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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Science in the Crosshairs 

We had always assumed that most home-schooling enthusiasts were relatively harmless cranks who wanted only to protect their children from the nasty, morally corrosive truths of modern science; we had not realized, until we picked up the latest issue of our second-favorite magazine New Scientist, that influential factions within the movement are actively scheming to bring about the wholesale collapse of America's public education system. The story of Patrick Henry College, where the school motto is "give me ignorance or give me death":
"Christians increasingly have an advantage in the educational enterprise," he says. "This is evident in the success of Christian home-schooled children, as compared to their government-schooled friends who have spent their time constructing their own truths." The students, all evangelical Christians, applaud loudly. Most of them were schooled at home before arriving at Patrick Henry - a college created especially for them.

These students are part of a large, well-organised movement that is empowering parents to teach their children creationist biology and other unorthodox versions of science at home, all centred on the idea that God created Earth in six days about 6000 years ago. Patrick Henry, near the town of Purcellville, about 60 kilometres north-west of Washington DC, is gearing up to groom home-schooled students for political office and typifies a movement that seems set to expand, opening up a new front in the battle between creationists and Darwinian evolutionists. New Scientist investigated how home-schooling, with its considerable legal support, is quietly transforming the landscape of science education in the US, subverting and possibly threatening the public school system that has fought hard against imposing a Christian viewpoint on science teaching.

Ironically, home-schooling began in the 1960s as a counter-culture movement among political liberals. The idea was taken up in the 1970s by evangelical Christians, and today anywhere from 1.9 to 2.4 million children are home-schooled, up from just 300,000 in 1990 (see Graph). According to the US government's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 72 per cent of home-schooling parents interviewed said that they were motivated by the desire to provide religious and moral instruction . . . .

Home-schoolers are drawn to PHC partly because of its political connections and partly because, unlike most Christian colleges, it boasts high academic standards. Besides the focus on creationism, much of the curriculum is dedicated to rhetoric and debate, preparing students to fight political and legal battles on issues such as abortion, stem cell research and evolution. The technique is effective. For the past two years, the college has won the moot court national championship, in which students prepare legal briefs and deliver oral arguments to a hypothetical court, and has twice defeated the UK's University of Oxford in debating competitions.

No wonder students are flocking to PHC, a sign of the growth in the home-school movement across the nation. The growth seems set to continue, as home-school advocates are pushing harder than ever to convince parents to keep their children out of public schools. "We've won all the legal battles now, thanks to HSLDA and groups like that," says E. Ray Moore, author of Let My Children Go: Why Parents Must Remove Their Children from Public Schools Now. "It's time to shift from defence to offence," he says. "We're encouraging Christians to become aggressive with home-schooling" . . . .

Exodus Mandate [an organisation that urges Christian parents to pull their children out of public schools] is urging each home-schooling family to bring one new family into the movement. If they succeed, several million families could take to home-schooling over the next several years, Moore says. "If we could get up to 30 per cent of public-school students into home-schooling and private schools, the system would start to unravel and at some point implode and collapse," he says. "The government would be forced to get the states out of the education business altogether. It would go back to the churches and the families. It's a strategy for the renewal of society."
According to the article, PHC grads held 7% of all White House internships in 2004, "a number even more striking when one considers that only 240 students were enrolled in the entire college. Last year, two PHC graduates worked in the White House, six worked for members of Congress and eight for federal agencies, including two for the FBI."

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