Patrick Henry College, a Home School Away From Home?

It was nearly four years ago that I found myself sitting at the Texas Home School Coalition banquet, wearing a semi-bored expression, my best suit, and headed in any direction that would lead me out of the home schooling community.

I was eighteen, and college loomed with promises of the “real world,” new experiences, and, most importantly, name recognition. I was looking forward to saying, “I’m going to Baylor/Northwestern/Rice University” without launching into a well-rehearsed, five-minute spiel on socialization, comparative SAT scores, and the state of America’s young people.

My mom had mentioned Patrick Henry College (PHC) numerous times during my college-decision process (Read: numerous times.), not so subtly. She and my dad helped found Home School Legal Defense Association with PHC Chancellor Mike Farris years ago, and she was encouraged by his vision for a new kind of university—one where a classical liberal arts foundation paved the way for real-world apprenticeship experience in a Christian, academically rigorous environment.

Due in part to my family’s ties to the school and in part to sheer bullheadedness, I was immediately opposed to the notion of attending PHC and had a laundry list of reasons why, uh, … God would never lead me there.

First, I told myself, I am not that kind of home schooler—one anxious to find a place that mirrors my home school experience and family circle as closely as possible. I did not need that kind of supervision. I was eighteen, after all!

Second, the school housed only 300 students. “If I don’t like any of those people, then it is not like I can just move across campus and never see them again,” I reasoned with my mom. “I would be stuck with the same group of people for four years!”

Third, so many people had asked me if I would be going to Patrick Henry College that I was absolutely determined not to satisfy their expectations.

To my mom’s credit, she did not belabor the point. I knew she would have been thrilled had I considered PHC an option, but I was determined to keep a closed mind.

And I did, until the night of the Texas Home School Coalition banquet. The program featured two students who had been granted THSC scholarships to PHC, and I casually noted that the girl seemed normal (more specifically, I loved her shoes), and the guy seemed very intelligent and well spoken. Neither of the students appeared to have any apron strings attached.

Nominally surprised, I returned to my dessert and conversation, checking my program to get an idea of the featured speaker’s background. Shelby Sharpe was his name, and he was responsible for the Texas Supreme Court’s 1994 decision in the class action suit, Texas Education Agency, et. al. v. Leeper, et. al., which affirmed the right of Texas home schools to operate as private schools without regulations, at a time when the state was intent on shutting home schools down.

As he spoke, making clear God’s active work in the case, I was struck by the manner in which he had lived his life—pursuing a goal larger than mere success in his field, taking leadership in an effort that would change the course of many hundreds of thousands of lives.

Uncharacteristically, I was moved—and I began to think. If I wanted to be that kind of leader, would I be prepared at Baylor … at Northwestern? Would I emerge from college with more than a bustling social life and a well-heeled diploma? Would I be encouraged to make an impact on society for the greater good or to pursue greatness for my own good?

I could be that kind of leader if I went to Baylor, I decided, but any drive in that direction would certainly be self-directed, not administratively encouraged. I went to my mom the following day in tears (also uncharacteristic—I do not think I had cried since I saw The Yearling in second grade) and told her I wanted to attend PHC—that I wanted to be prepared and encouraged to serve the Lord with the gifts He had given me in ways that benefited society and His kingdom, not just myself.

Now, four years later, I look back on my decision and think, “Wow, how could I have been so wrong?”

No, in all actuality, I look back on my decision to attend Patrick Henry College and know, without a doubt, that this is the place God led me. I have been trained at PHC in the classical method, reading philosophers, studying logic and rhetoric, and approaching literature and history in ways which honor its foundation and purpose, during an era in which most college students probably could not spell Alexis de Tocqueville! My professors know my name, know where I come from (Texas is very well represented, by the way.), and eat lunch with the students in my cafeteria. The quality of the education is undeniable, and as more and more PHC grads get accepted and offered scholarships to grad schools and law schools like Harvard, Yale, Pepperdine, Georgetown, etc., the name recognition I once desired is becoming a reality.

And this kind of name recognition is not just, “Oh, that is part of the Big Ten” or “Yeah, too bad about that football loss.” When I tell others that I go to PHC, I am regularly asked, “Oh, isn’t that the school with all of the students at the White House?” or “Oh, yeah, I have heard of that place—Didn’t you guys beat Oxford at something or other?”

I can only see its reputation expanding. Since I have been at PHC, I have been able to participate in innumerable activities: as a senator in the PHC Student Senate; as the editor of the school’s newspaper and yearbook, and co-editor of the magazine; as head delegate for our Model United Nations team (which goes to New York every spring); as a competitor in our Intramural Moot Court tournament; and as a committee member of many planning initiatives and societies, just to name a few. Soon some of my friends and I will start Kritik, an online magazine for college students, and PHC is actively encouraging our endeavor—even granting us college credit for our work!

My fellow seniors are interning with senators, non-profit organizations, foreign embassies, law firms, think tanks, major newspapers and magazines, the FBI, and of course, the White House. Some are already working as security analysts in D.C. or operatives at Fox News, and many are compiling LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and/or GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores so they can pursue even higher education.

This is not a college filled with students hesitant to leave the home schooling community, as I once feared. This is a college filled with students already making a difference in the global community.

More importantly, this is a college filled with the kinds of students you will not find at any other university: students impassioned by their faith to make an impact in society for God’s glory, regardless of their personal pursuits. I have become fantastic friends with wonderful, talented students here who love the Lord, are energized by their education, and are excited about their next steps after college.

Life here is a far cry from the usual, “So, I have graduated. I will now be living in my parent’s basement for the next five years, covered in Cheeto dust.”

With Washington, D.C., only thirty-five minutes away, PHC provides a gateway to many social activities that were not to be found in my small town of Weatherford, Texas—where circling the Sonic qualified as a wild Friday night. Students here enjoy a variety of activities: dancing on the rooftop of the Kennedy Center; attending the White House inaugurations and events; visiting our national monuments and museums; camping and climbing nearby rock faces; taking in museums, concerts, symposiums, and art shows; volunteering in campaigns and on PHC’s campus; and enjoying the Liberty Ball, sporting events, homecoming, Faith & Reason lectures and a variety of other social events. Oh, and we all haunt every coffee shop in the area on a regular basis.

I believe that those who come to Patrick Henry College during this time are going to be a part of something important—stepping in on the ground floor of an institution intent on pursuing greatness, first inwardly, as students walk out their faith together, and then outwardly, as they step out to impact this nation for Christ.

Those to whom this is important who can see how far PHC has come in only eight years should be able to catch the vision for where the college is going.

I have. And looking back, I cannot imagine having gone anywhere else.

Jenifer Carden – has written 1 posts on this site.

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