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Crossposted from Out Of The Chrysalis

My mom saw a poster for it on the homeschool group’s website. It was being promoted a lot since it was the first year that they gained access to our State. I think I was the ONLY student there who wanted to attend. Amid all the testimonies of hating the fancy (and modest) clothes, hating civics, and it being a struggle to not listen to music or watch television all week, I wondered what was wrong with all these other homeschoolers.

   Yes, I had a lot of pride, but I was raised thinking that homeschooling was better than public school and it was unfortunate that public schoolers could not get a 4 day crash-course of in-depth politics training on a state level. I reveled in the homework and the required modest clothing and I had no problem with the rule about media because my media consumption was already incredibly minuscule. The rules about guy-girl interactions was not a problem because of how strict my father was, and all of the guys there were younger than me and not that appealing.
   I also had a family background in politics (2008 was an election year and my grandparents and older sister were so caught up in the whirlwind that my leaving for so many days was a big deal around the house) which made me the student who knew it all.
And that was a problem. My whole TeenPact experience I was either patronized by staffers and administrators, or I was the problem that they had to deal with and work around.
   One of the staffers inserted a rabbit trail push for John McCain votes/support (we were all too young to vote anyway) and I piped up (in the middle of class) about his immigration bill and his history of non-conservatism. That got me an extremely dirty look from all staffers and I was ignored every time I raised my hand after that…except when no one else knew the answer. (I was down for a couple in-kind contributions to a campaign, so I knew what they were. None of the other students did.)
   I definitely stood out in the class as the only student to ask the Aide to the First Lady (She was also a high-level judge) what (the Judge/First Lady’s) stand was on abortion and how she would deal with cases to repeal Roe v. Wade. (I was also very ignorant about how the real world worked. I spouted what I was taught with passion and sincerity.) I was the only one who knew what an “ex-post facto” law was and my team won the Constitution Game because of my knowledge of the Constitution. (Literally, a staffer had to help the other two branches because Congress blew them out of the water.) (Both years!)
And, when I went and visited the 3rdyear (I was unable to attend due to financial constraints –and more on that later) the whole alumni class asked that I be allowed to participate on their team. Their requests were turned down by the less-than-amused staffers.
I was completely gung-ho about TeenPact after my experience. I was effusive in my praise and I thought it was the best thing I had ever experienced and I wanted to attend ALL their other offerings.
Unfortunately, TeenPact is a rich, middle class thing. You pay your own way for everything. And “everything” is not cheap. You get an experience, the opportunity to meet friends, meals, and a T-Shirt. Often the events are far away and even staffers have to pay their own transportation. Housing is an extra cost on top of the $200-$300 event. (Unless it it its own event, like Endeavor or National Convention, which raised the price tag to $400 or more.)
   The first year I was in TeenPact I won a scholarship to go to National Convention and found a last-minute ride from Maryland. It was a 750-1000 word essay on What Does it Mean to Be a Conservative.” Reading over it now it is a huge mess of right-wing idealism, including a rant about government distribution of wealth. Back then, I was so excited that I could hardly contain myself.
   I spent the week in a mix of pride, boredom, and frustrated anger. There was an obvious problem with popularity. The kids who had staffed multiple places had a huge edge over people who had staffed only their home state or not staffed at all. Their actual personalities were often sickening, but they still received the most votes and applause (or the elections were rigged in their favor). While there is a lot of discipleship and depth in the core groups, a lot of the event was fluffy and I was bored by the big speeches, only broken by the funny skits and attempts at making me play“The Game” (you just lost). Huge promotion of the Ultimate Frisbee tournaments annoyed me, as I was never that in to sports, and all attempts I made at throwing Frisbees resulted in everyone laughing and pointing. I would spend the afternoon wandering the camp looking for people in my group who might not be already with their cliques and might want to do something with me than gawk at Adam whats-his-name in a pink shirt playing with “The Bojangles.”
   Because it was the first year that my state had ever had a TeenPact class, I was the only one from my state in attendance. I made a laughable attempt at running for Congress (and was one of the few late entries who actually paid my $10, to my knowledge). My contribution to much talked about and poorly attended silent auction was a necklace set that I hand-made.  It was made fun of for not having a more political or state relevance. (I think, I hid and refused to tell them that I made it)
   The only other person I found who was really a “kindred spirit” was a guy, and as I was not “allowed” to crush on him or spend any time with him without someone else there (I didn’t know anyone except staffers, and I followed the rules that I saw many of the “regulars” breaking) we never really got to know each other very well. Interestingly enough, he is the only one of any of them that I still keep in Facebook contact. And, through him I got to know a couple who are now some of my good friends.
   I came home from National Convention tired emotionally. I felt suddenly like TeenPact was not the marvelous place I had once thought it to be. I felt left out and unwanted by the very group I would have given my talents to willingly and eagerly. Unable to afford any other event that year, I began saving what little money I had in order to attend the State Class next year. I also applied to Staff, but I was turned down, which I almost expected. After all, I had spoken up and contradicted a staffer and made myself stick out. I paid for my alumni class all by myself, as my quiverfull father did not have the funds to spend on me for a second year. This is notable in that I was not allowed a job and made this money over the course of a year of saving odds and ends that came my way from neighborhood cleaning or babysitting jobs or from family members. I had no way to MAKE money, so spending that much meant a lot to me.
   I aced the alumni class, again proving to have put the most into the assignments and again leading my branch to victory in the Constitution Search. (When teams were picked everyone asked to switch to my team.) I made an effort to work my hardest and to not cause any issues. I was trying to prove myself as a competent person who was a good candidate to staff her own state. I was also at the upper age limit and I knew that this would be my last class.

    I wanted to attend Endeavor that year, but I was not able to make enough money and instead looked at the perfectly lit pictures of the other girls having a High Tea and shooting guns in a field thinking about how nice it would be to be able to have that kind of an experience. But their middle class families could afford the airfare or gas, the dresses, the makeup, the scones and high teas, and the price of the event.  My father made about $40,000 a year for a family of 11.

The last year I spent in my home state I applied again to be a staffer and I was turned down again. One of my fellow classmates was accepted, though, as he had gone to National Convention and Survival. He also said that one of that year’s staffers had pushed really hard for him. It figures, the staffer I had interrupted my first class was now an Intern (albeit he never came back to my state).

  Now, over 5 years later, I look back on it all with a sigh and a shake of my head. I was young and passionate. I had a lot to give and they turned it down. But in the end, I was the one better off for it. I left that state and have since been able to mediate my passion with real knowledge of the world and the incredible amount of variety and complexity in it. I no longer have “pat” answers to everything and I think I am all the better for it. I also refuse to accept their misogynistic belittling of women. I believe I have the right to wear a pair of dress pants instead of being relegated to a skirt. I think that I have just as much ability and knowledge as any male, as they refused to allow women to be an Intern for more than one year. Men could do it for two years and then if they excelled, they could go on to be a program director and have their own gavel made for them. I acknowledge that I could definitely be a Mayor or a President, which position they never elected a woman into. It was an interesting coincidence, if it really WAS a coincidence.

I refuse to think of myself less because I did not have the money that the “TeenPact Families” (ie. the blue bloods) had to host events and send their kids to staff 5 states and run expensive presidential campaigns with the paraphernalia, candy, and free T-shirts.

  I have saved only my first state class t-shirt with all the names on it. The names are mostly faded and can hardly be seen. I have de-friended most of the Interns (or been de-friended) and have since hidden most of my TeenPact pictures and videos. It is a chapter in my life that I do not regret, but do not like to announce. I prefer that no one remember me or pick me out as one of them. I regret being so conservative and blind. I do not regret getting away and changing.
And I hope that people who read this think twice about endorsing a misogynistic group that exists for the wealthy middle class republicans to indoctrinate their children. They also get together groups of students to do grunt work for HSLDA.  Read about that scandalous mess here.

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To any TeenPacter, there are three words that represent ultimate ruling at any event – Teen Pact Appropriate. Oft abbreviated to the acronym TPA, it was bandied about concerning clothing, actions, and topics of discussion. It was the vague final standard that floated over attendees, replacing a popular evangelical choice of WWJD with, “Is that TPA?”

It was easy to tout it as well as ay other… during my first year. TPA was presented as hip, cool, and in to a sect of the population who often made their friends and had the most socialisation at TeenPact. I saw no problem deeming ankle length skirts and blouses a size or two too large as professional attire to wear to the capitol when I started out. I listened intently to the “girl talk” about causing en to lust. I very carefully kept any talk of Lord of the Rings or other such subjects to nothing more than hushed whispers.

My second year, I ran for governor of TeenPact Maine on the slogan “Vote AJK, She’s TPA.” Even so, there were tendrils of doubt forming in my mind. There were rebukes given to women who dared hold the door open instead of waiting–or letting–a man do it. I wondered what really happened during the “guy talk,” and why all the responsibility for men’s lust was being placed on the women. I had spent more time at the capitol between the two state classes, and didn’t understand why pantsuits for women were not allowed — something that came up again later in my TeenPact history. Then, of course, came the comments that shook my faith in my gubernatorial victory: the number of people who remarked that they didn’t know how I could have won, when they all voted for the other candidate. I tried not to worry about it, but, for an organisation that promotes integrity above all else, there should never needbe any doubt.

I tried not to let my concerns shake my faith in the organisation, and proud of my newfound determination to prove the equality of women, I set off for my second National Convention on the presidential campaign trail. The historical inauguration of the first female governor of TeenPact Maine was fresh in my memory, and I was determined to make TeenPact history once more. My running mate and I knew we had our work cut out for us as the first girl/girl team, but, we were more than willing to embrace it.

What I was not prepared for ere the incredulous looks on the faces of boys and girls as they stopped by our campaign booth. Riding in a van with Mr. Echols on the way to a church service was not the first time, nor the last, that a fellow TeenPacter asked me how a girl running for president was TPA. After all, women should never be in positions of leadership over men! The first time I was asked if it was TPA, I was flabbergasted. Still, my answer did not change. If Deborah could do it, so could I. Besides, I was just as capable as every other guy there, at the very least – why shouldn’t I run? In the end, though, I was the one with questions. The popular vote recorded for my state did not match the number of votes from my supporters. I wasn’t the only one with doubts that election, but, who were we running against? Popular vote doesn’t matter when determining whether someone is TPA enough.

That same year I had an interview for staffing state classes the following year. I was very excited about the chance to do it, and was counting down the time until my interview. Things seemed to go well, up until my interviewer put her pencil down and looked me straight in the face. “How do you reconcile the TeenPact statement of faith with being Orthodox?” I blinked. I wasn’t sure if she was concerned because I had been running for president, or she just didn’t know what being an Orthodox Christian meant. The result of the interview was that I could staff the one-day class for 8-13 year olds, but that they weren’t comfortable with me staffing the four-day class.

From there, however, I turned to another side of TeenPact, and the hypocrisy therein: TeenPact Judicial…

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Crossposted from Kiery’s blog Bridging The Gap

TeenPact is a christian conservative/evangelical organization that organizes government and civics classes and camps throughout the country. Their goal is to raise a generation of christian leaders (teens) to go and bring the country back “for christ” by encouraging activism and male leadership.

When I think about TeenPact and my time there, I don’t feel anger – like I do with most of my other past experiences. I feel confusion. Because I have so many good memories and experiences that are entrenched in environments that perpetuated the lies that enabled an abusive environment to thrive.

The thing about organizations like TeenPact and NCFCA is that their goal is to raise a new generation of leaders – thinkers, even – to do one specific thing: Take the nation back (for god!). What they don’t count on, is that by giving us the tools and resources to think critically, we’ll actually, you know, think critically and carry that on throughout our adulthood. Which is awesome and I’m really happy that I was allowed to learn that, because it’s served me well and enabled me to become the person I am today. Funny thing though, our parents and the people who head up these organizations get extremely grumpy and upset when we do what they taught us to do (or at least you know, the thinking part of that) without doing the rest of what they wanted us to do.

They teach us how to think, but then, they don’t actually want us to think, they want us to do their bidding.

And this, in a nutshell, is my beef with TeenPact. I’m going to be splitting this into parts instead of writing a book of a blogpost – because some things need to be fleshed out more, so for today, I’m going to concentrate on one particular event that happened while I was staffing.

I staffed one of the GA State classes in 2007. As staff, I helped oversee the voting process – a process which is designed to teach students about how elections work (assuming everyone is honest). The votes were tallied and my friend was a clear winner. I was pleased with this, and a little proud because he had really gone out of his comfort zone to even run. I was appalled, confused, and maybe a little angry when in that back room the Program Director turned to us and said, well, I don’t think he’d make a good governor, we should choose someone else. The founder was there and the high ranking staff wanted to impress him (by discarding the process?) and decided that my friend wouldn’t do it.

So in that back room, the Program Director, and the higher ranking staff decided to choose someone else from the 3 candidates to be governor and told us to be quiet about it. I was 15 (2 weeks before my birthday) and I had no idea how to respond – I was too shocked to say anything and too surprised to complain or dissent, so I stood there quietly, feeling as though my mouth was gaping. When we left the room with the new results, and with the Program Director deciding that his vote overruled all, I was full of shame and guilt. We announced who won and there were many questions – because in the other room, everyone tells everyone who they voted for, so everyone actually knows who won. People asked me questions and I couldn’t respond, my friend asked me and I was crushed and had to give him the same line I had given everyone else “it’s just what the votes were”.

I felt helpless because everyone who I would have talked to about it, was in that room and made that decision. They didn’t expect dissent – honestly, I don’t even think dissent is allowed, though it’s never directly stated – it’s a very homogenous group and anyone who does dissent is instantly cast as weird/strange/anything you don’t really want to associate with.

The staff did what they did because they didn’t want to get in trouble with Mr. Echols. I don’t know what the staff meetings are like, but I imagine that choosing a good face was enough of a requirement to strike fear into the hearts of the interns.

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