Jesus vs. Koch Bros. in Kansas

So…what IS the matter with Kansas? Last week in the Guardian, Sarah Smarsh offered a mistaken look at the way big money and big religion work together to erode public education in the Sunflower State.

The way Smarsh describes it, “extremist Christians” have been fooled into working with “fundamentalist capitalists.” They both want to privatize public schools, but for different reasons. Her article underestimates and misunderstands the long tradition of American conservatism. New histories, including my new book on educational conservatism in the twentieth century, have laid out the long roots of deep organic connections between religious conservatives and free-market conservatives.

Smarsh describes current education policy in Kansas as dictated from “that ancient place where the religious and the greedy mingle.” As she puts it,

Today, the religious right and wealthy free-marketeers both long to privatize a system that educates 50 million students, but for different reasons. One wants to make 50 million Christians; the other, 50 million paying customers.

As Smarsh explains, at its root this alliance of religion with capitalism results from a cynical conspiracy among the big-money folks. She quotes Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

The unholy union, he told me by phone from his Washington office, begins with the money holders. “They look at the shock troops of the religious right, and they think, ‘How can we tap into that power? How can we get them to endorse our agenda of privatization?” Boston theorized. In matters of public education, which the religious right finds distasteful along moral lines, “they’re already more than halfway there.”

In reality, according to Boston, big-money folks like the Koch brothers don’t care about Jesus. They only want to get their paws on the public-school sector to weaken the influence of the government and strengthen private business.

I’m no Koch fan. Nor am I a conservative Christian. I do indeed find it believable that some big-money types have hoped to co-opt religious conservatives to get their votes. But to say that the alliance of conservative Christians with big-business is some sort of elaborate scam does not fit the facts.

Right fools left...

Right fools left…

Just as Thomas Frank’s popular book What’s the Matter with Kansas did a decade ago, Smarsh’s argument resolves puzzling situations by resorting to conspiratorial explanations. Frank argued, roughly, that conservative schemers managed to convince working-class voters to vote Republican by waving the bloody shirt of abortion and gay rights. In essence, conservative strategists fooled people into voting against their own economic interests by emphasizing culture-war hot-button issues.

In Frank’s argument, conservative voters come off as dupes, conned into voting for Kansas Republicans because of an irrational attachment to pro-life ideas. Smarsh makes similar implications. Big business free-marketeers manipulate conservative Christians into fighting against public education, in this line of argument.

Let me be as clear as I can be: I don’t doubt that some libertarian business folks might HOPE to enact such a scheme, but the notion that conservative Christians are somehow rustic pawns of a corporate megalith are far too simplistic and Manichean.

Folks like Smarsh and Frank (and me, to be fair) have a hard time understanding how conservative Christians could support privatization, so they (we) jump to a false conclusion that big business has somehow fooled religious conservatives.

More careful historical treatments have noted the far more complicated connections between big business and evangelical Christianity. Kim Phillips-Fein, for example, looked at the roots of business conservatism in her 2009 book Invisible Hands. Phillips-Fein is certainly no fan of big business, but she describes the way industry leaders such as J. Howard Pew of Sun Oil dedicated much of their fortune to promoting evangelical Protestantism. This was more than a scheme or a scam. It was a long-term effort to promote conservative Christianity and big-business. It was an effort to bring both together for the good of both.

...or does it?

…or does it?

As I’ve found, too, many religious conservatives have embraced big business for reasons that Smarsh and Frank don’t seem to understand. Many religious conservatives have not been fooled into supporting capitalism, but rather see capitalism as an inherent part of their American Christian tradition.

In educational conservatism, at least, the deep organic connections between Jesus and capitalism were not imposed by any move of the sinister Koch brothers. Rather, religious conservatives themselves have long insisted that schools must teach both capitalism and Protestantism. Even a cursory familiarity with the writings of leading conservative activists will make these connections clear.

For instance, in a description of the decades-long educational activism of Mel and Norma Gabler, biographer Jim Hefley connected the dots (emphasis added):

The Gablers also began to grasp progressive education’s grand scheme to change America. They understood why the new history, economics, and social study texts trumpeted Big Brother government, welfarism, and a new socialistic global order, while putting down patriotism, traditional morality, and free enterprise. Simply stated, Mel and Norma realized that the Humanists in education were seeking to bring about the ‘social realism’ which John Dewey and other ideologues had planned for America.

For its part, big business also has a long tradition of pushing for more Jesus in public schools. The National Association of Manufacturers, for example, an industry group, offered in 1939 a new curriculum for schools nationwide. It was vital, NAM leaders argued, for schools to combine “the historical and spiritual foundations of the American system of government, free enterprise and religious liberty.”

I’ll say it again: I don’t doubt that tycoons such as the Koch brothers might hope to manipulate religious conservatives. But it hardly counts as manipulation to encourage conservatives to support a cause they already support.

When journalists such as Thomas Frank or Sarah Smarsh paint a conspiratorial picture of hapless religious conservatives taken in by evil-genius financiers, they do a disservice to those of us hoping to get a better understanding of the ways cultural politics really work in this country.

Homeschooling: A Scheme to Take Over America

What do Sarah Palin, Gordon College, and Christian homeschoolers have in common? According to evangelical-turned-atheist Frank Schaeffer, they are all “still fighting a religious war against their own country.” I’m no homeschooler or Palin fan, but Schaeffer’s accusations just don’t hold up to historical scrutiny.

Schaeffer’s most recent broadside appeared in Salon. In his article, Schaeffer blasted a wide range of “far-right” institutions. When parents choose to pull their kids out of public schools to indoctrinate them at home, Schaeffer charged, it amounts to nothing less than “virtual civil war carried on by other means.” As Schaeffer put it,

the evangelical schools and home school movement were, by design, founded to undermine a secular and free vision of America and replace it by stealth with a form of theocracy.

According to Schaeffer, this nefarious plot spreads beyond the anti-democratic practice of homeschooling. The “far-right,” Schaeffer insists, turns women into submissive breeding mares. The Right has opened its own colleges and universities as part of its plan to take over civil society. Jerry Falwell himself, Schaeffer relates, explained his reasons for opening Liberty Law School. “Frank,” Falwell confided, “we’re going to train a new generation of judges to change America!”

Is the sky really falling?

Is the sky really falling?

Inspired by the apocalyptic rhetoric of wild-eyed prophets such as Rousas Rushdoony, and marshalled by irresponsible self-aggrandizers such as Sarah Palin, the Christian Right will not stop until it has taken over. Conservative religious folks, Schaeffer insists, want nothing less than to impose a rigid theocracy on the United States. They will not be content until they have dictated the morals and mores of their neighbors as well as those of their children.

Are Schaeffer’s charges fair?

Certainly, he has the right to boast of his insider connections. His father, the late Francis Schaeffer, really did inspire a fair bit of the social philosophy of today’s conservative evangelicals. Schaeffer Senior articulated in the 1970s and 1980s the notion that US culture had been infiltrated by a sneaky “secular humanist” worldview. In order to properly live as Christians, then, Schaeffer Senior advocated a wide-ranging rejection of modern social mores. Perhaps most important for day-to-day culture-war politics, Schaeffer Senior along with C. Everett Koop denounced abortion rights as equivalent to murder.

At times, Frank Schaeffer seems blinded by his own imagined influence. In this Salon article, for example, he shamelessly name-drops his connections to writers such as Rousas Rushdoony and Mary Pride. He claims to have been “instrumental” in bringing together the New Christian Right in the 1970s and 1980s.

Such unpleasantness aside, however, do Schaeffer’s charges stick? Are Christian homeschooling and evangelical higher education part of a long-ranging plot to undermine American traditions of pluralism and tolerance?

Short answer: No.

Before I offer a few examples of the ways Schaeffer’s breathless expose doesn’t match reality, let me explain my background for those who are new to ILYBYGTH. I am no apologist for fundamentalist Christianity. I’m no fundamentalist, not even a former fundamentalist. When it comes down to it, I will fight hard against fundamentalist-friendly school rules about prayer or sex ed. I don’t homeschool my kid. I don’t attend or teach at an evangelical college. I’m only a mild-mannered historian, with the sole goal of deflating hysterical culture-war accusations.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of Schaeffer’s claims.

First, is Christian homeschooling really as sinister as he claims? Schaeffer suggests that homeschoolers have been inspired by the work of leaders such as Mary Pride and Nancy Leigh DeMoss. The point of homeschooling, Schaeffer charges, is to train girls and women to submit to fathers and husbands, to glory in their second-class role as child-bearers and house-keepers.

There are indeed homeschoolers who adopt these notions. But anyone who follows the work of historian Milton Gaither can tell you that the world of homeschooling—even the more limited world of conservative evangelical homeschooling—is a kaleidoscope of missions, strategies, and techniques. I don’t doubt that some Christian parents hope to impose a rigid patriarchal vision on their children. What falls apart, though, when looked at carefully, is the notion that these folks are somehow the “real” reason behind Christian homeschooling. What falls apart are accusations that Christian homeschoolers are some sort of monolithic force scheming to take over the rest of our society. In reality, Christian homeschoolers are a remarkably fractious bunch.

Second, what about Rousas Rushdoony? As Schaeffer correctly points out, Rushdoony was the intellectual force behind “Reconstructionist” theology. In short, Rushdoony believed that Christians should impose true Christian morality on all of society, including Old-Testament-inspired laws about sex and conduct. In reality, though, the direct influence of Rushdoony’s social ideas has been rather limited. As scholars such as Michael J. McVicar have argued, Rushdoony has had far more influence on liberal pundits than on the conservative rank-and-file.

Next, are evangelical colleges really training a generation of conservative culture warriors? As I conduct the research for my next book, I’m struck by the ways evangelical colleges have been battlegrounds more than training centers. In other words, evangelical colleges and universities have had a hard time figuring out what they are doing. They are hardly in the business of cranking out thousands of mindless drones to push right-wing culture-war agendas.

For one thing, evangelical colleges have usually insisted on maintaining intellectual respectability in the eyes of non-evangelical scholars. Even such anti-accreditation schools as Bob Jones University have used outside measures such as the Graduate Record Examination to prove their academic bona fides. As historian Michael S. Hamilton noted in his brilliant study of Wheaton College, this desire prompted Wheaton in the 1930s to invite outside evaluators such as John Dale Russell of the University of Chicago to suggest changes at the “Fundamentalist Harvard.” This need for intellectual legitimacy in the eyes of mainstream intellectuals has continually pulled fundamentalist schools closer to the mainstream. Such colleges—even staunchly “unusual” ones like Bob Jones—have been much more similar to mainstream colleges than folks like Schaeffer admit.

Schaeffer uses Gordon College in Massachusetts as an example of the ways Christian colleges train new generations of young people to see the US government as evil. But as I found in my recent trip to the Gordon College archives, the community at Gordon has always been divided about the purposes of higher education. Back in the 1960s, Gordon College students held protests, sit-ins, and “sleep-ins” to change Gordon’s policies and attitudes. As one student put it during a 1968 protest, “we want to be treated like real college students.” How did the evangelical administration respond? By commending the students’ commitment to “activism over apathy.” To my ears, that does not sound like a brutal and all-encompassing mind-control approach.

The world of conservative evangelicalism, of “fundamentalism,” is one of continuous divisive tension. There is no fundamentalist conspiracy of the sort Schaeffer describes. Or, to be more specific, there are such conspiracies, but there are so many of them, and they disagree with one another so ferociously, that the threat Schaeffer warns us about is more fiction than fact.

Does Christian homeschooling really serve as a first step in a long-ranging scheme to take over America? Only in the fevered imaginings of former fundamentalists such as Frank Schaeffer.

Required Reading: A Boom Year for the Culture Wars

You’ve got no more excuse. As historian Andrew Hartman pointed out recently, we used to be able to shrug our shoulders and say that we really didn’t have many historical examinations of America’s culture wars. That’s not the case anymore. Hartman gives us a list of new books coming out in 2015—including one by your humble editor—that look at key aspects of America’s long fight over morality and education.

Daddy, What did YOU do during the Culture Wars?

Daddy, What did YOU do during the Culture Wars?

Hartman’s list includes his own upcoming War for the Soul of America, as well as my Other School Reformers, Stephen Prothero’s Why Liberals Win, Natalia Mehlman-Petrzela’s Classroom Wars, and Jonathan Zimmerman’s Too Hot to Handle.

As you’ll see when you check out Hartman’s full post, these books promise to establish a new tradition among historians and the reading public.

Best of all, these books will give us plenty to read and argue about for the rest of the year.

Americans Love ‘Nazi Propaganda’ Film; Conservatives Celebrate

Conservative pundits are gloating this morning. The new film American Sniper attracted huge audiences this past weekend. Americans love it, even though liberal pundits condemned it.

Most famously, actor Seth Rogen tweeted smarmily that the movie reminded him of a fictional Nazi propaganda film from the movie Inglorious Basterds. Apparently, in that fake film a German sniper is lionized.

Nazi propaganda from Hollywood...

Nazi propaganda from Hollywood…

American audiences, on the other hand, turned out in droves to see American Sniper. As conservative pundit Rich Lowry crowed in the pages of National Review, the movie marks the “return of the American war hero.” For liberals like Rogen, Lowry wrote, the story of real-life sniper Chris Kyle “smacks of backwardness and jingoism.”

At the Weekly Standard, Michael Graham argues that Hollywood liberals can’t seem to get it through their thick skulls that Americans want to see movies that are not aggressively “anti-American.” Mark Hemingway agreed. “Everyone in Hollywood,” Hemingway noted,

skews heavily left. . . . all these people line up to write checks for Hillary Clinton. . . . That might change now that they’ve seen that this film’s gonna make $90 million in one weekend in January. Maybe we’ll start to see more honest attempts at portraying soldiers.

Whose Values Rule the Schools?

What are the dominant values in American public schools? Progressive activists tend to think schools are dominated by conservatism. But conservatives say that progressives are in charge. New poll data suggest that conservatives are wrong. When it comes to general attitudes toward children and education, conservative values seem enormously powerful.

Progressives have always hoped that schooling would soon be transformed into a progressive paradise. But they have also always acknowledged widespread public resistance. As far back as 1925, scholars Otis Caldwell and Stuart Courtis—from the progressive bulwark of Teachers College, Columbia University—argued that the “new philosophy” of progressive education could transform schools into a “childish utopia.” Unfortunately, they wrote, most Americans weren’t interested. Instead, most people “blamed teachers and schoolmen generally for ‘new-fangled methods.’”

These days, leading progressives agree. Pundits such as Alfie Kohn insist that progressive ideas are the best. As Kohn once put it, progressive education is “hard to beat, but also hard to find.” In spite of the clear superiority of progressive methods, Kohn writes, most schools only use them in dribs and drabs. Conservative, traditional schoolrooms, Kohn notes glumly, tend to be the norm.

We might think that conservative activists would celebrate their domination of American public education. But in fact we see just the opposite. Historically, conservative activists have taken progressive dominance for granted. Many conservatives have assumed without question that the progressive nostrums of philosopher John Dewey had long ago triumphed.

Writing in the wake of a tumultuous school battle in 1950s Pasadena, California, for instance, conservative activist Mary Allen explained that “traditional education” had been abandoned in the 1930s. Why? Because at that time “some of Dewey’s followers prepared to use the schools to introduce a new social order.” To Allen as to generations of conservatives, conservative values had long since been kicked out of public education.

Today’s educational conservatives voice similar frustration. For example, Peter Collier has lamented the dominance in public education of the progressive tentacles of Columbia University’s Teachers College. A pernicious leftist stew of “critical pedagogy,” Collier noted, “slowly infiltrated leftist ideas into every aspect of classroom teaching.”

How important is "curiosity" as an educational goal?

How important is “curiosity” as an educational goal?

New poll data from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press suggest that conservatives have this one wrong. When it comes to basic attitudes about children and proper education, conservative ideas tend to dominate. Those who call themselves “consistently liberal” find themselves on the outside looking in.

Who's the outlier here?

Who’s the outlier here?

To be fair, the poll also suggests that Americans of all ideologies share broad agreement about the proper way to raise children. Huge majorities of the “consistently liberal,” the “mostly liberal,” the “mixed,” the “mostly conservative,” and the “consistently conservative” agree that children must be taught responsibility.

But in a couple of other categories, those who call themselves “consistently liberal” stand out. And those differences tell us something about the values that dominate our schools and society.

For example, the “consistently liberal” place a much higher value on teaching curiosity than do any other groups, by a huge margin. Nearly a quarter of the consistently liberal place this among the three most important factors for children, and over three quarters think it is important. In contrast, none of the other groups, including the “mostly liberal,” thought that teaching curiosity was nearly as important. Only nine percent of the “mostly liberal” called curiosity one of the most important values, and only fifty-eight percent considered it important. And though fifty-seven percent of the “consistently conservative” agreed that curiosity was important, only a paltry three percent of consistent conservatives placed it at the top of their lists.

In addition, large majorities of every group except the “consistently liberal” placed a high value on teaching obedience. Even among the “mostly liberal,” sixty percent found this important. At the high end, two-thirds of the “consistently conservative” thought obedience was an important idea for children, compared to just over one-third of the “consistently liberal.”

Of course, it’s notoriously difficult to define “progressive” and “conservative” ideas about education. But in general, it’s fair to say that progressives tend to value curiosity above obedience, exploration above authoritarianism. Yet those values are only shared by a small sliver of the respondents in this survey.

The good news for conservatives? They are wrong about the values that guide American public education.   Progressive notions of child-centered learning, of students freed from the dictation of authoritarian teachers and exploring the creative curiosity of youth, have not sunk the deep roots that conservatives have often assumed.

Instead, when it comes to central ideas about obedience and curiosity, this poll suggests that conservative attitudes are the norm.

The Girl with No Hands and Other Mysteries of History

Sometimes the archives just aren’t enough. As I research my new book, I’m working this week in the archives of beautiful Gordon College just north of Boston. As is usual in this sort of primary archival research, I’m stumbling across mysteries that I just can’t figure out.

Some of them are curious, but fairly predictable. For example, as was the norm with this sort of conservative evangelical school, parents complained when they heard rumors of student hijinx. Whenever there was a whiff of unchaperoned boy-girl time, parents grew alarmed.

One mother wrote the school’s president in the mid-1960s. This parent was worried about the moral state of Gordon College. Her daughter’s dorm, she complained, had been “raided” by boys. The details of the “raid” were extremely hazy, which makes me think there was some sort of hanky-panky going on. All I can tell from the archival record is that the raiders climbed in through a bathroom window, left “obscene signs,” and did not respect the girls’ repeated disinvitations. At least, that’s what the girl told her mother.

The scanty correspondence leaves many key questions unanswered. What were the “obscene signs?” Were the boys really so unwelcome? How, for instance, would a boy just happen to notice that one particular bathroom window would be unlocked? Didn’t the “raiders” need some inside help?

There’s no way to find out from the archives. All the writers mentioned the “obscene signs,” but decorum prevented them from giving a detailed description. And no administrator suggested even a hint of doubt to the girl’s mother that these boys had been assisted or even encouraged to make their “raid.” No whisper of doubt sullied the stalwart moral righteousness of the girls.

All these questions are tricky, but not utterly confounding. We will never know exactly what transpired in this case, but we can make reasonable guesses that connections between boys and girls went on outside the supervisory gaze of parents and school administrators. It can be tricky to nail down the details from the sketchy and overly polite archival record, but we can distill the basic contours of student life.



Every once in a while, though, I come across a true oddball artifact. One that goes beyond this sort of archival mystery. In 1969, a guy from Pennsylvania wrote to the president of Gordon College with a truly bizarre request. I’ll leave out the guy’s name and address to be polite, but I can’t leave out the rest of his puzzling letter. “I am writing this,” our strange correspondent opened,

                in request of your help in locating a girl that I beleive [sic] may be at your college.

I do not know her name. All I can tell you about her is that she has two mechanical hands, an artificial leg, brown hair, and, except for the mentioned physical detractions, she is quite attractive. I have reason to beleive [sic again] she lives in Cleveland, Ohio, or further west.

The information I need is her name, address, and if possible, her picture for positive identification. I will pay for any valid information leading to her.

For personal reasons, I cannot tell why I need this information, but I can assure you that there is absolutely no intention of harm for her or anyone concerning her.

I would appreciate it if you would answer my letter if you do or do not have her. I am presently writing to seventy-one other colleges and would like to be able to check yours off my list.

If you do have this girl, please do not let this get around, for I feel that she would be deeply hurt if it did, which is something I do not want.

What was going on here? The questions pile up the more we try to knock them down. If the girl was in Cleveland, why was he writing to a school in Boston? What happened to the girl to make her lose her hands and leg? Was the writer in love with her? Or, despite his protestations, did he have some nefarious purpose in mind? Of course, we can’t ignore the obvious explanation that this is all some sort of kooky joke…but to what end?

To their credit, the leaders of Gordon College did not offer any help to this woebegone writer.  I think they were just as puzzled as I am.  Someone at Gordon took a moment to write a single elegant question mark at the top of the page.  That says it all: ?

From the Archives: Fashion & Calvin

As an outsider to evangelicalism, one of the biggest surprises I’ve found is the new hipness of Calvin. No, not THAT fashionable Calvin. Not that one, either. For the past decade or so, Christian intellectuals have been thrilled or horrified by the very old theology of Ur-Protestant John Calvin. As I continue my research into the twentieth-century history of evangelical higher education, I see that the trendiness of Calvinism has longer twentieth-century roots.

Not THAT fashionable Calvin...

Not THAT fashionable Calvin…

Of course, we all know Calvinism as such has a much longer American history. In the early British colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut, Calvinism served as the de facto governing theology. As time went on, dissenters blasted the rigid dictates of predestination. Most famously, in the early 1800s, febrile anti-Calvinist Lorenzo Dow famously warned, with Calvinism

You can and you can’t

You shall and you shan’t-

You will and you won’t-

And you will be damned if you do-

And you will be damned if you don’t.

As the Second Great Awakening unfolded in Dow’s era, some might think that Calvinism’s days would be numbered. The notion that God has predestined all things and all souls can sound a little intimidating to go-getting Americans. It might be a tough sell, one might think, to convince twenty-first century Americans to embrace such a 16th-century idea. Americans, we might think, prefer the anti-Calvinist Arminian idea that people can choose to embrace the grace that God freely offers.

Not that one either.

Not that one either.

But as Collin Hansen noticed in an attention-grabbing article several years ago in Christianity Today, Calvinism has been making a steady comeback among earnest American evangelicals. The “Young, Restless, and Reformed,” as Hansen called them, had become the most exciting scholars at several leading evangelical seminaries. Writers such as John Piper had fired the hearts of young intellectuals with his “New Calvinism.”

To folks like me—secular types heedless about the internecine theological disputes among evangelicals—such storms raged utterly unnoticed. We were not aware of earnest groups of scholars debating TULIPs and other blooms in the garden of predestination.

In my new research, I’m finding that the “New” Calvinism has always played a role in evangelical intellectual life. Just as secular young folks might continually rediscover the works of Frantz Fanon or Antonio Gramsci, so each new generation of evangelical intellectual seems to feel it has found something radically new and exciting in Calvinism.

In my archive work today, I came across an echo of this sort of intellectual excitement from the 1930s. I’m at storied Gordon College this week, in scenic Wenham, Massachusetts. After I happily survived the drive through storms of Boston drivers, I dug into the papers of second President Nathan R. Wood.

In 1934, Wood wrote to Loraine Boettner, author of The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Wow, Wood wrote (in essence). Wood’s actual words were these:

The thinking of the Christian world has in general drifted a long way to the left, and such thinking as yours will be a tonic and should help to bring back the swing of the pendulum from that extreme. I am a great admirer of Calvin. I do not promise to follow him at certain points, but if anyone could make me do it, it would be you yourself in your candid, devout and virile statement of that great system.

At Gordon College in the 1930s, just as at seminaries today, Calvinism has always been a lurking fashion among evangelical intellectuals. It might have experienced an upsurge in the past few years, as Hansen argues, but that upsurge itself is nothing more, it seems, than a perpetually reoccurring enthusiasm over the stern doctrine.

Are Colleges REALLY Charlie Hebdo?

David Brooks raises a tough question about college culture. In the aftermath of the killings in Paris, shocked observers have voiced their solidarity with the slain writers and editors at Charlie Hebdo. But Brooks challenges college students and deans.

Are today's college students REALLY Charlie?

Are today’s college students REALLY Charlie?

“Let’s face it,” Brooks writes,

If [Charlie Hebdo] had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.

As Brooks points out, critics of Islam such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali have been snubbed by schools such as Brandeis University. And anti-Islam comedian Bill Maher was the subject of a protest by students at Berkeley.

In neither case did students articulate the same sort of Islamic fundamentalism seen in the Charlie Hebdo murders. Rather, students protest that anti-Islam speakers were “racist” and must not be allowed to spew their “hate speech” on an enlightened campus.

Brandeis said it could no longer offer Hirsi Ali an honorary degree due to “certain of her past statements.” Hirsi Ali had apparently condemned all of Islam, not only “radical” Islam. She had called for Islam as a whole to be “defeated.”

In Berkeley, students protested the choice of Bill Maher as commencement speaker. In a much-ballyhooed argument with actor Ben Affleck, Maher denounced Islam as “the only religion that acts like the mafia.” Maher’s anti-Islam comments, students argued, constituted “racist and bigoted remarks.”

Maher himself insisted he still wanted to come to Berkeley. He pointed out the irony of celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Berkeley’s famous Free Speech Movement by banning a speaker.

Obviously, these “attacks” on anti-Islam speakers are not the same as the murders in Paris, and Brooks does not equate them. But he does raise a question we need to consider: Are campus activists who ban speakers hypocritical when they now claim, “Je Suis Charlie Hebdo?”

Historians Rule the School

Why do educational historians have so much influence, relative to other kinds of educational scholars? This year’s Edu-Scholar influence rankings are in, and historians seem to be represented far beyond their numbers.

Like any ranking system, this one is imperfect. (It must be, since it didn’t include your humble editor.) Overall, the Edu-Scholar scale tries to couple academic influence with policy influence. As Rick Hess explains in the pages of EdWeek,

The rubric reflects both a scholar’s body of academic work—encompassing the breadth and influence of their scholarship—and their footprint on the public discourse last year. . . . I’m not sure that I’ve got the measures right or even how much these results can or should tell us. That said, I think the same can be said about U.S. News college rankings, NFL quarterback ratings, or international scorecards of human rights. For all their imperfections, I think such efforts convey real information—and help spark useful discussion.

Fair enough. Given those caveats, by this scale, at least, historians seem to punch far above their weight. Why?

Just in the top ten, for example, are historians Diane Ravitch (#1) and Larry Cuban (#8). At number four we find Gary Orfield, a sociologist whose work on desegregation is heavily historical.

We don’t have to go very far down the list (#26) to find Jon Zimmerman, ILYBYGTH’s house favorite. Penn’s Marybeth Gasman shows up at 18. Also included are David Labaree, Charles Payne (another sociologist who writes a lot about civil-rights history), and Sherman Dorn. Sam Wineburg is also on the list, and though he’s not officially an historian he writes about history and historical thinking.

That might not seem like a lot of historians, out of a total of 200 scholars. But when it comes to public policy, the surprise is that there are any academic historians at all. And doubly surprising to find more than one in the top ten! In general, academic historians get nervous when it comes to making pronouncements about current-day policy.

Many of the scholars here are full-time policy wonks. It would seem their work would do more to influence thinking about education than would the work of so many historians.

So why do all these wonderful historians exert so much influence on public discourse?

Something New for the Shelfie

The first copies are in!  Thanks to the folks at Harvard University Press, I’ve got my hands on my new book, The Other School Reformers: Conservative Activism in American Education.

A snappy addition for the bookshelf...

A snappy addition for the bookshelf…

As far as I can tell, they should be getting into stores in the next few weeks.  So here’s my suggestion: Let’s all dress up as our favorite conservative activist, a la Harry Potter, and camp out outside our local bookstores until these babies hit the shelves!

Dibs on Max Rafferty…


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