Christian Patriarchy on Educating Daughters

Okay, let’s take a few minutes to hash out Christian Patriarchy’s view towards women and education. I think this is necessary because I hear one side saying “you don’t believe in educating girls” and the other side saying “no no no, we do educate our daughters, your accusations are ridiculous.” So what is really going on here? I can’t necessarily get at what the ordinary family on the ground is doing, but what I can get at is what the leaders of the movement say. So let’s take a look, shall we?

In a nutshell, the leaders of the Christian Patriarchy movement teach that daughters should be educated for their role as wives, mothers, teachers-at-home, and Proverbs 31 women, but not educated for careers outside of the home. This is summed up in a quote by Michael Farris from his book, The Home Schooling Father:

I want my daughters to have business savvy like the woman honored in Proverbs 31. But I don’t want them chasing the feminist dream of the two-career marriage (or shall we say “living arrangement”). They can’t have it all, as many feminists are beginning to find out. I want to avoid the twin evils of neglecting the proper career training of my daughters, on the one hand, and pushing them to the feminist career mold, on the other. Proverbs 31 teaches a godly balance: A woman who possesses work skills and financial resources, but who uses those skills in a way that keeps her home with her children and husband. The woman in Proverbs 31 does not stay home barefoot and pregnant watching soap operas. She is busy with more than garden clubs and poetry societies. Yet, she is first and foremost at home with her children and husband.

In fact, home schooling offers women the best of both worlds. Home schooling is a job that society values–teaching academics to children. It provides serious intellectual stimulation. It provides many opportunities to be held in esteem by people outside your family. . . . The pay is low. But the ability to be home with your children while working is second to none.

My wife was a very good student in high school and college. Before we began home schooling she would sometimes complain about the lack of intellectual activity in her life of wiping spills, changing diapers, and doing laundry. A couple of times she even wondered out loud about the idea of going to work.

Since we have been home schooling, her need for intellectual challenged has been abundantly satisfied. She has always believed that a mother’s place is in the home. But home schooling turned this belief into an intellectually satisfying lifestyle which provides many tangible rewards. The career I will ‘push’ at my daughters is the same one practiced by their mother.

The leaders of this movement, in other words, want daughters to be taught skills beyond diaper changing and laundry, but they don’t want daughters’ education to orient them towards a career outside the home. Interestingly enough, I can see how these ideas played out in my own life. My sister Heidi and I both attended college but sought degrees that would allow us to bring in extra income by working on the side, out of the home, while filling our proper roles as homeschooling mothers. When we both decided that was not what we wanted, we faced the challenge of turning an education intended to bring in pocket money into one we could forge careers out of.

Anna Sophia and Elizabeth Botkin, daughters of Geoff Botkin and authors of So Much More, similarly endorsed educating women in a blog post last year:

We all want to equip ourselves to be godly women, but do we really know what that equipping should look like? A diet of books on modesty, courtship, and cake decorating will definitely fill the bill if the role we aspire to is simply one of wearing modest clothes, going through a courtship, and decorating cakes. But if we truly believe the biblical role of women is bigger and more significant than this, we need put our money where our mouths are and pursue education and training to match.

They went on to emphasize the importance of women studying law, economics, business, history, and the sciences, among other things. They argued that daughters at home should put their time and energies into becoming educated in a variety of fields, not simply into cooking or cleaning or childcare.

Farris and the Botkin sisters are not the only ones arguing that daughters should be educated, though not for careers outside of the home. Voddie Baucham had his daughter Jasmine, who lives in his home as an obedient “stay-at-home daughter,” obtain a bachelor’s degree and now a master’s degree. Doug Wilson emphasizes the importance of a strong classical education for both sons and daughters and takes a pride in his daughters being well educated and well spoken.

Even Doug Phillips has weighed in:

An encouragement for fathers with older daughters might be for them to be involved in directing “higher education” at home. Having daughters that have graduated from high school still at home is usually something parents have not prepared for. For some families the encouragement needed is for the young ladies to learn all the homemaking and mothering skills required to create an inviting, Christ—honoring home. But, many girls have worked on these skills for years and seem to lack inspiration and vision to study God’s Word in depth and become firmly grounded in theology, church history, world—view, child training, philosophy of education, etc. for themselves. We feel that these are crucial issues for fathers to take responsibility for and direct their daughters in.

In other words, the leaders of the Christian Patriarchy movement are not against educating daughters. What they are against is educating daughters for careers outside of the home. They also have concerns about how their daughters go about being educated—namely, they do not want their daughters educated at secular universities. There is a lot of fear of secular education in these circles, and daughters are often seen as even more in need of protection than sons. Sons are to grow up and enter the world and be accountable straight to God. Daughters, in contrast, are fathers’ responsibility until they hand them off in marriage. Secular education, these leaders believe, provides only a truncated and twisted education that is not a real education at all. In fact, they argue that secular education as currently manifested is explicitly designed to corrupt young believers and lead them to atheism or, at the very least, to a liberal faith that “denies the gospel.”

This is why Michael Farris sent his daughters to Christian colleges. This is why Voddie Baucham enrolled his daughter in College Plus. Christian colleges, and, increasingly, online Christian colleges, are considered a safe alternative—although, again, daughters enrolled in these programs should have being a properly prepared wife, mother, and teacher-at-home as their goal, not a career outside the home. Some, such as Geoff Botkin and Doug Phillips, have continued their adult daughters’ education at home themselves, often focusing on a classical education approach and emphasizing law, economics, and history. Daughters are to be educated, but they should receive an education that teaches “truth,” not a perverted corrupted secular education.

I should note that all of this focuses on the leaders and not on the followers. What do the ordinary families following this ideology do? I suspect that class plays a large role here. The ordinary family may be overwhelmed both financially and emotionally by an ever-growing flock of children, and unable to properly educate even their sons. In this context, daughters’ academic education may seem less important, especially given that the daughters may be kept busy helping with the children and keeping the house running. Most families cannot afford a live-in nanny/helper like the Phillips could, after all.

And the leaders of the Christian Patriarchy movement say things that play into the devaluing of daughters’ academic education in families that are overwhelmed already. For example, R. C. Sproul wrote the following of his exchange with a homeschooling mother:

The mother made a confession to me. She told me, “You know, my nine-year-old daughter doesn’t know how to read.” Now here is a good test to see how much baggage you are carrying around. Does that make you uncomfortable? Are you thinking, “Mercy, what would the school superintendent say if he knew?” My response was a cautious, “Really?” But my friend went on to explain, “She doesn’t know how to read, but every morning she gets up and gets ready for the day. Then takes care of her three youngest siblings. She takes them to the potty, she cleans and dresses them, makes their breakfasts, brushes their teeth, clears their dishes, and makes their beds.” Now I saw her rightly, as an overachiever. If she didn’t know how to read, but did know all the Looney Tunes characters, that would be a problem. But here is a young girl being trained to be a keeper at home. Do I want her to read? Of course I do, as does her mother. I want her to read to equip her to learn the Three Gs. [From earlier in the book, he notes the "Three Gs": Who is God? What has God done? What does God require?] But this little girl was learning what God requires, to be a help in the family business, with a focus on tending the garden.

I’m not suggesting that the goal is to have ignorant daughters. I am, however, arguing that we are to train them to be keepers at home. These two are not equivalent. Though we aren’t given many details we know that both Priscilla and Aquila had a part in the education of Apollos. I’m impressed with Priscilla, as I am with my own wife. She is rather theologically astute… My point is that that brilliance isn’t what validates her as a person. It’s a good thing, a glorious thing, and an appropriate thing. But it’s like the general principle we’ve already covered. Would I rather be married to a godly woman who was comparatively ignorant, or a wicked person who was terribly bright? Who would make a better wife and mother, someone who doesn’t know infra- from supralapsarianism, but does know which side is up on a diaper, or a woman about to defend her dissertation on the eschatology of John Gill at Cambridge but one who thinks children are unpleasant? It’s no contest, is it? Naturally we want everything. We want all the virtues to the highest degree. But virtues come in different shades and colors in different circumstances.

In other words, educating daughters academically is good and important . . . but it’s more important that daughters learn to willingly and cheerfully change a diaper and make a bed. Doug Phillips has made similar statements:

The Bible actually has a great deal to say about what distinguishes a girl from a woman. For one thing, a mature Christian woman is one who has demonstrated that she has been trained and is ready for marriage. Historically, parents understood that it was their mission to raise their daughters to marriageable maturity so they could enjoy the husband “of their youth.”

To raise a daughter without thought to marriage, to instill in them a spirit of independence from the family, or to focus their training on a career outside the home, is actually to disqualify them for graduation and the next step in life. In contrast, a woman who meets the biblical requirements for graduation is one who is comfortable being under the jurisdiction of her father and seeks to make him successful in every way. She recognizes that God calls women to be under the authority of God-appointed men, first in the form of fathers, and later as husbands.

Note the similarity here to the Michael Farris quote I began with—”To raise a daughter without thought to marriage, to instill in them a spirit of independence from the family, or to focus their training on a career outside the home, is actually to disqualify them for graduation and the next step in life.” Daughters are to be educated, yes—but not for a career outside of the home.

The leaders of the Christian Patriarchy movement believe that preparation for being a wife, mother, and teacher-at-home involves more than simply learning to change diapers and do laundry. They believe that being a proper Proverbs 31 woman should involve learning business, economics, history, law, and education. But all of this is seen as preparation for life as a homemaker and homeschool mother—not for a career outside the home. Indeed, these leaders—from Michael Farris to Doug Phillips—argue that daughters should be actively discouraged from even considering a career outside the home, and should instead be “pushed” towards homemaking and homeschooling as their lifelong destiny.

I don’t have a problem with a woman choosing to be a homemaker and homeschool mother, but that should be a choice, not the only option available to them. And given how unstable the world can sometimes be, even women who choose to stay at home should make sure they have career options available in case of death, divorce, or economic downturn. Heidi and I were lucky. We attended college and received degrees. Even so, our choice of majors was so limited by our assumption that we were not preparing for careers outside the home that we had to make some tough choices when we decided careers outside the home were what we really wanted. How much worse it must be for those who do not receive a college degree, or even more, for those whose parents are so overwhelmed that their education goes on the back burner entirely.

If you tell someone involved in the Christian Patriarchy movement that they do not believe in educating their daughters, they will object to your portrayal and cease to listen to what you are saying. If you, in contrast, tell them that they do not believe in educating their daughters for careers outside the home, they will likely agree. Then, perhaps, you may be able to begin a conversation.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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