God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America

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Overview

Since 2000, America’s most ambitious young evangelicals have been making their way to Patrick Henry College, a small Christian school just outside the nation’s capital. Most of them are homeschoolers whose idealism and discipline put the average American teenager to shame. And God’s Harvard grooms these students to be the elite of tomorrow, dispatching them to the front lines of politics, entertainment, and science, to wage the battle to take back a godless nation. Hanna Rosin spent a year and a half embedded at the college, following the students from the campus to the White House, Congress, conservative think tanks, Hollywood, and other centers of influence. Her account captures this nerve center of the evangelical movement at a moment of maximum influence and also of crisis, as it struggles to avoid the temptations of modern life and still remake the world in its own image.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR GOD'S HARVARD

"A rare accomplishment for many reasons—perhaps most of all because Rosin is a journalist who not only reports but also observes deeply. Her insights come through in her balanced portrayal of each student, the nuance with which she inserts her own first-person narration, and—not least—her dry and sometimes acerbic sense of humor."—San Francisco Chronicle
 
"Nuanced and highly readable . . . [with] feisty, richly detailed prose."—The Washington Post

Dan Gilgoff
…how can a school introduce some of the country's most sheltered youth to the ways of the secular world—even in hopes they will reshape it—without their being corrupted in the process? It's a dilemma that makes for constant tension in Hanna Rosin's nuanced and highly readable God's Harvard. A former Washington Post reporter, Rosin went more or less native at [Patrick Henry College] for the past couple of years, earning the trust of many students, professors and, apparently, Farris himself. Paired with her feisty, richly detailed prose…the access makes for a gripping tour of a parallel universe that's typically closed to the mainstream media by evangelical gatekeepers.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

To be in and not of the world-such is the rallying cry of many Christians, including the students at Patrick Henry College, located outside of Washington, DC. How, though, is it possible, one reporter wondered, to have a running conversation with Jesus in one's head while listening to the surrounding culture? To answer this question, Rosin immersed herself for a year and a half in the life of a small Christian campus in Purcellville, VA. Some of the school's students have scored a perfect 1600 on their SATs, rejecting acceptance letters from the likes of Harvard and Yale. Many have been homeschooled. In short, Patrick Henry is where emerging evangelical leaders are bred and groomed. They enter the spheres of politics, entertainment, science, and more upon graduation. Rosin, best known for her religion and politics coverage in the Washington Post, is the perfect writer and researcher for this project; her style is factual and objective. The book is, overall, an entertaining and enlightening read. More important, it's an eyewitness account of the evangelical movement and subculture. Recommended without reservation for academic and public libraries.
—C. Brian Smith

School Library Journal

Adult/High School
Rosin, a Washington Post reporter, spent 18 months at Patrick Henry College, a private, Christian institution founded especially for homeschoolers. Her exploration of evangelical Christianity in America starts with the students, faculty, and administration at PHC, but moves miles and years beyond the Loudon County, VA, campus. Her writing is clear, honest, and witty-she reports her experiences but leaves analysis and conclusion-drawing to readers. From courtship rituals among Christian teens, to glimpses of White House and congressional internships, to the challenges of teaching science and liberal arts at a Christian college, God's Harvard examines social, political, academic, and extracurricular life. Rosin devotes individual chapters to congressional campaigns, science (evolution vs. creationism), and popular culture (the rise of the Christian genre in books, music, and movies). She engages readers in these familiar topics by relating the personal stories of students and professors and following up with historical background about evangelical Christianity, politics, science, and Hollywood. The most compelling chapters of the book are the stories of teens working to forge their own identities within the PHC community and preparing for the worldly challenges they will encounter beyond campus. This is an excellent piece of reporting from the frontlines of evangelical Christianity in America.
—Sondra VanderPloegCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Compelling examination of a seven-year-old institution created to educate the Christian right. Journalist Rosin explores the people and ideals behind Patrick Henry College, a northern Virginia school founded by evangelical activist Michael Farris. Patrick Henry caters mainly to home-schooled students and is devoted to reclaiming American culture for Christianity. Rosin introduces several of the college's students, ranging from a couple who did not kiss until their wedding day to a slightly rebellious former student of dance, boxed in by Patrick Henry's rules. All are bright, driven and courteous to a fault. Their lives are set against a backdrop of rigid rules and the turmoil of forays into Washington culture. Their young college is portrayed as struggling to find its identity and path-how best to mix evangelical Christianity with the classical liberal arts, how to groom students for success in politics, law and media while continuing to emphasize their almost sheltered form of faith. Rosin does not set out to write an expose or to push an agenda of her own, and she succeeds admirably in allowing the reader to experience this place and its people first-hand, with a critical eye but without preconception or prejudice. The book also provides a dispassionate introduction to conservative Christianity in America through discussions of creationism, evangelical views on politics, the role of home schooling, etc. Mostly she offers a personal look at a unique generation: "They are the children of Ralph Reed-ambitious, entitled, and fearful, above all, of being irrelevant." Like it or not, look for a Patrick Henry alum at a state-house race near you. Accomplished survey of today's most giftedevangelical Christians coming of age.
Alan Wolfe
"Hanna's Rosin's wonderful book is as insightful as it is witty. Rarely is a book on such an important subject such a joy to read."
Rachel Grady
"Hanna Rosin has gotten incredible access to a subculture that is fast becoming a mighty political force. This insightful book reveals the new face of the Christian Right: highly educated young people brilliantly trained to advance their world view into mainstream America. Rosin's frank and candid portraits of these fiercely dedicated youth leave the reader wondering: what will my world be like when these kids are in charge of it?"
David Maraniss
"I believe deeply in this amazing book by Hanna Rosin. With clarity, honesty, and equal measures of surprised delight and foreboding, she takes us into a new world of Christian higher education that few outsiders knew existed but the entire nation will be dealing with for decades to come."
Steve Coll
"By reporting among America's young Christian elite with curiosity, empathy, and persistence, Hanna Rosin has produced a book that is humane, surprising, and very unnerving. This is journalism at its best—never preachy, but honest and revealing."
E.J.Dionne Jr.
"Hanna Rosin reminds us in God's Harvard why there is no substitute for good reporting and beautiful story telling. Rosin enters some of the most contested terrain of American public life, the world of evangelical Christianity, and provides readers with both an outsider's view and an insider's perspective. Human beings, not stick figures, populate this book, reflecting Rosin's approach, which is simultaneously tough-minded and sensitive. Readers who never expected to read about this subject will find themselves drawn in, and fascinated."
San Francisco Chronicle
" God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America, is a rare accomplishment for many reasons - perhaps most of all because Rosin is a journalist who not only reports but also observes deeply. Her insights come through in her balanced portrayal of each student, the nuance with which she inserts her own first-person narration, and - not least - her dry and sometimes acerbic sense of humor."
The Washington Post
" ... how can a school introduce some of the country's most sheltered youth to the ways of the secular world—even in hopes they will reshape it—without their being corrupted in the process? It's a dilemma that makes for constant tension in Hanna Rosin's nuanced and highly readable God's Harvard."
The Christian Science Monitor
"Whether these kids terrify or delight you has everything to do with your political and religious views but, one way or the other, they are people that you should probably start getting to know. God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America by Hanna Rosin offers an intriguing introduction."
Chicago Sun-Times
"A superb work of extended reportage ..."
Salon.com
"It's easy, based on the book's title alone, to assume that Rosin is out to demonize the young evangelicals at Patrick Henry, to damn them in the scathing light of their own inflexible beliefs…But Rosin is a better and more honest writer than that. Despite her own aversion to fundamentalist dogma…she steers largely clear of political ax-grinding."
Desert Morning News
Lively and evenhanded...reveals the evangelical movement at a moment of crisis and climax, its future leaders struggling to resist the temptations of modern life even as they try to remake the world in their image.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156034999
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/8/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

HANNA ROSIN has covered religion and politics for the Washington Post. She has also written for the New Yorker, the New Republic, GQ, and the New York Times. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Slate editor David Plotz, and their two children.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
 
Welcome, Surfer Ninjas and Knights
 
Many seventeen-year-olds brag or exaggerate on their college applications. Not Derek Archer. Even when he wrote to Patrick Henry College about the year that had set the course of his life—the year when he, a homeschooled missionary’s kid from a depressed suburb of Akron, got to see President George W. Bush in person—Derek kept his hubris in check. “I would be a fool to believe I made it through the past few months by my might and my power, for truly it was by the Lord’s grace and His Spirit alone!”
 
           Derek was not one of the school’s usual incoming freshman stars known as “the 1600s”—the handful of kids each year who get perfect scores on their SATs and ignore courting letters from Harvard and Stanford to come to Patrick Henry. What he had was not something the six-year-old college could easily boast about in press releases, but what it valued much more: a near-perfect balance of ambition and humility, the one impulse pushing him toward the White House and the other always reminding him Who was really in charge.
 
           In a few heady months during the fall of 2004, the Bush campaign had served as one endless, amazing high school field trip—better than going to Europe or Disneyland or Papua, New Guinea, where his family once lived in a house on stilts. He had made phone calls and knocked on doors in the critical swing districts in Ohio, near where he lived. He had won a contest for registering more than 100 voters. He had learned to take verbal abuse with grace. He had created a minor local celebrity by writing articles and flyers under the fogyish nom de plume “Franz Holbein” who complained about “some of the most appalling displays of disrespect this nation has ever seen.” Twenty minutes before the polls closed, a car full of rowdies whizzed by him, screaming “Kerry won! Kerry won!” He prayed it couldn’t be true, and his prayers were answered. In the battle between the “forces of righteousness and unrighteousness,” the right side had won.
 
           “Those few months have had a powerful impact on my life in preparing me for the ministry of political activism,” he wrote to Patrick Henry. “If in any matter I can bring glory to my God and King, may He grant me the grace to do just that.”
 
           It’s not just that Derek was a missionary’s kid and knew how to say the right things. Patrick Henry prides itself on not being your run-of-the-mill Bible college: It doesn’t give automatic preference to MKs, who can be just as rotten as any kids. Instead the school takes the measure of its students constantly, probing the nature of each individual’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ with the care and trepidation of a parent monitoring a fever, or a schoolgirl checking whether you’re still her best friend. Under that microscope, Derek glowed. 

           God’s voice was like the sound track to the movie of Derek’s life, lending texture and meaning to every action. In return, Derek thanked God for everything. He thanked Him when a seemingly chance meeting led to a great internship at the local Republican headquarters. “The Lord just dropped that one into my lap!” He thanked Him for his mom sending his favorite granola bars, for his sister passing her driving test, for the extra cheese on his turkey sub. He thanked Him for his new used car, although it was dark purple and the AC didn’t work and the windows seemed to be glued shut. He thanked Him for his after-school job at Leach’s Meats and Sweets down the road, where he worked in the chilly back room hacking up raw chickens and grinding up beef to stuff into their “famous” sausages while tolerating the boss’s son’s endless tracks of AC/DC (“the worst band in the whole wide world”).
 
           “It’s really been a blessing,” he told me one day as he wiped his knife on an apron streaked with bloodstains.
 
           In the year before he left for college, Derek had moved down to the basement of his parents’ house in Barberton, six miles south of Akron. In the evenings, his mom, Donna Archer, would go down there to drop off his clean laundry “and see if he’s ready to hit the hay, and I’d find him down on his knees praying. As a Christian mom, nothing thrills me more. Nobody was watching him; it’s the real thing. He doesn’t do it to please us. You can see God’s spirit at work in him.”
 
           “Because of that,” his mom added, “I’m not worried if he heads into politics.”
 
           For Patrick Henry College, Derek was a white sheep, the son you were pretty sure wouldn’t roll his eyes at you the minute you turned your head or sneak a cigarette outside his dorm window at night. The school thought of itself as a training ground for political missionaries; its founder, Michael Farris, traveled the country recruiting conservative Christian kids like Derek who were bright, politically minded, and itching to be near the president. Farris was aware of the risks of launching them into the cutthroat and dirty world of politics: He could unwittingly turn out to be the agent of their corruption, involving them in what Derek had once heard described by a pastor as “an innately wicked endeavor.” So Derek was a particular gem, a boy who, as much as anyone this side of heaven, seemed incorruptible.
 
 
 
“Okay. Here goes,” Derek said, as he spotted the Welcome Students sign hanging in Founders Hall. Like most of the kids who go to Patrick Henry, Derek was homeschooled by his parents all the way through high school, so college could be a shock. But during orientation week the campus still felt warm and familiar, like a big homeschool family reunion. The central buildings and dorms were packed with typically oversized homeschooling families—ten-year-old girls pushing strollers, toddlers scrambling after their pregnant moms like baby ducks. The little kids were eerily independent and well behaved; they sat in circles on the grass or outside the cafeteria, playing games or reading the campus maps for fun. The incoming freshmen boys, meanwhile, looked like children playing the role of adults in a high school play, with crisp white polo shirts, new leather computer bags, and their last bits of acne. The girls wore twin sets over their khakis or black slacks, which surprised Derek’s mom. “Okay, this is going to be more casual dress for the girls than I thought,” said Donna, whose daughter goes to a Christian school where skirts are required. But, she added, “I’m happy for the lack of tattoos and piercings.”
 
           A handful of families looked like reenactors lost on their way to Colonial Williamsburg: mothers in braids carrying babies in bonnets, girls in their best Laura Ingalls Wilder white-collared dresses taking a stroll around the lake—a tableau that made the campus feel a century—not an hour—away from downtown Washington, D.C. The parking lot was jammed with vans bearing messages on their bumpers: truth, or bush/cheney, or life. One license plate read momof8.
 
           Derek, who has blue eyes and sharply parted blond hair, already had business casual down. He was wearing an oxford shirt and khakis and sneakers that looked recently cleaned. Like many homeschooled boys, Derek seemed both old and young for his age. If he was in a good mood, he bounced more than walked and whistled, like Dennis without the menace, or an old contented preacher lost in happy thoughts. With his tall frame, gangly arms, and big grin, he was built for stand-up comedy but he was more often straining to seem more serious. He was polite and sometimes absurdly formal, and when he was talking to an adult and feeling nervous, he used constructions more appropriate for the witness stand. (“Yes, ma’am, I have been to this campus on two prior occasions.”)
 
           The campus is tiny, less like an Ivy League college than like a Hollywood set of an old Ivy League school, with one main building and several dorms grouped around a lake, all in Federalist style. The art in Founders Hall is designed to remind the students that America was founded as a Christian nation—a gallery of portraits of the Founding Fathers, all copies, leads up the staircase to the picture of Patrick Henry at the second Virginia convention, a shaft of light from Heaven guiding his speech. “Harvard for Homeschoolers,” founder Michael Farris likes to call it, invoking the Harvard of earlier days, whose laws instructed students to “know God and Jesus Christ.”
 
           The last time Derek was on campus, his assigned dorm hadn’t been built yet, and when he saw it, he was impressed. “So stately,” he said, noting the chandelier in the entranceway and the winding staircase leading up to his room on the second floor. But the first thing that struck me about the boys’ dorms was what was missing. Even during moving week, there were no flip-flops and shorts, because the dress code encourages “glorifying God with your appearance.” There were no iPod speakers perched on anyone’s windows, shuffling from Beyoncé to Coldplay, because iTunes lists are monitored and headphones are encouraged. There were no movie posters zeroing in on Scarlett Johansson’s cleavage, and no live cleavage either, because girls are required to cover their chests and, in any event, girls aren’t allowed in boys’ dorms. There was no impatient “Mom, aren’t you guys going somewhere for dinner?” and no sneaking around to figure out where the rush parties were because at Patrick Henry there are hardly ever parties, and drinking and dancing are not allowed. There were no heaps of clothes on the floor, or open bags of Cheetos. The only thing left blocking the hallway for any amount of time was an ironing board—an ironing board, in a boys’ dorm!

Copyright © 2007 by Hanna Rosin

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/ contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Table of Contents

contents

Introduction    •    1

chapter one  •  9

Welcome, Surfer Ninjas and Knights

chapter two  •  40

Harvard for Homeschoolers

chapter three  •  73

“Elisa Muench, Republican, for Idaho’s Senator.She Will Make a Difference.”

chapter four  •  104

America Is a Christian Nation, Capital “C,” Capital “N”

chapter five  •  125

Farahn’s Attempt to Hide Her Midriff

chapter six  •  151

“This Is It! Go for Smiles! Go for Christ!”

chapter seven  •  167

The Den of Sin

chapter eight  •  183

From Humanzee to Liger: A Brief History of Evolution

chapter nine  •  205

The Fifth Quadrant: Hollywood Finds God

chapter ten  •  231

Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry

chapter eleven  •  250

Obey, All You Little Children

Conclusion  •  268

Acknowledgments  •  284

Endnotes  •  287

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