Monday, September 30, 2013

The Botkins' "Ready for Real Life" Webinar", Part I

Introduction: Botkins Launch Webinar on Making Kids "Ready for Real Life"
Part I: Ready for What?
Part II: Are Your Children Ready for Real Life?
Part III: Arts and Culture
Part IV: Science and Medicine 
Part V: History and Law   
Part VI: Vocations
Part VII: Q&A Session
Conclusion
 

As discussed in a prior post, Geoffrey Botkin of the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences is hosting the "Ready for Real Life" webinar series. "Ready for Real Life" is a seven-part audio series on how Christian homeschooling families should educate their children. Alongside his wife Victoria, his son Isaac, and his daughters Elizabeth and Anna Sophia, Geoffrey Botkin praises Christian homeschooling as a means of resisting a supposedly overbearing government and striving toward Christ. I purchased access to "Ready for Real Life", and over the next few weeks, I will post content and commentary from the webinar series.

In webinar #1, "Ready for What?", Geoffrey Botkin argues that Christian homeschooling is more than just education inside the house. Rather, home education is Biblical education. He acknowledge that homeschooling is demanding on parents, especially mothers, requiring a great deal of time and emotional investment. However, such hardships are worthwhile for the sake of one's children and country, Geoffrey Botkin claimed. At the 3:50 mark, he assured homeschooling mothers that their efforts were a declaration of defiance against "political enemies" who despise Christ.
"Did you mommies know that simply keeping your children at home and teaching them that B says 'buh' and G says 'guh' is such a powerful declaration of freedom and academic integrity that your political enemies -- and yes, you have political enemies that hate what you're doing and and all the powers who hate Jesus Christ are losing sleep over your act of defiance and heroic political will. You mothers really are heroes. We want you to know that!"
Christian homeschooling constitutes some of the most important work for the kingdom of God taking place in the 21st century, he told listeners. Homeschooling families are changing the world by teaching math, language arts, and "real" history, he said (an asserting that made me cackle in light of Botkin's participation in a revisionist history conference this summer).

At the 5:25 mark, Botkin celebrated Christian homeschooling as a challenge to "all controlling" governments, demonizing the American government alongside Russia and China. 
"Home education is the most effective challenge to every runaway, all-controlling government from Germany to Russia to China -- every nation that has surrendered liberty to a national curriculum, and that's what our country has done."
Homeschooling is more than a "lifestyle option", he insisted, but rather serves as a way for parents to lead their children through a "very treacherous battleground". Christians do not want their children to be pushovers for government or culture, he said, so they must find ways to raise their offspring with wisdom, no matter how "confused" the church becomes on real-life issues. Geoffrey Botkin told listeners that he wanted his children to face the 21st century with "boldness" and stand tall when "enemies scream at them".

A Biblical foundation for children's education, he explained, is a correct attitude toward children. Citing Luke 1:17, he invoked John the Baptist turning the hearts of the fathers back to their children to prepare for the Lord's arrival as a metaphor for the right parental attitude. Geoffrey Botkin used himself as an example of a father whose heart was turned toward his offspring. Initially, he described himself as a former "bad guy" who was once a "disobedient Marxist" before he embraced Christianity. Now, he has rejected the Marxist vision of social transformation in favor of the fundamentalist Christianity vision of changing cultures through families. When his wife Victoria was pregnancy with their first child, Isaac, God turned his heart to his child, he told listeners.

Next, Victoria Botkin spoke at length about motherhood and homeschooling. At the 15:00 mark, she claimed that our "culture of egotism" has encouraged women to see their children as annoyances and assume that their lives are their own (!). She casts feminism not as a movement that liberates and values women, but as a negative force alongside materialism.
"We have been raised in a culture of feminism and materialism, and of course, those things have been around a very long time. But our generation, I think, may be unique in that we have been raised in such a culture of egotism. Women have been encouraged to think that the only thing that's really important is self-fulfillment. We've been strongly encouraged to think of our lives as our own. We've been encouraged to think of our children as a nuisance."
Victoria spoke of her life as a mother of young children, when she found it difficult to balance child rearing with other activities. For instance, she loved sewing, but quickly grew annoyed when her children would interrupt her sewing time. After reflecting on Matthew 18:9 ("If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out"), she gave up sewing completely so that she could devote more attention to her children. In another example, she heard another woman holding up Maria from The Sound of Music as a role model because she loved being with children. Victoria liked this idea and wanted to have such a relationship with her own children, but struggled to balance time with her children with household duties such as cleaning and cooking. If she incorporated children into household tasks, he realized, she would not need to take time out away from them.

As Victoria continued, she continued to depict Christian homeschooling and child rearing as a task without rest for mothers. At the 18:29 mark, she explained that full-time motherhood and homeschooling meant no opportunities for recreation or socializing.
"We had a relative visiting, a woman about my age who asked me, 'Well, do you ever get to do anything YOU want to do?' Her question stopped me cold, and I knew what she meant. She meant going out shopping with a friend, or going out to lunch and an art exhibit like she did. And for a minute I was tempted to go down the road of self-pity because no, I never did do any of those things. But then, it was like a little voice inside me pointed out that this was a trick question, and all of you who've been to public school know what a trick question is. And I realized in reality, I got to do what I wanted to do all the time, and not just once a month or once a week or whatever like she did. I got to do what I wanted to do all the time because I loved being with my children. I loved taking care of them and living with them and learning with them, and it was just exactly what I wanted to do, and I got to do it all the time."
Quoting Psalm 37:4 ("Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart"), Victoria claimed that when she chose to find delight in her offspring, God made that the desire of her heart.

Victoria Botkin's commentary troubled me, and not just because of the cognitive dissonance. There's nothing wrong with enjoying the life of a stay-at-home mother, but neglecting all other activities is unhealthy. I love my job, but if I worked in the office from sun-up to sundown seven days a week, I'd be a basketcase. I take great pleasure in gardening, but if I spent every waking moment cultivating my garden without any time set aside for hobbies, volunteering, or a social life, I'd be miserable. Victoria Botkin's advice is a recipe for burnout, as she fails to recognize the need for balance and rest in mother's lives.

Victoria elaborated on the content of homeschooling, citing Deuteronomy 6 as a foundational text. Parents not only need to teach children to love God, make disciples, and take dominion of the earth, but also need to teach reading, writing, geography, science, and current events so that they can operate in the world. For instance, homeschooling parents should teach children history so they can see "God's workings in the affairs of men", civics so children know how government works versus how it's "supposed" to work, and media literacy so children recognize how the media "twists" coverage of current events to manipulate viewers. At the 22:40 mark, she rejected the idea of teaching academic subjects apart from God, insisting that it would render subjects "meaningless".
"The public schools pretend to teach all these things, but there's one big difference, and it is a colossal difference. If we are obedient to God's sacred command to parents in Deuteronomy 6, we will be teaching all these things in light of the sovereign God who made all things and who rules all things by his might forever. And we simply cannot pretend that math, science, or history are secular subjects and they're neutral. Being taught as kids are in public school that science, math and history were and are random happenings makes them meaningless, and that's why these are the subjects that were especially boring in public school. Meaningless, random facts aren't interesting or relevant. As Christians, I believe we need to teach our children to love learning about God's ways and God's deeds, and that includes loving to study science, math and so on."
Children will love what their parents love, Victoria claimed, and thus parents should model a love of learning to their children. If Christians love God, they will long to understand God's workings in all things, including science and history.

But what if science and history show your children facts that don't agree with fundamentalist Christianity? What will you do if knowledge leads them to question your fundamentalism? I thought.

Geoffrey Botkin stressed that parents must cultivate correct knowledge about their children. Children are "godly seed", not pupils or accessories, he argued. The Bible teaches that children are weapons of war, he added, asking listeners if they were truly acting like warriors. Like other fundamentalist voices, Geoffrey Botkin described children as torchbearers for a fundamentalist agenda.

On the subject of discipline, Geoffrey Botkin insisted on absolute obedience from children. He spoke approvingly of spanking and "the rod", and discouraged parents from countenancing any form of disobedience from their offspring.
"Discipline is not an option in your home. You have to bring discipline and order to your home. Disobedience is not an option in your home. Children cannot disobey parents, ever, either outwardly or passively. They can't roll their eyes ... We have to be very quick to rebuke them and reprove them in a way that we want. The rod and reprove give wisdom ... Did we spank our children? Yes, we did spank our children. And there were times that there were children who were easy to spank, and children that were literally impossible and difficult to spank. And did we want to give up on that? Sure we did. And there were many times when I would come home and I would need to encourage Victoria and say, 'Honey, were you faithful in obeying the Lord in this? Because when you discipline your children, they will delight your soul, and they haven't delighted your soul today.'"
Throughout the webinar, the Botkins addressed listener comments. One commenter asked the Botkins how he and his wife could "detox" from the "garbage" they learned in public school. Geoffrey Botkin replied that they must replace their old public school teachings with "Biblical truth". Public school teachings are part of a larger flawed culture, Geoffrey Botkin claimed. We live in a "dirty toxic nation" that is "pagan", he insisted, lamenting that many Protestant churches have embraced dubious ideas steeped in Greco-Roman thought.

WHICH Greco-Roman ideas? I thought. Greek and Roman thought was not monolithic. Why are you lumping it all together and discarding it?

Geoffrey Botkin's disdain for Greek and Roman cultural contributions ran deep. Another listener asked about the role of Latin and classical texts in home education, to which Geoffrey Botkin gave a polemical response. At the 56:11 mark, he associated Latin with "pagan" indoctrination, caricaturing classical thought as anthropocentric and monolithic. 
"Latin was basic to the initiation process of pagan or deeply compromised academics to gain control over the training of each generation of Christian leaders in England and America. And it was the kind of thing that we must be careful about because the classics are pagan. Greek and Roman literature and philosophy is pagan. They were based on the premise that man is the total measure of everything, than man's reason is ultimate. It's such a toxic thing if our children begin to pick this up and become arrogant."
In conclusion, the Botkins' first installment of the "Ready for Real Life" series urged parents to homeschool their children with fundamentalist principles at the forefront. Their webinar placed great importance on parental involvement, the Bible, and studying subjects through a fundamentalist Christian filter. Several recurring themes became apparent.

  • Children as Torchbearers -- Christian homeschooling, for the Botkins, is a deeply political act. Geoffrey and Victoria Botkins saw their Christian homeschooling efforts as a means of raising children for future Christian dominion. Children were compared to weapons and arrows in a quiver, and their home education was intended to produce future Christians who would resist messages from society and the state. 

  • Dominionism -- The Botkins repeatedly presented Christian homeschooling as a means by which Christians were to exercise dominion and train the next generation for dominion. Geoffrey Botkin spoke warmly of spoke of the Christian reconstructionist author R. J. Rushdoony, whose books were required reading in the Botkin household. He even celebrated Rushdoony's Institutes in Biblical Law as a "dinner table reference book" in the family's conversations about current events. 

  • Christian Patriarchy -- The roles that Geoffrey and Victoria Botkin prescribed for parents and children were heavily gendered. Women were expected to be stay-at-home mothers and devote themselves entirely to the education and upbringing of their offspring. Geoffrey Botkin also encouraged mothers to treat their sons like men, not boys, so as to prepare them to be future leaders. Revealingly, he did not say the same about daughters.  

  • Obedience -- The Botkins called for children's absolute obedience to their parents, as well as parents' absolute obedience to God and the Bible.

  • Disdain with the Outside World -- The webinar was riddled with condemnation of the state, public schools, humanism, feminism, alleged "political enemies", and society in general. Christian homeschooling was presented as a form of resistance to "runaway, all-controlling government", in keeping with Geoffrey Botkin's fears of statism. Public schools were denigrated as ungodly learning environments that stuffed students' minds with "garbage". "Anyone who went through the American public education system in the last thirty years is not totally ignorant, but mostly ignorant," Geoffrey Botkin insisted at the 58:25 mark. Society at large was demonized as "dirty" and "pagan", with Christian dominion as the only true antidote to its ills. In short, the outside world, with its diversity and secularism, was framed as a malevolent force that Christian homeschool families must resist.


Stay tuned for commentary on the rest of the Botkin's "Ready for Real Life" webinar series!

6 comments:

  1. a challenge to "all controlling" governments, demonizing the American government alongside Russia and China

    Wait a minute, I thought these guys were all cheering on the Russian government now that it's persecuting gays? I can't keep up. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

    WHICH Greco-Roman ideas? I thought. Greek and Roman thought was not monolithic.

    Are you kidding? These types probably know even less about ancient Greek and Roman culture than they do about math and science.

    The irony is that they claim they're resisting a totalitarian government, but as the themes you cite at the end show, their indoctrination system has one of the main qualities of totalitarianism -- insulating its subjects from competing ideas and influences in order to channel their thinking in the approved direction. The use of violent coercion as "discipline", of course, is of a piece with that too.

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    1. Infidel -- Botkin might not have been among the far right voices fawning over Russia, his fundamentalist beliefs notwithstanding. Having said that, his fears over American statism are overblown and paranoid.

      If you think the indoctrination in this installment was bad, there's plenty more to come. The next webinar was full of ad hominem attacks and bad reasoning.

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  2. I'm a stay-at-home mom and I honestly think I'd jump off a bridge if I wasn't able to be a part of my Monday night bowling league or to run errands by myself.

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    1. Anonymous -- Exactly! Everyone, including stay-at-home moms, needs some time to breathe.

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  3. A good mommy is a happy mommy. These women don't sound very happy to me.

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    1. Kari -- Welcome! No, Victoria doesn't sound happy to me either. When I listen to these webinars, she sounds drained.

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