Blind Football Faith in Comparative Testing

To all the parents and policymakers out there who are anxious about the USA’s performance on recent PISA tests, I’ll quote Wisconsin’s St. Aaron Rogers: R-E-L-A-X. As progressive-ed guru Alfie Kohn, Curmudgucrat Peter Greene and  Yong Zhao of the University of Kansas all pointed out recently, there are plenty of reasons for calm. History tells us, though, that Americans won’t listen. Why not? The answer comes back to St. Aaron and Americans’ shared vision of what proper schooling should look like.

You probably heard the kerfuffle about the most recent international PISA scores. American kids as a whole did only okay. Most worrisome, rich kids improved while poor kids did worse. About 20% of American high-schoolers can read only at a fourth-grade level.

Time to panic? Not really.

As Alfie Kohn put it,

for whatever these comparisons (and the exams that drive them) are worth, U.S. students actually do reasonably well, contrary to popular belief. But it makes no more sense to talk about the “quality of American schools” than it does to talk about the quality of American air. An aggregate statistic is meaningless because test scores are largely a function of socioeconomic status. Our wealthier students perform very well when compared to other countries; our poorer students do not. And we have a lot more poor children than other industrialized nations do.

Peter Greene agreed. As he asked in Forbes Magazine,

PISA coverage tends to overlook one major question—why should anyone care about these scores? Where is the research showing a connection between PISA scores and a nation’s economic, political, or global success?

In the Washington Post, Yong Zhao offered three big reasons why these PISA scores should not be used as evidence of anything other than PISA performance itself:

First, there is no evidence to justify, let alone prove, the claim that PISA indeed measures skills that are essential for life in modern economies. Second, the claim is an imposition of a monolithic and West-centric view of societies on the rest of the world. Third, the claim distorts the purpose of education.

All solid reasons for calm. Yet it doesn’t take much savoir-faire to know that pundits won’t be calm. Anyone with a complaint about our current system of schooling will use these scores to warn that the sky is indeed falling and we need to invest in ______ [insert flavor-of-the-day reform/tech here].

We have to ask: Why won’t Americans heed the advice of these ed experts? Why won’t we simply ignore the results of a fairly meaningless test?

As I found in the research for my book about educational conservatism, there is plenty of culture-war disagreement about what and how schools should be teaching. But there is widespread agreement about one thing. Throughout the twentieth century and into our twenty-first, everyone has largely agreed that one of the primary purposes of schooling is to fill kids with facts.

Although I agree with Yong Zhao that this is a “distorted and narrow definition of the purpose of schooling,” it is one that has persisted largely unquestioned throughout the history of education. Consider just a few pieces of historical evidence from our leading ed historians. (And one from me.)

testing wars in the public schoolsExhibit A: As William J. Reese demonstrated in his 2013 book The Testing Wars, back in the mid-1800s Boston reformers effected a sweeping revolution in schooling. How did they do it? By appealing to the public’s intuition that a standardized test would be a useful way—maybe the ONLY useful way—to evaluate teaching and learning.

Exhibit B: Twenty-plus years ago, Stanford’s David Tyack and Larry Cuban argued that high-stakes standardized tests often formed an unshakeable pillar of the “grammar of schooling.” As they put it, there is a tension between “Americans’ intense faith in education—almost a secular religion—and the gradualness of changes in educational practices.” One reason for that tension is that reformers have never been able to convince Americans that tests don’t matter, that learning could go on without ever-increasing SAT scores.

tyack cuban tinkering

Exhibit C: As I argued in The Other School Reformers, conservatives have had a lot of success in their arguments for more traditional classrooms. They have relied, historically, on both explicitly conservative arguments and on assumptions shared by people who are not particularly conservative. For example, they have often won political contests by insisting that only their preferred reforms could keep kids safe in school. That’s not a particularly conservative idea, but rather an assumption shared by most people. Similarly, conservatives have won by painting progressive reforms as an abandonment of traditional ideas of testing. Real schools, conservatives have insisted, are places that young people go to acquire knowledge they did not have before. And tests are the proper way to measure that process. This vision of the proper purpose of schooling may be “narrow and distorted,” but it is also extremely common, so common that most Americans don’t question it.

And that brings us back to St. Aaron. One way to understand Americans’ reluctance to relax about PISA scores might be familiar to lots of parents. We might want our kids to play sports just to have fun, get some exercise, and make friends. In most cases, however, those youth sports are also fiercely competitive.

If you wonder why it is so difficult for Americans to relax about PISA scores, just go to any youth soccer, football, or basketball tournament. Ask any parent in attendance if they know what the score is. Of any game. I’ll bet dollars to donuts no one will give you the answer that Alfie Kohn, or Peter Greene, or Yong Zhao, or I prefer. They won’t say, “Who knows? It’s only a game.” They won’t say, “We’re only here to promote social bonding among youth.” They won’t say, “We don’t keep score, because that would be a meaningless way to put unnecessary competitive pressure on our kids.”

No. Go to any game anywhere. Try to explain to the person sitting next to you why you don’t care about the score. Even if you’re Aaron Rodgers, you will get nothing but mean looks and sullen silence. And that’s why PISA scores will continue to matter. Despite experts’ best efforts, most Americans still view test scores as a fair measure of educational quality. And most Americans will want to win.

Trump-ing Academic Life

A Miss USA, a bachelor, a gun-toter, a filmmaker, and a MAGA youtuber, all clumped together on a college campus to promote “Judeo-Christian values.” What could go wrong? If it were a reality show, I’d watch it. But it’s not. Instead, this group of culture-war B-listers is the first cohort of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center Fellows. These Trumpish all-stars promise/threaten to upend a long tradition of alternative academic institution-building in conservative evangelical higher ed.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, we’ve been following developments at Liberty’s new Falkirk Center with a lot of interest. The founders—Jerry Falwell Jr. and Turning Point’s Charlie Kirk—warned us that they plan to put “Judeo-Christian values” back in the center of American political life via an “aggressive social media campaign.” Given the history of ambitious academic centers at conservative evangelical universities, there’s not much of a chance the Falkirkers will achieve their goals. Given the recently announced line-up of founding Falkirk Fellows, I’m starting to think that they might, in fact, have a totally different goal in mind. Namely, they might want to trash the entire evangelical academic tradition, or at least not mind if they do.

As I argued in Fundamentalist U, since the 1920s conservative evangelical colleges, institutes, and universities faced a formidable task. They had to create an entirely separate academic system of prestige, one that rewarded scholars outside of mainstream academic channels. As part of their effort to do so, many universities poured scarce resources into the painstaking effort to build their own independent network of academic prestige, one that did not rely on mainstream ideas. For example, institutions such as Wheaton College and Gordon College heaped honors on creationists such as Harry Rimmer. Authors such as Arthur Brown scrambled to compile impressive-sounding lists of academic “experts” who scorned mainstream science.

To be sure, these alternative academic “experts” often had extremely shallow credentials. When evangelical universities gave them honorary doctorates and other academic honors, however, they were signaling to the conservative evangelical community that their universities shared the religious and political values of their honored experts. The universities were creating, in essence, a world of academic prestige outside the entire system of mainstream academics.

The recent move by Liberty University seems as different from that kind of thinking as Trump is from Reagan. What does it take to earn a coveted spot as an inaugural fellow at the Falkirk Center? Let’s take a look:

Frantzve

Adding a little sparkle to academic life…

First, we have Erika Lane Frantzve, Miss USA 2012. Ms. Frantzve claims a “background” in political science and is dedicated to charity work. Next, there is Josh Allan Murray, best known from his appearance on The Bachelorette. These days, in spite of the quick break-ups of his TV nuptials, Mr. Murray is apparently “bouncing back better than ever.” Third comes Antonia Okafor Cover, who works to get more guns on college campuses. She claims to have been told she should not feel free to speak her mind, but as she puts it, “I didn’t listen.” Another fellow will be David J. Harris, Jr., a vlogger and Trump enthusiast who preaches the dangers of the “crazed left.” Last but not least is Jaco Booyens, filmmaker and opponent of sex trafficking.

I don’t mean to be a campus snob, but what kind of achievements can a group like this hope to achieve? To quote Charlie Kirk, how can this assemblage “‘play offense’ against efforts by liberals to water down Judeo-Christian values in the Bible and Constitution”?

The short and obvious answer is, they can’t. This is a group of second-rate conservative media presences, not a group of alternative academics. Unlike people like Harry Rimmer in an earlier generation, they have no coherent ideas to promote. They are not scientists frozen out of mainstream science, or theologians pushed out of mainstream institutions. Those kinds of non-mainstream intellectuals used to be the ones to win academic honors from the evangelical academy. This group looks decidedly different.

Even from within the alternative academic tradition of conservative evangelical schools, a tradition in which non-traditional intellectuals were often awarded traditional academic honors, this group of Falkirk Fellows looks remarkably intellectual weak. Instead of building an independent system of academic prestige as earlier evangelical colleges have done, the Falkirk Center seems to be merely leaping aboard the Trump Train to trash the entire idea of academic prestige.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

We’ve got snow up to our eyeballs up here, but the interwebs haven’t shut down yet. Here are some of the top ILYBYGTH-themed stories from the past holiday week:

NYT charters

Good schools are good schools…right?

Are charters the best hope for low-income urban students? At NYT.

Max Lyttle, director of instruction at Eagle Academy Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., argued that pitting schools against one another misses the point.

“It shouldn’t be about what’s better: charter schools or neighborhood schools,” he said. “It should be about what schools will help our children succeed.”

At the school’s campus in southeast Washington, where more than 90 percent of students are black, Eagle Academy seeks to provide the same resources that white, affluent children have: a swimming pool, a chef who serves fruits and vegetables and a “sensory room” modeled on private medical facilities where students can calm down. The school was recognized this year for its improvements on standardized test scores.

Burge rns anointed by godRyan Burge asks: How many Americans believe Trump was “anointed by God?” At RNS.

White Protestants’ belief in Trump’s anointing tracks with church attendance. Among those who attend less often than once a month, just 1 in 10 thinks that Trump was anointed. Of those who attend church multiple times a week, 4 in 10 agree that Trump was anointed by God.

Views of the Bible also affect how Americans responded. Among those who consider the Bible inspired by God, just 11% believe Trump was anointed, while those who believe the Bible to be the literal word of God are more than three times as likely to think so.

Liberty University sets up a new academic center, at WE.

The Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty, a combination of their names [Jerry Falwell Jr. and Charlie Kirk], will “play offense” against efforts by liberals to water down Judeo-Christian values in the Bible and Constitution in their bid to build support for big government, said Kirk. . . . He said that the center hopes to answer a question he gets often, “was Jesus Christ a socialist?”

Fizzle Alert: New Campus Center Will Try to Prove that Jesus Was Not a Socialist

The history is not particularly encouraging. Nevertheless, Liberty University plans to open a new academic center, one devoted to promoting Judeo-Christian values in American society. How do we know it won’t work? Three reasons, plus one counter-point.

Here’s what we know: Liberty University recently announced its new Falkirk Center. The name comes from a combo of Jerry Falwell Jr—Liberty’s president—and Charlie Kirk, leader of Turning Point USA. The goal of the center will be to blitz social media with traditional Christian messages. As Falwell and Kirk described,

Said Kirk, “We’re in a culture battle right now where you have to fight and play offense, and part of this effort is to try and play offense against the secular Left.”

Falwell added, “As attacks on traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs grow in frequency and intensity, the need has never been greater for a national revival of our foundational principles throughout our society and institutions in America.”

The center will use an aggressive social media campaign to push back against what Kirk described as the Left’s effort to “try to convert young Christians into socialism and to intentionally misrepresent the gospel and the teachings of the Bible to try to convert young people to be further on the left.”

Will it work? No.

First of all, there are a few big established conservative think-tanks that don’t leave much room for a new one. Why would anyone go to work at the Falkirk Center when they could go the Heritage Foundation instead?

Second, the name itself spells doom. Generally, any academic center or think-tank needs a clear and unified purpose. Often, that takes the form of a charismatic leader. In this case, trying to balance the big egos of both Falwell and Kirk will mean that neither of them gives the center his full attention and support.

Third, as I found in the research for Fundamentalist U, when conservative evangelicals have tried to establish alternative academic centers in the past they haven’t had a lot of success. Consider the ill-starred National Freedom Education Center (NFEC). It was an organization based at The King’s College in New York (now in New York City).

national freedom education center letterhead

They had enough money for letterhead, but that’s about it…

One of the NFEC’s goals was to spread “American Studies” programs on evangelical campuses. As their promo materials put it,

What philosophy shall give direction to the material world we are developing?  Shall the long-felt influence of the Christian ethic be brought to bear on current history?  Dare we succumb to the seemingly plausible suggestions that in our time government-over-man is preferable to America’s long proven concept of man-over government?

Can we survive as a people, even with our unparalleled abundance of things, if our thinking excludes our traditionally motivating intangibles . . . . reverence for God, total human concern for the individual, an abiding dedication to preservation of our Constitution and a cherishing regard for personal Freedom? [sic]

Did it work? Nuh-uh. A few institutions, such as Azusa Pacific, signed up. They received a few hundred dollars and some books for their libraries. Other schools blanched. Gordon College in Massachusetts, for example, rejected the overtures of the NFEC. The faculty at Gordon did not want to turn their conservative religious school into merely a conservative political school.

There’s no doubt, however, that the NFEC would have had more luck if it had had deeper pockets. And that’s where the Falkirk Center might get its glimmer of hope. Liberty University has bajillions of dollars to spend from its online empire. Could that $$$ make a difference? Maybe.

After all, the Falkirk Center is NOT trying to build academic prestige. That takes time, vision, and patience. It is only trying to mount an “aggressive social media campaign,” which is quick, dirty, and easy. It seems at least possible that the Falkirk Center might splash out money on a blitz of popular media, and that the blitz might reinforce already-existing stereotypes. It COULD become, even, a new sort of academic center, one that doesn’t care much about traditional academics but has a big social-media footprint.

I don’t think it will happen, because President Falwell has always been more invested in football than academics, but it seems at least possible that the Falkirk Center might take advantage of a fat wallet to do more than talk about making a difference. I’m not going to worry too much about it, yet.

Thanksgiving, ILYBYGTH Style

Ah…Thanksgiving. The holiday that brings us together to yell at each other and watch football. How can one Thursday fire up so much culture-war angst? How can it help explain both Rush Limbaugh and creationism?

simpsonsturkey

This year, as your humble editor prepares to head to an undisclosed location somewhere in upstate NY to avoid any hint of culture-war histrionics, we stumbled across the ILYBYGTH Thanksgiving archives. Check out some of the ghosts of ILYBYGTH Thanksgivings past:

First, how does Thanksgiving help us understand the way schools really work? For everything from sex ed to evolution, Thanksgiving dinners can serve as metaphors for the real reasons why it is so hard to get schools to dive into controversial issues.

Second, were the Pilgrims really communists? And why do conservative pundits say they were? It seems to me conservatives would want to defend the tradition of friendly buckle-wearing Pilgrims.

Next, how does Thanksgiving play a role in climate-change culture wars? Some advice from the folks at National Center for Science Education.

Finally, some bad Thanksgiving advice on how to outsmart your crazy right-wing (or left-wing) uncles.

Can We Talk about Charter-School Politics without Using the “BD Word”?

It seems like a big omission. It’s like talking about immigration policy without mentioning Trump. Or reviewing the history of impeachment without using the phrase “Talk to Rudy.” Yet in a recent piece about the politics of charter schools, two New York Times journalists left out the most important fact of all. Why?

NYT charters

We ALL want ALL kids to have awesome schools.

Here’s what we know: The New York Times article gave compelling testimony to the emotional power of the charter-school issue. As one parent and charter-school founder told the reporters,

We look at it as a burning ship going down with thousands of kids in it, and we’re trying to get kids on lifeboats.

And as another charter-school leader put it,

“It shouldn’t be about what’s better: charter schools or neighborhood schools,” he said. “It should be about what schools will help our children succeed.”

At the school’s campus in southeast Washington, where more than 90 percent of students are black, Eagle Academy seeks to provide the same resources that white, affluent children have: a swimming pool, a chef who serves fruits and vegetables and a “sensory room” modeled on private medical facilities where students can calm down.

With appeals like this, it is hard to see how anyone but a moral monster could oppose expanding charter schools. Yet as the article correctly points out, all but one of the leading Democratic 2020 candidates have turned their back on charter schools. Why? The journalists say only that

the leading Democratic candidates are backing away from charter schools, and siding with the teachers’ unions that oppose their expansion.

True enough, but the article leaves out the most important explanations for this sudden shift in Democratic Party thinking. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing, it was not at all unusual for leading Democrats to support expanding charters and vouchers as recently as last year. Yet now even St. Obama has agreed that charters and other market-based “reforms” are not a “cure-all.”

We could get all complicated and talk about the long history of greater conservatism among African-American Democrats than white ones. We could talk about the changed political landscape since the teacher walk-outs of the past few years. But if we want to understand the political shift about charter schools, there is one glaring fact that we absolutely can’t leave out: Betsy DeVos has become the public face of charter schools. And that changes everything.

betsy devos dolores umbridge

The elephant in the classroom…

I don’t mean to criticize journalists for not writing the story I wanted to hear instead of the one they needed to write. In this case, however—a story about the changing politics of charter schools—it seems oddly misleading to leave out the huge obvious fact of Queen Betsy’s school-reform revolution.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

What happened this week? Looks like charter-school questions are back on the docket for 2020. Also some stories about racist professors . . .  and of course anti-LGBTQ chicken. Enjoy!

Sen. Booker bucks the trend, jumping back on the charter-school train, at NYT.

So it is largely up to Democrats — especially those of us in this presidential primary race — to have a better discussion about practical K-12 solutions to ensure that every child in our country can go to a great public school. That discussion needs to include high-achieving public charter schools when local communities call for them.

WARREN AND CHARTERSSen. Warren talks with charter-school protesters, at Chalkbeat.

In that meeting, [Howard] Fuller, former Milwaukee schools chief and advocate for private school vouchers, told Warren that her language is helping anti-charter efforts across the country. A number of states, including California, Illinois, and Michigan, have recently moved to limit charter schools or cut their funding. . . .

“Your plan starts out with an attack on charter schools,” he tells Warren.

“What you may see as an attack is designed to say everybody’s got to meet the same standards,” Warren counters.

Indiana University makes a tough call: Condemning a professor’s racist comments while defending his right to free private speech. At IHE.

“We cannot, nor would we, fire Professor Rasmusen for his posts as a private citizen, as vile and stupid as they are, because the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids us to do so,” [Provost Lauren] Robel said. That’s “not a close call,” either.

rasmusen postLeading historian describes the long tradition of conservative evangelical politics, at WaPo:

White evangelicals’ pragmatic and self-serving approach to political power has been consistent for at least a century, dating to fundamentalists’ adoration for Warren G. Harding in the 1920s. . . . Harding and Trump have much in common. They are among the most allegedly corrupt presidents in U.S. history. Their Cabinet teams have been racked by scandal. Like Harding, Trump’s personal morals are the antithesis of what religious Christians profess to demand. But, like Harding, Trump maintains the support of the faithful because of his policies and the attention he lavishes on Christian voters and their faith leaders.

saint-donald1Does Jordan Peterson save the internet from racism? Or does he serve as a “gateway drug?” At HxA:

these data support the notion that those who are already affiliated with the alt-right eagerly engage with and promote Peterson’s content. . . . participants in Peterson’s comments sections on YouTube migrate twice as quickly to alt-right YouTube channels over time relative to controls (see Figure 2). In other words, it appears that participating in Peterson’s YouTube channel predicts increasing flirtation with alt-right content.

Chik-fil-A stops funding anti-LGBTQ allies, at NBC.

“Staying true to its mission of nourishing the potential in every child, the Chick-fil-A Foundation will deepen its giving to a smaller number of organizations working exclusively in the areas of education, homelessness and hunger,” the organization announced Monday.

The conservative response:

How does Chik-fil-A’s decision echo evangelical anti-racism efforts from the 20th century? Here at ILYBYGTH.

chik fil a protestFuller Seminary gets in hot water for expelling non-heterosexual student, at LAT.

Though the college does allow same-sex relationships, it does not allow “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct” and has made clear that it believes sexual intimacy is reserved for a marriage between a man and a woman….

Student reporters at Brigham Young University—Idaho pressured to squelch a story, at RNS.

Two days before BYU-Idaho formally announced the change on Nov. 15, the school’s student newspaper, the Scroll, published an article highlighting frustration among students whose requests to use Medicaid as an alternative to the student health plan were rejected by the school. Students are required to have insurance or use the student health plan in order to enroll in classes.

In-depth articles on the controversy at the Scroll then abruptly stopped, with coverage mostly limited to the school’s official statements on the matter as BYU-Idaho was beset with backlash over the decision.

Squaring the LGBTQ Circle

I thought I understood it, but this story has me stumped. I’ve wrestled with the complicated history of LGBTQ issues at evangelical universities, but I just don’t understand recent news out of evangelical flagship Fuller Seminary.

Fuller entranceHere’s what we know: The storied seminary is facing a lawsuit from a former student who was kicked out for being married to another woman. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH know, I personally support greater LGBTQ rights at all institutions, civil and religious. But I also sympathize with the position of conservative religious schools for whom this issue poses an authentic moral conundrum.

In the twentieth century, evangelical universities had a shameful history of dealing with LGBTQ students, but so did non-evangelical ones. As historians Maggie Nash and Jennifer A.R. Silverman have argued, all sorts of universities conducted vicious purges of non-heterosexual students in the middle of the twentieth century.

In this century, many evangelical institutions have come to an uneasy and awkward position on LGBTQ rights. At many universities, for example, LGBTQ identity is welcomed, but LGBTQ “practice” is not. To my mind, this is not a very sustainable position. It feels like a temporary holding plan until institutions decide whether to support LGBTQ rights or to oppose them.

I don’t support that compromise, but at least I understand it. What I don’t understand is the position taken by Fuller Seminary. According to the LA Times,

Though the college does allow same-sex relationships, it does not allow “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct” and has made clear that it believes sexual intimacy is reserved for a marriage between a man and a woman….

What is the distinction here? Did the reporter maybe just muddle the explanation of Fuller’s true position? Or maybe does Fuller allow students and faculty to be engaged in non-sexual same-sex relationships? That would explain the distinction between “same-sex relationships” and “homosexual sexual conduct.” In effect, that would be just another, more complicated way of stating the distinction between identity and practice made by several universities.

But even if that’s the explanation, it doesn’t seem to make sense in this case. How would Fuller know that the expelled student was engaged in “explicit sexual conduct” with her wife? According to the article, the student was expelled when her same-sex marriage was discovered by Fuller’s administrators. As everyone knows, however, there have been plenty of celibate marriages. That leads me to wonder if there is some other distinction being made in this case. Perhaps the problem comes from the student’s marriage. Maybe by Fuller’s definition, a “marriage” automatically implies “sexual conduct.” . . . ?

I’m honestly stumped. Can anyone explain it?

Are Public Schools “Churches of Atheism?”

Once again, I totally agree with radical creationist Ken Ham about something. Not that the earth was created only about 7,000 years ago. Not that a real worldwide flood wiped out everything except Noah’s Ark. But I agree with him 100% that public schools should not serve as churches of atheism. However, as I know, you know, and large majorities of Americans know, public schools aren’t churches of any sort. How can we tell? Americans LIKE their local schools. They don’t like church.ham tweet churches of atheism

Mr. Ham has not grasped that fact. He is fond of warning his followers that public schools are not community resources, controlled and paid for by the community based on democratic processes, but rather sinister institutions—“churches of atheism”—dedicated to stripping children of their faiths, to belittling any religious viewpoint, and to cramming sexual immorality down children’s throats.

gallup school a or b

People tend to give high grades to their children’s schools.

The problem is, that’s not what public schools do in real life. I know because I spend my days visiting public schools in my area. I don’t see the kinds of mind-control efforts Mr. Ham is so nervous about. I see hard-working teachers who help their students become the best versions of themselves.

It’s not just me. The most careful surveys of public-school science teaching don’t find huge majorities of teachers cramming atheism down students’ throats. As political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer found in their huge survey of high-school science teachers, the biggest determining factor for the way teachers teach is community sentiment. If the local community wants more mainstream science, teachers teach it. If they want it watered down with creationism, teachers tend to oblige.

Worst of all for Mr. Ham’s radical Chicken-Little-ism, most Americans understand that. Gallup pollsters have asked Americans what they think of their public schools. By and large, people LIKE the public-schools their kids attend. What don’t people like? Church.

gallup church attendance

Americans are voting against church–with their feet.

So if public schools were really “churches of atheism,” as Mr. Ham contends, you’d think more people would be dissatisfied. You’d think more people would stop going. That’s not what is happening. It’s good news for the rest of us, even if it is not good news for Ken Ham and his radical allies.

The OTHER Myth about Evangelical History

Thanks to leading historian Matthew Avery Sutton, we see a reminder this morning that Trump is nothing new. Conservative evangelicals have always backed morally besmirched leaders. The idea that evangelical voters previously preferred “clean” candidates joins the myth that evangelicals retreated from politics in the twentieth century. It’s just not true. Weirdest of all, though, white evangelicals have long tended to pretend—maybe even believing it themselves—that their immoral candidates somehow personally embody Christian virtue. Why?

saint-donald1

St. Donald the Orange?

Professor Sutton, author of field-defining books such as American Apocalypse and now Double Crossed: The Missionaries Who Spied for the United States during the Second World War, points out that conservative evangelicals have a long history of supporting Trumpish crooks. Back in the 1920s, for example, prominent institutions like the Moody Bible Institute gave cigar-puffing, booze-swilling, corrupt wheeler-dealer Warren Harding their full-throated support. As Prof. Sutton relates,

The editors of the leading fundamentalist periodical Moody Monthly routinely praised Harding for his leadership. “We are thankful just now for a Federal administration,” they acknowledged, “which seems honestly disposed to do its best for the nation.” They insisted that “it is generally admitted that the President has gathered around him an efficient cabinet with a genius for team work.”

Conservative evangelical support for the train-wreck presidency of Warren Harding was not the exception. As Prof. Sutton writes, conservative evangelicals also picked divorced actor Ronald Reagan over Sunday-school teacher Jimmy Carter in 1980. They ignored Eisenhower’s meh attitude toward organized religion. Support for Trump among white evangelicals is just more of the same. As Prof. Sutton concludes,

Fundamentalists in the 1920s separated Harding’s personal morality from his pro-fundamentalist policies. Evangelicals in the Trump era do the same. If politicians champion white evangelicals’ proposals on immigration, foreign policy and religion in the public square, they are willing to forgive many, many personal sins. And when Trump’s nonvirtuous behavior serves their political goals by boosting his political power — for example, by accepting election interference from the Russians or by allegedly trying to pressure the Ukrainian president by withholding aid — they may see these acts as advancing a virtuous cause.

And evangelical support for dodgy politicians is often more than merely a pragmatic political decision. As Professor Sutton reminds us, white evangelicals have talked about their support for moral monsters in odd terms. As some evangelical leaders are doing these days with Trump, evangelicals have tended to lavish praise on their chosen political leaders, as when they hailed President Harding as “the Christian president,” or as “‘an earnest Christian man’ who ‘in all his speeches … advocated a return to the Bible and to Bible righteousness.'”

Support for Trump among white evangelicals is not an exception. It is the rule—white evangelicals have always done more than just hold their noses and vote for candidates based on hard-nosed policy considerations. In every case, some evangelicals will pretend to themselves that their candidates are actually good Christians.

Can anyone explain that one to me?