He describes current homeschool parents and leaders as the Moses Generation, the ones who led the exodus from public schools (the equivalent of pharaoh’s Egypt). But just as it was Moses’s protégé Joshua who finally brought his people into the Promised Land, Farris sees the homeschooled youth as the ones who will ultimately “take back the land” for God.
This vision of conservative Christian homeschooling, while still rooted in the primacy of the family and parental freedom to direct the upbringing of their children, reaches beyond to instill a particular philosophy and practice of citizenship. Even on first glance, Generation Joshua— with its battle imagery and strong emphasis on real-world engagement in the political arena—promised to be something quite different from the lowest-common-denominator, controversy-avoiding, inert civics curricula sadly typical of public schools.
So I decided to follow the development of this program, to see how they go about “igniting a vision” of citizenship focused so squarely on bringing their Christian values into the public square. What kind of citizen are they trying to develop? Are students encouraged to think for themselves, or parrot a party line? And how is such a citizen supposed to engage with the diversity of beliefs and perspectives at play in our democracy?
Robert Kunzman studies the intersection of education, religion, and citizenship in the United States, and spent ten years as a high school teacher, coach, and administrator. He is currently an associate professor in the Indiana University School of Education and the author of Grappling with the Good: Talking about Religion and Morality in Public Schools.