Do Hard-Right Things: How Alex and Brett Harris’s Rebelution Promotes Extremism

Do Hard Things—the self-help book written in 2008 by the most famous twins in evangelical homeschooling, Alex and Brett Harris—was supposed to create a revolution. It was meant to inspire their teen-aged peers to “rebel against low expectations,” to rebel against rebellion itself and instead focus on pursuing evangelical and Republican goals. They called this so-called revolution “The Rebelution.” The revolution’s name, as they explain in Do Hard Things, is a portmanteau of “rebellion” and “revolution” (p. 11). In short, the Harris twins’ movement was entirely conservative: it was to rebel against change wrought by liberal and progressive activism, to instead encourage youth to obey authority and protect those in power. 

In addition to the book, the Harrises also created a website for their expanding market and fan base. Their website “The Rebelution” (which is still active today) hosts articles and forums for young evangelicals to connect over and thus created a large online community of like-minded young people. From this community, the Harrises launched multiple book projects, international conferences, as well as political campaigns for evangelical Christian candidates.

Do Hard Things was a bestselling book, reaching #5 overall on Amazon’s bestseller list and #1 under Christianity. Nearly half a million books have been sold and the book has been translated into more than a dozen languages. Their website has also become extremely popular: as one of the most popular websites for Christian teenagers, it has racked up almost 40 million views since 2007. The Harrises have traveled around the world promoting their Rebelution, everywhere from the United States to Switzerland to Japan, reaching “hundreds of thousands of teens, parents, and youth workers” (p. xviii) with their ideas and activism. That activism, too, has succeeded on many counts. For example, Tom Parker, the Alabama Supreme Court Justice they once campaigned for, is now Chief Justice of the Court.

While the Harrises certainly worked hard to accomplish all these feats, it also is true that they were helped significantly along the way. They were not building from scratch. The Harrises were born into a family with power, privilege, money, and connections to the Religious Right.

About the Harris Family

The Harris twins are part of homeschooling royalty. Their father, Gregg Harris, is considered one of the so-called “four pillars of homeschooling.” In 1988, Gregg—a protege of early homeschool advocate Raymond Moore who allegedly stole Moore’s mailing lists—wrote the seminal homeschooling text, The Christian Home School. This book launched Gregg’s career as a homeschooling proponent. He went on to teach workshops on homeschooling for evangelical Christians all around the United States, inspiring “thousands of families to begin homeschooling and many state homeschool organizations to launch annual state conferences.” Key to Gregg’s homeschool advocacy was his emphasis on limiting the practice to Christians. Gregg is responsible for transforming homeschooling from an alternative educational practice into a Christian way of life.

The late Chris Klicka, one of the primary lawyers for the homeschool lobbying organization Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), had this to say in his 2006 book Homeschool Heroes: The Struggle and Triumph of Home Schooling in America about the influence Gregg had on the early homeschooling movement in the 1980s and 1990s:

“His homeschool workshops…grew in attendance to nearly fifteen hundred. Over 180,000 families were trained by Gregg Harris from 1984 to 1995. At least thirty-five of the now large statewide homeschool associations got their start as Gregg shared his attendee and mailing lists. Many had their founding organizing meetings at Gregg’s workshops. Without Gregg Harris’s early influence, I am convinced that the homeschool movement would not be the thriving Christian influence on our society that it is becoming today” (p. 21-22, emphases in original).

According to Gregg’s own accounting, he has taught over a quarter of a million homeschooling families. His influence is so significant that HSLDA named their Lifetime Achievement Award after him. This annual honor has been awarded to preeminent evangelicals like parenting guru James Dobson as well as homeschool apologists such as Brian Ray of the right-wing National Home Education Research Institute and the now-disgraced Bill Gothard, the founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles who stands accused by over a dozen men and women of sexual harassment and assault.

But Gregg isn’t the only celebrity in the Harris family. Before writing Do Hard Things, the Harris twins had already made a splash in the evangelical homeschooling world with their “Modesty Survey.” Released in 2007, the Modesty Survey contained 147 statements solicited from young evangelical women for young evangelical men to evaluate. These statements were about articles of clothing worn by the young women and whether they caused their male counterparts to “stumble” into the sin of lust. The statements were about everything from specific types of clothing (“Leotards, sheer skirts, and tutus in theatre or dance performances are immodest.”) to making value judgments about people based on clothing (“You have less respect for an immodest girl than for a modest one.”) to very specific issues (“It is a stumbling block to see a girl lying down, even if she’s just hanging out on the floor or on a couch with her friends.”).

As the Harrises wrote in their announcement of the survey, “If you have ever wanted to tell a girl to go put on a sweater, this is your chance to do so — anonymously.” The Harrises saw this as positive, explaining that the survey was an “excellent opportunity for godly men to serve young women who are without fathers or brothers to advise them in this area.”

No discussion of the Harris family would be complete, of course, without mentioning Joshua Harris, the oldest child in the family. Joshua became renowned within evangelical homeschooling for his book against teenage dating, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. The book became so popular, in fact, that it permeated even the larger evangelical culture of which homeschooling is a small but significant part. Joshua became a household name among evangelicals, and the impact of his promotion of purity culture and courtship is still reverberating today. While Joshua later recanted and apologized for his teachings on relationships and sexuality, Alex and Brett have yet to do so with regards to their damaging teachings—except for an anemic apology that their Modesty Survey sent “the message that modesty is a female issue and lust is a male issue.”

Do Hard Things: What the Book Says

Do Hard Things begins with a foreword written by American martial arts star and evangelical Christian activist Chuck Norris.

Do Hard Things begins with a foreword written by American martial arts star and evangelical Christian activist Chuck Norris. Norris is well-known for his extremist politics: he supported California Prop 8 in 2008, which banned marriage equality in the state; he endorsed the far-right politician and Bill Gothard disciple Mike Huckabee for U.S. President in 2008 and 2016; he even promoted former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in the 2017 United States Senate special election in Alabama despite multiple accusations of child sexual assault against Moore. Most recently, Norris threw his support behind conservative radio host Larry Elder in Elder’s efforts to unseat California Governor Gavin Newsom in 2021. Elder stands accused of domestic violence by an ex-spouse and supports workplace discrimination against pregnant women.

Norris sets the stage for the Harrises’ book with a bold declaration: “In the past, young people were expected to make significant contributions to society. Today, our culture expects very little from teens—not much more than staying in school and doing a few chores” (p. xiii). This declaration is the foundation of the book itself, as the Harrises take the idea and run with it. Norris also states his hope for the book: that it “will help recruit, develop, and deploy a new generation of young culture warriors” (p. xiv)—revealing at the outset that Do Hard Things is about much more than youth excellence. It is, like so many other projects of the Religious Right, about culture war. It is about exercising dominion over American culture and politics in order to Christianize them.

The Harrises begin their argument with dire news: “young people [are] being underestimated—badly, and with devastating consequences.” As a result, “a whole generation of teens [has] bought into a culture of low expectations” (p. xv). This is unfortunate, they say, because “the teen years were meant to be a season of daring, of high hopes and real achievements, a one-time-only opportunity for a guy or girl to set a course for a truly remarkable life” (p. xvi).

The Harrises explain that they take their mission for doing hard things from a Bible verse, 1 Timothy 4:12: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” To the Harrises, this verse means that young people need to reject “the modern notion of the teen years as a time to goof off” (p. 12). Instead, young people should see their youth as “the training ground of future leaders who dare to be responsible now” (p. 13).

The reason young people today see youth as a time to “goof off,” as the Harrises put it, is because of what they call “the Myth of Adolescence.” According to the Harrises, prior to the 20th century, “people were either children or adults” (p. 30). Only starting in the 20th century did people start distinguishing between children, adolescents, and adults. By creating a new, third category of persons—a transitional stage between childhood and adulthood—modernity has forced teenagers into a gray area where they are no longer children but not quite adults. 

The Harrises claim this new stage is responsible for teenage angst, rebellion, and other normative challenges inherent to growing up. It leads to “kidults,” they argue: “Kidults are the logical result of the Myth of Adolescence, which encourages teens to view adulthood as spoiling the fun of the teen years rather than viewing it as the fulfillment of the teen years” (p. 51). This has caused young people to delay the growing up process, leading to a perpetual immaturity even beyond adolescence: “The modern concept of adolescence is not a biological stage, but a cultural mind-set. It doesn’t stop when you graduate high school, or when you turn twenty-one” (p. 50).

The Myth of Adolescence

Alex and Brett Harris are not alone in promoting the idea of adolescence being a modern construct. This idea is both popular and ubiquitous in evangelical circles, especially evangelical homeschooling communities. For example, the immensely popular homeschool magazine Practical Homeschooling—created by the pro-natalist, Quiverfull advocate Mary Pride—was arguing that “the teenager is a modern invention” back in 1993. “While the growing-up process is inevitable, natural, and God-given,” English professor Michael Platt wrote for the magazine, “the process of children turning into Teenagers is not. The Teenager was invented, fashioned, permitted — let loose you might say — by the generation of our parents and grandparents.” Platt had little good to say about teenagers: “The highest desire of a Teenager is to become a more perfect Teenager, a Rock or movie star, certainly not a man or a woman.”

Rick Holland, a former Associate Pastor for Grace Community Church (the church associated with John MacArthur’s The Master’s University and The Master’s Seminary), wrote a similar article for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 2011, Holland—known for harassing and victim-blaming a rape survivor who attended The Master’s University—published a three-part series on “The Myth Called Adolescence.” In the series, Holland compares Christians who believe adolescence is “a definite stage in human development” to alleged 14th century belief in the Earth being flat. Both beliefs, he implies, are false. Echoing Platt, Holland declares, “This state called adolescence is a twentieth-century, Western invention. Ours is the only culture in history to see three stages of development to maturity, namely childhood, adolescence, adulthood. All other cultures outside of Western culture and its influence, as well as history in general before the twentieth century, see only two stages in the development of maturity-childhood and adulthood. What we’ve done is to create an unnatural state called adolescence where a person is not a child, yet not an adult.”

The Harris twins, Platt, and Holland are correct that adolescence—as a distinct stage in human development between childhood and adulthood—was not officially recognized or studied in Western culture until the last two centuries. There are many reasons for the emergence of adolescence as a distinct stage. Some of the most significant are actually mentioned by the aforementioned authors. For example, Holland lays the blame on “three developments in American society that propelled adolescence into public acceptance: compulsory education, child labor laws, creation of a juvenile justice system.”

The Harris twins similarly blame the emergence of adolescence on compulsory education and child labor laws. In Do Hard Things, they write that, “Right around the year 1900, a cascade of labor- and school-reform laws were passed in an attempt to protect kids from the harsh conditions in factories.” While that sounds positive, the Harrises see the negatives: “Unfortunately, the laws had some unintended and far-reaching consequences. By completely removing children from the workplace and mandating school attendance through high school, teens’ once-established role as key producers and contributors came to an end. Suddenly their role was almost exclusively that of consumers” (p. 34). 

Blaming compulsory education and child labor laws for teenage angst and rebellion is another popular pastime for evangelicals, especially evangelical homeschoolers. As the Coalition for Responsible Home Education’s Samantha Field has written,

“One of the popular elements of the conservative religious homeschooling movement…was the belief that “teenage adolescence” is a modern societal construct and is a completely unnecessary stage. I can remember all the arguments for this vividly– how men and women married extremely young; in “fact,” women in early America very frequently married as soon as they got their periods at twelve or thirteen (this is false: the average age of marriage for a Puritan woman was 23, as young as 20 in South Carolina). Indentured servitude and apprenticeship were exalted as prime examples for how young men ought to behave– by learning a trade as young as 10 or 12 (and we were supposed to ignore the exploitative and abusive nature of child labor).”

One sees the results of idealizing and lionizing past eras when children were not required to go to school and instead were forced to work in dangerous situations, like factories, mines, and battlefields. The three examples the Harrises give of teen-aged folks who became mighty and successful—George Washington, David Farragut, and Clara Barton—are all examples of childhood activities that we as a society would now condemn. Washington, for example, became a successful surveyor while he was forced to “endure the hardships of frontier life” (p. 31)—and all before the age of 18, the Harrises say admiringly. While a teen-aged Washington certainly had skills, praising this situation—which is a situation of child labor under dangerous conditions—and lifting it up as what should be normal is wrong. In 2021, we understand that children should be protected from employment to the detriment of their development. If they must work at all, we understand that children deserve safe working environments. 

The second example the Harrises give of an exceptional youth is David Farragut. Farragut was a soldier on a warship who experienced his first battle at the age of 11. At age 12, Farragut was made captain of a captured warship. While his capabilities are undeniable, what is also undeniable is that Farragut was a child engaged in warfare. He was, in short, a child soldier—and children should never be soldiers. We understand that today to be a clear and significant violation of children’s rights and the rules of combat. As the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) declares, “The recruitment and use of children by armed forces or armed groups is a grave violation of child rights and international humanitarian law.”

The third and final example given by the Harrises is Clara Barton, the famous American nurse who founded the Red Cross. At the age of 11, Barton became the caretaker of her older brother who fell from a roof and was seriously injured. For two years Barton cared for her brother, even persisting in doing so after doctors gave up on him. He eventually made a full recovery. At age 14, Barton became the nurse of many local people who contracted smallpox as the epidemic burned through her hometown. Just like Washington and Farragut, the story of Barton demonstrates that we should never underestimate the capabilities of children. But it also is yet another example of children being forced into circumstances that should not be considered normative or healthy.

The upshot of these three examples should be simple: that we thankfully no longer live in a world where children are forced to become laborers and soldiers. Yes, children are certainly capable of working and killing. But should they actually be doing so? The fact is, most countries around the globe have decided that children should not be laboring or fighting in wars. That decision has been formalized and codified through international treaties such as the 1974 Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict, the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and the 2000 Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. In modern society, children working or killing is now considered a human rights abuse, the latter even a war crime.

Yet to the Harrises and other evangelical opponents of adolescence, this change is indicative of something deeply wrong with modern society. It is a sign that, “Society doesn’t expect much of anything from young people during their teen years—except trouble” (p. 36). The problem with this analysis, though, is that it is very white-centric; it is from the viewpoint of highly privileged, white-passing conservative evangelical young people. (Note that the Harris twins are biracial; their late mother Sono Harris was a second-generation Japanese-American.) Society actually expects far too much from far too many children. 

Black children, just as one example, have high child mortality rates, experience high rates of corporal punishment in schools, die by suicide at twice the rate of white children, are incarcerated as children at disproportionate rates, are disproportionately assaulted and murdered by law enforcement, and so forth. The Harrises’ analysis assumes children who have the privilege of having their needs met daily and do not struggle regularly against discrimination and oppression. While Do Hard Things might be relevant to many white evangelical children who are handed so much on silver platters, it makes little sense when talking about other children who are forced on a daily basis to do hard things whether they want to or not.

“Hard Things” is Code for Far-Right Extremism

The Harrises with Christian Patriarchy advocate Doug Phillips.

The Harrises say that “do hard things” just means “do good works.” But this is misleading. For the Harrises, “good works” are defined by conservative evangelicalism and thus hard things are things that advance a conservative evangelical agenda.

The perfect example of this is the story the Harrises tell of their internship as teenagers with Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker, who is now the Chief Justice of the state’s Supreme Court. Mentored by the disgraced former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and accused child molester, Roy Moore, Parker is—like his mentor—a far-right extremist who is an “ardent opponent” of LGBTQIA and reproductive rights. Parker has gone on record saying Alabama courts should defy the federal Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in favor of marriage equality, Obergefell v. Hodges.

Like the Harrises, Parker was an admirer of Christian Patriarchy advocate Doug Phillips and his homeschool organization Vision Forum (prior to revelations in 2013 and 2014 that Phillips had groomed and sexually preyed upon his family’s Latina nanny, a young woman from his homeschooling community). The feeling was mutual. Phillips awarded Vision Forum’s “George Washington Man of the Year Award” to Parker in 2006, specifically mentioning Parker’s advocacy for parental rights absolutism. Parker was also invited to multiple Vision Forum events, where he railed against reproductive rights.

Parker is an apologist for the Confederacy and the Lost Cause ideology. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Parker once attended and gave a speech at a birthday party hosted by neo-Confederates in honor of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest, a slave trader, became the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He also oversaw the massacre of several hundred Black prisoners of war, including women and children, in Tennessee.

Parker has significant ties with other neo-Confederates. He handed out hundreds of Confederate flags at a major neo-Confederate event. He was photographed wearing and holding Confederate flags next to Mike Whorton, the state leader of Alabama’s League of the South chapter, and Leonard Wilson, a segregationist who serves on the national board of the Council of Conservative Citizens—a hate group that believes Black people are “a retrograde species of humanity.”

In Do Hard Things, the Harrises discuss how they used the Rebelution community and resources to rally support for Parker. In 2005, the staff attorney for Parker’s internship program happened to be a reader of the Rebelution website, and was consequently inspired to waive the internship program’s age requirement and let the 16-year-old Harris twins apply. They were accepted, making them “the youngest interns in the history of the Alabama Supreme Court—possibly of any supreme court” (p. 15). After serving successfully as interns, the Harris twins were invited back to Alabama in 2006 to serve as grass-roots directors for four statewide campaigns for the Alabama Supreme Court, including one of Parker’s runs for Chief Justice. Using their Rebelution network and connections, the Harrises assembled a massive campaign operation run by, well, children: “By the time the campaign was over,” they write, “teens had…worked thousands of hours on the campaign” (p. 18). While Parker was unsuccessful that year in his campaign for Chief Justice, he was successful several years later and is still currently serving as Chief Justice today.

In other words, a man who is proud of the Confederacy’s treason against the United States—a man who associates with and celebrates Ku Klux Klan members who murdered Black people, including Black children—is Chief Justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court in part because of Alex and Brett Harris and their Rebelution.

Tom Parker (center) is Chief Justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court in part because of Alex and Brett Harris and their Rebelution.

But the Harrises did not stop with Parker’s campaign. The model they employed for him—using the Internet and young people to champion a conservative, evangelical candidate, much like Tim Echols’s organization TeenPact does—was later applied to Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign. It’s “an outgrowth of the,” Alex told Wired. “We call it a teenage rebellion against low expectations—what we’re doing for Huckabee is a little bit of the same rebellion against low expectations.”

Huckabee is an outspoken Christian Nationalist who wishes “all Americans would be forced, at gunpoint, to listen to every David Barton message”—Barton being a historical revisionist who promotes the myth of the United State’s Christian heritage. Huckabee created the “Learn Our History” curriculum for evangelical children, which includes titles like The Kids Guide to President Trump and The Kids Guide to the Discovery of America—which claims Europeans “brought with them the culture, values, and traditions that make America great.”

Through their advocacy for people like Tom Parker and Mike Huckabee, the Harrises have made very clear what sort of world they envision as a result of doing hard, rebelutionary things: a world run by white supremacists and Christian Nationalists. For the Harrises, “hard things” must be conservative evangelical goals. As the twins state in their book, hard things must be “things that challenge the cultural norm,” like “holding unpopular positions on issues like homosexuality and abortion” (p. 59). Anything outside of that is considered rebellious and against God. 

This extremism continues today, as revealed by a quick perusal of recent articles published by the Rebelution. For example, an article published this year in August by college student Levi Dade claims that the logical result of atheism is mass genocide. “To be a consistent (and honest) atheist,” he writes, “you must believe Stalin was not wrong for killing tens of millions of people.” Another article published this year in June—and written by the Rebelution’s editor-in-chief, Sara Barratt—argues that being LGBTQIA is “idolizing, embracing, and celebrating what God has clearly called sin” and thus “something to be cured.” The Rebelution has even joined the chorus of evangelicals defaming the field of Critical Race Theory (CRT): an August 2021 article written by a white teenager, Kyla Hardee, claims that CRT “defines humanity by their skin color, denying our unity as mankind and as children of God.” Hardee implies CRT has its origin in Satan and that it encourages “violence and wrath” among protestors.

Why Liberal and Progressive Youth Don’t Count

While the Harrises cast children and young people today as lazy and unexceptional, the fact is that children and young people have engaged in productive, exceptional activism not only throughout history, but also in modern times. Black Lives Matter, the March For Our Lives, and the Climate Strike are merely three contemporary examples of how children and young people are rising up and demanding that their voices and concerns be heard by politicians and other adults.

Yet if you search the Rebelution website for discussions about Black Lives Matter or March For Our Lives or the Climate Strike or other, youth-led liberal or progressive movements, you will find little. It is as if these movements do not exist in the Rebelution world, do not even register in the minds of Rebelutionaries. This is because, to the Harrises and their Rebelution, liberal and progressive movements do not count. They are not “hard things” in the way the Harrises mean hard things. Because these movements are liberal and progressive, and our society is allegedly liberal and progressive, these movements are “going with the flow” and thus not “going against the grain” of our culture and politics. In short, these movements are easy, not hard.

Liberal and progressive movements also do not count because, according to the Harrises, they are revolts against “God-established authority”—and thus evil. The Harrises make this very clear in Do Hard Things, writing that,

“If you look back over history, you’ll find other movements that were started (or fueled) by young people. The problem is, most of these movements were actually revolts against God-established authority (like parents, church, or government), and many were ultimately crushed or twisted toward another end. All those failed revolutionary attempts are a discouraging record as far as teen efforts go, but not for rebelutionaries. We’re not rebelling against institutions or even against people. Our uprising is against a cultural mind-set that twists the purpose and potential of the teen years and threatens to cripple our generation. Our uprising won’t be marked by mass riots and violence, but by millions of individual teens quietly choosing to turn the low expectations of our culture upside down” (p. 25).

This passage is telling for a number of reasons, not least of which is the glaring dog-whistle about “mass riots and violence.” Another reason is the explicit condemnation of opposing people in power—or “God-established authority,” as the Harrises describe such people. By excluding any challenges to authority as ungodly, the Harrises are able to declare liberal and progressive activism—which is inherently interested in reforming or revolutionizing authority and power—as not counting as hard things. 

In summary, the Harrises are not speaking cutely or poetically when they say the Rebelution movement is “rebelling against rebellion.” They mean this literally: the movement is about respecting and supporting authorities, rather than rebelling against authorities. It is about conservatism—about protecting what is left of the mythic Christian United States and doing everything one can to restore the country to its former glory.

Points of Agreement

While much of the Harrises’ project is informed by right-wing extremism, there are some points on which liberals and progressives can agree with them. For instance, the Harrises claim children are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for. This is true and something that numerous liberal and progressive advocates are also trying to draw attention to: take, for example, Janet Pais’s child liberation theology, bell hooks’s revolutionary and feminist parenting, Cindy Wang Brandt’s “Parenting Forward” project, and Ira Chaleff’s intelligent disobedience method. All of these advocates and their methods are grounded on the assumption that children are fully human, fully endowed with human rights, and fully capable of being responsible, thoughtful beings. None of this means, of course, that we should make children labor or fight in wars, as the Harrises imply. Adultification is real and damaging. But it does mean children deserve better and more from the adults in their lives.

The Harrises are also correct that youth should not be wasted. We are all only young once, and children deserve to use that time in meaningful and enjoyable ways. However, the Harrises are wrong in implying that youth is wasted by engaging in recreation. Throughout Do Hard Things, the Harrises drop hints that they believe certain activities are superior to other activities. Recreational activities are always considered less important than religious or political activities—or “strict training” (p. 50), as the twins say. 

Yet the Bible itself describes the practice of play as indicative of the Kingdom of God. The prophet Zechariah, for example, declares that children playing will be a sign of the restoration of Jerusalem in Zechariah 8:5. And in Proverbs 8:30-31, the character of Wisdom herself speaks about her youthful years of play by God’s side. This indicates that our childhood years do not merely need to be meaningful; they can and should be enjoyable as well. By denigrating the practice of play, by valuing it less than other activities, the Harrises end up communicating to young people that they should feel guilty when they are not acting exceptionally.

A final point of agreement would be the reality of discrimination against children. While the Harrises never directly address this issue, it is bubbling under the surface throughout Do Hard Things. The primary reason why the Harrises embrace 1 Timothy 4:12 as their mission statement—”Don’t let anyone look down upon you because you are young”—is because children are looked down upon by many adults, both within and without evangelicalism. The Harrises believe this underestimates young people—which is true. 

What the Harrises miss is why that bias against children is particularly strong within evangelicalism. That bias thrives because the evangelical parenting industry is built on the idea that children are irrational, evil animals that need to be “trained up in the way they should go” (the evangelical interpretation of Proverbs 22:6). That aspect of evangelical theology prejudices adults against children. The Harrises themselves even engage in this bias, casting so many members of the next generation as apathetic and lazy and in need of “strict training.”


Ultimately, Do Hard Things is a guilt trip at best; at its worst, it fosters crippling anxiety. Numerous former Rebelutionaries have spoken out about the damaging impact the book and movement had on their lives—heaping guilt, shame, and anxiety upon them for not living up to the standards of the Harrises’ exceptionalism. The book drove  some homeschool alumni into depression and forced others to exhaust themselves in the pursuit of an excellence they already possessed.

This is a shame because the Harrises come so close to realizing the realities of adultism and childism in our world. They come so close to wanting to take children seriously and on children’s own terms—yet they back down and force children into the prescriptions of conservative evangelicalism. Instead of seeing children already as prophets and leaders, the Harrises fall into the evangelical trap of seeing authoritarianism as necessary to mold children into their preferred image. By demanding children rebel against rebellion, they end up simply protecting and empowering far-right extremism.

Published by R.L. Stollar

R.L. Stollar is a child liberation theologian and an advocate for children and abuse survivors. The author of an upcoming book on child liberation theology, The Kingdom of Children, Ryan has an M.H.S. in Child Protection from Nova Southeastern University and an M.A. in Eastern Classics from St. John’s College.

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