Rallies and Reason: Nastia’s Story
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Grufnik.
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Nastia” is a pseudonym.
I often tell people that the three most important subjects to study are math, physics, economics. Math gives you a logical mindset. Physics allows you to understand the natural world. Economics allows you to understand people and the social fabric that makes up a human civilization. All other academic topics – perhaps with the exception of basic language and literacy – stem from these. Physicists are keen to point out that chemistry, biology, and engineering are applications of physics. Likewise, history and other social sciences are largely founded on economics.
While this was never an assertion made by my parents, it is unsurprising that I have developed this point of view.
Throughout my homeschooling years, economic principles served as the basis for in-depth studies of history, government, politics, and current events, just as physics and math were the foundation for our science curriculum. In middle school, my brother and I – with supplemental explanations from our mother – worked through Teaching Company courses on basic economics, the great economists, and the economic history of the 20th century during long car rides to ballet classes. We argued about the Invisible Hand and Keynesianism, parsing difficult language slowly and gradually building a repertoire of arguments and scenarios. It was an invaluable lesson in cause and effect. My mother would often stop the cassette and we would analyze case studies, working out problems verbally and then resuming the course to see if we had come to the same conclusions as our professor.
It makes me laugh now to remember my sibling and me, at ten and twelve, carpooling with friends who had no idea what GDP was or why we were so passionately discussing it.
This approach to learning was a cornerstone of my education and the aspect I am most excited to talk about now. I want to stress how extremely privileged I was to grow up in this environment; at the same time, I feel that this is a successful homeschooling model that should be encouraged in our community.
My parents both have multiple higher degrees – my mother a Bachelor’s in economics and an M.B.A; my father, a Master’s in engineering and an M.D. Thus, critical thinking and building evidence-based arguments were highly stressed from an early age. At no point did my education feel like indoctrination. There were times we disagreed with our course materials, and times we disagreed with each other. Intellectual honesty was paramount and lively debate was encouraged.
This was reflected in our approach to politics.
Of course, my views were shaped by those of my parents, but they worked hard to provide evidence for why these views were credible. Of my own volition, I read extensively from a wide variety of sources – everything from Saul Alinksy’s Rules for Radicals to the Federalist Papers. An enthusiast of both Russian music and anything related to space travel, the Soviet Union was particularly fascinating to me; it is largely because of my studies of that regime, which my grandfather escaped, that led me to lean more towards libertarianism than my conservative homeschooling peers (or even my parents).
While I remember both the 2000 and 2004 elections (I was five and nine, respectively), the 2008 election was the first in which I understood the issues at hand. Naturally, we were conservative Republicans, though not particularly active in politics. However, many of our homeschooled friends were. It was one of them (whose father was involved in the campaign of a local candidate) who invited us to join them at one of the first Tea Party rallies in our area. We attended a few of them, waving signs and marching with thousands of others. At no point did my parents compel me or my sibling to participate; rather, we were more likely to petition for a day off school to explore this new and exciting world of politics.
Whatever controversy surrounded them, I have only pleasant memories of the Tea Party rallies I attended.
It was an excellent way for me to voice my opinions and try out my somewhat newfound political savvy. I think it pleased my parents to hear me discuss and debate with fellow Tea Partiers as well as the counterprotesters that inevitably showed up; my sibling and I had vehemently turned down their suggestion that we join the homeschool debate team, so this was a rare opportunity for exposure to differing views. These events also gave us all a sense of belonging – in my very left-wing city, conservatives tend to lay low, and it was comforting to feel that there were others who held the same principles that we did. Furthermore, as a young teenager far from voting age, it gave me a way to be involved and feel like I was making a difference in events. It was of great frustration to me that I couldn’t actively participate in the process I had studied so much about, but at least I could make my voice heard.
In August of 2010, my family attended the Restoring Honor rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial – perhaps the pinnacle event of the Tea Party movement. It was exhilarating. We had traveled cross-country to Washington, D.C. with two other homeschooling families whose children were close friends of mine. We camped out overnight on the National Mall, where in the morning, tens (perhaps hundreds – the number is highly disputed) of thousands gathered to listen to Tea Party leaders talk about politics, values, and faith. It felt like we were a part of history, and besides that, everyone we talked with felt like an instant friend. Coming from an environment where politics was not discussed outside the family simply because it would inevitably lead to conflict, this was profoundly affirming.
Looking back now, I can’t help feeling somewhat ambivalent. It was all a very emotionally-driven experience. While I still agree with most of the principles that we fought for – I remain a constitutionalist and favor laissez-faire economic policies – I realize now that most issues are not as black-and-white as they seemed back then. When reading my old journals, I cringe at how awkward, underdeveloped, and often painfully naïve my views were. (Then again, so was I – a quirky teen trying to fit into a world that I wasn’t old enough to fully contribute to.)
Since then, my experiences in community college and university have also caused my views to shift significantly towards social libertarianism, a “live and let live” philosophy that would make many of my fellow evangelicals uncomfortable. I have made close friends with people of different ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, and gender identities. As a bioengineer, the improved health of marginalized groups and developing nations has been a focus of my higher education, and female representation in science has been a goal of my volunteer activities. These developments have lead me to be more aware of the people I align myself with. Especially as many of the people involved with the Tea Party have recently gone in directions that I can’t support, I have felt disillusioned with the Republican party and significant aspects of the conservative movement.
Despite my current position as an outsider to movement politics, I still credit my involvement in the Tea Party as a beneficial experience that imparted in me an interest in politics and commitment to values. It’s something I’ve learned from and outgrown, rather than discarded. Perhaps in contrast to many homeschoolers, the most important thing I took away from my political involvement was the importance of critical thinking, summed up aptly be Thomas Jefferson:
“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blind-folded fear.”
It’s a lesson that has served me well as a researcher and as a citizen. It’s become my personal mission, to sort fact from fiction and seek the truth, even when it’s complex and goes against my presumptions. It’s caused me to constantly reevaluate my knowledge, my faith, and my relationships, and back up my conclusions with reputable evidence. In the meantime, debates with my mother about the future of the GOP and late-night discussions of economics with my father remain grounding pieces of my life. In an education style that often results in indoctrination and control, it is a massive credit to my parents that both my sibling and I came away with a scientist’s obsession with logical reasoning.