Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Botkin's "Ready for Real Life" Webinar, Part V

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

In part V of the Botkin's "Ready for Real Life" webinar, the Botkin family discusses the role of history and law in homeschooling curricula. Much of the webinar focused on teaching children a fundamentalist Christian interpretation of history and law, with obedience to God as a seminal virtue.

At the beginning of "Ready to Lead in the Gates", Geoffrey Botkin encouraged parents to raise children to be leaders, to "stand at the gates" without shame. At the 1:22 mark, he once again warned homeschooling parents about alleged "enemies" who rage against their efforts. 
"Your children have enemies today. There are a lot of children out there who have enemies they know nothing about. You parents have enemies. The very fact that you're homeschooling your children is a remarkable statement against the current status quo, and there are people who have special interests in that status quo who really dislike what you're doing, a lot, and not just a little bit. They're very vigorously and viciously opposed to what you're doing."
Christian homeschoolers have the freedom to give their children a free, generous, and fully-rounded education, according to Geoffrey. A home education should prepare children to serve as leaders in politics, the judiciary, business, media, religious communities, and other realms.

Geoffrey Botkin clearly believes that fundamentalist homeschooling families will have a massive impact on society. On the 4:39 mark, he shared his vision for Christian homeschool families establishing a thousand-year Christian civilization. 
"Ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, what will history say about the homeschool families of the 21st century? What will they say a hundred years from now? This is my vision, and I want you parents to share it with me. I want historians to say those parents who took the risks, made the sacrifices, laid the foundation for the building of Christian civilization, and that foundation was used by families for a thousand years, that's what I want them to say. The foundation that you come up with, the things you teach your children, the subject matter, the generous education you give them will be used by families for a thousand years because it showed everyone what the kingdom of Christ looked like and what the tools of civilization were."
Sadly, he fails to understand that society isn't morphing into a "Christian civilization", and that many Americans would reject his dominionism outright. Time for a reality check, Geoffrey, I thought.

Geoffrey celebrated Isidore of Seville, a 7th century archbishop who compiled the Etymologiae, an exhaustive encyclopedia and curriculum Kings, princes, & statesmen who studied from the Etymologiae became nation-builders, Geoffrey said. However, the Etymologiae is out of date, so homeschooling families should reflect on what books and subjects make up their homeschool curricula.

In the Botkin home, Geoffrey explained, children are taught a range of subjects with a scriptural foundation: scriptural literacy, dominion, patriarchy, theonomy, the five solae of the Protestant Reformation, and applying scripture to life. As extensions of this scriptural foundation, the Botkin children are also taught about family life, multigenerational visions, history, the scriptural foundations of civil society, and the free market as an expression of scriptural liberty. To my amusement (and consternation), the Botkins also teach young earth theology and the great flood as a historical event, as Geoffrey explains at the 12:46 mark. 
"We want them to have historical literacy, beginning where history begins in the Bible. Genesis is incredibly important. All through their life, your children are going to run into people who are being tested morally by what they really believe about a young earth and an old earth, and those who side with the old earth theory are moving away from Biblical truth and a Biblical foundation. They're on shaky ground. The earth is young, and the Bible explains why. They need to know about the worldwide flood, that it really did happen and when it happened." 
At the 14:56 mark, Geoffrey urged parents to teach their children about the relationship between scripture and civil society. America has "walked away" from liberty and justice because it has abandoned the Bible, he claimed. 
"Teach them about civil society and its scriptural foundations and find in the Bible where it talks about this, the law and its scriptural foundations ... Liberty -- and that doesn't mean libertinism, which just means every man just gets to do what's right in his own eyes -- and its scriptural foundations, liberty. Liberty and justice are the foundations of the United States experiment, and we've walked away from it. Why? Because we've walked away from scripture."
Biblical law serves as the foundation for everything in their homeschooling curriculum, he emphasized, arguing that obedience to Biblical law is the key to all happiness and success in life.

Tell that to ex-fundamentalists who were desperately unhappy, I thought. Tell that to countless people who are happy without Christian fundamentalism.

Biblical law is a delight rather than a burden, he claimed, adding that children will find rest for their souls if they take up the "yoke" of God's law. On the other hand, if one's children reject God's law, they will become "outlaws" and find themselves on the side of the wicked, he warned.

Geoffrey's son Isaac spoke next, categorizing all law as either natural law, positive law, or God's law. Isaac claims that Jeremiah 17:9 ("The heart is deceitful above all things") shows natural law to be insufficient, and that Romans 13 ("the authorities are God’s servants") shows that positive law is insufficient because civil authorities have a responsibility to God. Ultimately, the purpose of any law is to honor God, and obedience to God's law will bestow more happiness than any legal system humans could design, Isaac insisted. He elaborated on this at the 19:29 mark.
"Christians need to be able to understand that the purpose of law, whether it's civil law of a government, or the rules of a church, or the rules of a household -- the purpose of those laws are to honor God and his standards so that we can obey him, and we're not pursing our own happiness, we're not doing what we think is orderly, we're actually trying to pursue God's standards since we know that his law is perfect. And we also know from Psalm 119 that adherence to his law will result in far greater happiness and order than we can ever define on our own sinful human terms."
Isaac split all law into a false dichotomy between "man's law" and "God's law" at the 20:13 mark. Outrageously, he made no distinctions between democracy, dictatorship, and sharia, arguing that all are "fallen and destructive" vis–à–vis divine law.
"At the end of the day, there's only two kinds of law. There is God's law, and there is man's law. A dictatorship is one man making up his own law. A democracy is a whole bunch of men making up law. Sharia law is one man making up law and ascribing it to a false God. Only God's law in his revealed word is going to be any different from man's law ... Human law is fallen and destructive, and it's destructive to the principle of theonomy, which is pursuit of God's law."
This kind of oversimplification is dangerous. Dictatorships, Islamic theocracies, and representative democracies are not the same thing! They do not hold their leaders to the same levels of accountability, and they do not afford citizens the same rights. Isaac Botkin's oversimplification betrays his ignorance about the ways that governmental systems operate in the real world.

In their haste to glorify laws based on the Bible, the Botkins ignore barbaric laws in the Bible (which themselves were man-made, ironically). I would rather live in an America under the Bill of Rights than one under ancient laws condoning slavery, forced marriage, honor killing, religious persecution, and draconian punishments for trivial offenses. I would rather live in a country that acknowledges the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights than one that reduces people to chattel or expendable vermin. This is not to say that the U.S. human rights record is perfect, or that its ideals have been fully realized, only that its secular democracy is far superior to the state outlined in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Furthermore, the Botkins' blind praise for "God's law" ignores just how dysfunctional Christian theocracies have been throughout history. The European wars of religion following the Protestant Reformation, Savonarola's Florence, and the Salem witch trials are but a few examples of the flawed results of such ambitions.

David Botkin offered Nazi Germany as an example of a country that did not honor God's law. He claimed that because Germans feared a communist takeover of Germany, they brought the Nazis to power. When the German people did not want to take responsibility for the results of that election, and thus the Nazis turned the country into a "single-state democracy". Covetousness lead the Third Reich to invade neighboring countries, while evolutionary thinking resulted in their attempted extermination of other races, he argued. These "national sins" had devastating consequences for Germany, given that God's laws "will not be mocked", David reminded listeners. God uses war as a tool of judgment, and World War II cost Nazi Germany dearly.

David Botkin's history of the Third Reich was littered with problems. First, I find it ironic that a regime that practiced offensive war and ethnic cleansing would offend a deity who commanded both in the Hebrew Bible. Also, by depicting Nazi Germany as a country in rebellion against God, David ignored the fact that Germany was solidly Christian during the Third Reich, and that some Nazis wove Christianity into Nazi ideology. Nazi racism, not evolution, produced the Holocaust, with earlier Christian anti-Semitism setting the stage for Nazi racial policy. Finally, David's notion of "national sin" is problematic, as not all Germans were equally accountable for the Third Reich's atrocities. What about Germans who actively resisted the Nazis? What about the White Rose activists, the Rosenstrasse protesters, the German "Righteous Among the Nations", and other Germans who struggled against the Nazis? The idea that World War II was the Botkins' God punishing innocent and guilty alike is one I reject.

Geoffrey Botkin echoed his son's statements, telling listeners that all people and nations are subject to God's law. At the 25:33 mark, he warned that terrifying cosmic judgment awaits those who disobey God. 
"All men in all nations are equal before the law of God, and it's binding. It's binding on the Jews, it's binding on the Christians, it's binding on the gentiles, it's binding on every single nation. The Lord held Nineveh accountable, and Tyre and Sodom. They were all accountable to God's law, and that's why he ultimately had to judge them because they wouldn't turn, they wouldn't repent, they wouldn't submit themselves and make themselves subject.

Now, one reason that the Lord allows you to have several years with their children is so they can understand this fact. They are not allowed, and parents, you're not allowed, and your children need to see that the parents are not allowed to go their own way. They have to obey the Lord in the way that they raise up their families. Daddies, you have to submit to the authority of God Almighty, and wives are required, yes, to submit to the husbands, and this is why husbands, you really need to set this example and show that you literally, you are willing to lose your life in submission to the Lord's authority, and you're willing to lay your life down for your wife."
Geoffrey returned to the study of history, slamming education reformers such as Harold Rugg and John Dewey as "historical revisionists". At the 29:00 mark, he poured his wrath on Rugg and Dewey, accusing them of hating history, time, and eternity (!?).
"Rebellions men like Harold Rugg and John Dewey and the other men who were getting the funds together to rewrite all the textbooks, they hate the past because it is providential. That means God was in charge. God was decreeing everything. Because of that, it's full of meaning. And rebels hate the future because it is unpredictable and uncontrollable. They hate time because it's limited and it reminds them of their appointment with death, and they hate eternity because they cannot control it or they can't access it on their terms. And so rebellious men like Harold Rugg seek to make God and Christ remote from the present by abstracting them from the past and the future. That's why they mess up history. They seek ways to manipulate history by denying Providence and manipulating other men. Your children simply need to know this."
David Botkin chimed in, stressing the importance of finding sound, accurate history books. At the 34:13 mark, he claimed that some books sugar-coat history, but he provided no examples of books that do so. 
"History also teaches us about the sinful nature of men apart from Christ. As we read sound histories, we learn about what the real world is really like ... There's some historians that try to clean up history and remove some of the wickedness. They paint the world as a happy place where there's no real bad guys, or at worst, just confused people that make some bad decisions, and if you fall victim to this theory of history, it will warp and destroy your ability to really understand the world we live in. I'd like to give you an example. Stalin, in some history books, becomes a nice man with a mustache that's just trying to save the Russian peasants and stop the mean Germans."
Victoria Botkin offered guidance on teaching history to homeschooled children, arguing that parents and children learning about history together is the best strategy. She claimed that she knew nearly nothing about history when she began homeschooling, a result of her public school education.

To be fair, Victoria had some positive advice for parents teaching their children history. For example, she reminded listeners that all history authors have their own perspective, and since none are perfectly objective, it's important to read several books on a particular topic in history. Unfortunately, she also espoused her family's beliefs about God in history, ascribing historical events to God's will. For instance, she claimed that the retreat of "pagan" Mongol invaders in Europe and the failure of the Spanish Armada were God's judgment against them and a deliverance for Christians.

The Botkins spent the remainder of the webinar discussing the role of economics (complete with a defense of the free market and jabs at the federal reserve) and military history in homeschool curricula. Geoffrey recapped with a discussion of God's authority, a father's authority within the family, and the importance of teaching the Bible to children.

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Part V of the Botkins' "Ready for Real Life" webinar contained the following themes:

Hierarchy and obedience: The Botkins' understand the world as a hierarchy, with children submitting to parents, wives submitting to husbands, and governments submitting to God.

God's law as the ideal root of all law: The Botkins believe that all valid law must honor God and stem from scripture. Governments and legal systems not rooted in the Bible were framed as inferior at best and defiant at worst. Unjust elements of scriptural law were ignored.

History as a cosmic story: The Botkins, like other fundamentalist homeschooling voices, attribute historical events to divine intervention. History, in their eyes, is a record of divine intervention, as well as how humans obey or reject God across civilizations. In doing so, they shoehorn history into a narrow narrative, oversimplifying history and ignoring the complex causes of historical events.

Stay tuned for part VI!


  1. Exhaustive! Thank you for writing this out! I don't have the stomach right now to imbibe in any more patriarchal God-speak first hand for awhile... so thanks for writing it filtering it for me.

    I don't know where to start. Okay. Lets try that if I as a deconverted avangelical fundamentalist, now atheist, woman represents the status quo... I need to start tapping into my mainstream blase options! And yes... I am violently (sick) against what they are doing to children and women, but I can be so easily dismissed as a demon-filled backslidden raving hysterical femi-nazi lunatic that I unfortunately represent very little harm to their work.

    Other than I am standing open-armed to the children that leave like a bat out of Hell.

    Also... working at a library, I can't help but notice that homeschoolers get to pick and choose the facts they want their kids to learn... if that means overexposure to outdated material, it's going to take a lot more than one dose of critical thinking skills to deprogram children & young adults taught to believe something other than the choices of history filtered through their parents.

    But ... yeah... I'm still optimistic. It's not the status quo they need to worry about and fear... it's their own children... for what they will create and the extremes they may go through to have it all make sense or rebel.

    1. Christine -- Aye. One of the many drawbacks of this kind of homeschooling is that all subjects get filtered through the parents' fundamentalism, and a lot of facts and perspectives get left out. The result isn't pretty.

      My hope is that children raised in these environments somehow tap into fresh knowledge and supportive, open-minded people so they can escape fundamentalism someday.

  2. Thank you so much for doing what I frankly don't have the stomach for, and that is to sit and listen/watch to these people. I am a former fundamentalist homeschool Mom who drank the Koolaid for 20 plus years. I still homeschool but from a secular/freethinking perspective. Others would say it isn't important to "follow" these people but they most likely do not understand that these people want to change our society where all of us will have to be under their dominion...via far right politics, etc. I love your blog and it is one of "go to" places for information. Thank you for doing what you do.

    1. Anonymous -- Thanks! I'm glad that you escaped fundamentalism. You're absolutely right -- t's important to keep an eye on the Religious Right, because their impact is destructive.

  3. Nothing says "up-to-date" critique of the public educational system like pulling in Dewey and Rugg.

    1. NatureLover -- :: snorts :: That's for sure.


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