Why CTE Makes Historians Nervous

It sounds like a good idea, especially when it is presented in a convincing manner. As Oren Cass recently argued in the conservative City Journal, Career & Technical Education deserves a better rap (and better funding) than it usually gets. Yet this morning I’m going to explain why historians like me get nervous whenever people bring it up.

Cass lays out the glaring disparities. At both the K-12 and university levels, American education is geared toward supporting college students. Educational opportunity for students who might want to pursue job-related training is criminally paltry. As Cass explains,

States spend $70 billion annually on their university systems and offer another $10 billion in grants to cover remaining tuition obligations that otherwise fall to students. The federal government chips in $28 billion in Pell grants, plus $26 billion in tax breaks and $19 billion in loan subsidies. None of those funds or programs is available to students if they choose a vocational track. Congress’s 2017 appropriation for CTE was $1.2 billion.

I’m on board with Cass up to this point. Non-college-track programs deserve just as much attention and financing as do college-track ones. Students and families who want to learn hands-on trades should be supported institutionally and financially. Definitely.

But here’s the rub. As even Cass acknowledges, non-academic school programs have historically turned into low-rigor dumping grounds for less-affluent, less-white students. And that’s why educational historians get our dander up when we hear wonks celebrating the glories of vocational training.

anderson 1

…not all that “technical” after all.

For example, all of us have read James Anderson’s Education of Blacks in the South. As Anderson makes clear, white philanthropists ruthlessly pushed vocational training on African-American students and their educational institutions. Time and time again, these were go-nowhere programs meant to teach students to be docile, low-level workers in low-paying, low-prestige manual jobs.

We’ve also all read Herbert Kliebard’s Schooled to Work. As Kliebard found in his study of (mostly) Milwaukee vocational programs, in spite of the best intentions, students were treated mainly as “raw materials” for industrial needs, not as people and citizens deserving maximum educational opportunity. It has always been a mixed bag, of course, but as Kliebard found, non-college-track programs too often veered from their goal of helping students achieve their maximum potentials.

Kliebard schooled to workAnd, as I’m finding in my current research, as long as there have been public schools there have been attempts to squeeze low-income students into “apprenticeships” that only serve the needs of the school administrators. As I argued yesterday in a piece at History News Network, the first administrators of New York’s fledgling public-school system considered a plan to force their young students to serve without pay as “apprentice” teachers.

As the voluminous records of the Free School Society make clear, in the late 1810s administrators pondered a plan to turn their youngest student/teachers into free labor. Yes, they called it an “apprenticeship” program, but they only wanted the students to work for free. They never thought of their program as a way to maximize the career chances of their students.

So for those families who are looking for high-quality career and technical education, I’m with you. I support your fight to secure better funding and better resources for programs that you freely choose after being offered all the choices the rich kids get. 100%.

But we can’t ignore the warning from the archives: Whenever schools have turned to vocational training, it has devolved (or begun) as a program to keep low-income students stuck in the lowest-income rungs of the economic ladder.

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I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Whatta week! Diffident popes, pesky Vice Presidents, and measles, measles, measles. To start your Monday, here are a few of the stories we pulled from the headlines:

Nope from the Pope: Francis might need to put up a sign. At TG.

Striking teachers these days might not be surprised at all to find out what New York’s first school administrators tried to do to teachers. My report from the archives at HNN.

Hope for the liberal arts? Wisconsin campus reverses its cuts, keeps its history department. At IHE.

Texas State University defends conservative student group, at CHE.

Making the case for Career & Technical Education, at CJ.

Read the Bible? Or are you waiting for the movie to come out?  Wait no more! CT profiles The Bible Project.

Who still loves Mike Pence? Not this faculty member at Taylor University, where Pence will give the commencement speech, at WaPo.

  • But lots of other evangelicals still do. We ask why the smartest evangelicals are so often so far out of the loop, here at ILYBYGTH.

Measles, God, and school: New York City gears up for a fight with private religious schools over vaccinations. At CBS.

Uh oh: From Bored Teachers, a parent-teacher conference with creationist parents:

 

Will the Real Evangelical Please Stand Up?

I sympathize. I’m no evangelical myself, but I truly sympathize with all the caring, thoughtful, engaged evangelicals out there who have a hard time seeing the ugly truth. But all the sympathy in the world doesn’t make the truth less true, or any less ugly.

pence

Love him or hate him, Pence really does represent American evangelical values.

We saw it again this week in the news from Indiana. Writing in the Washington Post, Amy Peterson lamented the choice of Vice President Mike Pence to give the commencement speech at evangelical Taylor University.

Peterson was absolutely right that the choice of Pence serves as a signal to evangelicals of the kind of institution Taylor wants to be. She was definitely correct in suggesting that Pence sides with Taylor’s underground conservatives, evangelicals who want their institution to enforce traditional sexual norms and starchy moral codes.

But Peterson makes a common mistake in her conclusion. She reports that many faculty members and students at Taylor shared her dismay at the choice of Pence. She ends on this hopeful note,

If the uproar at Taylor this week is any indication, white evangelicals may not be such a monolithic voting bloc the next time around.

But that’s just it. The uproar at Taylor is NOT a fair indication of the way white evangelicals think. Or vote.

As Slacktivist Fred Clark calls it, “faculty lounge” evangelicalism is not a fair measure of evangelicalism as a whole. In other words, evangelical intellectuals are, by definition, not average. Their ideas about “real” evangelicalism do not match real American “evangelicalism.” As Clark put it,

the evangelicals of the faculty lounge cannot speak for most white evangelicals.

We’ve seen it over and over again. Not just in the twentieth century, as I examined in Fundamentalist U, but in the past five years. And not just at the more politically conservative schools such as Liberty—though it has been dominant there—but at “faculty-lounge” strongholds such as Wheaton. Just ask Larycia Hawkins.

This is not only a problem for evangelical academics, of course. I remember a hastily-assembled conference at my (very secular) home institution in November, 2016. A group of historians scrambled to put Trump’s election victory in context. We just couldn’t find any way to make good sense of it. Our vision of American values and American voting just didn’t match reality. But our confusion couldn’t change the fact that large numbers of Americans seemed to prefer Trump’s brand of toxic Americanism.

Evangelical academics are in the same boat. When they encourage their fellow white evangelicals not to put their nationalism before their religion, like Randy Beckum did, they are shocked to find such notions controversial.  Or, as Methodists found out recently, when they assume their ideas about sexuality are the world-wide norm, they get harshly disabused of such notions.

The Taylor/Pence story hits the same ugly notes. I sympathize entirely with Amy Peterson and her friends and allies at Taylor University. I wish evangelical institutions would embrace the best traditions of evangelical religion. I hope—though I don’t pray—that large numbers of white evangelicals reject Trump’s toxic Americanism at the polls in 2020.

In the end, however, we all need to face realities. The faculty and some students at Taylor might reel in dismay at the university’s decision to honor Mike Pence. But in the end, as Peterson recounts, lots of Taylor students and faculty loved it. And the school’s administrators, as always desperate to reassure students and families that they represent “real” evangelical values, decided that Pence embodied those values. When pollsters explore beyond the faculty lounge, they find that white evangelicals prefer Pence to Peterson.

The Wrong Way to Attack Creationism

Okay, okay, I know it’s a joke. I know we’re not supposed to take it seriously. But if we want less creationism in our public schools—and we all should, even if we are creationists—this kind of snark only makes things worse.

Here’s what we’re talking about: On Bored Teachers, one episode depicts a parent-teacher meeting from creationist hell.

In this cartoonish portrayal of radical creationism, the dad leaps to the attack, warning the teacher about spreading “blasphemy in the classroom” such as the Big Bang theory. When the teacher asks if the parents know it’s not a religious school, the creationist dad smugly replies, “not yet.”

When the teacher notes what “scientists say” about mice, the dad gives her the Baptist stink-eye. The only reason the creationist dad can give for the teacher’s disagreement is that she is “obviously possessed.” And when she growls at him, he’s scared. Not only that, but the creationist wife secretly doesn’t like the creationist husband either. She’s trying to get a divorce.

So what? Why does this joke hurt our chances in real life of reducing creationism in public schools?

Here’s my two cents: I’m a secular teacher fighting for wholly inclusive public schools. There shouldn’t be a religiously inspired science curriculum. Moreover, religious activists should never be able to push their ideas of right and wrong into classrooms.

In spite of all that, I’m opposed to this sort of goof on creationism. Caricatures like this of ignorant, bitter, anti-science creationists are totally misleading. If this is what we tell ourselves about our creationist friends and colleagues, no wonder we can’t make much progress in our creation/evolution debates.

What should we do instead? Talk with real creationists instead of only mocking them. Talk about our shared interest in science instead of using “science” as a weapon with which to deride them. Read the work of the creationists—the vast majority of creationists—who don’t have any problem with evolutionary science or the idea of deep time.

I know that this skit is not supposed to be taken as a serious policy proposal. I get that. But the attitudes about American creationism embedded in this sort of skit are not just silly, they can have serious negative consequences.

How to Lose: Conservatives’ Campus Persecution Complex

What do people usually do when they win? They celebrate. Just ask Virginia. So why is this conservative campus group turning its victory into a loss? And why is this conservative strategy a long-term losing bet?

Here’s what we know: You might think Turning Point USA would be cutting down nets and passing out collectible hats to celebrate its victory. After all, when the student government at Texas State voted to ban TPUSA, the university instead declared its support for the organization. As the Dean of Students wrote in a press release,

While Student Government exercised its right to act on a resolution put forth on April 1 to bar a recognized student organization from Texas State campuses, established University policy states that student organizations can only be barred if they are under disciplinary sanctions. . . .  the organization will not be barred from Texas State campuses. Texas State supports the constitutional rights of all of our students, faculty, staff and visitors.

From the noise coming out of TPUSA, though, you wouldn’t think they had been vindicated. As TPUSA front man Charlie Kirk lamented,

Last night @txst officially voted to BAN our @TPUSA chapter which advocates for free markets and free speech. The intolerant left can‘t tolerate the idea there are other ideas.  This is exactly why @realDonaldTrump signed free speech executive order. Pull their funding!

What gives? Why would a conservative student group call a victory a loss?

To this reporter, it looks like another example of a self-defeating conservative campus strategy. By turning themselves into “punchbait,” campus conservatives can generate more attention than they could ever hope to get merely by discussing issues.

charlie kirk texas state

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory…

In the long run, though, these strategies will be counterproductive. If conservative activists hope to turn campuses into more welcoming environments for an ideologically diverse array of ideas—including conservative ideas—they will be wiser to follow a different path.

Instead of proclaiming themselves hapless victims, conservative intellectuals should double down on their intellectual and academic superiority. The Charlie Kirks of the world will come and go, but academic heavyweights such as Robert P. George of Princeton and Patrick Deneen of Notre Dame will prove to be far more influential in the long run.

So what should TPUSA do? Instead of lamenting its victimhood, it should celebrate its status as a legitimate academic enterprise. It should tell young conservatives that they should never feel victimized on campuses, but rather that they own it. They should make sure every conversation includes Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek, instead of Donald Trump and Charlie Kirk.

Can the Accidental Rich Speak for the Unhappy Poor?

Bad news for Bernie: The New York Times just outed him as a closet millionaire. Will it kill his presidential hopes? Nope. If history is any guide, low-income Americans don’t really mind if rich people make their case for them. But Bernie shouldn’t celebrate too soon.

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Attack the rich? Why?

Here’s what we know: Back in the 1920s, William Jennings Bryan faced similar accusations. Though Bryan had leapt to political prominence as the voice of the people, in the early 1920s he made a huge pile in the Florida land boom.

His opponents didn’t let him forget it. They lambasted him as a hypocrite, the millionaire voice of the poor, back when being a millionaire meant something.

It didn’t do much to derail Bryan’s 1920s anti-evolution campaigns. Though Americans listened when Clarence Darrow accused Bryan of being an ignoramus, they didn’t really seem to care that Bryan was a rich ignoramus.

In short, Americans have never really seethed in anger against rich people. Especially not if the rich people can explain how they got rich.

Bernie gets it. As he likes to say,

I wrote a best-selling book. . . . If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too.

He’s right, but Bernie should recognize that this same political logic spells his own long-term doom. Because, as John Steinbeck put it so well in 1960, America doesn’t really have a lot of self-admitted proletarians. Everyone [in 1930] was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist.”

So why shouldn’t Bernie celebrate? For the same reason that Americans respect his riches, they won’t listen to his socialist pitch. Not enough of them, anyway. To most American voters, rich people aren’t robbers. They’re talented, lucky, or some combination thereof. And most American voters don’t want to tax away their millions, they just want those millions for themselves.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Democratic socialism, evangelical racism, and dirty dogs: This past week saw a lot of action. Here are some of the top stories that crossed our desk:

Lots this week about the connections of racism and evangelicalism.

1.) An interview with Jemar Tisby at R&P:

every time that the white community—especially Christians—failed to confront racism in its everyday, mundane forms, they created a context of compromise that allowed for an extreme act of racial terror like planting dynamite at a church. That’s the idea of complicity. It’s not that every Christian was a foaming-at-the-mouth racist hurling racial slurs and burning crosses on peoples’ lawns.

2.) The dangers of racism for the future of evangelical religion, at CT:

a warning sign for those concerned about the possible waning of evangelicalism in the United States. While current survey data says that white evangelicals have not experienced statistically significant population declines in the last decade, this will likely not continue into the future.

maga smithsonian 3

Art to choke hearts.

Wow. Trumpy artist sues to get his painting displayed at the Smithsonian, at TI.  HT: TWOILH.

High school doesn’t have to be boring, at NYT. HT: LC.

Harvard University: Creationist factory? Interview with creationist Harvard PhD at WORLD.

What do today’s teens worry about? Not what you might think, at The Economist.

TEEN WORRIES ECONOMISTSOCIALISM 2020

Preaching Christianity to Christians, at RNS:

Christianity as merely a family tradition only requires maintaining the tradition. . . . Sadly, many people in the Bible Belt are haunted by the idea of Christ, while not understanding His love for them.

Queen Betsy threatens the budget for Special Olympics, but the budget goes up. Turns out this happens a lot, from MS.

dirty dogCountry dog? City dog? An argument for letting dogs be dogs at FPR:

while city dogs enjoy ever more doggy parks, doggy play dates and dog-friendly shops and stores, their elevated status burdens them with human-dominated constraints.

Can conservatives find a way to love Trump? At RCP:

Many [conservatives] are repulsed by [Trump’s] crudity, thin-skinned nature, and vitriolic personal attacks. . . . But—and this is crucial—conservatives and many independents recognize Trump’s biggest achievement, beyond strengthening the economy and rebuilding the military, is his persistent effort to roll back the administrative state, with its endless regulations and executive orders.

The Unfair Way These Democrats Will Lose on Schools in 2020

The charter-school window is closing fast and many 2020 Democratic hopefuls will likely get hurt as it snaps shut. Part of the phenomenal success of the charter-school movement since 1991 has come from its ideological flexibility. As Queen Betsy stiffens that ideology into a sour blend of Jesus, Koch, and Trump, it looks as if Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker will all face awkward questions.

Betsy DeVos Confirmation Hearing, Washington DC, USA - 17 Jan 2017

Kneel before the charter-school Queen!!!

Like many changes in America’s culture-war landscape, this one happened fast. Since 2016, charter schools have been seen more and more as a conservative scam, a way to rob public schools of needed funding. Why? The honors should go to Queen Betsy. Her single-minded focus on increasing “choice” has made it difficult for anyone else to agree.

It wasn’t always this way. Of course, some on the left have always abhorred charter schools. But others haven’t. The unique appeal of charter schools between the 1990s and 2016 was that they appealed to everyone who thought public schools were lacking. And lots of progressive folks have always found big problems with public schools.

Exhibit A: My student-teaching mentor back in the 1990s. He was the best teacher I’ve ever seen, and he was chomping at the bit to start a charter school as soon as Missouri passed its charter law. For him, it was all about cutting red tape and getting educational resources into the hands of underserved kids. He and a small group of fellow progressives had outlined their plan for a wrap-around progressive school, one that would use truly child-centered teaching methods and provide a host of other services for families such as day care, medical care, and meals.

Beto_El_Paso_IVP_TT_PLACEHOLDER

I LOVE–erm…I mean I HATE charter schools.

Or consider activists such as Milwaukee’s Howard Fuller. Though prominent civil-rights groups such as the NAACP oppose charters, Fuller has always seen them as the best hope of low-income African American families. For families trapped in dysfunctional school districts, Fuller argues, charters and vouchers provide a desperately needed escape hatch.

In the past, then, charters and “choice” were embraced by both the left and the right. Anyone who thought the current public-school system was failing could jump on the charter-school bandwagon. For politicians who wanted to be seen as “doing something,” charter schools were the thing to do. That has changed, though, and today’s leading Democrats will find themselves hard pressed to explain their pro-charter pasts.

booker on oprah

…here’s Superman.

President Obama got out in time to avoid tough questions, but his administration pushed hard for charters. Many other Democratic politicians did the same. Beto O’Rourke now tells crowds,

We will not allow our public tax dollars to be taken from our classrooms and sent to private schools.

However, back when it was fashionable for hyper-educated dilettantes to open charter schools, his wife did just that.

Cory Booker might be in an even worse position. Backed by Facebook and Oprah, then-Mayor Booker endorsed a huge expansion of charter schools in Newark.

warren two income

What did you know and when did you know it?

And Elizabeth Warren has recently bashed charters, but until recently she was a huge supporter. Nothing exacerbated the social divides in America, Warren argued in her 2003 book The Two-Income Trap, as much as did the brutal economic and racial segregation of the public-school system. The solution? Charters, vouchers, and “choice.” As Warren argued back in 2003,

The crisis in education is not only a crisis of reading and arithmetic; it is also a crisis in middle-class family economics. At the core of the problem is the time-honored rule that where you live dictates where you go to school. . . . A well-designed voucher program would fit the bill neatly.

Unfortunately for these Democratic hopefuls, the tide has turned and they will be left high and dry. It’s not fair, of course. Back when Booker, O’Rourke, and Warren touted “choice,” they had every reason to think they were on the side of the progressive angels. Thanks to Queen Betsy, however, supporting charter schools these days feels like a deal with the devil.

Put It Up!

I admit, at first I pooh-poohed the story as just another example of wacky boorish Trumpism. The more I think about it, though, the more I’m hoping the Smithsonian will relent.

maga smithsonian 3

“Unashamed,” indeed.

Thanks to the ever-watchful John Fea, I’ve been following the story of artist Julian Raven and his Trump fan art. Raven has sued the Smithsonian to force the museum to display his portrait of Trump, “Unafraid & Unashamed.” So far, no dice. The gallery told Raven the painting was too big (it weighs 300 pounds), too political, and too terrible.

But the people love it. Attendees at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference lined up to have their pictures taken in front of the monstrous painting.

As Raven told the Daily Beast, the inspiration for this work came to him in a flash when he saw Trump speak back in 2015:

I just had the words go through my mind: ‘unafraid and unashamed’. . . . The image in my mind was this soaring flagpole, a U.S. flag pole falling to the ground. Right before it falls to the ground, an eagle swoops in and snatches it.

So far, the artist has had no luck in court. One judge informed him that the National Portrait Gallery does not have a Constitutional duty to display his painting. Yet Raven perseveres, complaining that the Smithsonian has trampled his First Amendment right to free speech, and now his Fifth Amendment right to due process. (He says his sales have been hurt by the negative publicity.)

What should the Smithsonian do? Put it up!

Here’s why: Nothing could capture the Trump era better than this gauche, over-sized, childish portrait, composed in a flurry on a sudden impulse and surprisingly beloved by conservatives. Even better, the artist is complaining—unburdened by any knowledge of the actual Constitution—that he has a First Amendment right to cram his painting into the Smithsonian. Furthermore, Raven insists that a left-wing conspiracy is the only thing keeping his portrait out of the National Gallery.

When future generations want to understand Trumpism, what could be better than this yuge painting, accompanied by a placard (or better yet, video interview) explaining the artist’s schlock-vs.-Goliath story?

The Creationist Harvard Is…

Quick: If you are a die-hard young-earth creationist, where would you want your kid to go to college? Bob Jones? Cedarville? They are both on Ken Ham’s list of “safe” schools. In fact, though, radical creationists are in a more complicated dilemma when it comes to elite higher education.CREATION COLLEGE MAP

Here’s what we know: In spite of their long-simmering resentment over the state of mainstream and liberal higher education—as I documented in Fundamentalist U—radical creationists are still trapped in a bitter one-way love affair with elite colleges. In the past, young-earth creationists pointed with pride to the credentials of people such as Kurt Wise.

Dr. Wise earned his PhD in the Harvard lab of the late Stephen Jay Gould. Yet Wise famously clung to his young-earths beliefs. As he wrote a few decades ago,

I am a young age creationist, because that is my understanding of the Scripture. . . . if all the evidence in the universe turned against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.

For years, Wise’s devotion to young-earth beliefs, coupled with his Harvard credentials, earned him the love and respect of the radical creationist community. And now radical creationists have another Crimson hero to celebrate. Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson recently explained his academic journey in the pages of WORLD Magazine. Dr. Jeanson also earned his PhD at Harvard without giving up his young-earth beliefs. As WORLD explained,

Jeanson entered Harvard with a burning desire to find a cure for cancer. He emerged with a determination to push back against evolution and help people struggling with science-religion tension find their way back to Biblical truth.

So what? This celebration of a real live creationist who studied in the world’s greatest university is still a source of enormous pride among radical creationists. As Ken Ham bragged on his blog, Dr. Jeanson’s career proves that their science is really science. As Ham put it,

Creation science is such an exciting field. Many people have this idea that creationists don’t do research, but that’s not true. Many creation scientists are actively involved in exciting discoveries regarding the world around us.

Ham’s celebration of creationist achievement highlights the century-old creationist dilemma. On the one hand, they need to explain to themselves why mainstream science no longer values their vision of proper science. Usually, that means dismissing bitterly those mainstream institutions as “deluded” or “biased.” On the other hand, though, radical creationists yearn endlessly for recognition from those same mainstream institutions.

HarvardShield

Who wants to go to Harvard? We all do…

Harvard has long symbolized the very best and worst of these trends in higher education. Henry Morris, the godfather of radical American creationism, called out Harvard by name in his book The Long War Against God. Harvard went wrong, Morris warned, back in 1869 when Charles Eliot took the helm. In Morris’s telling, Eliot appointed John Fiske, like Eliot a Unitarian, to “introduce and popularize evolutionism in the Harvard curriculum” (pp. 46-47).

Yet as the recent celebration of Dr. Jeanson makes clear, radical creationists still relish the thought of a Harvard diploma. In their view, Harvard may be a terrible and terrifying spiritual institution, but creationists still love it deep down in their hearts.