What’s this blog about?

This blog will try to understand conservatism, traditionalism, and “fundamentalism” in American education.

It will not attempt to attack these ideas.  But it will also not promote them.  Readers who want to read inspiring culture-war polemics should look elsewhere.

We will try to make sense of some widely shared ideas that don’t make sense to us.  For instance, what do conservatives really think about issues such as

  • evolution?
  • sex ed?
  • prayer in schools?
  • teachers unions?
  • vouchers?

I don’t identify as a “conservative” of any kind.  But for a living [see my work website here] I research and write about the history of conservative activism in culture, politics, and education.  In these blog posts, I won’t try to make the case for or against these notions.  I’ll only try to understand the thinking behind traditionalist, conservative, “fundamentalist” beliefs about education.

There are plenty of other places to read defenses or attacks on conservative school activism.  The folks at Exodus Ministry or Answers in Genesis push fundamentalist policies.  Free-market wonks at places such as the Heritage Foundation press for more market reform of education.  Higher-ed conservatives in the National Association of Scholars or at Minding the Campus battle for sensible conservative fixes to college leftism spinning out of control.  Traditionalists at forums such as The Imaginative Conservative bemoan the wasting death of true education.

On the other side, skeptics such as Richard Dawkins or Bill Nye “The Science Guy” attack creationism without really trying to understand it.  Liberals in organizations such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State fight against heavy-handed religion in public schools and the public square.  Education scholars like Michael Apple or Ira Shor analyze conservatism, but only in order to discredit conservative policy.

In contrast, this blog will try to understand conservative education policies from the inside out.

Leave a comment


  1. Donald Byrne

     /  August 30, 2011

    I find that the more I live into this world, the more I find my ass on both sides of many fences. For one example, in the field of education, I believe lots of teachers sux but I don’t want them “held accountable” by hi-stakes testing. For another, I hammer away at literacy education like a friggin preacher but I really don’t think everybody needs it. Not in the 21st-century-education-standards way of speaking. I find I actually believe in more vocational-technical education.

    • Yes! It is possible. What I have found more ilmsosibpe, though, is for a pro-Harry Potter Christian homeschooler and an anti-Harry Potter Christian homeschooler to get along together. And not because the pro-HP one (me) hasn’t tried. I am so glad that my best friend moved over here a couple years ago she homeschools, loves Harry and even (gasp) Pokemon, and we get along famously, in spite of our political differences. Why do people have to dig in over such stupid things? And, bravo on posting the head’s up about the HB Awards. I’ve been trying to ignore most of the hype, because I, too noticed that the organizers were eligible to win, and found it ludicrous that no one thought this might be a teensy weensy conflict of interest. You and I may have different beliefs that we stand on, but I love your blog, and would love to see it win just so the organizers can see how hateful their stand on issues can be.

  2. Donaldo,
    Your point raises a tricky question about this kind of endeavor: Is it just a matter of over-precious ambivalence to try to straddle the fence like this? In other words, is the kind of ambivalence that you describe and I tried to describe just a function of thinking too much about this kind of thing instead of just embracing the simpler black-and-white options available? How does that saying go? …The only things in the middle of the road are striped lines and dead armadillos?? or something like that?
    Of course, I hope not. I think that a little more ambivalence can go a long way to making ours a civilized society. In schools, for instance, the pressure I felt as a teacher to speak in buzzwords while actually teaching in fairly obvious ways just made me feel like a fake. As you say, I felt like a lot of the teachers I was working with could use a good kick in the pants, but I don’t think Chris Christie is the guy to give it to them. Rather, I think we should agree that bad teachers should be pushed out and good teachers should be supported. But that kind of talk is not going to get Christie the Vice Presidential bid, right?

  3. Charles Corum

     /  September 4, 2011

    Your analogy of smoking to the bible-thumping fundamentalist’s belief that those of us who aren’t “born again” are going to hell is flawed.

    There is a mountain of irrefutible scientific evidence to support the contention that smoking is bad for you, but there is a notable (i.e., total) lack of scientific evidence for the fundamentalist beliefs about heaven and hell (and virtually all other fundamentalist beliefs).

    If you were to ask a fundamentalist Christian (or Muslim) is there was ANY scientific evidence (from astronomy/cosmology, geology/paleontology, biology/evolution, chemistry or physics/radiometric dating, archeology, genetics, etc) that would cause them to change their views about the creation of the universe, the earth and humans, or evolution, radiometric dating, etc., my suspicion is that almost all would resoundingly say “NO”: the bible (or koran) is the absolute and final truth as given to us by God, or Mohammed, and is not subject to change.

    My response would be that a belief that is not subject to change (or at least modification) in the light of new evidence is not a belief, it is a SUPERSTITION.

  4. jacohend

     /  September 4, 2011

    The formatting on some of this looks a bit out of whack, is it just me?

    Also, good explanation.

  5. @ Charles Corum: You make a good point. There is a definite difference between the REASONS why people think smoking is bad for you and the REASONS why some people think sinning is bad for you. The analogy is not perfect. However, I use it because it is the best one I have heard to help explain the FEELINGS of trying to convert someone to those outside of the evangelical sphere. In other words, speaking for myself, there aren’t many commonly accepted behaviors that make me feel so strongly, yet so helplessly, as seeing someone else smoke. I really want them to stop, for their own sakes. I’m not arguing that the KNOWLEDGE that smoking is bad for people is the same as the BELIEF that sinning is bad for people. But I do think that the FEELINGS aroused in me by seeing people smoke is similar to the FEELINGS more religious folks might get when they see people sin. Beyond that, it is hard to relate to people who are so convinced of their own beliefs that they would rudely interfere in another person’s behavior.
    As for the use of scientific evidence and the distinction between belief and superstition, I think you’ve put your finger on the heart of the issue. The essence of being a religious fundamentalist is to put a religious scripture at the core of your epistemological outlook. That is, one begins to know things not with facts or observations, but with the text. Any fact that does not accord with the scripture is rejected. The scientific outlook is just the opposite. Any cultural construct, such as a religious scripture, must be brought into accord with observed facts. Any part of that scripture that does not accord with observed fact must be thrown out.
    Although I personally share the scientific outlook, the point of this blog is to recognize and try to articulate the ideas that an intelligent, informed person might have who shared the scriptural outlook. I don’t think those ideas necessarily deserve the implied scorn of the label “superstition.”

    @ Jacohend: You’re right about the format. I’m still struggling with it. I had stalled for a long time taking this blog public because I didn’t have the time to figure out every formatting detail. Finally I just decided to go for it and figure out the formatting stuff as I went along. So, apologies for the lame appearance.

  6. Pete

     /  September 6, 2011

    As a former fundamentalist Christian — now agnostic and skeptical — I am enjoying your early blog entries and looking forward to future posts. Although my beliefs, right down to the core of my world view, have been shaken to the foundations, one cherished belief has endured: that most people are well-meaning and charitable, regardless of their socio/political/religious beliefs. Projects like this, which seek to aid understanding on all sides, are a terrific development, in my view. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

  7. Acts 13:38-39

     /  July 20, 2012

    Good people do not go to heaven.

    Not necessarily. To a criminal on death row, Jesus promised, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). To religious leaders, men who thought they were following the Bible’s every command, Jesus cried, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33).

    It’s not about behavior; it’s about faith.

    Admit that you have disobeyed God’s law, and that you must pay the penalty: death. Acknowledge that only Jesus Christ could live a perfectly obedient life, because He is God. Accept that He died in your place, thus paying that penalty. Commit your life to serving Him. Charity, temperance, and church attendance cannot save you — only God can.

    Disobedient living is simply evidence that you have not believed this radical, life-changing truth. One might assume that a woman without hair is suffering from cancer, but only because that hair loss is a symptom, not the cause of the disease that leads to death. Likewise, sex outside of marriage suggests that you lack faith in Jesus — that which alone will save you from hell.

  8. Statement Concerning Child Evangelism Fellowship Mission Trip to Portland, Oregon
    Child Evangelism Fellowship® is a historic ministry that believes God loves both children and adults, and He wants to give them a spiritual and moral foundation for life. Children are mentioned about 100 times in the Gospels, and Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me.” For nearly 2000 years, Christians have been spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to adults and children alike, and for nearly 75 years Child Evangelism Fellowship has been telling children around the world about the love of Jesus. We do not pressure or coerce children, and we respect the wishes of their parents or guardians. We believe we have a wonderful message from Scripture, and we are happy to share it with those wanting to hear. Since children establish moral values early in life, they have a right to hear the Gospel if they desire, and we have a biblical obligation and the constitutional right to share the message of Jesus. We have decades of experience in tactfully and appropriately sharing the Gospel, and we have 75 years of testimonies from people whose lives have been positively impacted by our message. Our goal, when our mission in Portland is over, is to leave this city a happier place with healthier children and stronger homes. We appreciate the opportunity to serve here.

  9. collin237

     /  February 13, 2015

    Saving grace is one of the most unholy ideas religion has ever thought of. A god that judges in the way Acts describes is utterly antithetical to what anyone with a modern religious outlook would call God.

  1. Let’s Be Civil: Scott F. Aikin & Robert B. Talisse « I Love You but You're Going to Hell
  2. An Atheist and a Fundamentalist Walk into a Bar… | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

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