What if former President Ronald Reagan was right? What if freedom really is never more than “one generation away from extinction,” as the then-governor of California said during his inaugural address in 1967.
A Purcellville, Virginia-based Christian youth group called Generation Joshua has heeded Reagan’s warning and is working tirelessly to empower and educate teenagers to become future leaders of our nation.
The organization exists “to teach high school students about their country, where it comes from, why it’s free, and how to keep it that way,” Joel Grewe, the director of Generation Joshua, says.
Through summer camps, local clubs, and other creative events, Generation Joshua has taught thousands of teens how to protect American liberties.
In celebration of Bill of Rights Day on Dec. 15, Grewe and Jeremiah Lorrig, the organization’s deputy director, join “The Daily Signal Podcast” to share stories of the ways Generation Joshua is training and empowering America’s future leaders.
We also cover these stories:
- President Joe Biden calls on Congress to pass gun-control measures to try and clamp down on gun violence.
- Wholesale prices rise by 9.6% since last year.
- The New Hampshire chapter of the American Federation of Teachers announces it is suing the state to block a law prohibiting teachers from teaching critical race theory in their classrooms.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: Today, Dec. 15th, is Bill of Rights Day, a day we commemorate the ratification of the Bill of Rights. And to celebrate, I am so excited to highlight one fantastic organization called Generation Joshua that is working to ensure that American freedoms and liberties are passed down to the next generation.
So, I am joined here today by the director of Generation Joshua, Joel Grewe, and the deputy director, Jeremiah Lorrig. Gentlemen, thank you so much for being here.
Joel Grewe: It’s a pleasure. Thank you so much for having us.
Allen: All right. So, let’s just jump right in. It’s Bill of Rights Day. This is exciting. I would love to start by just talking about, what is Generation Joshua? What’s your mission, what you all do? And we’ll start, let’s start with Joel. Let’s jump in with you.
Grewe: All right. Sure. So, Generation Joshua is a civics education initiative of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. And that’s a technical answer, and that’s not terribly helpful. I get that. But, really, what it means is that we exist to teach high school students about their country, where it comes from, why it’s free, and how to keep it that way.
And we come out of, largely, the homeschool movement, OK? Because frankly, if you … 30 years ago, homeschooling was not free in the United States of America. Parents were put in jail for homeschooling their kids, and the kids were put in foster care. That was where we come from.
And in process from the … actually, at this point, 40 years ago now, the [1980s] to now, the homeschool movement discovered that it had to work very hard to win and keep its freedoms, to make sure those freedoms that existed were applied properly.
Generation Joshua came out of that history. And it was designed to say, “All right, homeschooling is now free in all 50 states.” But just because something’s free doesn’t mean it stays free. You have to keep maintaining that just like our Founders understood. You have to keep putting energy and effort into maintaining those freedoms.
One of those things is that, you have to know you’re free and you have to know why you’re free and how to keep the fact that you’re free. And so we do that, working specifically with high school students, some middle school, in all 50 states, designed to teach them where they come from and how to keep that freedom.
Allen: I love it. Well, and your work was just recently recognized by The Heritage Foundation. Generation Joshua is one of three winners to receive the honor of Heritage’s Feulner Institute Civics Expo. So, congratulations to you all. It’s really …
Grewe: That was a huge honor.
Grewe: Thank you so much.
Allen: Such a wonderful organization to highlight. We love getting to shine a spotlight on people like you that are doing the work on the ground, to be empowering the next generation. The other two winners were Constituting America and the American History and Civics Initiative. We’ll chat a little bit more about those in a little while. But Jeremiah, what exactly is the background behind the name of Generation Joshua? Where does that name come from?
Lorrig: So, it comes from the biblical story of Moses and Joshua and what it is, is, it’s when Moses passes the torch of leadership to the next generation. So, every generation of high school students, we view as the Joshua generation. And so, Generation Joshua is designed around that concept of passing the torch of leadership.
And it’s not a new concept to us. This is something that our country was built on. I don’t know if many people quite realize this, but many of the Founding Fathers—and Mothers—of our country were in their teens and early twenties when the Declaration of Independence was signed. And so, we have this long-standing American tradition of passing that torch of leadership.
And I think of, for example, George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton was a young kid when the war broke out, and he wanted to step out and be engaged in the process. And so, he was equipped by George Washington, and took under his wing, and given the ability to step up and lead.
And we try to do the same thing with our students, where our students can come in, and they may not be old enough to vote. I mean, they’re high schoolers. They’re not old enough to vote, but they can make a difference.
And we do that by setting up civics clubs in their local communities, where they can come and work on student action teams, where they go to the closest political races around the country and volunteer. And they learn how democracy works, hands on.
Or, they can come to one of our simulations and learn how government works by taking on the role of a congressman or a senator or a candidate. And all of these things are designed to equip them, just like Betsy Ross and Alexander Hamilton and all those young people who were around at the birth of our nation, to carry that torch of liberty from one generation to the next. And then, they’ll pass it on to their children as well.
Allen: I love that. And I think it raises the standards for young people, when we recognize young people are powerful. They have influence. And gosh, so many, like you mentioned, so many folks back at the founding of our very nation, at the time of the Revolution, were so, so young, and were doing great things. And there’s no reason why young people today can’t also be doing great things and have that civic engagement.
So, if you all would, talk a little bit more about the programs that you offer.
Grewe: The first thing is kind of your classic kind of classes and civics material. Right? OK. We have online classes; we have curriculum material. People can, if they want to download it and take it as a semester course or something, we can do that. We call it, iCitizen. And there’s a whole series of things that are kind of part of that.
So, that’s one thing, and it’s fairly straightforward. Anybody can engage in that, no matter where you are. If you have internet connection, you’re good to go. OK? Fairly simple. And that’s good. OK.
What we have when we kind of step beyond that, though, is we recognize that politics and civics [do] not exist as a solo entity. Right? It’s not something you do as an individual. It’s something you always do in community. And so, a lot of the other programs we have exist within communities.
One of them is a local club. We call them Generation Joshua Clubs. Real creative name, right? But it’s these local clubs that exist all around the country. And our goal is to eventually have one in every single congressional district in the country, with a group of engaged high school students that …
Allen: Are those usually connected with schools or do they stand alone?
Grewe: They certainly can stand alone. They can be connected with schools, libraries, homeschool co-ops, churches, community organizations, doesn’t matter.
Grewe: But it’s a club that is actually led by the high school students. Parents are there to provide backup and oversight. Right? But you let the kids get their kind of hands-on leadership. And their role is to be engaged in their community from a kind of a civics and good governance perspective, but also a community engagement perspective, all around the country, OK? So, that’s one option.
When you step a little beyond that, we have kind of a more intensive approach to learning leadership. We have a series that we call, iGovern. And it is a weeklong summer leadership program. It is unlike anything else I found. And admittedly, I’m biased. But it’s an incredible opportunity to learn government by doing, because one of the things that … the trap we fall into all across America, is that we think the best method of teaching someone is to talk at them for 60 minute increments, OK, and preferably while they’re sitting, not standing, so it’s more sedentary.
And maybe if that doesn’t work, we’ll just give them sheets of paper, right? OK. And it’s not, necessarily, for research and otherwise, the best form of education.
The more we engage, the more senses we engaged, the more emotions engage, the more we remember, OK? But if you want to have a way to learn, that is the least engaging, we’ve come up with a pretty good model. Now, it lets us do lots of people, but that doesn’t mean they retain much.
So, we try and kind of flip the model on its head. And we say, “If we want people to remember and understand freedom and how to keep it, we have to approach that in a multisensory approach that engages the emotions.”
And so, we build a government simulation where it’s not that you learn about government, you become government. You are a congressman, or you’re a senator. Or maybe if you win the election, you become the president. Or maybe in another week, you’re doing international work where you’re representing another country in the U.N.
Or maybe you’re working as part of the FBI. Or maybe, I don’t know, part of the Defense Department. And you learn our government, how it works, by doing it. And so, we do a series of those over the summer.
Beyond that, we have our student action teams. I’ll actually let Jeremiah take student action teams, because he’s kind of the living, breathing expert on what those are. Do you want to explain?
Lorrig: Sure. So, our student action teams are those opportunities, as I just mentioned, where a team of volunteers, Generation Joshua volunteers, can go and make a difference in the closest political races around the country. The most recent example of that was the Virginia governor’s race. We had deployed students all across Virginia, working not only on the statewide races, but also on the House of Delegates races.
And so, one of the races that we engaged in, we had about the 35, 40 students volunteering in that small district. They talked to about 5,000 voters in four days, which was incredible. And then on election night, the candidate won by 115 votes—115 votes. If one of those students, one of those high schoolers had decided to stay home and play video games, that race would’ve gone differently.
It’s incredible what a young person can do. And you mentioned Bill of Rights Day. It reminds me of those core principles of what make America great. And it’s that engagement where we have rights, as outlined in the Bill of Rights, but also responsibilities.
And those responsibilities include participating in our democracy, making the republic work. And that’s what Generation Joshua’s all about, is giving young people the vision to say, “I may not be old enough to vote, but that doesn’t mean I’m not old enough to make a difference. And our country is worth fighting for. And those core principles are something that inspire us all.”
Allen: Oh, that’s excellent. Thank you all so much for sharing all those different tenets. You all are busy. You do a lot.
Grewe: We are.
Allen: So, tell me about some of the students. Tell me about young people that participate in these programs. What are their stories?
Grewe: So, a couple of them: First of all, the one nice thing about being a non-government-mandated school, because we’re not a school, and we’re not government run, is that the people that come to learn want to. And that is amazing, OK? Because as a rule, when you’re dealing with a Generation Joshua kid, or you’re dealing with a kid in the program, they’re usually there because, on some level, they choose to be there. I mean, granted, some of them start where mom says, “You go.” Right?
So, that’s one of the things you run into. But I think, secondly, they are people who have, as a rule, an understanding of history and an understanding of where we come from that says, “This is … It’s important. It matters. And I need to … that work of maintaining the republic,” to quote Jeremiah from a minute ago, OK? That is an aspect of what they are.
Now, what does that mean in practice? It means, these are the kids who actually show up at a city council meeting or a town council meeting. They might be at the committee hearing on a bill in their state legislature. They may even be legislature. They may even be speaking on it.
I remember a story from a couple years ago. We had a young lady who was the president of her local club. And her local club, this was out in Hawaii, happened to be right in Honolulu, so that was really convenient. And so, whenever the state legislature went into the session, they just decided that it was good practice, that one of their club members was always on Capitol Hill.
So, basically, if the building was open, someone was on station, OK? And it meant that every time there was a committee, those kids were there. They may not speak, sometimes they did, but they were there. And what that meant is, that pretty soon, they got to know … And keep in mind, this is not a particularly conservative state.
OK? They got to know most of the legislature, on both sides of the aisle. They knew the staff, they knew the way around the building. In fact, sometimes they were better than some of the staff, as far as getting a way around the building. But it also meant that when, at one point, the governor said, “Hey, I have a piece of legislation that I’m trying to decide on. I’m convening a special Cabinet to get advice on what to do with the legislation, because it’s not something I have an answer for. And this involves the future of our state. And it’s going to affect families and that will affect kids. I need some politically interested teenagers. Has anyone found any?”
The very, very left speaker of the House at the time said, “Well, there’s not many, but there’s one group, and they’re called the Guardians of Liberty.” That was the name of the local club. “And they’re here all the time. And you’re not going to like them. They’re conservative. But they’re here. So, if you want to talk to a politically interested teenager, I know one.”
And that resulted in a very interesting phone call on a Monday night, where it’s, “Hi, is Hailey home? This is the governor’s office.” Haley’s 14. You can imagine how that conversation went down with mom, where mom’s like, “Haley, the phone’s for you. And why is the governor calling?”
Right? OK? Well, the governor’s calling because the governor wanted Haley as the representative, politically active teenagers in Hawaii to serve on her Cabinet.
OK? And she did. And that’s what … And not to say, every kid has that moment, right?
But some of them do.
Some of them … And there are stories all across the U.S. of kids in the moment where the opportunity knocks. It’s kind of that, to quote the “Hamilton” [Broadway show], “The room where it happens.” They get to be in the place because they care. And they were engaged enough that when they needed to be … they needed someone, they get tapped.
Lorrig: Do you mind if I mention a story?
Allen: Oh, please.
Lorrig: OK. One of my favorite stories is a kid… A guy named Tim. I almost called him a kid. He’s not a kid anymore.
But he started in our program. And one of the things that we really believe is that leadership is like a muscle. It grows when you use it.
And this kid was in the program, and he was doing kind of some of the standard things that our clubs are encouraged to do. They’re registering people to vote, writing letters to the editor, that kind of stuff. And after a few months of that, he started to get noticed in his local community. And somebody called him up and said, “Hey, I’m working with several candidates who are running for office. Would you be willing to come and volunteer, and help make a difference? I can see by your letters to the editor that you are passionate and engaged, and you’re articulate. We’d love to have you involved in these campaigns.” He said, “Sure.”
He volunteered there. He ended up working with a state legislator, who he got along with great. And then a couple years later, he turns 18 and she is looking at running for Congress now. So, she runs for Congress, here in Washington, D.C. And she says, “You know, Tim, I think you should run to replace me in the Statehouse.”
And so, he did. And he came the youngest representative in the Indiana state legislature. And he’s still there working, representing the people. Now, he’s grown up a little bit more. Now, he’s a pastor as well, so he’s got lots of things going on in his life. But it’s really cool to see, when we allow them to use that leadership muscle and exercise it, even in what seems like very small ways, that can grow and grow to the point where they can step in and actually become a leader in their state or in their community.
Allen: Yeah. That’s so neat. Yeah, I mean, I imagine for teens that are really immersed in this from such a young age, probably many of them get that bug for politics and say, “Hey, this is actually where I want to invest. And this is where I want to be giving my time.”
Grewe: If I can jump on that for a second. I think one of the other things that I should just note is that, there is an assumption that if there are kids involved in Gen J, they’re political nerds. And we have plenty of them. I mean, we’re in The Heritage Foundation right now as … OK … political nerds are kind of our thing, right? I’m a political nerd. But I think one of the wonders about Generation Joshua is that, yes, it attracts the political nerds. If you care about the minutiae, oh, absolutely, you’re going to love this, OK?
But if you also just care about the future of your country and you want to be a competent citizen, you’re still going to love this, OK? Because our goal is to be something that is accessible to anyone from anywhere, so that you walk out and you say, “I might be a veterinarian, I might be an architect, I might be waste-management professional.”
What, pick your title, whatever the job is, I don’t care, whatever your career choice is or not. “But I understand the basics of citizenship in my country. And I understand the responsibilities incumbent on me as a citizen, nothing more than that, just a citizen. But what it takes to actively engage my country, my government to understand process, to know how to find information and make good decisions and apply principles to the … And then vote. And then, I also know enough that, frankly, my friends who probably may not know all that will come ask. And I have good answers for them.”
Because we see that at every community level. There are almost … At every level, every community, there are people who may not be in elected office, but they are trusted within their community because they’ve shown the conduct and character necessary for communities to trust them. And what does that mean? It means that when elections come up, people go, “Hey, you know about this stuff. What should I do?” And it gives them a platform for influence and leadership, whether they’re in the field of politics and policy or not.
Lorrig: Well, and I have some bad news or maybe good news, but I think it’s bad news for the people listening to these podcasts. The reality is, the people who listen to your podcast are more engaged than the average American, which means that they have a responsibility to help lead their local community. Their family and friends are looking to them when Election Day comes, saying, “Oh, wait. Who should I be voting for?”
And that’s what we’re doing with the kids as well.
All the Generation Joshua students, because they’re coming in and they’re learning some of these foundational truths, they now are already more equipped than many citizens. And in 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, they’re going to be the people who are looked to in their community. I like to tell … The student action teams, I just mentioned, where we go and make a difference on the campaigns.
I love to talk about those because, yes, we elect some really great candidates, like that mom who won by 115 votes.
But that’s not the real investment that Generation Joshua is doing. What we’re investing in is the 40 students who are volunteering for her. Because if they get a little bit of that passion, and maybe they’ll run for office. Or they’ll just be communicating with their friends and family. They’ll become leaders. And they take on the responsibility of democracy. And they make our republic stronger.
Allen: Hmm. So good. Yeah. Please, Joel, jump in.
Grewe: I can add one more thing. Sorry. And I know we’re on a roll. I was talking to a mom a couple years ago. It was pre-pandemic, when we were sitting there chatting about one of her kids. And she goes, “I don’t know how you teach what you teach, but I wanted to just share … tell you a story.”
She goes, “Earlier this year…” And they were… it was a debate on Capitol Hill, right? One of the things … The House was working on a bill. Some people liked it; some people didn’t. It was a lot of back and forth. And she was sitting there watching the news, and something happened, a procedural vote on the House. And she looked at it, and she goes, “That’s not OK” And she started to get all worked up about it.
And her daughter was in the kitchen, sitting there at the table, working on something. And she goes, “Oh, that’s nothing.” And the mom’s like, “Wait, what? I didn’t even know you’re paying attention.” She’s like, “Oh, no, no. What this is …” And she sat there and explained the parliamentary process. Admittedly, this is a nerd moment, right? OK?
To mom saying, “That’s not a big deal, but that vote coming up there in 15 minutes, that’s a huge deal. That’s the one that matters.” And mom’s like, “How did you know this?” She goes, “Oh, well, we did this at camp.” “Oh.” And she goes, “I don’t really care, but I guess I actually know something.” And then went back to doing what she was doing. And not that she was trying to be the nerd to kind of show it off, but she understood her process.
And I think one of the things that kills us sometimes in our country, is that the complicated components of our government, which admittedly exist for reasons, are sometimes inaccessible to people. But if you grow up knowing that process and knowing why it exists … .
Because often those processes come from the idea of due process. They matter because we care about how we get to laws, and we care about justice and keeping those principles in play. Well, that takes some of the mystique out of governance in a way that becomes accessible to people. And that 14-year-old kid was explaining something to her mom, who then explained it to her friend, who then explained it to et cetera, et cetera.
And you saw that ripple effect. But it started with a 14-year-old kid at the table, who’d been to camp last year and understood what was going on, and literally just followed it over what she heard over broadcast.
Allen: I love that.
Grewe: And that’s all it took.
Allen: That’s so cool. So, about how many students come to camp every year? Do you know how many your Generation Joshua is touching through camp, through your clubs, on an annual basis?
Grewe: Sure. So, camps are usually a couple hundred kids a year.
Lorrig: About 400.
Grewe: And then to be fair, it’s a week you’re traveling. There’s more involved in that. It’s probably a more complicated investment, as it were, OK? So, there’s that aspect. As far as the whole program, we’re usually training a couple thousands of kids a year, OK, would be our numbers. Think we’re at about, I want to say, 30-ish-thousand aggregates. And that number has gone up every year.
So, if you look at the first year, it was like 400 kids, right? And so, you keep kind of growing, and so that number has been increasing. I mean, even just with the pandemic, even in the pandemic, we saw a growth in the number of kids we were teaching that year, over the year before. And this year, it has exceeded that year.
And so, that is kind of on an increasing climb, as far as the number of people we work with. But usually, it’s at least thousands every year. And that’s … I find it kind of remarkable, because high schoolers tend to be a pretty transitory bunch. They don’t last very long in high school, at least, hopefully not. They move on, right?
And so, we’re constantly bringing in new people. And if we’re churning out thousands every year that have gone through this, that have kind of wrestled with these ideas and issues, that’s good for the nation, OK?
The investment early lasts far longer than working with someone who’s like, “All right, I’m done with my career. I’ve retired. I’ll run for office.” That’s great. Please do that, right? But I would rather have someone who said, “Hey, I’m looking at starting my career. And by the way, part of that plan is that I’m going to run for office.” And they’ve already thought that through, because they’ve decided that these principles matter, and they want to engage. So, we’re kind of trying to engage earlier, rather than later.
Allen: Yeah. That makes sense. So, for those listening, who are either young people listening and thinking, “I want to go to camp! I want to be a part of this.” Or for parents thinking, “Oh, gosh. My child would love this,” how do they get involved? How do they get all the information?
Lorrig: Well, the easiest way is to go to on our website, generationjoshua.org. That’s where you can find all kinds of information. We’ll be posting our camp registration soon. We just finished our student action team thing. But go there and sign up for the emails, because then you’ll get updated as to things happening all around the U.S. Also feel free to call our office and you can find our phone number there on the website as well.
But that’s the way to get involved in Generation Joshua. But remember, Generation Joshua is a steppingstone to being engaged as a citizen.
Like I keep thinking, today is Bill of Rights Day, so we want to make sure that we are all, as citizens, looking at the Bill of Rights for what it is and how valuable it is. And take on that responsibility with the rights, because we have rights and responsibilities, and say, “OK, what can we do to keep these principles of freedom strong?”
Allen: Yeah. That’s so, so critical. Well, and again, that website is generationjoshua.org. All of the information there. Joel and Jeremiah, congratulations to you all again, on being one of the winners of The Heritage Foundation Civics Expo.
Lorrig: Thank you.
Grewe: It’s been a pleasure.
Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email letters@DailySignal.com and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the url or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.