In Purcellville, Va., sits one of America’s youngest and most respected schools.
Less than 10 years old, Patrick Henry College has already gained notoriety for tremendous placement of its students in internships all over Washington, D.C., from the White House to the Capitol. The secretary of the school’s Board of Trustees is none other than Janet Ashcroft, the attorney general’s wife. And early alumni of the college have gone on to work in places as prestigious as the aforementioned internship hubs.
But there is one vital element of a quality higher education missing from PHC: diversity.
A strict Christian college in the tradition of Bob Jones University, the Virginia school boasts a student body of fewer than 1,000 and almost all of which had been home schooled.
Moreover, according to a March 8 New York Times article, the school formerly enrolled only a single black student. He dropped out.
But diversity is not lacking at PHC merely on account of high school experience (or the lack thereof) and skin color. The Purcellville school is also entirely devoid of religious diversity. In order to enter the college, students must sign a document saying that they accept the Christian Bible — in its entirety — as being literal. In fact, the school’s website explains, “Any biology, Bible or other courses at PHC dealing with creation will teach creation from the understanding of Scripture that God’s creative work, as described in Genesis 1:1-31, was completed in six 24-hour days.”
John Scopes and Clarence Darrow must be rolling over in their graves.
And PHC does little to help expand students’ worldview. In fact, the college works as an almost incestuous compound where pupils are so radically exposed to their own homogeny that the real world comes as a shock. One PHC student, upon meeting this writer — a practicing Jew who imbibes openly — inquired almost innocently, “What does it feel like to know that you’re going to hell?”
The question is sensible if you consider that students at the Virginia college are prohibited from touching alcohol while attending school (including weekends and other non-class times).
Yet PHC’s crippling shelter only grows greater with its “courtship policy.” Should a male student wish to date a female student, he must first get the permission of her parents. Imagine walking around State Street Brats on a Friday evening, meeting the person of your dreams, and then, instead of asking for their number, asking for their parents’ number!
Should the parents sign off on the courtship, the two budding young romantics will be permitted to hold hands on campus — so long as they are walking of course. That’s right, at PHC, if you’re sitting down, standing still or otherwise immobile, you better not be caressing the palm of another student.
Then again, with almost the entire student body sharing a common major — government — abiding by the same faith, having similar high school backgrounds, displaying the same skin color and being sober at all times, it must be difficult to make small talk with the opposite sex. After all, “What’s your major,” “Where did you go to high school,” and any questions central to faith or world view seem almost rhetorical to pose.
PHC is a reminder that even the finest of textbook educations — which, sans biology, the school does seem to offer — can be near meaningless without an equally robust social education. An extensive knowledge of American government is fruitless if its bearer becomes shell-shocked upon entering a real world environment. And having been home schooled and then educated at PHC, it seems safe to say that many of these students have never seen that real world.
Of course, Madisonians see it every day. A stroll through Der Rathskeller, a cram session at College Library, a shopping spree on State Street and even an 8 a.m. lecture in Agriculture Hall reveal people from all over the world with a plethora of backgrounds and cultures.
So keep your eyes open, ask questions of the people around you and soon, you will discover there to be much more to your education at UW than the knowledge you regurgitate on a bubble test.
Mac VerStandig ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in rhetoric.