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Commentary :: Education
Opening Doors for Closed Minds
17 Mar 2004
Patrick Henry College requires its students to sign a Statement of Faith and share the beliefs set forth in the school's Statement of Biblical Worldview -- and this tiny institution currently provides 7 of the 100 interns in the White House.
MARCH 17, 2004

Patrick Henry College, located in Virginia, has approximately 240 enrolled students with a mean SAT score of 1320. The school receives no government funding, and charges about $15,000 in tuition. Students can choose from four majors: Government, Classical Liberal Arts, History, and Literature. Home-schooled teens are encouraged to apply -- that is, home-schooled teens who tend toward evangelical Christianity, because Patrick Henry College's self-reported mission is to "train 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." The school was founded in 2000 by Michael Farris, the president and founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association, as a measure to counteract the increasing push for pesky home-schooling regulations -- such as requiring the teacher-parents to pass certification exams or have high-school diplomas.

Perhaps this isn't what Ezra Cornell was picturing when he envisioned "an institution where any person can find instruction in any study." But underneath the superficial differences between Patrick Henry and our dear old Cornell lurk a wealth of similarities.

For example, Cornellians are expected to adhere to a strict Academic Integrity policy. Similarly, students at Patrick Henry are obligated to sign a Statement of Faith and share the beliefs set forth in the school's Statement of Biblical Worldview, which includes the provisions that "any sexual conduct outside the parameters of marriage is sin" and that "husbands are the head of their wives just as Christ is the head of the church." At Cornell, Gannett encourages abstinence by selling vibrators, most engineers are expected to be chaste, and while we might not be encouraged in class to follow traditional gender roles, hey, that's what the Greek system is for.

Speaking of the Greek system, you probably assume that -- just because drinking is forbidden without parental supervision and a guy is expected to call a girl's father to ask for permission to court her -- Patrick Henry students lack social lives. Well, you couldn't be more wrong. Though they don't have frat parties, they do have an annual Liberty Ball, where students dress up in formal (and don't forget modest!) attire and engage in English Country Dancing. Students can also engage in various extracurricular activities, such as the Eden Drama Troupe, which performs a selection of plays that demonstrate Christian values -- nearly analogous to Risley's yearly presentation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There is a student chorale, which is no doubt similar to Cornell's countless a capella groups, though perhaps the chorale's repertoire features slightly less dry-humping of microphone stands and slightly more singing of church hymns.

And Patrick Henry's policy on public affection -- the only physical display allowed in public is walking while holding hands, and if a couple stops walking they must immediately separate -- echoes a similar protocol at Cornell. Here, public copulation is generally frowned upon unless both parties are sufficiently drunk; and if a couple stops walking, it's usually a good idea for them to separate so one doesn't get splattered with the other's vomit.

As at Cornell, the most popular major at Patrick Henry is Government, selected by two-thirds of the student body. Many students want to go on to hold positions of great political power, in order to better the world. One student told the New York Times: "I would definitely like to be active in the government of our country and stuff." Patrick Henry has a debate club and a moot court organization, which, like Cornell's model U.N. and debate team, aim to give students experience in rhetoric and politics.

Of course, future leaders of the country need to be exposed to a wide range of viewpoints, and neither institution is lacking in this area either. Cornell has classes about evolutionary biology, classes about Eastern religion, classes about interpreting the Koran. Patrick Henry also tries to cover all the bases; bio professors are expected to "provide a full exposition of the claims of the theory of Darwinian evolution, intelligent design and other major theories while, in the end, teach creation as both biblically true and as the best fit to observed data."

The Patrick Henry College Library is conspicuously missing any books by Al Franken or any other anti-conservative author, and a search of the library catalog for books having to do with liberalism results in a smattering of books by Ann Coulter '85, Rush Limbaugh and the like, but let's give the school the benefit of the doubt and assume that they're still expanding their collection.

Because at the heart of both schools is a real desire for diversity. We've all heard Cornell's motto, "Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds." Patrick Henry harbors a similar inclusiveness, asserting in their Statement of Biblical Worldview that "All human beings are created in God's image, and all are precious and equal in His sight … Therefore, it is appropriate that government forbid discrimination in commerce, education, and employment based upon ethnicity, national origin, or skin color." They seem to have omitted a few categories, but maybe they ran out of space. And sure, all of the students at Patrick Henry are white, but they once had a black student (who later left).

Cornell University and Patrick Henry College are indeed eerily similar institutions, in terms of both academic and social life. There is one big difference between the two, however: Patrick Henry's miniscule student body is currently providing seven of the 100 interns in the White House. Talk about "open doors."

Elise Kramer is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology.
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