Harvard for the Home-Schooled, Christian Crowd In God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America, journalist Hanna Rosin follows the lives of home-schooled students as they cope with life at Patrick Henry College. The Virginia school is considered to be the Harvard of home-schooled students.
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Harvard for the Home-Schooled, Christian Crowd

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Harvard for the Home-Schooled, Christian Crowd

Harvard for the Home-Schooled, Christian Crowd

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, playing polo on two wheels.

But first, Patrick Henry College students tend to be smart, thoughtful, energetic, ambitious and nice. They don't do drugs or have loud beery parties. They do their class work and more. They receive prestigious internships in government, mass media and the entertainment industry, and make the most of them.

So why are some people so frightened by them? Patrick Henry is a small Christian school in Loudoun County, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., where some of the most brilliant students who have been homeschooled by Christian families attend college.

Hanna Rosin got to know Patrick Henry students, even housing some of them, who are on internships while covering religion for The Washington Post. She's written a new book, "God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America." Hanna Rosin joins us in Washington.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. HANNA ROSIN (Journalist; Author, "God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America"): My pleasure.

SIMON: And we're going to be joined by a Patrick Henry alum in just a moment. But let me ask you, Hanna Rosin, first, when you got know Patrick Henry students - let's put it this way, at first, you didn't think it would be a natural fit between you and them.

Ms. ROSIN: No, for sure not. No. I couldn't have been raised more differently than - I mean, I'm Jewish and I was born in Israel, and I grew up in New York so very little similarity.

SIMON: You found the resemblance between some of the Christian families who homeschooled these youngsters before they got to Patrick Henry, and some of the old '60s hippie couples who decided to homeschool their children.

Ms. ROSIN: That was a great surprise for me, is the similarities between the Patrick Henry families and the families that I was very familiar with. Partly it's because they chose to live off the grid the way a lot of '60s families did. They were kind of anti-materialists. They didn't buy into popular culture. They didn't buy into television and a lot of the kind of junk in culture. Of course, there's a whole other layer with homeschooling families have sort of nostalgia and harkening back to an older age. So there were more similarities than I expected.

SIMON: Tell us about the phrase which you learned when you first began to find out about Patrick Henry when they tell the students you were to be the tip of the spear.

Ms. ROSIN: The tip of the spear refers to this idea that there is a large, young Christian conservative movement that's going to shape the culture and take back the nation. That's another phrase that you would hear repeated all the time. And the idea is that we are basically lost as a nation and that you need to train as vanguard to take the nation back, a young and pure generation.

SIMON: Hmm. We're joined now by Daniel Noa, who's a graduate of Patrick Henry College, and he is profiled in Hanna Rosin's book, joins her in the studio.

Mr. Noa, thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. DANIEL NOA (Patrick Henry College Alumni; Filmmaker): My pleasure.

SIMON: Can you see why some people worry that you and other Patrick Henry graduates are out to kind of Christianize the country without people knowing it?

Ms. NOA: Well, I don't know that any of us are out to Christianize the country. We have ideas. And just like everyone else, all we want is to be able to kind of talk about them. And if you happen to like those idea then great; and if not, that's fine.

Now, certainly previous efforts perhaps by a Christian right may have sometimes come across as a little, shall we say, strong-willed. I think that's there's a difference in approach with the Patrick Henry College graduate, and I certainly don't think we want to force anything on anybody. But we do want to talk about it, you know, just like we talk about politics or anything of that nature.

SIMON: And tell us about the films you've made as a student.

Mr. NOA: The films that I have made over the four years I was at Patrick Henry College have ranged from a small student shorts to my first feature film, "Smuggler's Ransom." The one thing, I'd say, they have in common is that they were very fun to make and, hopefully, very fun to watch for their various audiences.

SIMON: But they would surprise people who would expect a Christian film to be a bunch of guys in robes reciting Bible verse.

Mr. NOA: Well, I guess it would depend, yeah. If by a Christian film you're referring to kind of what the traditional biblical epic, they certainly are not that.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. NOA: You know, we always liked to say we were Christians making films, and that's kind of how we approached it.

SIMON: Ms. Rosin?

Ms. ROSIN: Yes.

SIMON: How is a Christian college student, committed Christian college student who says I want to go into government to change things, or a committed Christian college student who says I want to go into the movie industry to make that a better industry that shows better films different from Robert Redford saying I want to make a liberal film that wakes up America?

Ms. ROSIN: In my mind, there is really no difference, and I think that's something that each side misses about the other. There is this idea that, you know, maybe that these kids don't understand the separation of church and state. And while that may have been true for an older generation, I think that this next generation is quite sophisticated and they pretty well understand what compromises they have to make if they're going to succeed in politics or maybe succeed in the movie industry.

And so, I think, in a sense it is very much the same and you just - if you, you know, you can disagree with them, they have no more or less right to participate in politics than anyone else. But, you know, surely Robert Redford would highly disagree with them.

SIMON: Could you tell us about the young woman who stayed with you for awhile, young Patrick Henry student?

Ms. ROSIN: There was a woman who was looking for an internship in Washington, D.C., and she needed a place to stay. And so we offered her to stay at our house, and she lived with us for a quite awhile. We were quite friendly and I got to know her very well. And the story I tell in my book is that one day, my husband finally asked her the question, which is, are we going to hell? And there was a long pause, and like I said we'd been pretty good friends by then, and she'd lived with us for awhile and our kids adored her. Finally, she answered, yes, but I'm not jumping up and down for joy about it.

SIMON: I was also struck as you recounted that relationship that you - I believe you had a friend who was impressed by her intelligence, her energy, her achievement and how nice she was that she said to you, well, if they're all like that, we're in trouble.

Ms. ROSIN: Yeah. When I told them that a Patrick Henry student was living in my attic, my friends would have the usual kind of lefty journalist's reaction. They would say, you know, are you crazy? Why are you harboring Nazis in your attic? That was the basic attitude. And then when they met her, they were even more worried because she was so fabulous and so smart and so impressive and so incredibly successful and attractive and funny. And so that was the reaction a friend of mine had was if they're all like that, we're really in trouble.

SIMON: What was she scared of? I mean, that strikes me, I've got to say, is a very hardhearted reaction to call, you know, call someone living in your attic a Nazi just because what? She's Christian?

Ms. ROSIN: Well, it's - yes. It's the sort of Stepford idea that people have when they hear of a place like Patrick Henry that it's a kind of training academy, and it's the idea that they're sort of turning out these perfect little soldiers to kind of fight the fight against the left.

SIMON: Mr. Noa, may I ask you a question, I don't want to personalize it with the sense of either Hanna Rosin or me for that matter, but let me personalize it in another way. You know the Dalai Lama or know of him, right?

Mr. NOA: Yeah. Yes.

SIMON: A holy spiritual man.

Mr. NOA: I don't know him that well. I mean, he's certainly a spiritual man. I mean, you know, he's a religious leader, a religious figure.

SIMON: And so when he dies, is he going to hell?

Mr. NOA: Well, you know, it's funny you should mention that. There's an old fable. I read it in it might have a contemporary of Chaucer, I don't remember, but that the Dalai Lama, allegedly, had passed away. And when he passed away they found on him a Catholic crucifix. And the point of the story was to say, you had no - you never know what someone believes or thinks in their lifetime really. So I'm not qualified to answer a question to the Dalai Lama's spiritual state.

SIMON: But a lot of people think that as long as somebody doesn't declare their soul for Christ, that's when they're going to hell, isn't it?

Mr. NOA: Declare in what way? I don't - the Bible asked that we profess a faith - profess our own faith. It doesn't necessarily require us to go out into the mountaintops and shout it.

SIMON: I want to thank you both very much for being with us.

Ms. ROSIN: Thank you.

Mr. NOA: Thank you.

SIMON: Hanna Rosin. Her new book is "God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America." And we've been joined by Daniel Noa, who's a graduate of Patrick Henry and an aspiring filmmaker.

And to read an excerpt about incoming freshmen at Patrick Henry College, go to npr.org/books.

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