…He’s Sitting over There

The reviews keep coming in! My German is more than a little rusty, but your humble editor noted this morning a new review of The Other School Reformers on the H-Soz-u-Cult page. Thanks to Lukas Boser Hofmann and the H-Soz-u-Cult list.

Does he like it? If my translation can be trusted, then yes indeed. He raises central questions and offers some helpful ideas.

With his Continental perspective, Boser points out a fair criticism. My book really does focus on the experience of American activists and traditions. As he suggests, we would all profit from comparative cross-national studies. As he asks, how have conservative ideas formed European educational policies? How have different nations struggled to determine the content of their curricula? Such comparisons would indeed offer a more comprehensive definition of what it has meant to be “conservative,” about education or any other issue.

I’m grateful for Boser’s claim that my book succeeds in giving conservatism and conservative activists a more accurate place in educational history. (At least, that’s my understanding of this section:

dem es den Konservativen einen Platz im grand narrative der US-amerikanischen Schulgeschichte einräumt. Dieses grand narrative wird von Laats durch die Verknüpfung der vier zeitlich und örtlich unabhängigen Einzelfallstudien und durch den Einbezug der Konservativen als wichtige Akteure ausgebaut und gestärkt und nicht etwa in Frage gestellt.

Maybe the SAGLRROILYBYGTH can offer a clearer translation. As I read it, though, Boser generously says that I’ve succeeded in incorporating conservatism into the “grand narrative” of American educational history. For me, after all, the primary motivation for the book was to find out why conservatives show up in so many educational histories as merely pesky gadflies, roadblocks in the inevitable progress of progressive education.  In my experience, at least, conservatives have played a much stronger leading role in shaping the course of American education.

At the end, Boser notes my sloppy style and predilection for puns (“seinen Hang zu Wortspielereien und Alliterationen – beispielsweise in den Kapitelüberschriften – und den manchmal etwas saloppen Stil.”) Ouch. In spite of such flaws, though, Boser concludes that my book is overall entertaining (“unterhaltsame”).

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are aware, if I can’t be punny, I won’t bother. I wouldn’t like to be thought of as a sloppy writer, though.

In the end, I’m extremely gratified to hear that I managed to make a potentially dry and jargon-y book more pleasant to read, at least in Dr. Boser’s opinion.

The Handwriting on the Wall for Christian Colleges

It doesn’t look good.

For small colleges of any sort, the future looks grim. A new report from Moody’s (the investor service, not the Bible institute) offers some scary predictions about the iffy future of small schools. For conservative evangelical colleges, however, this looming financial crisis also represents a uniquely religious crisis. Will small evangelical colleges be able to resist the growing pressure to become more radical in their orthodoxy?

Look out, Daniel!

Look out, Danny!

Inside Higher Education describes the sobering financial outlook. In the next few years, college closings will likely triple. Why? Fewer students means fewer tuition dollars, which means fewer scholarship dollars, which means fewer students. Rinse and repeat.

Among conservative evangelical schools, we’ve already seen the trend. Former evangelical schools such as Northland University, Tennessee Temple, and Clearwater Christian have all closed their doors. In some cases, the “Wal-Marts” of Christian colleges have emerged even stronger. Cedarville University, for example, has offered to accept all students from Clearwater Christian. As with non-evangelical schools, the big will likely get bigger and the small will get gone.

For small evangelical colleges, this presents a double pickle. In desperate need of more students, schools will likely become extra-timid about offending conservative parents and pundits. As I’ve argued before, young-earth impresarios such as Ken Ham already exert outsize influence on college curricula. If Ham publicly denounces a college—which he likes to do—you can bet young-earth creationist parents might listen.

We’ve seen it happen at Bryan College. Rumors of evolution-friendly professors caused administrators to crack down. Any whiff of evolutionary heterodoxy, and schools might scare away potential creationist students.

At other evangelical colleges, too, as we’ve already seen in schools such as Mid-America Nazarene or Northwest Nazarene, administrators desperate for tuition dollars will be tempted to insist on a more rigidly orthodox reputation.

Things aren’t looking good for small colleges in general. But conservative evangelical schools face this special burden. In order to attract the largest possible number of students in their niche, they might have to emphasize more firmly the things that make them stand out from public schools. In the case of conservative evangelical schools, that distinctive element has always been orthodoxy.

In the past, well-known schools such as Bryan College might have relied on their long history as staunchly conservative institutions. They might have assumed that conservative evangelical parents would trust their orthodoxy, based on their long-held reputation as a bastion of conservative evangelical education. These days, no-holds-barred competition for students will mean that every school must guard its image far more aggressively.

Required Reading: Classroom Wars

What should schools teach?  How should they teach it?  Who gets to decide?  These are the questions that keep SAGLRROILYBYGTH up at night, and now we have a great new book to shed light on the infinitely complicated ways they play out in real life.

Natalia Mehlman Petrzela’s new book, Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture examines battles in California over bilingual ed and sex ed during the 1960s and 1970s.  As Petrzela explains,

This book focuses on bilingual (Spanish-language) and sex education in California in order to understand how grass-roots citizens came to define the schoolhouse and the family as politicized sites during the late 1960s and 1970s.

Full disclosure: Petrzela and I are friends and colleagues.  We’ve worked together for several years now, and we’ll be doing some presentations together in upcoming months at academic conferences about history, education, and culture wars.  Even if we weren’t friends, though, I would love this book.   petrzela classroom wars

For one thing, Petrzela’s careful examination of California’s educational politics shows us the ways culture-war politics are not somehow “natural,” but rather develop over time due to specific historical circumstances and activism.

For example, as she describes, in the early 1960s bilingual ed had lots of support among conservatives.  Arch-conservative Max Rafferty pushed for it, and even as late as 1968, many California legislators touted bilingual ed as the “American thing to do.”  Soon, however, bilingual education was tied together with leftist radicalism.  Students in 1968 staged huge “blow-out” protests in LA, carrying “Viva la Revolucion!” signs and demanding that all Anglo teachers be fired.  As Petrzela puts it,

In the two years following the BEA’s [Bilingual Education Act] passage and the blowouts [student walkouts], bilingual-bicultural education evolved from a relatively uncontroversial issue that garnered significant bipartisan support to a lightning rod dividing and defining conservatives and liberals.

Among activists, too, we need to be careful before we assume too much.  In the education bureaucracy of California, for instance, Petrzela introduces us to the complicated positions of folks such as Eugene Gonzalez, associate superintendent and chief of the division of instruction.  Gonzalez was close with conservative leader Max Rafferty, and like Rafferty he spoke out against the methods used by radical student protesters.  But he also continued to push for better and fairer education for latino/as in California schools.  Other Mexican-American activists, such as Alfred Ramirez, refused to go along with the protesting students at all.  He pushed Gonzalez to crack down on the Latino protesters and to get rid of bilingual programs entirely.

Nor were California’s educational culture wars a simple, stereotypical battle between progressive teachers and students on one side against conservative activists on the other.  That may often be the case, but as Petrzela recounts, in 1970 conservative teachers in LA founded their own union, the Professional Educators of Los Angeles.  And, though one conservative teacher lamented her position as a “minority among educators,” Petrzela also reveals that students, too, were split.  In at least one case, a group of conservative students gathered to denounce the “leftist-liberal bias” of their teachers.

We also see in these pages a clearer-than-usual vision of what conservative activists wanted.  At root, Petrzela shows us, conservatives felt as if they had too often been frozen out of discussions of sex ed and bilingual ed.  They felt they had not been included, not been consulted.  Many times, conservative activists and parents worried that a blundering school administration was trying to insert itself between parents and children.

When this wasn’t the case, many conservatives did not protest against sex education.  In conservative San Diego County, for example, sex ed was not at all controversial.  Part of the reason was because the teachers had a strong reputation in the whole community as family women with “high moral standards.”  By the end of the 1970s, Petrzela tells us, policy-makers had figured it out.  By then, most sex ed curricula were no longer so ferociously controversial, largely because parents and conservative organizations had been consulted beforehand.

Petrzela also tackles one of the toughest questions of these educational culture wars: Who won?  She argues that over all, over time, progressives tended to score victories.  In about half the cases of controversy over sex ed, Petrzela found, California districts actually expanded their sex ed programs after the blow-ups.

In every case, Petrzela makes her case well that schools matter.  As she puts it,

In the 1960s and 1970s, militant Chicanos in East Los Angeles, suburban housewives in Anaheim, and political aspirants as varied as Max Rafferty and Julian Nava all pinned their hopes on the public schools as the primary institution for cultivating an ethical, informed, moral next generation.

For all of us who want to look beyond the headlines of America’s continuing educational culture wars, this book is a good place to start.

Can a College Be Christian?

After Ben Carson’s stupid and hateful comment that the USA should not have a Muslim president, Baylor theologian Roger Olson noted that we really could not have a Christian president, either. In my current work about evangelical colleges, I’m struggling to define what it meant to be Christian at school, too. It raises an ancient question: Can an other-worldly religion (successfully) run worldly institutions?

Olson noted that the only sincere evangelical to sit in the Oval Office in recent decades has been Jimmy Carter. And Carter, Olson argued, was a terrible president. Not by accident, either, but because he was an honest-to-goodness Christian. As Olson put it,

I am not cynical, but neither am I naïve. America is no longer a true democracy; it is run by corporations and the super-rich elite. Occasionally they don’t get their way, but, for the most part, they do. One reason they do not seem to is that they do not agree among themselves about everything. So, sometimes, a president, a senator, a congressman, has to choose between them in decision-making. But, in the end, the policy remains that “What’s good for business is good for America” even when what’s good for business is bad for the working poor (to say nothing of the destitute).

No, given how modern nation states work, I do not think a real Christian, a true disciple of Jesus Christ who seeks to put first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, can be president of the United States or any modern nation state.

The deeper question of belief and institutional necessity is one I’m wrestling with these days. As I write my new book about the history of evangelical higher education, I find myself struggling to offer a satisfactory definition of what it has meant to be a fundamentalist. It’s a question that has bedeviled historians (and fundamentalists) for a good long while, so I feel I’m in good company.

For good reasons, historians have insisted that we need a fairly narrow definition of fundamentalism. In his great book Revive Us Again, Joel Carpenter argued, “more generic usage obscures more than it illumines” (page 4). Carpenter was leery of commentators who slapped a “fundamentalist” label on any and all conservatives or conservative Protestants. As he argued,

Labelling movements, sects, and traditions such as the Pentecostals, Mennonites, Seventh-day Adventists, Missouri Synod Lutherans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Churches of Christ, black Baptists, Mormons, Southern Baptists, and holiness Wesleyans as fundamentalists belittles their great diversity and violates their unique identities (4).

If we need a straightforward definition for those reasons, Matthew Sutton’s recent definition of fundamentalism as “radical apocalyptic evangelicalism” will do the trick. Certainly, fundamentalist theology was defined by its vision of end-times as well as by the centrality of those apocalyptic visions to the movement.

But such definitions don’t seem to match the ways fundamentalism has been defined in its leading institutions. At the colleges I’m studying—schools such as Wheaton College, Bob Jones University, Bryan College, Biola University, The King’s College, and similar schools—there’s more to the school than just theology.

When these schools called themselves “fundamentalist” (and they DID, even relatively liberal schools such as Wheaton), they meant more than theology. They meant more than just “radical apocalyptic evangelicalism.” They meant more than just “not-Mennonite-or-Pentecostal.”

Defining fundamentalism as it was used in fundamentalist institutions is a trickier issue than simply defining fundamentalist theology. By and large, when schools talked about themselves as “fundamentalist,” they meant that the professors and administration all signed on to fundamentalist theology. But they also meant that the students would have a vaguely conservative atmosphere in which to study. No smoking, no dancing, no etc. They also meant that students would be controlled and guided in their life choices. And they also meant that students would be more likely to socialize with similarly fundamentalist friends and future spouses.

I’m not sure how to define that kind of fundamentalism. I like the way historian Timothy Gloege has done it in his new book about the Moody Bible Institute. Gloege focuses on what he calls the “corporate evangelical framework” that guided MBI since its founding in the 19th century.

What did fundamentalism mean in Chicago?

What did fundamentalism mean in Chicago?

As Gloege argues, at a school like MBI, fundamentalism was more than a set of “manifestos and theological propositions.” Rather, it worked as a set of “unexamined first principles—as common sense.” Fundamentalism, Gloege writes, is better understood as a certain “grammar” than as a list of religious beliefs.

That kind of definition seems closer to the ways it was used in the schools I’m studying.

Roger E. Olson argues that it will be impossible for any sincere evangelical Christian to be president. There are simply too many worldly factors that violate the otherworldly morality of Christianity. Similarly, evangelical colleges have not defined themselves merely along theological lines. They couldn’t. Instead, they have defined what it has meant to be a “fundamentalist” based on a range of factors. Of course, they care about student religious belief. But they also care about student fashions, patriotism, diets, and social lives. And such things were usually considered a central part of making a school authentically “fundamentalist.”

Can a college be Christian? In the sense that Roger E. Olson is asking, I guess not. Just as every president has to violate evangelical morality, so every institution of higher education has to consider a range of non-religious factors in order to survive.

Government Pretends Conservative Schools Don’t Exist

To be fair, it goes both ways. As I’ve argued here, there, and everywhere, conservative intellectuals have long disputed the influence of the federal government in education. Now, President Obama jabs back: A new college scorecard simply left leading conservative schools off its list. The message is clear, and creepy even for non-conservatives like me.

In President Obama’s release of the new guide to colleges two weeks ago, he promised,

Americans will now have access to reliable data on every institution of higher education.

EVERY institution. If you don’t see a school on the list, it doesn’t exist.

Except they do. And the ones that were left off have glaring similarities. All of them are robustly conservative schools. Schools such as Grove City College in Pennsylvania, Hillsdale College in Michigan, Christendom College in Virginia, New Saint Andrews College in Idaho, and Wyoming Catholic College.head-in-sand

The schools were left off because they refuse to accept federal dollars for their students. Because of that, they do not have to file student data with the federal government. Because of that, the feds don’t have the information they need to put these schools on the scorecard.

Naturally, the schools themselves didn’t like it. According to the Washington Post, Paul McNulty of Grove City College issued the following statement:

However well-intentioned, the Scorecard as it exists now is incomplete and does not fully disclose comprehensive data that families need to make informed decisions. For now, the Department should, at the very least, include a disclaimer that the Scorecard is not comprehensive or reflective of all college and universities.

Hillsdale College had it worse. When the student newspaper inquired as to why Hillsdale was left off the list, it was told that the school granted a plurality of certificates, not degrees. Hillsdale told Fox News that it just wasn’t true. Hillsdale students are almost all in degree programs.

I’m no conservative, but I think these schools have every right to complain. To my mind, the creepy part of this story comes on two different levels.

First, I worry about any ranking of higher education based mainly on economic factors. I don’t think anyone intended for this scorecard to be the only measure of educational quality, but President Obama made no secret of the values inherent in this scorecard. As he put it,

You’ll be able to see how much each school’s graduates earn, how much debt they graduate with, and what percentage of a school’s students can pay back their loans…

That’s helpful information, but I don’t like the implication that such factors are the proper way to measure higher education. Even worse, any scorecard that claims to rank all colleges really should. By leaving out conservative schools who have not played ball with the federal government, this scorecard seems to be making a crude power play.

Again, I don’t agree with the guiding philosophies of any of these schools, but I think they have every right to be included in any list of “every” college out there.

A(nother) New Direction

Time for a new subtitle. From now on, we’ll dedicate ourselves to “Awkward Conversations about School and Society.” What does this change mean? Not much, really, but I think it is necessary.

For SAGLRROILYBYGTH, this might seem familiar. In its four-year lifespan, the blog has changed directions a couple of times. At first, I hoped to explore and explain to my fellow secular progressives why some religious conservatives thought the way they did. I was interested in why smart, educated people could believe the earth was only 6,000 years old. I was curious why dedicated parents would want to keep knowledge about sex and sexuality away from their kids. I was puzzled about why some people could tell you that they loved you, but you were going to hell.

As the years have rolled on, my research interests have changed. I’m still curious about creationism, and conservatism, and old ladies who say they love you but you’re going to hell. But these days, I find myself asking those questions specifically in the context of schools and education. These days, I find myself curious about how all of us think about schools, not just the ways conservative activists think.

In every case, these difficult questions often get swept under the rug, since they are not fit for polite conversation. But they need to be aired in order to keep from festering. So from here on out, we’ll shift our focus a little bit. Instead of focusing exclusively on educational culture wars, or on conservative thinking about culture and education, we’ll ask things such as the following:

  • Why are schools still so racially segregated?
  • Should public schools teach sex ed? How?
  • What history do schools embrace? Why?
  • Why do so many people want creationism taught in public schools?
  • Who has the power in public schools? Who SHOULD have the power?
  • What sacred cows do we need to eliminate in order to get a truer picture of public education?
  • What does it mean to “reform” education? Why does every politician preach it, but so little changes?
  • Etc.!

Scott Walker’s Collapse Means School Is Still Cool

Governor Scott Walker dropped fast. According to the conservative Weekly Standard, Walker led the field of GOP presidential hopefuls in April, dropped to second in August, then plummeted to last place in no time flat. Why? Perhaps his campaign collapse proves that conservative voters do not hate the devils of public education as much as Walker (and I) thought.

Maybe school bashing's not enough...

Maybe school bashing’s not enough…

Walker had built his national reputation on a consistent diet of education-bashing. He famously attacked teachers’ unions. More than that, though, he blasted lazy university professors. Perhaps most uniquely, he himself had never completed college, having dropped out to pursue more worthwhile goals.

Make no mistake. As a voter and a teacher and a lazy college professor, I’m glad to see Walker crumble. But as an historian, I’m surprised. Whatever his faults, I thought Walker had shown some savvy in following a conservative script with nearly a century of success behind it.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH know the story, but for new folks, here’s a quick history lesson: When Governor Reagan was elected president, his first decorating move was to put a large portrait of Calvin Coolidge in the Oval Office. Reagan, after all, modeled himself after Coolidge’s brand of small-government conservatism.

Coolidge had come to national prominence for his stern opposition to a police strike in Boston. Reagan, too, made his bones by combatting an air-traffic controllers’ strike.

I thought Walker could win by using the Coolidge playbook. I thought his union-bashing policies were terrible, but I thought they would win.

We were both wrong. Walker went from conservative hero to zero practically overnight.

Why? There might be education-related reasons other commentators have missed. Maybe GOP voters really don’t hate public-school teachers as much as people think they do. Maybe GOP voters expect their candidate to have a college degree. Could it even be—perish the thought—that voters don’t hate university professors as much as Governor Walker thought they did?

Conservative pundits offer different reasons. Jonathan Last at the conservative Weekly Standard found Walker’s collapse “shocking.” Unlike other meltdowns, Walker’s campaign had suffered no embarrassing gaffes or scandals. Walker had real credentials, so his early front-runner standard was not a fluke. Last concluded that Walker’s loss was likely due to the weirdly broad field of candidates this year and to Donald Trump’s “disruption” of the nominating process.

Over at the progressive Nation, John Nichols focused instead on Walker’s tired and unpopular anti-unionism. As Nichols put it,

A lot of Republican voters work for a living, and a substantial number of them are union members. While grassroots conservatives have been instructed by corporate America’s amen corner in the media to be angry with unions and living wages and teachers and public employees, they have never been so enthusiastic in that anger as the billionaires who seek to build their empires on a foundation of income inequality and wage stagnation.

So Walker’s core message—union busting—never really resonated to the extent that the governor and his strategists imagined it would.

But don’t forget that Walker’s union-busting was only one leg of a broader strategy based in educational culture-war thinking.  He loudly and proudly fought against teachers’ unions, certainly, but also aggressively went after lazy college professors. Even his own story of dropping out of college to do something more important shows a long-term dedication to bucking the educational status-quo.

I admit it. I thought Governor Walker had hit upon a winning program, even if it was a program I didn’t like. In my last book, I argued that Walker’s brand of educational conservatism had proven politically unbeatable time and again. Throughout the twentieth century, it became a winning strategy among conservatives to bash teachers in no uncertain terms.

I thought it would still work, especially in the howling scramble of this year’s GOP presidential contest. But maybe I got it as wrong as Governor Walker did. Maybe that time has passed.

…Almost Makes You Want to Read It

Thanks to Mike Wakeford and the Society for US Intellectual History for offering a thoughtful review of my new book.   I was tickled pink to see it. Intellectual historians can be a tough crowd, so I was a little nervous when I starting reading it. But Dr. Wakeford captured my goals well and offered some kind words as well.

Get yr copy today!  The book one person is talking about!!

Get yr copy today! The book one person is talking about!!

SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing about the book. But new readers might not know that I looked closely at four of the most famous school controversies of the twentieth century. I wanted to figure out what had gone into making someone “conservative” when it came to education.

It would not have been kosher, I thought, simply to pick some of the best-known conservative groups and chronicle their activism. To do so, I would have had to impose a definition of what it meant to be a true “conservative.” By looking at school battles and examining instead what the conservative side wanted in each case, I was able to extract a definition of conservatism without imposing one from the outside.

That was the goal, anyway. Did it work? Dr. Wakeford thinks so:

Laats’ case-study approach is sound, effectively accomplishing his stated purpose of avoiding falling into easy stereotypes and generalizations (5).

Whew! My second goal in this book was to avoid imposing twenty-first-century connotations of “conservatism” onto earlier generations. I worked hard to get into a broad array of archives in order to get a handle on what conservatives themselves really cared about in the decades from 1920 to 1980. I was enormously gratified to read that Wakeford appreciated my labors. As he put it, my approach

also required that he dip into a remarkably eclectic source base, which ends up as one of the book’s strengths. Given the public nature of educational debates, national and local newspapers from Tennessee to Pasadena to West Virginia provide the core. But the study is enriched by Laats’ use of state legislative records and evangelical publications from the 1920s, the archival and published record of the American Legion and other conservative groups, local school board records, and, in the case of Kanawha County, author interviews with key figures.

In the book—and in my work here on ILYBYGTH—I worked hard not to impose my own progressive assumptions or stereotypes on conservative activists. I did not want to write a book simply damning the work of conservatives. Rather, I wanted to try to understand their goals and evaluate their strategies. Wakeford evaluated those attempts kindly as well:

To his credit, Laats rarely questions his subjects’ sincerity or the authenticity of their curricular visions, crediting them as meaningful participants in an important civic conversation about the purpose of schooling. But he is no sympathizer, and asks difficult questions about what has really made the movement tick.

Almost makes you want to read the book! Many thanks to Dr. Wakeford and the US Intellectual History blog.

From the Archives: A Satanic Cult Leader for the GOP

US News & World Report calls him the “evangelical darling.” By some counts, he is the second-most-popular candidate in the GOP scrum. But for anyone familiar with the history of evangelical Protestants in the USA, it can be shocking that a Seventh-day Adventist such as Ben Carson can be so popular among conservative voters. It wasn’t so long ago, after all, that conservative evangelicals considered Seventh-day Adventism to be trick of Satan, a cult to lure unwary believers.

Kings Business anti SDA 1For those unfamiliar with the denomination, SDA had its origins in the “Great Disappointment.” In the mid-1800s, William Miller predicted the imminent return of Christ. Some true believers sold everything to prepare for the end of the world. When October 22, 1844 came and went, some folks reasonably concluded that Miller had been wrong.

But not everybody. One splinter group, guided by Prophet Ellen G. White, explained that Christ had come and gone, but it had been a spiritual event, invisible to the mundane eye. White experienced visions of God and angels, creation and the end of time.

Her followers coalesced into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Unlike other Christian groups, SDA members had reason to believe that creation had been a literal six-day event. They had reason to believe that it had taken place within the past 10,000 years. After all, White had been shown it all.

This is the church from which Dr. Carson comes. Unlike some presidential contenders in the past, he has made no noise about separating himself from the teachings of his church. Quite the contrary. He has publicly and repeatedly embraced them.

So far, so good.

What remains shocking for those who know their SDA history is that Dr. Carson has been publicly and repeatedly embraced by evangelical Protestants. It was not so very long ago, after all, that evangelical intellectuals blasted SDA beliefs in the harshest terms.Kings Business anti SDA 2

Writing in the 1919 publication of the founding conference of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, George Guille described SDA this way:

It is Satan’s stroke against the throne and the heart of God.


And a few years later, in 1921, in the pages of The King’s Business, the magazine of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (today’s Biola University) one writer described SDA in similar no-holds-barred language. Jessie Sage Robertson warned Biola’s cult expert Keith L. Brooks that SDA was a dangerous cult. As she put it,

Strange, isn’t it, that a whole body of religionists should decry Spiritism as of the devil, and yet accept a whole system of Biblical interpretation received by one [Ellen G. White] in a state of non-self control?

Too many evangelical pastors, Robertson believed, were not aware of these “false religious systems” with “their soul-destroying dangers.”

If I were an SDA neurosurgeon, I might feel a little trepidation at accepting the friendship of such recent enemies. I might not feel excited to be welcomed by people who had so recently accused my religion of such terrible crimes.

Now, I’m not as dumb as I look. I am aware that these warnings are all from a long time ago. I am aware that our last round of elections brought a leader of the Latter-day Saints Church (the Mormons) to staunchly fundamentalist Liberty University to speak.

But I am also aware that schools such as the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago STILL sell charts warning true believers of the dangers of “cults” such as Mormonism and Seventh-day Adventism.

The point, however, is not that evangelicals should or should not embrace Dr. Carson. Rather, the point for all of us is that evangelical belief is always changing.

For progressive secular folks (like me), we need always to remember that evangelicalism is not somehow a product of a past America. Evangelical Protestants are not trapped in time, either from the Victorian 1870s or the Leave-It-to-Beaver 1950s.

And conservative evangelicals need always to remember that their religion is changing, no matter what they might hear. It can be tricky in evangelical circles to talk about religious change, since so much of evangelicalism is based on remaining true to God’s Unchanging Word. Smart evangelicals, however, will be the first to tell you that human interpretation of God’s Word is always changing, and always riddled with errors.

Will evangelical voters vote for a member of a Satanic Cult? Time will tell, but it seems most evangelicals have put that past behind them.

Socialists, Laggards, Perverts, and Baby-Killers

Why does everybody these days thank soldiers for their “service?” Even when the soldiers themselves don’t like it? At least in part, it must be a hangover from Vietnam-War-era culture-war battles, when soldiers were reviled as “baby-killers.” Here’s my question for SAGLRROILYBYGTH: When will teachers get thanked for their service? After all, for decades, teachers have been called names at least as bad as “baby-killers.”

As I described in my recent book, conservative activists have always accused teachers of terrible crimes and treasons. Teachers fill kids’ heads with lies about evolution, atheism, and communism. Teachers subject innocent young kids to mistruths and calumnies about American history and sex. Such accusations were a standard part of culture-war scripts from the 1920s through the 1980s.

Warning!  Commie Teachers!

Warning! Commie Teachers!

In the 1980s, for instance, Mel and Norma Gabler warned that the ranks of the teaching profession were full of “practicing homosexuals” who hoped to attract young children to their ranks. Such teachers pushed for more sex ed because they suffered from a perverted desire to lure children down the path to sexual sin and depravity.

There’s nothing new about this sort of no-holds-barred accusation against America’s teaching force. Back in 1923, anti-evolution activist T.T. Martin warned audiences about the sinister nature of public-school faculties:

under the cowardly sissy plea of ‘Academic freedom,’ [teachers] demand that we, with our taxes, pay their salaries, while they poison our children against the Bible as God’s real Word, and the Saviour as God’s Son who died for our sins to redeem us from all iniquity and send our children out into Eternity without real redemption; hence, to hell.

This week, I’m reading Natalia Mehlman Petrzela’s terrific new book Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture. Petrzela looks at the ways the fights over sex ed and bilingual ed played out in California between 1960 and 1990. Not surprisingly, she found that teachers were subjected to vicious, unrestrained attacks.

One parent, for instance, excoriated his local school’s teachers, saying they “fill schools with dope and filth and sex” and “teach [students] to make babies so they can kill them” (pg. 123).


As Petrzela relates, however, such extreme accusations were par for the course in culture-war battles over education in California.

So, dear readers, here’s my question for you: When will progressive types begin to thank teachers ostentatiously for their service? After all, it was backlash against the “baby-killer” accusations that led people to start thanking soldiers. Won’t there soon be a similar surge of support for beleaguered teachers? Or is there already and I’m just the last to notice?

We can see some glimmers of it. Progressive bloggers and scholars such as Diane Ravitch, Mercedes Schneider, and Peter Greene make a fetish of valorizing public-school teachers. Will it soon become an article of faith among progressives that teachers are America’s real heroes? Or has it already?


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