DATE May 24, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Michael Farris, founder and president of Patrick Henry
College, talks about Christian homeschooling
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
As the leader of the Christian homeschooling movement, my guest Michael Farris
is preparing students to, as he puts it, `engage wholeheartedly in the battle
to take the land.' Hard to do, he says, in the land of MTV, Internet porn,
abortion, homosexuality and greed. Farris is the founder and president of
Patrick Henry College, established in 2000 as the first college for
homeschooled Christian students. Its self-described mission is to prepare
Christian men and women who will lead our nation and shape our culture with
timeless Biblical values and fidelity to the spirit of the American founding.
In 2004, 7 percent of the White House interns came from this small college.
Farris also founded Generation Joshua, an organization for younger
homeschooled Christian students who are encouraged to work on political
campaigns and `get out the vote.' Our recent guest Michelle Goldberg devoted
several pages to Farris in her book, "Kingdom Coming: A Critical Look at
Michael Farris, welcome to FRESH AIR. Why did you found Patrick Henry
College, the first college for homeschooled Christian students?
Mr. MICHAEL FARRIS: We believed that there was a need for a liberal arts
college that was using a classical and Christian approach in the Washington,
DC, area for the purpose of training young people to be leaders on the
national stage, both in politics, law, government, journalism, that sphere, as
well as in the culture--in literature, in history and classical liberal arts,
in education, and so on. So we have a pretty wide scope for our vision, and
we want to be able to train some incredible young leaders.
GROSS: Well, you've been very successful in getting political placement for
the students of Patrick Henry College, and the latest statistic I have is like
spring 2004, Patrick Henry students had seven of the 100 college internships
at the White House. That's 7 percent. And how many graduates are there from
Patrick Henry? I mean, it's a small school.
Mr. FARRIS: Well, as of right now, we have 160 graduates total over five
years, so it is a small school. I mean, the statistical probability of being
a White House intern is better at Patrick Henry College than any other college
in the country. I mean, we place a high number of people, not just in the
White House but in various offices: Heritage Foundation, Senate offices,
House offices, all kinds of places. We've had students at B'nai Brith, and
it's been an exciting opportunity that young people have found through our
GROSS: So what kind of contacts do you have in the White House that is behind
this incredible placement record that you have?
Mr. FARRIS: Well, one of our students worked at RNC, and my relationship...
GROSS: The Republican National Committee.
Mr. FARRIS: Correct. And that one student did such a good job at RNC that
he got an opportunity to go to the White House after that. And that one
student, frankly, opened the door for the others because it's not based on
personal relationships that I have, although I do have some relationships with
some people in the White House but--that didn't hurt anything. But really
what opened the door was the hard work that they've seen time after time from
our students, and they're bright kids, they work hard, and they're not willing
to--they're not unwilling to get in and do what anybody says in terms of, you
know, grunt work. They're willing to do what it takes to do the job well.
GROSS: Is the president an advocate of Christian homeschooling?
Mr. FARRIS: The president has been a friend of homeschooling--Christian and
non-Christian both--because when he was running in 2000, he asked
homeschoolers what they wanted from the federal government, and the answer was
basically `We want to be left alone,' and he said, `That's fine by me,' and
made promises to that, and he's kept those promises. So he's been a friend of
homeschooling, yes, indeed.
GROSS: What are some of the political issues that you most hope your students
will work in support of?
Mr. FARRIS: Well, the position that I think is probably the highest priority
for most the young people is pro-life issues. There are, you know, a wide
variety of interests beyond that, and you know, really they get to make their
own choices as to what they think is important. Some have worked on religious
freedom issues, both internationally and in the United States, but some have
worked on refugee issues. Some have worked on pornography issues. Some have
worked on same-sex marriage issues. Just, you know, a wide variety of issues
both domestic and foreign, economic and so on. You know, basically, go read
The Washington Post for six months, and those are the issues we're--the kids
are interested in.
GROSS: Well, you say you want the kids to make their own choices, but I
think--you want them to make their own choices within the Biblical world view.
I mean, in order to be a student or faculty member you have to
enthusiastically agree to a statement of faith and to endorse a statement of
Biblical world view, which includes saying that although creation--although
evolution and intelligent design will be taught, that creationism is the true
story of creation, and you know, there's...
Mr. FARRIS: Yeah, but--that's all true, but that doesn't tell you whether
you're going to work on highway policy or going to work on some social issue
or whether you're going to work on some economic issue. It really is--there's
a philosophy that our college stands for. There's no doubt and you identified
one component of that philosophy, but we do believe in freedom and we operate
in freedom and the students choose what they want to work on. And so they're
going to get some perspective but, you know, we frankly think that Patrick
Henry College is an important component of bringing diversity to colleges as a
whole because colleges as a whole, universities as a whole, are so far
left-wing that, you know, somebody's got to be giving the contrary viewpoint.
GROSS: Well, when you say diversity, it sounds like there's perhaps not a lot
of diversity within the college itself because everybody in it has to endorse
the statement of faith and the statement of the Biblical world view..
Mr. FARRIS: That's true, just as people at Harvard, Duke or so on, who want
to advance, who want to get tenure and so on, have to embrace the world view
of the left. The left dominates higher education in this country, and you
know, it's a--there's a professor at Northwestern who wrote an article on the
Internet called "Blue State Islands in Red States," meaning that the colleges
represent left values in conservative states and you know, parents--he
ridicules parents dropping off their kids with Jesus bumper stickers on their
SUVs wearing overalls, but he said, `Don't worry, lefties. We're--once they
get into my classroom, we're going to change their views.' That's what's going
on. And anybody who doesn't recognize that, you know, isn't accustomed to
dealing with reality.
GROSS: I know you feel strongly about a lot of colleges and universities. I
mean, you've said, `The enemies of freedom and truth dominate our lead
colleges and universities and thereby dominate our nation.' So you see the
elite colleges and universities as enemies of freedom and truth.
Mr. FARRIS: Well, they don't--most of them don't even believe such a thing
as truth exists, you know. That's kind of passe in a post-modern world to
believe that there is such a thing as truth. So, you know, that's by their
own self-declaration. Yeah, I do think that the vast majorities of colleges
don't believe the principles of freedom, because as Thomas Jefferson said,
`We're endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights,' and unless you
believe that rights come from a source above man, you can't really believe in
inalienable rights. If men create rights, men can take away rights unless God
creates rights, as Thomas Jefferson said, you know, you can't get there
GROSS: Just as one challenge to your theory that all elite universities are
liberal, Condoleezza Rice was a dean at Stanford University. Stanford
University also is the home base of the Hoover Institution, which is a
libertarian think tank.
Mr. FARRIS: But Jack Rakove is at Stanford who writes that--in his book
"Original Meanings," says that he only uses original intent when it serves his
purposes to accomplish the political objectives he wants. Otherwise, he
doesn't like the theory of original intent. I think that Rakove is far more
representative of where Stanford really is than Condoleezza Rice's tenure
GROSS: My guest is Michael Farris, the founder of Patrick Henry College, the
first college for Christian students who were homeschooled. More after a
This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Michael Farris. He's the
founder and president of Patrick Henry College, which is the first college for
Christian students who are homeschooled. He's also the founder of Generation
Joshua, which is a campaign to turn homeschooled Christian students into
In your book "The Joshua Generation," you write "The homeschooling movement
will succeed when our children, the Joshua generation, engage wholeheartedly
in the battle to take the land." What does that mean? `The battle to take the
Mr. FARRIS: Everyone who engages in politics, everyone who engages in public
discussions, wants their philosophy to succeed. That's the nature of
democracy. People who believe the kinds of things that I describe in that
book and we teach at Patrick Henry College, we want to be successful, just
like everybody else. And in a democracy, people listen and they decide which
candidates, which ideas are the better ideas, and if they like the ideas of
one, they vote for them. That's what we're talking about. We're talking
about winning the war of ideas by having a better way of articulating our
principles than, you know, the principles of people who are on the other
GROSS: Well, one of the main principles that the Patrick Henry school is
based on is the statement of Biblical world view, and we'll get into the
specifics of that in a moment, but I'm wondering if, though, when you say,
`Take back the land,' do you think America should be a Christian nation
that--and that America should subscribe to the Biblical world view that your
Mr. FARRIS: Well, the term "Christian nation" is a very interesting term
historically. If, by Christian nation, we're going to define it the way we do
today, most people today, at least most Christians define it today, they have
some vague idea of a generally Christian culture where morality is
honored--that's not what the term meant at the founding of the country.
Christian nation at the founding of the country meant that every person in the
nation was required by law to be a particular brand of Christian as was
practiced in England, as was practiced in Geneva, Spain, you name it,
basically it dominated Europe. America was never intended to be that kind of
Christian nation. The way I would articulate the way the country was founded
was as a free nation. It was founded by Christians, basically Christian
dissenters who suffered under the hands of those who believed in that
definition of Christian nation. They wanted to have a free nation where
everyone of every faith was able to worship God the way they wanted, and they
also wanted to be able to bring their values, whatever they were, into
politics, and we want that kind of free nation, that the Christian forefathers
in this country embraced.
GROSS: Now, all students, faculty, trustees and employees must, quote
"enthusiastically subscribe to a statement of faith" and...
Mr. FARRIS: That's correct.
GROSS: ...let me just read a few things from the statement of faith. "There
is one God, Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. The Bible, the Old and New
Testament, is the inspired word of God, inerrant and infallible. Jesus Christ
literally will come to earth again in the second advent. All who die outside
of Christ shall be confined in torment for eternity in hell." Why must
everybody sign this statement of faith--that includes other things as
well--before joining the school either as a student, faculty or trustee?
Mr. FARRIS: Because those are the principles that mark orthodox Christianity
in a broad sense, and we want to be training and have the young people who are
there all embrace this philosophy. We want to be a clear Christian college,
is the basic answer. And that's really not that different than what was
practiced by most Christian schools, you know, in the late 1700s, for example.
So we're following a time-honored process of saying, `We're a Christian
school. We only have Christian professors, and we want to train Christian
students.' And we take some time to say particularly what we mean by
Christianity, because there are people today who profess to be Christians who
don't believe in the deity of Jesus, who doubt the authenticity of the word of
God, who, you know, think that all these things are kind of figurative. Well,
we're not that kind of Christian. We're the kind of Christian that takes the
Bible very seriously.
GROSS: And you also have a statement defining the college's Biblical world
view which students and faculty are expected to follow as well. What is...
Mr. FARRIS: That's not true.
GROSS: Oh, I'm sorry. It's not true.
Mr. FARRIS: It--no, the students are not expected to follow that. The
GROSS: I see. What is a Biblical world view? What does that mean?
Mr. FARRIS: If I were to say it again, I might not use the phrase Biblical
world view because world view has fallen into a kind of meaning that says `You
have your own world view, I have my world view, and all world views are just a
matter of perspective.' Well, that's not what we mean by that. We're engaged
in the search for truth, and we believe that the Bible is true. And there is
truth and then there is error, and so, you know--most places don't even think
that there is such a thing as truth and error anymore. But we do. And we're
trying to reclaim both faith and reason, because reason has been rejected and
jettisoned by a lot of thinkers these days, that you know, it really is just a
matter of perspective, it's just, you know, forces that have shaped your life.
There really isn't such a thing as truth or even facts. Or, you know, it's
gotten quite bizarre in the post-modern world of--how far things have gone.
GROSS: If you're interested in the truth and reason, why do all of the
biology teachers have to teach that--although they can teach Darwinian
evolution and intelligent design and other major theories--in the end, quote,
"They have to teach creation as both Biblically true and as the best fit to
observed data.' If you believe in reason...
Mr. FARRIS: Because we believe that's true.
GROSS: ...why not keep a more open mind in your school to what most
scientists, just about all scientists believe, which is the evolutionary
Mr. FARRIS: Well, not--you're overstating it to say that just about all
scientists believe that. The dominant majority, there's no doubt, that you're
correct. Because they reject as a matter of faith any presupposition that
would allow them to believe in the alternative despite the facts. I mean, if
you want to see who's really open, let's go to the public school context. In
the public school context, people do not want even--there's been legislation
introduced, for example, one's in Washington state that said, teach the facts
that are for and against evolution. Not any other theory, just for and
against evolution, and the evolutionists don't want that. They are re--they
are not open enough to allow anyone to critique their favorite theory, and
so--but we're not a public school. No one--there's not a dime of government
money that's entered--ever entered Patrick Henry College, and so we think, as
an institution, we have applied our faith and our reason, and we've looked at
the evidence, and we think that that's the answer. And so--but we want our
students--we don't require our students to believe that, and they are very,
very insistent that they're going to look through this stuff. I mean, we've
trained some absolutely fabulous debaters, for example, and they demand the
evidence. And at the end of the day, they can decide--but you know, we just
are very clear up-front what we're going to teach just as every college in
America is very up-front that they're going to teach evolution as the truth.
Well, we're very up-front and say, `We're going to teach creation as the
truth.' There's really no difference.
GROSS: In the statement of Biblical world view, it says, `Marriage is a
sacred God-made union between a man and a woman. Husbands are the head of
their wives just as Christ is the head of the church.' What does that mean
about husbands being the head of their wives?
Mr. FARRIS: It means that they are the leader in the family and that they
have a responsibility for protection and love and care and concern, and I
would point you to the work of William Tyndale in the 1500s in the book that
he wrote responding to Thomas More. He wrote a very remarkable, warm,
balanced view of a Christian husband and--"The Obedience of the Christian Man"
is his book--and, you know, that's the classical view of Christian male
leadership. It's exclusively to the home and to the local church. It's not a
view that anyone believes would bring into the job market or into the
political world. It's just simply how we want to run our homes.
GROSS: Now you said that you want your students to believe in like truth and
reason and to--I think you said to have an open mind, but aren't you basically
teaching your female students that at home they'll answer to their husbands.
Mr. FARRIS: We don't really address that all that often. That's not
something that is in our curriculum. It may get mentioned in chapel
occasionally. Really, it's more of a test of the philosophy of the
professors, that is, `What do you really believe about the Bible?' It's a way
of testing a professor's fidelity to an orthodox understanding of scripture.
Because the purpose of the Christian world view statement that you've been
talking about is not what we require of students but what we require of
faculty, and so we're asking them, `How do you understand the word of God
here?' It's akin to saying, `Do you believe that Adam and Eve were really
human beings, were real people?' It's another way of testing a person's
perspective of God's word. And so we used those as a quick way of
understanding a person's fidelity to an orthodox scriptural
translation--scriptural application, rather.
GROSS: The statement of faith at Patrick Henry College includes `Jesus Christ
literally will come to earth again in the Second Advent.' I've heard that you
were a protege of Tim LeHay, who is famous for the "Left Behind" series, the
incredible best-selling series of novels about the Second Coming. And I know
that he believes that the Second Coming is imminent, and he's written books on
how to prepare for it, and I wonder if you share that belief that it is
imminent, and if so, how that affects your life and your approach to teaching.
Mr. FARRIS: Well, you need to define the word `imminent' first. It can
happen at any time, I believe that. Is it likely to happen today? I have no
idea. The Bible says, `No man knows the day or the hour.' And my favorite
passage on the Second Coming is called--in Luke 17, it's called the Parable of
the Persistent Widow. And there's this widow who's unjustly treated by the
judge, kept going back to the judge and going back to the judge and demanding
justice and demanding justice, demanding justice. And at the end of the
parable, the judge finally relents because he's tired of the woman bugging
him. And Jesus says at the end of it, `When I return, will I find faith on
the earth?' So what I believe and what I take from that is that, I've got to
be working for justice. I've got to be working for what's right and standing
for what's right and demanding that. And I need to be busy about that,
whenever Jesus comes back, if that's 10 minutes from now or 10 years from now
or 10 centuries from now, I haven't got the clue. But I need to be working
for those principles that we talked about.
GROSS: Michael Farris is the founder and president of Patrick Henry College,
the first college for Christian home schooled students. He'll be back in the
second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Let's get back to our interview with Michael Farris, a leader of the Christian
homeschool movement. In 2000, he founded Patrick Henry College, the first
college for homeschooled Christian students. One of his goals is to prepare
these students to bring Biblical principles to positions of political
leadership. The school has helped students get White House internships and
work for congressmen. Farris also founded Generation Joshua, which encourages
younger homeschooled Christians to help `get out the vote.'
You know as we mentioned, there's a statement of faith and a statement of
Biblical world view that your college endorses. Students also have to agree
to an honor code. So let me just mention a couple of things that are in this.
It includes no use of alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs; no abusive, rude,
profane, or lewd language. The students have to seek and obtain parental
permission when pursuing a romantic relationship; and they have to shun
obscenity, pornography and sexually explicit material; reserve sexual activity
for the sanctity of marriage and resolve personal conflicts Biblically. Why
do you want students to sign on to this honor code before becoming enrolled in
Mr. FARRIS: Because we want them to live the way that the Bible teaches.
GROSS: The part where they have to seek and obtain parental permission when
pursuing a romantic relationship.
Mr. FARRIS: Right.
GROSS: I think...
Mr. FARRIS: Basically, we...
GROSS: ...that's been out of style for a while. Why do you want...
Mr. FARRIS: Sure, it is.
GROSS: ...students to...
Mr. FARRIS: First of all, you need to understand how we...
Mr. FARRIS: ...that's a matter of honor. They say, `We will do that.' The
college doesn't enforce that.
Mr. FARRIS: The parents enforce it. The parent comes to us and says
something--that's a different story--but unless we get a parental complaint,
the college keeps their hands off that. It's basically a statement of
altruism that arises out of the belief that romance isn't really a
recreational activity. It's serious. That the Bible teaches that romance
connected to marriage is wonderful, it's great, it's good. But romance that's
just for recreation is destructive of a lot of lives and the pattern that a
lot of people go through the college years--what we're really saying is we
want the young people to be talking to their parents about the most important
decision that they may make while they're in college, and it's `Who do I
marry?' And so it's just--it's an altruistic statement, not enforced by the
college, saying `Please consult with your parents.'
GROSS: How does the honor code apply to the larger world? Are these values
that you'd like your students to go out and support in their political and
social activism in any way?
Mr. FARRIS: Well, that's a--that's a view that a lot of people ask us about
because the political viewpoints that they normally hold embrace a form of
coercive Utopianism. We don't. We believe a very limited role of government.
The government should protect life, liberty and property and punish those who
do evil. It's a very different world. We're not trying to create a Utopia
for everyone. The--and so, absolutely not. It's kind of like Joe Biden was
asking me in a Senate hearing when we were there representing homeschool. He
said, `Do you want to force everybody to be a homeschooler?' And I said, `Of
course not.' That's anathema to our way of thinking. And so people who want
to force everybody into the public schools and want to force everybody into,
you know, an agenda affirming the current fad of tolerance that I believe is a
defective form of an embrace of liberty. The historical view of tolerance is
not as good as the view of liberty. I think we should be pursuing liberty not
tolerance. And so, you know, we do not want to coerce people into spiritual
matters. That is the history of the dissenters--you know, the Baptist
dissenters, for example, in Virginia, did not want to coerce people to go to
church. There was compulsory attendance at church, and they said, `That's
beyond the pale of government.' And people from the evangelical stripe have
always held to those kind of principles that the spirit and the soul do not
belong to the dominion of government.
GROSS: One of the issues you've really been against is gay marriage. You've
been for a constitutional amendment that will define marriage as a
relationship between one man and one woman. The idea of this amendment is
coming before Congress again. It passed through the Senate Judiciary
Committee. It will soon be voted on by the Senate. And, you know, a lot of
people are saying the Christian right always revives this thing about gay
marriage when they need to kind of like rally the troops, and you know, a lot
of people have been saying President Bush is kind of interested in seeing this
happen again--you know, seeing the whole gay marriage--anti-gay marriage
amendment revived again because his ratings, you know, his poll numbers are
sinking, and so he needs to rally his base. And--what's your reaction to
Mr. FARRIS: Well, first of all, I don't support this particular
constitutional amendment. I think it's too weak. I think it allows civil
unions--I mean, the sponsors of it admit this, so it's not my private
analysis. It allows state legislatures to create civil unions, and the only
difference between civil union in California, for example, the domestic
partnership for Vermont, the civil union bill, is just the word, and frankly
everybody should be upset with civil unions. It's saying you can have
all--100 percent of the rights of marriage, you just have to call it something
else. So either gays should have this right or they shouldn't have this
right. If they're going to have the right, they shouldn't have to have some
second-class name hung around their neck. That's just--you know, that's a
compromise that only a politician could love. No real person should
ever--should ever embrace that kind of nonsense.
The Supreme Court of Massachusetts got it right on one thing when they said
that marriage is an institution between two willing adults and an approving
state. And so when someone says, they want to be legally married, they want
the approval of the state, and when they ask for the approval of the state in
a democracy, they're asking for the approval of the people. Well, I don't
approve. I don't think that we should be putting our sanction and our
approval on those relationships. If they want to live together, fine, you
know. Live together all you want, it doesn't bother me. But when you ask for
my approval through the state, I don't want to give it, because I think it's
immoral. And so, you know, this is a battle between the elitists who don't
believe in the republican democratic form of government and want to rule the
world through the courts, and those who believe that the nation should be
ruled by our elected officials. That's the battle.
GROSS: Is there a distinction between tolerance and liberty?
Mr. FARRIS: Absolutely. Britain under William and Mary enacted the
religious toleration act in the late 1680s that required everyone to still
attend the Church of England unless you adhered to a certain specific narrow
range of doctrinal deviances and then you got permission from the government
to ordain your pastor for these minor variations and you had to get permission
from your--the government to hold a particular chur--service. You couldn't
even call it church; you had to call it a meetinghouse. And that was
tolerance. Tolerance was `We still define what's orthodox and you're allowed
a little bit of deviation.' Liberty was everybody gets to believe whatever
they want. And I believe that all this talk of tolerance--when you see
politically correct speech codes on college campuses and you can't go onto a
college campus, and say with impunity, `I think homosexuality is a sin and
should be punished by a law.' If you go and say that on a college campus,
you're going to be charged of hate speech. Well, that's tolerance for you.
Tolerance cannot co-exist with liberty on the long haul because if--people
need to be able to say whatever they want to say and not be punished by some
hate speech code.
GROSS: But again, you have no problem legislating against homosexual behavior
or homosexual marriage, and you don't think that that's depriving gay people
Mr. FARRIS: We're talking the difference between behavior and speech. The
most fundamental activity of liberty is freedom of believing and freedom of
speaking. Behavior has never been absolute. No one believes that all
behavior should be allowed. But, you know, just as the--I think it's
perfectly appropriate to have laws that punish people for racial
discrimination. It would be anathema to me to muzzle people who disagree with
that concept. I think they should be able to speak whatever they want to
speak about that. And so, I believe in legislating for racial equality. I
believe in legislating for the equality of women in the workplace. But I sure
would support the right of the people who disagree with those concepts to
legislate or to speak out on those matters. What I'm saying is that the crowd
of tolerance wants to ban speech, and so that, you know, this focus back on,
you know, behavior, is missing the point. The point is who gets to say what?
And those who want to create hate speech codes and who want to silence those
who criticize homosexuality are enemies of free speech.
GROSS: There's been some controversy surrounding your school lately. I think
it's five of the school's 16 full-time professors resigned this year after
teaching things that were deemed to be violations of the statement of faith
Mr. FARRIS: That's not true.
GROSS: One teacher--one--let me finish saying this, and then you can correct
Mr. FARRIS: OK.
GROSS: One teacher, David Know, co-authored an article arguing that the Bible
is not the only source of truth and that students can learn valuable lessons
from non-Christian writings. That--so--not true?
Mr. FARRIS: Not as stated. I mean, there--you're in the zone of--there's
a--there's some truth in what you're saying but you're wrong. First of all,
no one at the college ever accused them of violating the statement of faith.
They--no one at the college ever fired these people for anything they wrote or
GROSS: I said they resigned.
Mr. FARRIS: Yeah, they resigned. And we've never taken the position that
you can't learn from anything besides the Bible. I mean, for heaven's sakes,
I teach constitutional law. We read Supreme Court opinions, we read the
founding documents, we read the Federalist papers. You know, it's not a class
consisting of just a few verses from the New Testament and maybe some Psalms
from the Old Testament thrown in for a good measure. Of course we, you know,
we read Plato, we read Aristotle, we read Nietzsche, we read, you know Marx,
we read all kinds of things. And so, it's a straw man to suggest that the
only--you know, there's two choices. Either the Bible and nothing else, or
other principles. The debate has been about this, whether or not it's
necessary to read human wisdom critically or not. Are we going to read
Aristotle and Augustine devotionally or are we going to read him critically,
and it's my contention that we're going to read everything, everything that
any human being has ever written critically. That the only thing that
deserves to be read devotionally is the Bible itself, and because these guys
got offended that I said a few things, you know, some of their favorite guys
should be read critically, like Augustine, I said, `You know, I think we ought
to read Augustine critically.' They got offended at that, and they decided not
to come back.
GROSS: My guest is Michael Farris, the founder of Patrick Henry College, the
first college for Christian students who were homeschooled. We'll talk more
after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Michael Farris, the founder of Patrick Henry College, the
first college for Christian students who were homeschooled. One of his goals
is to prepare students to bring Biblical values to political leadership
Now you have 10 children, and they've all been homeschooled. Why did you want
to homeschool them?
Mr. FARRIS: Well, our oldest daughter was in a Christian school in first
grade when we first heard of the idea of homeschooling, and the guy that
presented the idea to us said that kids get their values from the people that
they spend the majority of their time with. If they spend their time with
their friends, they get their values from their friends. If they get
their--spend their time--the majority of their time with their parents, they
get their values from their parents, and we'd always--we'd observed that kind
of behavior already going on in our daughter who was six and in first grade.
And she thought way too much about what her six-year-old friends thought about
the issues of life compared to what her mother and I thought, and so we
thought, you know what, we're smarter than six-year-olds. We'd rather our
daughter get her--get her values from us, and so we said we'd try
homeschooling for a while, and that was 24 years ago, and we've been
homeschooling quite a while now, and it's been very, very successful.
GROSS: What kind of schooling did you have?
Mr. FARRIS: I went to public school K through 12. I went to a secular
liberal arts college, Whitman College, for two years and then transferred to a
state university where I graduated in political science and went to a Jesuit
law school, Gonzaga University.
GROSS: Do you feel like the secular schools had a damaging effect on you?
Mr. FARRIS: I came home from Chris--Thanksgiving break my freshman year of
college and told my dad that I thought that Christian humanism was the right
philosophy and--which, as I went back, in retrospect, I thought about
that--humanism is a contrary philosophy to Christianity, and I was still
trying to hang onto it by modifying humanism, but Christian was the adjective
in this sentence and humanism was the noun. And so what I really was
embracing was humanism, and I was trying to hang onto some kind of
Christianity. I wasn't really ready to reject it all, so I got turned around
by the high school and college education I received. And, you know, I was
able to overcome that and to return to the Christian roots that I was raised
with. My dad's a public school principal, and so--at least, he's retired now.
But, you know, it was interesting to see the effects of all that education
GROSS: Since your father was a public school principal, I'm really wondering
what his reaction has been to your mission of homeschooling, and it's both a
personal and a professional mission.
Mr. FARRIS: Well, he thought it was a little strange at first, but then he
watched our kids, and he really is supportive of homeschooling now. My dad
wanted me to be a lawyer for public school districts to defend the school
districts against the ACLU because he thought the ACLU was pushing the public
school system in the wrong philosophical direction. And I wrote my
undergraduate honors thesis in school law. I--you know, basically the lawyer
who did that was the lawyer for the state school boards association, so I was
being trained and was on a path to being a defender for public schools, but by
the time I got through law school, I recognized that the public school
establishment as a whole was on the same philosophical side as the ACLU, and
so what my dad really wanted for me wasn't going to be possible for me in that
career path, and so I ended up in a different career path, sure enough in the
field of law and education but defending the principles that were really
behind what he said. He wanted to see people be able to stand up for what's
right and wrong and not be sued for doing so, and I ended up doing that by
GROSS: You founded a homeschool legal defense fund. Are you ever concerned
that some parents who do homeschooling are in some ways perhaps depriving
their children of the kind of expertise that teachers bring in the areas of
literature, history, science, math, and that beyond that, some parents are
maybe not really good teachers.
Mr. FARRIS: Well, you know, if every teacher had true expertise in those
areas, that'd be wonderful. It's, you know, a fantasy to believe that that's
what they're going to be receiving is true expertise. I am an expert in
American constitutional law for the purposes of--to evaluate a high school
class. You know, vis-a-vis high school teachers, I'm an expert. I can't
teach in a public high school. I'm president of a college. I'm not allowed
to teach in a public high school because I don't have teacher certification
courses. And so the methodology that we use for qualifying people in the
public schools does not guarantee expertise in the slightest. I wish it did.
I wish we would raise the pay for public school teachers by triple and so the
people clamoring to become public school teachers would really include a whole
lot more experts. But the plain facts are homeschooled kids do so much better
in the academic set of education that there aren't really any legitimate
voices any more raising questions about the academic success of homeschooling.
It's proven to be very, very successful. Frankly, one of the reasons is we
don't read too many textbooks compared to real books. They're reading more de
Tocqueville than they are somebody's summary of American history, and I think
that's better for kids to read those real books in the long run.
GROSS: Do you ever worry that homeschooling deprives children of being with
other children, of learning with other children, of socializing with them in
school, that it could be a very isolating experience and perhaps a kind of
claustrophobic one, particularly for those students who don't necessarily get
along famously with their parents?
Mr. FARRIS: Well, the first question I ever asked about homeschooling was
the one you're essentially posing. I asked this guy, `What about
socialization?' This guy that was an education psychologist that I mentioned
earlier in the program. It turns out that the socialization skills learned by
homeschoolers are actually superior to those that are institutionalized
because socialization really means--first of all, on a technical level, it
means teaching people the rules of society from one generation to the next,
and the question is: Do we want six-year-olds socializing six-year-olds and
13-year-olds socializing 13-year-olds, or do adults teach the next generation
the rules of society? And we're reaping a lot of problems in our country
because we've allowed far too many kids to be socialized by kids.
GROSS: What do you think of secular homeschooling?
Mr. FARRIS: I think it's--I've defended secular homeschoolers in court
countless times. I think that parents, all parents, whether they're secular
or Jewish or Christian or Muslim, or whatever, they ought to have the full
constitutional right to teach their kids at home and teach them their religion
or not religion or whatever they want to teach them.
GROSS: Well, Michael Farris, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. FARRIS: You're welcome.
GROSS: Michael Farris is the founder and president of Patrick Henry College,
the first college for Christian homeschooled students. He also founded
Generation Joshua and the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Coming up, John Powers reviews the new DVD release of one of his favorite
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
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Review: Critic John Powers gives his opinion of Michelangelo
Antonioni's film, "The Passenger"
TERRY GROSS, host:
One of the most acclaimed films of the 1970s was Michelangelo Antonioni's "The
Passenger" starring Jack Nicholson. It's out on a new DVD, and for the first
time, home viewers can see it in the original wide screen and with six
additional minutes not shown in the American theatrical release. It's a
personal favorite of critic John Powers who says it's not an easy film but a
Mr. JOHN POWERS: When "The Passenger" came out in 1975, it was one of the
most avant-garde movies ever made by a Hollywood studio. It still is. Born
of the cinematic ferment of that era, this metaphysical thriller boasted the
kind of odd-couple pairing you'd never see today. It starred Jack Nicholson
at his peak. He was in-between "Chinatown" and "One Flew over the Cuckoo's
Nest," but it was made by Michelangelo Antonioni, the great Italian art film
director whose work had the high seriousness of a T.S. Eliot or James Joyce.
Nicholson plays David Locke, a TV journalist who's covering a rebel movement
in the North African desert.
Locke is sick of his life, and when he finds the guy in the next hotel room
dead, a man named Robertson who looks a lot like him, he impulsively decides
to swap identities. He leaves behind his own wife and career and begins
keeping the appointments in Robertson's calendar, traveling from London to
Germany to Spain, he gets involved with gun runners and an attractive young
woman played by Maria Schneider, best known as Marlon Brando's lover in "Last
Tango in Paris." But while Locke's story has the stuff of an ordinary
thriller, a sexy dame, men with guns and exotic locations, Locke himself is
driven by something bigger and vaguer than defeating the bad guys.
Just as Nicholson has thrown himself into a role radically unlike his usual
Hollywood star turns, so Locke himself is searching for a new role, a
different way of living. In this early scene, Robertson and he meet and begin
talking about how they see the world.
(Soundbite of "The Passenger")
Unidentified Actor: (As Robertson) Airports, taxi, hotel, they're all the
same in the end.
Mr. JACK NICHOLSON: (As David Locke) I don't agree. It's us who remain the
same. We translate every situation, every experience into the same old codes.
We just condition ourselves.
Actor: (As Robertson) We are creatures of habits. Is that what you mean?
Mr. NICHOLSON: (As Locke) Something like that. I mean, however hard you
try, it stays so difficult to get away from your own habits, even the way we
talk to these people, the way we treat them, it's mistaken. I mean, how do
you get their confidence? Do you know?
Actor: (As Robertson) Well, it's like this, Mr. Locke. You work with words,
images, fragile things. I come with merchandise, concrete things. They
understand me straight away.
Mr. NICHOLSON: (As Locke) Yes, maybe.
(End of soundbite)
Mr. POWERS: "The Passenger" is a whole movie about not being sure. In its
emphasis on the great riddles of existence, it seems very much of its era.
There's something of a time-capsule quality about Locke's fascination with the
Third World. Who today would look to African rebels for inspiration?
And about Antonioni's obsession with the big intellectual themes of post-war
Europe: capital A, Alienation; capital I, Identity; capital E, Existence.
Indeed, Locke's journey is so unabashedly symbolic that it will strike some
viewers as capital S, Slow and capital P, Pretentious. Especially as
Antonioni tells his story visually, conveying meaning not with talk but with
imagery, from the sprawling vastness of the Algerian desert to the surreal
glitter of Gaudi's Barcelona.
"The Passenger" is slow, I grant you. But just because something might seem
pretentious doesn't mean that it actually is. This movie explores a common
modern feeling: the desire to escape from one's established self and find a
deeper relationship to what we might call eternity. Tired of being a
professional observer, Locke wants to be involved in the world, to see, as he
puts it, what's on the other side of the window. He thinks that there he
might find freedom, authenticity and meaning.
But, of course, things aren't so simple. In a movie about learning to see
things in a new way, we eventually do discover what's on the other side of the
window, and it comes in the film's famous climax, one of the greatest shots in
movie history. Almost seven minutes long, this shot resolves the mystery of
the plot, but in its enigmatic peacefulness, it remains as teasing as a Zen
koan, as mystical as a vision of the universe that far exceeds human
"The Passenger" is not a perfect film, and you shouldn't want it if you're
tired. But in an age when our movies ask simple questions, is it hard being a
mutant superhero? I have more patience than ever for a film that asks us to
think about how we know who we are or whether, in the grand scheme of things,
all of us are finally, just passengers.
GROSS: John Powers is film critic for Vogue.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.