Sunday, May 29, 2011

2011 CHAP Convention -- Final Thoughts

To read a prior post about Ken Ham's workshops at the 2011 CHAP convention, click here. To read about Doug Phillip's workshops at CHAP, click here and here.

Now that I've summarized some of the 2011 CHAP workshops I attended, I'd like to wrap things up with some general observations about the conference. First, as I waded through the thousands of people in attendance, I took notice of the convention's demographics. The overwhelming majority of attendees I saw were white and (by appearances) middle class. This is neither positive nor negative, but simply an observation. I also noticed a considerable number of Mennonites in attendance, immediately recognizable by their simple clothing and the distinctive head coverings worn by the women. Whether this is because Pennsylvania is home to a sizable Mennonite population, or because Mennonites are disproportionately represented among homeschoolers, I don't know.

In retrospect, I was struck by several common threads that ran through the workshops I attended.

1) Suspicion of mainstream society and non-Christians. Several workshops I attended displayed antipathy toward non-Christians and secular society, heavily laden with us-versus-them thinking. Indeed, some fundamentalist homeschool proponents encourage homeschooling as a means by which Christian parents can "protect" children from these outside influences. For instance, in the workshop "Already Gone", Ken Ham lamented America was becoming more pluralistic, complaining that America has become a nation that trusts many gods. He accused public schools of being against God because they weren't for God, and lambasted textbooks that explain the world through natural processes, which he equated with atheism.

Also, in "Developing a Biblical Worldview of Film and Media", Doug Phillips accused modern film culture of promoting un-Christian and "pagan" messages, taking swipes at Islam and Buddhism. Furthermore, in "How to Think Like a Christian", he claimed that people who do not believe in God have no right or ability to disciple children. In both men's workshops, non-Christian forces were seen as corrupting and destructive.

2) Personal goals subordinated to the demands of religion. This theme popped up in an otherwise engaging and insightful workshop. In Phillip Telfer's workshop, "The Counterfeit Life: Entertainment's Deceptive Messages about Life to the Fullest", Telfer stressed the importance of media literacy and decried the excessive use of sexuality, gratuitous violence, and materialism in the entertainment industry. These are valid complaints about the entertainment industry, I thought. However, he also claimed that one of the deceptions promoted by the entertainment industry is that life is all about following one's dreams. He argued against this idea, saying that the Bible does not say that life is all about following dreams, and that focusing on God takes precedent. This troubled me, as following one's unique path in life is key to forging a meaningful existence. Granted, dreams may change, and dreams need to be held in balance with responsibilities to others, but to completely forgo one's calling is a recipe for bitterness and lost potential.

Also, Doug Phillip's "How to Think Like a Christian" workshop emphasized the need for Christian couples to have many children, whom they should raised as "warriors for Christ." Whether or not all Christian couples want to bear large numbers of children, or would find prolific parenthood a meaningful calling, was not considered.

3) Patriarchy. In "Developing a Biblical Worldview of Film and Media", Phillips complained that the idea of feminism equaling liberation is one of the false "stereotypes" being promoted by the film industry. Phillips' patriarchal and misogynist messages in "Toxic: Seven Poisons that Threaten the Health of the Homeschool Movement" are too numerous to mention. Since Phillips heads the Vision Forum and is a voice for the Christian Patriarchy Movement, this did not surprise me.

Also, in a workshop entitled "Raising Dangerous Sons in a Safe and Mediocre World", Todd Wilson urged listeners to raise their sons to "lead dangerously." Wives want a strong Christian leader in the home, he insisted, and thus husbands should step up to the plate and lead. Man men allegedly do not lead because their wives and mothers discourage them, thereby teaching them that it is not safe to lead. Why can't husbands and wives be equals? I wondered. Why the animosity toward nagging wives and mothers? To be fair, Wilson's workshop did include some good messages about raising sons, including the importance of teaching sons to forgive and accept forgiveness, to develop a strong work ethic, and to sacrifice for others. Still, I did not agree with the gender roles he endorsed.

I want to take a moment and make my motives clear. In posting commentary on the 2011 CHAP convention, my intent was not to demonize all homeschool efforts. When done well, and when not used as a vehicle for fundamentalist indoctrination, I believe that homeschooling can provide a well-rounded education for children. In areas where local schools are mediocre or dangerous, homeschooling may be a sensible decision for some families. It is fundamentalist Christian homeschooling that I take issue with.

Also, my intent was not to demonize parents who homeschool their children, but to point out aspects of fundamentalist homeschooling that I feel are misguided. I'm sure that most Christian homeschooling parents deeply love their children and want to raise them well. However, if that upbringing contains elements I witnessed at some of the convention workshops, including distrust of non-Christians, creationism, and rigidly patriarchal gender roles, those elements are not in the children's best interest.

The 2011 CHAP convention was an eye-opening peak into the Christian homeschooling subculture. Initially, I left CHAP feeling concerned about young people being raised in this subculture, worrying about their future outlook on non-Christians, gender, and society at large. And yet, the more I reflected on the messages I heard at CHAP, the less I worried for children being homeschooled by fundamentalists. At some point, those young people will have to engage the world, where they will discover that non-Christians are not all sinister, feminism and the LGBT movement aren't trying to poison society, and scientists have sensible reasons for defending evolution. Many will discover that there is more than one way to be Christian, and more importantly, that there is more than one way to be human.


  1. I agree with your conclusions, Ahab. I have seen some parents do a great job with homeschooling. Others not so much. Unfortunately those who are homeschooled for the purpose of religious indoctrination will have some seriously skewed views of reality; but as you point out, life experiences can help them to overcome those obstacles.

    Thanks for your excellent report. Very enlightening as always.

  2. Cognitive Dissenter -- Thank you for reading it! I had a lot of material to work with from CHAP, and I wanted to give readers a glimpse of the convention without overloading them.


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