Confronting the Myth of Leftist College Students

I plead guilty. When I was a college student, I debated whether our campus Marxist-Leninist was really leftist enough. I remember feeling honestly surprised back then that so many people clung to their outmoded religious beliefs when the world had so obviously proved them wrong. In short, (cue the dramatic music): I Was a College Leftist. And I admit to a continuing illogical tendency: I tend to think that young people are somehow “naturally” more leftist than older adults. Are they? A scholar recently defended his claims that most college students in reality are conservatives. And not just any sort of conservatives, but a dunderheaded, abrasive, unreflective, Rush-Limbaugh sort.

I don’t think I’m alone. I’m not the only one who assumes college students are somehow naturally inclined to go through a leftist phase. We all know the jokes:

Q: What is a “fiscal conservative?”

A: A college leftist who just got a mortgage.

Q: What is a “social conservative?”

A: A college leftist who just had a daughter.

Before we look at the back-and-forth about students and conservatism, let’s remember our continuing debate about college faculty. As we’ve seen in these pages, Neil Gross has argued that the professoriate really does lean left. And conservatives in Colorado, at least, have mandated that their flagship state university open its halls to at least one staunch conservative.

But what about students? Some conservative writers have worried that conservative students are systematically denied free speech on today’s campuses. Some surveys suggest that faculty look askance at conservative religious students. And pundits often simply assume that conservatism is not allowed to rear its rightist head on most campuses these days.

In the pages of The American Conservative, scholar Donald Lazere defended his claims that most college students these days are actually knee-jerk conservatives. Lazere was responding to a harsh critique of his book by political scientist Jonathan Marks. In his book, Why Higher Education Should Have a Leftist Bias, Lazere argued that students needed to be exposed to thoughtful liberalism.lazere

In his original review, Marks pointed to some survey data that seem to undermine Lazere’s central claims. “I don’t know Lazere’s students,” Marks wrote,

but I do know that the Higher Education Research Institute annually conducts a survey of incoming freshmen. That survey shows that more students enter college as self-identified liberals (26.8 percent in 2012) than enter as self-identified conservatives (21.1 percent). Many (47.5 percent) call themselves middle-of-the-road. Seventy-five percent agree that same-sex marriage should be legal. Some 64.6 percent agree that the wealthy should pay more taxes. So much for conservative commonplaces.

Maybe at Marks’s fancy-pants Ursinus College, Lazere responded.

But I taught mainly at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, in a rural stretch of Central California; it was originally an ag college, and most of the English courses I taught were lower-division General Education and Breadth requirements for students in majors like Agricultural Management. Many such students resented having to waste their time and money on any general education at all. Does Marks really think that more college students resemble those at Ursinus than those at Cal Poly?

Lazere points out a key problem with many of our studies of college culture. Too often, social scientists look at fairly elite schools and make unsupportable generalizations. Or, more precisely, too often scholars examine elite schools and hasty readers make unsupportable generalizations.

For example, Elaine Howland Ecklund’s study of scientists and religion is often used to “prove” that scientists are ignorant about religion. As Ecklund made clear, however, she only spoke with scholars at elite universities. What about scholars at the kinds of schools most Americans actually attend? Similarly, Amy Binder’s look at student conservatives looked at only two schools, a western public flagship university and an elite eastern Ivy League school. What about the average student at the more representative non-flagship, non-Ivy League college?

Even back in the supposedly radical 1960s, leftist students at elite colleges attracted most of the attention. It was the takeover of the dean’s office at Columbia and shotgun-wielding curriculum changes at Cornell. It was bombings at Wisconsin and Free Speech Movements at Berkeley. What were the “Sixties” like at less elite schools?

After all, there are colleges and then there are colleges. At the colleges I’m currently studying, I certainly find a dominant conservatism during the late 1960s and early 1970s, along with a struggling dissident liberalism.

This leads us to some important questions. Are students more or less conservative at certain types of schools? Specifically, are students more conservative at less-elite schools?

I don’t see any answers in the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute surveys. Those hard-working folks offer lots of information. They break down student responses from all types of schools: public, private, Catholic, HBCU, University, college, and more. But I don’t see any division by selectivity. I don’t see a breakdown of student responses from more elite schools and less elite schools.

To me, Lazere’s central point makes some intuitive sense. Students at less-elite colleges might tend to be more oriented toward cultural conservatism. They might be more inclined to see college as a professional training course first, and a chance to let their freak flags fly second.

Without better data, though, it seems we’ll be left with anecdotes. Are students more conservative the farther we get from the Ivy League?

Does Homeschooling Work?

Can conservative Christian parents protect their children from the corrupt values of public schooling?  That’s the question asked by homeschooling parent Braden Hoelzle.  As reviewed by the peerless homeschooling scholar Milton Gaither, Hoelzle’s published findings don’t really offer us the solid answer we want.

First of all, for all of us interested in questions about homeschooling, Gaither’s blog is a must-read.  Professor Gaither reviews academic research into central questions and offers a quick summary of its value and contribution.

In this case, Gaither examines a 2013 article by Hoelzle.  Hoelzle wondered if homeschoolers can really pass along their values to their children.  He did so by interviewing four adults who were homeschooled.  For those four, the results were mixed.

Please read Gaither’s full appraisal, but in short, Gaither notes that we don’t get the solid research-based answers we want in this article.  Does homeschooling work?  Can parents pass along their values?  Maybe.  Sorta.  But this research doesn’t give us more than what Gaither calls “just four anecdotes.”

Gay + Christian = Celibate: A Long Tradition

What is a gay conservative Christian to do? With plenty of justification, many Americans think that conservative Catholics and evangelicals are anti-gay. A recent article in the Washington Post suggests that homosexual Christians have found a new answer to this conundrum, though those in the know know that there’s nothing new about it.

Michelle Boorstein’s article discusses the spiritual path of bloggers such as Eve Tushnet, whom Boorstein describes as a leader of a

small but growing movement of celibate gay Christians who find it easier than before to be out of the closet in their traditional churches because they’re celibate.

When Tushnet converted to Catholicism, Boorstein describes, she felt as if she were the first gay Christian to choose celibacy. To be fair, neither Boorstein nor Tushnet claims this is brand new.  It is “easier” to be openly gay, Boorstein writes.  But not easy.  As the article discusses, such a decision opens one up to attacks from both sides. Some conservatives hope that God can “heal” homosexuals. Such folks want homosexual Christians to abjure their homosexual identities. From the other side, some gay activists argue that choosing celibacy is a terrible option, a truckling to anti-gay animus among conservatives.

What the article doesn’t examine is the long history of this question among conservative evangelicals. As one might expect, issues of sexuality and sexual attraction have long played a central role at America’s network of conservative evangelical colleges. What should young people do if they feel sexually attracted to their own gender? What should loving Christians tell them in college classes and counseling sessions? In my current round of archival research into the history of these schools, I’m seeing a long tradition of the answer “discovered” by folks such as Tushnet: Gay conservatives can remain true to their religious beliefs and true to their sexual attractions by committing to lifelong celibacy.

Certainly, as Boorstein notes, the language has changed, as have public attitudes. In the past, conservatives did not claim their homosexuality as openly or as proudly. But this does not mean that the celibacy “solution” is at all a new one.

In the 1930s, for example, among the troubles at the Denver Bible Institute was the leader’s insistence that all relationships be “continent.” This leader, Clifton Fowler, was accused of homosexual attractions. Indeed, he was accused of active homosexual sexual relationships. His solution was to insist that all married relationships—apparently all potentially sexual relationships—remain celibate. In that case, the facts were obscured by conflicting accusations on all sides. It seems clear, however, that the celibate “solution” to the perceived dilemma of homosexual attraction among Protestant fundamentalists is nearly as old as American fundamentalism itself.

In a later generation, the language used to discuss homosexuality and celibacy grew slightly more frank, while remaining just as harshly anti-gay. In 1951, a student at Biola College (now Biola University) promised counselors that he would remain celibate. As I read the record, this promise was taken at the time as a satisfactory and traditional “solution” to the problem of gay fundamentalism. Take, for example, the following explanation he offered to his dean:

as to the matter [i.e., homosexuality] that has been at the root of all my grief, I am positive that I am cured. The perverted urge will probably come upon me many times in the future but now that I know giving in to it has cost me all that I held dear, I am certain that I will be enabled to grasp the strength of the Lord to withstand.

Back in 1951, it seems, as in the late 1930s, among these conservative Christians, celibacy seemed an appropriate and acceptable solution to homosexual attractions. The student here did not suggest that being “cured” of homosexuality meant becoming heterosexual. Rather, all he promised was the ability to “withstand” what he called his “perverted urge.”

Continuing into the 1970s, leaders at evangelical schools seemed open to the idea that celibacy could be an acceptable evangelical answer for homosexuals. For instance, in a 1977 interview with Wheaton College’s student newspaper, Wheaton President Hudson Armerding offered this response:

The church should respond in love toward those with homosexuality [sic] tendencies and in humility seek to assist such persons to maintain and develop a life-style that is in obedience to the Word of God.

Armerding did not insist that evangelical homosexuals be “cured” of their sexual identity. Rather, he simply demanded that they find a “life-style”—presumably including celibacy—that went with Armerding’s understanding of God’s Word.

From the 1930s to the 1970s, then, evangelical homosexuals could remain both evangelical and homosexual by living celibate lives. Nor does the notion of celibate homosexuality seem particularly revelatory to evangelical collegians today. Julie Rodgers currently works at Wheaton College as an openly gay celibate Christian. She helps counsel students about sexual issues, among other things.

Certainly, the language these days has changed. Rodgers, for example, openly describes herself as gay. The gay celibate student at Biola College in 1951, in stark contrast, was driven to extremes in his attempt to hide his gay identity. Back in the 1930s, Clifton Fowler never admitted to any homosexual attractions, though there seems ample evidence of it.

Nevertheless, for those in the know, there is nothing new among conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists about the celibate “solution” to homosexual attractions.

Investigative Report: Sex Abuse at Fundamentalist U


Are fundamentalist universities guilty of encouraging sex abuse? Does “purity culture” encourage predators? Does the environment at fundamentalist universities force victims, at best, to suffer in silence and shame?

We don’t have all the answers, but the GRACE report of sex abuse at Bob Jones University offers a few clues. Short answer: BJU is guilty of establishing an idiosyncratic administration and campus culture that punished victims and rewarded loyalty over caring and competence.

I’ve taken some heat in the past for wondering if fundamentalist universities had been targeted unfairly on this subject. Certainly, fundamentalist schools have done a terrible job in handling sexual assault and abuse. But so have secular and liberal schools. Wasn’t it possible, I asked, that the no-drinking, no-partying culture at fundamentalist colleges helped deter some cases of assault? Given the large number of alcohol-fueled assault cases recently, I still think these are fair questions.

In spite of such questions, however, the recent GRACE report paints a damning picture of Bob Jones University. I’ll repeat: I do not think it is fair to assume that conservative schools will somehow automatically do a worse job of handling abuse and assault cases than other schools. However, the GRACE report points to systemic problems at BJU that are likely shared by smaller, less prestigious fundamentalist colleges and schools.

As I see it, BJU has failed in two significant ways. First, it has insisted on a climate in which student complaints of any kind were viewed as a moral failing for the complainer. Second, since the 1930s BJU has maintained a policy of rewarding staff loyalty over any other concern. As a result, leading administrators were woefully—perhaps even criminally—incompetent to deal with student victims of sexual abuse and assault.

I do not make these charges lightly. Nor do I have any personal animus toward BJU or other fundamentalist colleges. But the record is clear.

First, some brief facts of the case. Two years ago, administrators at BJU commissioned an outside study of their response to abuse claims. In itself, this sort of outside examination made a clear break with BJU tradition. The assembled commission, Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, or GRACE, recently published its findings. BJU’s current leader, Steven Pettit, has apologized for any suffering the university has caused or ignored.

That is a start. The university, in my opinion, has two main faults for which it needs to apologize.

First, the leaders of the school have insisted for decades on one cardinal rule: No “griping.” Students who complain have been consistently treated as disloyal, or at least suspicious. For example, in one statement made by the founder, Bob Jones Sr., on June 19, 1953, Jones advised the BJU community of the first rule: “Griping not tolerated, but constructive suggestions appreciated.”

In practice, the culture at BJU has promoted a suffer-in-silence mentality.

Second, and perhaps more problematic, hiring and promotion practices at BJU have encouraged loyalty above all other factors, including competence. In cases of abuse and assault, this has led to terrible consequences. As the GRACE report documents, administrator Jim Berg handled many abuse reports since 1981. Time after time, Berg demonstrated his lack of preparation. For a while, Berg was unaware of South Carolina’s mandatory-reporting law.

The blame here belongs to more than Berg alone. Berg’s leadership role was the product of an institutional culture that valued loyalty first. Berg’s decisions and professional intuitions were the product of a culture that saw itself as removed from all obligations to the outside world.

The evidence for this loyalty-first culture is abundant. In the same 1953 statement referred to above, Bob Jones Sr. warned faculty that he had an obligation to fire anyone “who is not loyal.” This statement came in the wake of mass resignations at the school in 1952 and 1953.

That was not the only time the school’s leaders made their emphasis on loyalty clear. In 1936, just before another group firing, Bob Jones Sr. warned one faculty member,

First: There must be absolute loyalty to the administration. If something happens in the administration which you do not like, your protest is your resignation. If you stay here you must not under any circumstances criticise [sic] the administration.

The results of such a sustained policy are clear. Those who remained in leadership positions at BJU were rewarded for loyalty first, competence second. In the case of student abuse and assault, such an emphasis left students in the hands of utterly unprepared administrators.

All schools—all institutions—can suffer from incompetence, of course, but the BJU policy of loyalty-first intentionally undervalued professional competence.

It bears repeating that BJU’s current leader has apologized for these faults. As he put it,

I would like to sincerely and humbly apologize to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding and support after suffering sexual abuse or assault …To them I would say—we have carefully listened to your voice. We take your testimony in this report to our hearts. We intend to thoroughly review every aspect and concern outlined in the investigation and respond appropriately.

And, sadly, we must remember that fundamentalist institutions are by no means alone in establishing and protecting cultures of abuse. Other religious groups, such as the Catholic Church, and other colleges, such as Penn State University, have similarly criminal histories.

As it might at those institutions, perhaps the future at BJU and other fundamentalist universities will be brighter than the past.

The Creationist Dream, Part II

What should public-school biology classes look like? A couple days ago, I shared an article from an evangelical magazine, c. 1967. It told a story of a creationist high-schooler who bravely stood up to her evolutionist teacher. As a result, the class put biology aside and had a spontaneous prayer meeting.

As one astute reader noted, it sounded like a fifty-year preview to the new film God’s Not Dead.

Whatever your beliefs about creationism and evolution, there was something dead wrong in the story. Something that just didn’t fit with the ways the creation/evolution battle really works. And this something was besides the hokey language and the Leave-It-To-Beaver creationism.

What was wrong? Was it

  1. No teacher really feels that gung-ho about teaching evolution?
  2. No student really cares that much about creationism?
  3. No parents would encourage their kid to publicly preach that way in a public school?
  4. There would never be that sort of religious revival in a public school? or
  5. A teacher would not likely be that clueless about the religious beliefs of her students?

Let’s take them one by one. In the story, the teacher was a mean-eyed evolutionist. She ridiculed creationist belief, while being stupidly ignorant of the fact that most of her students shared those beliefs. Could a teacher really feel that gung-ho about teaching evolutionism? Well, clearly the character was an utter caricature, but I think it is certainly possible for teachers in 1967 or 2014 to feel a passion for enlightening students with the truth of evolution. I would say that most teachers don’t feel this sort of mission, but some do.

What about number 2? Do any students really feel so intensely devoted to their creationist beliefs that they would risk public humiliation to express them in class? Just as with number 1, I think this would be unusual in the real world, but by no means impossible.

Would parents really encourage their kids to preach in a public school? Some would. Again, not likely in the same Richie-Cunningham tone presented in this story, but I don’t find it beyond belief that parents might want their children to stick up for their beliefs in public schools. Some parents likely encourage their kids to see their public schools as a sort of mission field. And there is a literature out there helping parents help their kids to evangelize properly in their public schools.

Could it work? As number 4 suggests, is this sort of religious revival beyond the possibility for a public school? Not at all. These days, for instance, public-school children are encouraged to meet at the flagpole of their schools one day in September. Just like in the story, this strategy promises “amazing transformations” of students and school culture.See you at the pole

So I agree with the sharp commenters who voted for number 5. It is possible, of course, that a teacher might have no idea that her students shared fervent creationist beliefs. But in general, that doesn’t happen much. As Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer argued in their book Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms, teachers tend to fit in with their communities. As they put it, “traditional districts and cosmopolitan districts tend to hire teachers whose training, beliefs, and teaching practices serve to reinforce or harmonize with the prevailing local culture.”

From the Archives: The Creationist Dream

What do creationists want? I know, I know, there are lots of different sorts of creationists out there. As a group, though, I think I found a story that might just articulate some of the fondest hopes and dreams of American creationists. There’s a terrible flaw in the story, and I challenge you to find what it is.

For those of you who are just joining us, I’m working on a history of conservative evangelical and “fundamentalist” colleges and universities. This year, thanks to the munificence of the Spencer Foundation, I’m traveling around to different schools to dig into the history of this network. This week, I’m visiting sunny Biola University in Los Angeles.

Biola University (originally the Bible Institute Of Los Angeles, get it?), in addition to its main job of cranking out missionaries and teachers, also published an influential evangelical magazine, The King’s Business. It was in the November 1967 edition that I found this little gem.

The King's Business, November, 1967

The King’s Business, November, 1967

I’ll give you the gist of the article. Then I challenge readers to pick out where this creationist fantasy veers most sharply from reality.

We read the story of Hope, the daughter of a fundamentalist minister. Gathered around the dinner table one night, Hope collapsed into tears. At (public) school that day, she finally confronted her aggressive evolutionist biology teacher, Miss Landon. Hope told her teacher that she didn’t believe in evolution. As she told her parents, “I felt I couldn’t sit there and take it any longer.”

The teacher ridiculed her. “I didn’t suppose,” Miss Landon said in front of the whole class,

anyone living in our enlightened age had such old-fashioned ideas. It surprises me that a person who has had the advantages of a modern educational system can be so narrow-minded. Surely there are not many who believe as you do.

Hope felt humiliated and ashamed. But she stood her ground. At the dinner table, as she sobbed, her father put his hand on her shoulder and said,

huskily, ‘Daughter, it gives us great joy to hear you tell this. Who would have thought that so soon after being saved [two weeks before] you would have an opportunity to witness so boldly to your teacher and classmates?’

Hope felt revived. She prayed hard before going to bed, and felt her dad was right. As a result,

Hope returned to school the next day with a song on her lips as well as in her heart. The Lord Jesus seemed to be walking at her very side and a great peace filled her soul. She felt no fear now of encountering Miss Landon again, even though she might be asked to give further ‘reason for the hope within her.’

Sure enough, the next day her evolution-loving teacher challenged Hope to prove that other students felt the same way. To Miss Landon’s surprise,

Before she had finished speaking, nearly half of the girls were standing. What followed can best be described as an old-fashioned ‘popcorn meeting.’ It seemed that everyone wanted to talk at once. Some were wet-eyed; others, with their arms around Hope, were asking her forgiveness for letting her stand alone. Miss Landon was at a loss to know how to handle the situation. She couldn’t be expected to know, since she had never attended a revival service or been asked to pray for souls under conviction. So she just stood there, helplessly looking on.

Finally it occurred to her that perhaps Hope could handle the group. Hope caught her distressed, appealing look, and in a calm voice said, ‘Let us all kneel in prayer.’

The praying and confessing continued throughout the 40-minute class period and Miss Landon made no effort to stop it. The girls may not have learned any biology that day, but many of them learned to know God in a new and real way.

That’s the story.

Now here’s the challenge: Where is the biggest, most obvious goof in this tale? Where does this creationist dream depart most obviously from the realities of evolution and creationism in American public schools?

Now, before people complain, let me offer a few caveats. First, we all understand that not every creationist hopes to have public schools turn into a “popcorn meeting,” whatever that is. And we know that the hokey tone of this story is more a result of its age than of its creationism. The aw-shucks brand of parenting displayed here would fit in just as well with Ward and June Cleaver as it would with Charles and Grace Fuller.

Given all that, I still assert that this story fails the sniff test. There is one element here that simply screams out “fantasy.”

Is it:

  1. No teacher really feels that gung-ho about teaching evolution.
  2. No student really cares that much about creationism.
  3. No parents would encourage their kid to publicly preach that way in a public school.
  4. There would never be that sort of religious revival in a public school.
  5. A teacher would not likely be that clueless about the religious beliefs of her students.

I’ve got to get back to work now, but I’ll offer my answer soon.

From the Archives: A Swizzle Mystery

Hello from sunny Biola University! In my continuing quest to dig into the history of conservative evangelical colleges, I’ll be working in the archives here all week. And I found a stumper in the archives this afternoon.

My oeil has been tromped...

My oeil has been tromped…

As I strolled across campus this morning, I was thinking that everything looked pretty similar to things at my own beloved State University of New York. The students looked the same, the vibe was the same…there was nothing particularly different about the goings-on at this Christian campus compared to my own secular campus. Except, of course, for the fact that the sun was shining and flowers were blooming and the air didn’t hurt when it hit your skin.

But then, I noticed something I wouldn’t be likely to see on my home campus. As far as I know, we don’t have any humongous Jesus paintings on our buildings.

But let’s get to our archive challenge. Among the wonderful holdings here, the Biola library includes issues of the Biola student newspaper going back to 1938. And in the May 1938 edition, I saw this ad. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what it means. I looked up “swizzle,” of course, but besides a “rum swizzle” and a “swizzle stick” I couldn’t find a clue.



Any suggestions?  For full information, I can tell you that the Coffee-An was a lunch counter next to campus.  They advertised regularly in Biola publications.

Atheists and Creationists Agree on This…

You know what they say about the middle of the road: you won’t find anything there but yellow stripes and dead armadillos. In the creation/evolution debates, the John Templeton Foundation has staked out some ground in that dangerous middle. And predictably, the only thing that fervent creationists and obstreperous atheists can agree on is that the Templeton Foundation is terrible.

What does the Templeton Foundation do? According to their website, the foundation

serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. We support research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights.

In general, the foundation uses its money to encourage dialogue between religion and science. With its prizes and grants, it encourages people to bridge the gap. For instance, the foundation provided millions of dollars to help launch BioLogos. How might scientists and theologians come together, BioLogos asked, to help evangelical Christians (and others) understand that evolution was nothing more than the “Language of God?”

Is "compromise" a compliment or a curse?

Is “compromise” a compliment or a curse?

Here at ILYBYGTH, this seems like an eminently worthwhile project. Time and time again, we have seen that science and evolution can wear very different cultural faces. Why bundle together ideas that do not necessarily have to go together? Why feed conservative worries that any understanding of science will somehow doom their children to atheism and immorality? Why not help Christians learn evolution? Why not recognize that some “creationists” really do embrace evolution? Why not listen to the life stories of Christians who have learned that evolution is not the devil spawn they were led to believe?

Partisans disagree. The Templeton Foundation has become the target of angry attack from the hardened edges of both creationism and atheism.

At the young-earth creationist ministry Answers In Genesis, for instance, leader Ken Ham recently blasted the efforts of the foundation. “Sadly,” Ham warned readers,

instead of pointing people to answers from God’s Word about history, organizations like BioLogos and the Templeton Foundation are actively discrediting the Bible’s history. Instead of encouraging people to start with God’s Word, they praise those who impose man’s ideas into the Bible.

Ham might not agree with science pundit Jerry Coyne on much, but they agree about the dangers of the Templeton Foundation. For different reasons, of course. Coyne blasts the foundation for watering down the message of real science, of truckling to culturally powerful and wealthy religious aficionados. “If there is to be interchange” between scientists and theologians, Coyne wrote recently,

let it be not a constructive dialogue but a destructive monologue, one in which science’s efforts knock the props out from under faith, one by one. And religion has nothing to say to scientists, at least nothing that will help us in our work. All religionists can do is educate us about the nature and influence of divine fairy tales that have inimically influenced world culture. Do we really need that?

Now, just because the Templeton Foundation has united both atheists and creationists against it doesn’t prove that the foundation is doing the right thing. But it seems logical to me that if our goal is to help people of every background understand the science of evolution, we should not spurn allies who promise to help. If theologians and scientists can come together to improve public understanding of what the Templeton Foundation calls the “Big Questions,” it seems to me an excess of self-righteousness to oppose it.

A Story We Should Care More About

Every new story about creationist teachers or praying cheerleaders gets lots of attention, but the news we should really care about involves the humdrum topics of taxes and school funding. As creationist hero William Jennings Bryan put it in the 1920s, “The hand that writes the paycheck rules the school.” In Alabama, conservatives passed a law allowing taxpayers to write their paychecks in a different way. Yesterday, the state Supreme Court started hearing arguments about this new conservative strategy. This story is one we should all follow as if it were interesting. After all, it promises to give an answer that no praying cheerleader ever could: Will conservative taxpayers be able to rule the school?

Don’t look at us: Study school-funding laws!

Don’t look at us: Study school-funding laws!

The Alabama Accountability Act allows taxpayers to divert their tax money away from public schools and toward private ones. Alabama is not alone. More than a dozen states have similar laws on the books. What the justices decide in Alabama might direct debate about these laws nationwide.

Of course, not all the laws are the same. As the National Council of State Legislatures reported, as of April 2014, 14 states had some sort of tax-direction law. In general, these laws allow people to shift some of their taxes to scholarship funding organizations (SFOs). Instead of the tax money going to the government, it goes to these organizations. In turn, the SFOs defray the cost of private school for selected students.

Why should we care? Some critics of these laws insist that the laws are intended to break down the wall of separation between church and state. By allowing students to attend private religious schools, some say, these laws use tax dollars to pay for religious indoctrination.

In Georgia, for example, enemies of that state’s law have worried that students will be sent to conservative schools.  At some schools, foes announce, students are forced to pray and banned from supporting homosexual rights.

Conservative supporters of the laws, such as the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, insist that these laws are the last best chance for low-income students. With tax-funded scholarships, low-income students will be able to escape failing public schools. The real issue, according to the Institute for Justice, is the “right of all . . . parents to send their children to the school of their choice.”

Historically, since the 1930s conservatives have agreed that public schools have been taken over by a grasping, out-of-touch academic elite. Any effort to weaken public schools and strengthen private ones has been seen by many conservatives as a win. As I argue in my upcoming book about twentieth-century educational conservatism, this notion has been both enormously influential and widely shared among very different sorts of conservatives.

Religious conservatives have insisted that secularizing “humanists” like John Dewey have taken over public education. Free-market conservatives have worried that the same power-drunk Keynesian economics that dominated public policy between 1930 and 1980 had turned public schools into intellectual cesspools. Patriotic conservatives fretted that sneaky subversion had become the public-school norm. And we can’t forget, of course, that white racial conservatives considered desegregated public schools to be worse than no schools at all.

This sort of tax-direction law is the most recent strategy conservatives have used to move students out of public schools. Will it work? We should all be riveted to the noises coming out the Alabama Supreme Court. Their decision could set a precedent other states will have to notice.

Here’s How We Get a Creationist in the White House

It will take more than six twenty-four hour days. Months ahead of time, the team to put Ben Carson in the White House has been assembled and is feverishly working to get a solid creationist in the White House in 2016.

As Eliana Johnson reports in National Review Online, Carson hasn’t announced his candidacy, but his team is now interviewing thirty-five potential staffers for a possible White-House run. When Johnson asked Carson if he were serious, Carson dodged. “We believe in being prepared,” Carson said,

And that requires a sophisticated and complex infrastructure if I decide to run. . . . It’s like the Boy Scouts: Be Prepared.”

Does Carson think he can win? He told Johnson that the recent mid-term elections pushed him closer. “People are starting to wake up,” Carson told her.

Conservatives love Carson. His rags-to-riches tale and unapologetic religious conservatism, along with his stop-complaining messages to his fellow African Americans, have endeared him to the conservative wing of the party.

That doesn’t mean he has a chance. In the past, conservative hard-liners have entered the primaries even if they don’t think they’ll win. Their goal, in some cases, has been to move the party in a more conservative direction. By running as an unyielding social conservative, Carson will force other GOP hopefuls to tack toward the right.

And whether he wins or not, Carson will bring a dose of good old-fashioned Seventh-day Adventist creationism to the race. Seventh-day Adventism, as historian Ron Numbers argued so convincingly, played a leading role in converting American religious conservatives to a young-earth creationism.

Have you read it yet?

Have you read it yet?

Of course, just because Carson is a member of that staunchly young-earth creationist denomination, it doesn’t mean that he would emphasize those beliefs from the White House. After all, similar fears were raised by conservatives when Catholics such as Al Smith (1928) and John F. Kennedy ran for President. Each candidate had to assure voters that policy would not be dictated from the Vatican.

But Carson has taken a different approach. Instead of distancing himself from the rather extreme form of creationism that is official dogma in his church, Carson has publicly embraced it. In an interview last year, Carson doubled down on his SDA creationism. “I’ve seen a lot of articles,” Carson explained,

that say, ‘Carson is a Seventh-day Adventist, and that means he believes in the six-day creation. Ha ha ha.’ You know, I’m proud of the fact that I believe what God has said, and I’ve said many times that I’ll defend it before anyone. If they want to criticize the fact that I believe in a literal, six-day creation, let’s have at it because I will poke all kinds of holes in what they believe. In the end it depends on where you want to place your faith – do you want to place your faith in what God’s word says, or do you want to place your faith in an invention of man. You’re perfectly welcome to choose. I’ve chosen the one I want.

Maybe I’m viewing the world through evolution-tinted glasses, but I can’t help but think that such a firm statement of YEC belief will be off-putting for many voters. But even if Carson can’t win the race, he can pull his fellow Republican prospects into more firmly creationist positions. By standing firm on a six-day recent creation, Carson can make the entire GOP field friendlier to creationism.


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