A Creationist Surprise

SAGLRROILYBYGTH can skip this post entirely. For those who are already familiar with the real contours of American creationism, there’s nothing new in this story. But for those who think American creationism means only Kentucky’s arks and Texas’s fist-thumping school-board leaders, read on. Real American creationism—even the radical young-earth sort—can be found where you might least expect it.

AP creationism

Big Apple, Small Timeline

The Associated Press yesterday poked a New York City sore spot. For years, critics and victims have charged the city’s “ultra” Orthodox yeshivas with cruel educational neglect. Today’s story confirms it. Boys in these schools are typically taught scanty secular knowledge. They can graduate, for example, without having learned much English, non-sacred history, or math. Girls tend to learn more about secular subjects, but their overall educational status is decidedly lower than that of boys.

As yesterday’s story tells the tale,

At the ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools Pesach Eisen attended in Brooklyn, most of the day was spent studying religious texts with classes taught in Yiddish. One class at the end of the day was spent on secular subjects including English and math, enough to be “able to go to the food stamps office and apply.”

“Everything was super basic. … Nobody took it seriously, so even if you were a studious person you had no chance,” said the now-32-year-old Eisen, who had to take remedial classes and study intensively on his own before he succeeded in graduating from college in 2016.

These Hasidic schools are once again the subject of lawsuits. It’s not only the schools themselves that are under fire, but Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Education. Critics charge the government with lackadaisical investigation and enforcement of legal minimums of educational standards, even for private schools.

It’s not only secular history, math, and English-language that gets shunted aside. For the approximately 115,000 students in these schools, modern science is extirpated. As one student told the AP,

They erased anything about dinosaurs. . . . Anything more than 5,000 years old was erased.

So when you go out looking for American creationism, don’t just steer South to the Ark Encounter and the Texas school board room. Be sure to spend some time in the Big Apple where radical creationism is thriving.

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I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Our weekly list of ILYBYGTH-themed stories from around the interwebs:

Queen Betsy jeered from Left and Right:

betsy devos dolores umbridge

Saving Hogwarts: Something we can all agree on?

What’s wrong with data? Jeff Tabone reviews The Tyranny of Metrics at FPR.

  • Best bit: “measurements rarely reflect the prime educational mission of an institution.”

Historians tweet about Trump ‘n’ Putin at HNN.

A sort-of-conservative fix for higher ed: Razib Khan reviews The University We Need at NR.

Abortion rights and the coming divide. Will the USA be split in three? At RCP.

SCOTUS could get a different sort of new majority, too: Private-school attendees. At Atlantic.

After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans scrapped its entire public-school system in favor of privatization and competition. Did the charter-school revolution help New Orleans?

Trump’s Christian Nationalism, by Gene Zubovich at R&P.

Is it kosher for public-school student to fundraise for a religious mission trip? A Colorado court says no, at FA.

When it comes to fixing schools, tech billionaires will continue to fail. Zeynep Tufekci in NYT.

Teachers Are Smarter than Elon Musk

Here’s a Sunday-morning challenge for you: How is it possible that the smartest people in the world aren’t able to figure out something that has been public knowledge for hundreds of years and that every good teacher figures out quick? As Professor Zeynep Tufekci brilliantly argued last week, the Elon Musks, Bill Gateses, and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world can’t fix schools. And though Prof. Tufekci makes a great case, it’s not new.

elon musk submarine

Elon Musk power-tube to the rescue!

Tufekci builds her case on Elon Musk’s petulant performance in Thailand. Like many of us, Musk was fascinated by the story of the trapped soccer team in Thailand. Unlike many of us, Musk has billions of dollars and twenty-two million Twitter followers. So Musk directed some lackeys to build a fancy new submarine-machine to rescue the soccer players. When local rescuers rejected Musk’s help, Musk complained on Twitter. Musk seemed unable to recognize that there was a better way to approach this problem.

As Prof. Tufekci wrote,

The Silicon Valley model for doing things is a mix of can-do optimism, a faith that expertise in one domain can be transferred seamlessly to another and a preference for rapid, flashy, high-profile action. But what got the kids and their coach out of the cave was a different model: a slower, more methodical, more narrowly specialized approach to problems, one that has turned many risky enterprises into safe endeavors — commercial airline travel, for example, or rock climbing, both of which have extensive protocols and safety procedures that have taken years to develop.

This “safety culture” model is neither stilted nor uncreative. On the contrary, deep expertise, lengthy training and the ability to learn from experience (and to incorporate the lessons of those experiences into future practices) is a valuable form of ingenuity.

Musk and his ilk do not limit their can-do arrogance to Thai cave rescues. As Tufekci argues, in public schooling as well, Silicon Valley richies tend to think they can plunk down their money, dig out incompetence, and fix schools in one fell swoop.

The Musks and Zuckerbergs of the world might be forgiven if we were in brand-new territory. But we’re not. As the late David Tyack and Larry Cuban argued so brilliantly over twenty years ago, school reformers have always tried to fix complicated educational problems with poorly prepared prescriptions.

Telegraph with numerals sketch

The technological solution to bad schools, c. 1805.

Time and time again, as Tyack and Cuban relate in Tinkering Toward Utopia, outside “experts” swoop in to fix schools with The Big New Thing. Closed-circuit television, market-based evaluation models, computerized personalized learning systems…all have been vaunted as the new solution. In every case, veteran teachers look for the good and reject the useless. In every case, teachers use the parts of the new system that help them do the real work of education, while quietly packing away the useless bits in a hallway closet.

And as I’m arguing in my new book about the historic roots of urban school reform, the Musk/Zuckerberg fallacy goes back to the very beginning. Back in the early 1800s, a young educational entrepreneur in London thought he had the solution to urban poverty. Joseph Lancaster promised that his elaborate new system—replete with cutting edge technology—would allow one school master to educate hundreds of low-income urban kids.

It didn’t work. But perhaps Lancaster can be forgiven, since his assumptions were fairly new and untested. The Musks of today have no such excuse. As Professor Tufekci concludes,

Education is a complex topic, and making a lot of money in tech is not a qualification for solving educational problems.

It’s something we have known for centuries. It is something that every teacher figures out right away. Why can’t our tech gurus see it?

There’s One Word Missing from this Essay about Trump’s Christian Nationalism

Sorry for the long title, but it’s all true. I read with great interest Gene Zubovich’s recent article in Religion & Politics about Trump’s appeal to Christian Nationalism. It’s a great argument, but Zubovich leaves out one crucial word.

Nationalism-GettyImages-809665350_780x508

For Jesus AND America…

Zubovich hits the nail squarely on the head when he argues that Trump’s shameless appeals to God and Country are a big part of Trump’s appeal among conservative evangelicals. As Zubovich puts it,

Trump has repeatedly argued that when America remains true to its faith and traditional values, God will bless the country with the might to defeat its foes. And his words resonate with Christian nationalists—those who believe the United States was founded as a Christian nation and must continue to be one—because they tie together so many of the Christian Right’s beliefs and instincts. We have good reason to believe that Christian nationalism is one of the reasons evangelicals overwhelmingly support Trump.

Moreover, Zubovich recognizes the other side of this coin. Though big majorities of conservative evangelicals love Trump’s Christian-nationalist spiel, evangelicals also provide its most trenchant critics. For example, as Zubovich explains,

In May, American clergy issued the “Reclaiming Jesus” manifesto, which rejected Trump’s nationalist slogan of America First “as a theological heresy for followers of Christ.” . . . [They] reminded Americans: “Our churches and our nations are part of an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries.” They went on to say, “We, in turn, should love and serve the world and all its inhabitants, rather than seek first narrow, nationalistic prerogatives.”

So far, so good. But Zubovich leaves out a vital bit. This debate over the relationship between nationalism and globalism among American evangelicals has always really only been a debate among WHITE American evangelicals. For other groups, most notably African American conservative evangelicals, the temptation to lump religion in with government has never been an issue.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s not that there aren’t a lot of patriotic African American conservative evangelicals in the USA. There certainly are. The urge to equate the government with the church, though, has only been a curse among white evangelicals. For obvious historical reasons, African Americans have always tended to keep their church strictly separate from other social institutions, institutions that all too often embraced slavery, Jim Crow, and anti-black racism.

Insisting on this one word, then, is more than just academic nitpicking. If we want to understand Trump’s appeal among conservative evangelicals—and we DO want to understand it—we need to be very careful to remember that only one segment of American conservative evangelicals has suffered from a muddling of religious zeal with patriotic fervor.

From the Archives: Emily Post at Evangelical U

What were evangelical colleges for? As I argue in my new book, evangelical and fundamentalist schools promised to do lots of things at once. Thanks to alert SAGLRROILYBYGTH DW, we have new evidence of two of those things from Indiana Wesleyan University.Marion COllege rules c 1946 1

As DW discovered on a recent campus visit, Indiana Wesleyan (former Marion College) recently posted these dining-hall rules from 1946. They are more than just a nostalgic goof, though. As did the interdenominational conservative evangelical colleges I focused on in my book, back in 1946 Marion’s leaders were trying to accomplish two deadly serious goals in their dining hall.

First, many evangelical colleges needed to introduce their students to middle-class social norms and aspirations, as I note in my book. As one student at Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute remembered, back in the 1920s many MBI students

were raw farm boys, you know, and so on and so forth. If you’d had a smattering of education: fully high school or not, never mind, as long as you were really on fire for Christ, you know. And some who didn’t know very much about etiquette and that kind of thing.

For many evangelical students, especially Bible-institute students, the middle-class norms expected of college graduates had to be taught explicitly and enforced rigorously. Clearly, at Marion College, some students needed reminders, as rule number 9 points out,

It is considered proper courtesy for the gentleman to allow the lady at his right to serve herself before he serves himself; the lady in turn should receive this courtesy with lady-like appreciation.

Plus, at all evangelical colleges in the period, and in fact at almost all colleges in the period, social interactions between men and women were rigidly policed. Administrators needed to be able to assure parents that no hanky-panky would be going on. marion college rules c 1946 2

Mealtimes, at most schools, offered students a rare opportunity to interact with the opposite sex, and all college administrators worked to prevent students from taking advantage. That’s why the final rule on this list is very clear:

All men are expected to leav [sic] the dormitory immediately following the meal excepting after the evening meal when they may stay in the parlor on Wed. evenings until 7:30 and on Friday evenings until 10:30.

These rules might seem like quaint relics these days, but they are more than mere quirks. They show us how higher education combined many functions. In addition to academic instruction, students were supposed to pick up religious zeal and upward social mobility, all while being rigidly controlled. At the time, parents expected college students to learn more than just a profession; at conservative religious colleges especially, parents wanted children to learn how to mingle in society politely, and above all, safely.

Thanks, DW!

Queen Betsy: It’s Lonely at the Top

No one likes her. In an extraordinary feat of Trumpish alienation, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has managed to pull off a rare accomplishment in America’s educational culture wars. Namely, she has managed to get progressive and conservative intellectuals to agree on something.

betsy devos dolores umbridge

Saving Hogwarts: Something we can all agree on?

From the Left, Curmudgucrat Peter Greene—my personal favorite writer on teachers, students, and schools—recently offered a reminder of good reasons to protest against Queen Betsy. It’s not because protesters hope to get QB to change her mind or her anti-public-school policies. So why bother picketing QB’s public appearances? Why go to the schools QB visits with signs and placards?

Greene offers a long list of reasons to protest in person. As he concludes,

No, it’s not going to suddenly make everything better if you stand up and speak up, but the alternative is to step back and watch it get worse.

Certainly QB likely has many friends—or at least allies—on the pro-charter side of the education spectrum. But American Conservative writer Michael Shindler isn’t one of them. Shindler doesn’t think people should rise up and speak out against QB ala Peter Greene, but Shindler DOES yearn for a more authentically conservative educational leader.

Shindler is all for shrinking the federal government. But he opposes QB’s recently announced plan to merge the Education Department with the Department of Labor into one big “Workforce” Department.

Why? As Shindler puts it,

to merge the Department of Education with the Department of Labor and redirect its purpose toward DeVos’s beloved “workforce programs,” which explicitly aim at making students good workers rather than good citizens, would be to steer it away from its imperative mission. That would threaten the very foundations of our democracy.

Instead, education policy should be directed toward helping young people understand their responsibilities as citizens of a republic.

The reasoning of these writers from different ends of the political spectrum is not so different after all. Both Greene and Shindler insist that formal education must be about something more than training young people to be productive earners. Both insist that education must remain a transformative experience, an experience that empowers every individual and fosters a profound, authentic citizens’ voice in public affairs.

If intellectuals of the Right and Left can notice that they agree on that, maybe we’re not so bitterly divided about education after all.

Abortion Storm Clouds

Historians shudder a lot these days. But nothing has made me more nervous than this: Life-or-death moral imperatives are being tied to states and regions. We’ve seen this before and it led to the most horrific war in American history.

1860_Electoral_Map

We’ve been divided along moral and geographic lines before…

We don’t want to be hyperbolic or hysterical. The historical precedent, though, is clear and alarming. In the years before the 1860 presidential election, major parties like the Democrats and Whigs tended to have support in both North and South. In that crucial contest, though, the regions divided cleanly and ominously.

With the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to SCOTUS, we’re seeing worrying trends. In my home state, for example, Governor Cuomo has pledged to take steps to preserve abortion rights in case a new SCOTUS overturns Roe v. Wade.

At the same time, as Bill Scher has pointed out, sixteen other states already have laws on the books that ban abortion. If SCOTUS were to overturn Roe v. Wade, those states would become “Life States,” while places like New York and California would become “Rainbow” or “Freedom” states.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has put together a map of what the country might look like. In a scarily similar way to 1860, we see a clear geographic divide between states that would allow abortion and states that would ban it.

abortion map 2018

CPR’s 2018 divisions…

What will happen? No one knows, least of all historians. The precedent, however, of tying a fundamental value to a geographic entity is alarming.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

SCOTUS, flags, and dino-riding grandpas…it was quite a week here in the ILYBYGTH International offices. Here are some of the stories that caught our eye:

Can campus art disrespect the flag? Kansas says no, at IHE.

kansas u flag

Revoking your artistic license…

Trump and affirmative action in higher ed:

Get elite higher ed out of the social-justice game. Rachel Lu at The Week.

How many creationists does it take to lock in a tax rebate? Examining Ark Encounter’s attendance claims at RACM.

Getting rid of AP: a bad call, says Chester Finn.

Kavanaugh and the Christians:

Turkish creationist under fire, at NCSE.

Creationist Ken Ham shoots for satire, at BB.

ham on triceratops

Photographic evidence: Chester Cornelius Ham III in action…

Taylor U. ousts prof for sexual aggression, at IHE.

Can You Find the Creationist Joke in this Picture?

Breaking news from Kentucky: Arch-creationist Ken Ham has found a photograph of his great-great-grandfather riding a dinosaur! Proof that humans and dinos lived together in the not-so-distant past? No, not really, but it is proof of a couple of other things about young-earth creationists.

ham on triceratops

Photographic evidence: Chester Cornelius Ham III in action…

First of all, it is proof that creationists like Ken Ham can take a joke. As Ham tweeted about the spoof,

Shhh…don’t tell the atheists this is satire as they’ll believe it’s true.

Second of all, it points out that the topic of people riding dinosaurs is still intensely sensitive among Ham’s type of radical creationist. As I’m teasing out in my new book about creationism, the idea of people on dinosaurs is touchy. As Ham is well aware, the idea of humans riding dinosaurs has long been used to ridicule Ham’s ideas.

For example, Charles P. Pierce opens his book Idiot America with a story of his trip to Ham’s Creation Museum. The first thing Pierce noticed was a statue of a dinosaur with a saddle, a display Pierce derided as “batshit crazy.”

So maybe it makes sense for Ken Ham to be defensive. Yes, there is a statue of a dinosaur with a saddle at his museum, Ham responded. But that was “just a fun part for kids,” not part of the real science on display.

dinosaurs-of-eden-pic.jpeg

Page 42.

I’d like to be fair to Ham, but his position on dinosaurs with saddles seems, at best, inconsistent. In his 2001 book Dinosaurs of Eden, for example, he includes pictures of dinosaurs carrying people and goods. Yet he insisted that he has never claimed that people rode dinosaurs. As he put it,

I don’t know where people get the idea that people rode dinosaurs. I mean, there’s no evidence in the Bible that that is so.

If we wanted to give Ham the benefit of every doubt, we might conclude that Ham has changed his opinions about dinosaurs and saddles since 2001. Yet in a 2016 book, Ham repeated his idea that dinosaurs would likely have been used for all sorts of purposes by humans. As he explained,

We see and hear [in the Bible] about all sorts of animals being tamed by man. . . . why not some of the dinosaurs? Who knows what they were doing? It seems to me we should at least allow the possibility that some could have been tamed to help with transportation, maybe even farming, hauling heavy loads (the strong ones!) and other things.

While I’d like to give Ken Ham credit for having a sense of humor and being able to poke fun at himself, I’ll admit I’m a little perplexed. Ham’s AIG organization insists that the real story about humans riding dinosaurs is the “head-scratchingly bizarre” fixation of atheists on the idea of dinosaurs wearing saddles. Such ideas, AIG sometimes suggests, are not really Ham’s ideas, but only fake news meant to “discredit and malign creationist groups.”

Yet Ham and AIG continue to promote the notion of people riding dinosaurs.

I’m stumped. Maybe the joke is on me.

What Would Abbie Say?

The news from Kansas: It’s still possible to rile the rubes by disrespecting the flag. In most other ways, though, we Americans seem to have totally changed our attitudes about what constitutes “disrespect.” It’s hard not to wonder what Abbie Hoffman would say.

kansas u flag

Revoking your artistic license…

Here’s what we know: The University of Kansas has moved a controversial display of the US flag. The display, a piece by artist Josephine Meckseper, was titled “Untitled (Flag 2).” She flew the flag with a picture of a striped sock on it, as well as an array of busy lines. Meckseper claimed her work was meant to highlight the fractured, divided nature of current American politics.

In a way, Kansas proved her right. Outraged veterans and politicians insisted the work was disrespectful. They insisted the campus remove the flag. Governor Jeff Colyer agreed, and the university complied.

What would Abbie say? Hoffman was famously arrested for wearing a shirt made from the US flag in 1968. Since then, everything related to the politics of flag-fashion seems to have changed. These days, prominent patriotic conservatives tend to wear the flag without giving it a second thought. It’s even easy to buy flag underwear.

abbie hoffman flag shirt

Respect the threads…

According to the flag code, the key seems to be the intention of the wearer. No one is supposed to wear an actual flag. But is it disrespectful to wear a flag-patterned shirt, as US Air Force General Richard Myers did in 2005?

There’s more: The code says the flag should never be displayed horizontally, but USA-loving football fans routinely cheer at such displays.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at New York Jets

They love America, but they don’t seem to like the traditions of proper flag etiquette…

To this reporter, it appears that Americans no longer care about the details of patriotic flag etiquette. As long as people seem to be cheering for the flag, they can do anything they want with it.

However, the instant someone seems to be disrespecting the flag, either in a fashion sense, an artistic sense, or a kneeling-NFL sense, a certain sort of patriotic conservative will predictably react angrily. In Kansas’s case, that sort of anger is politically impossible to resist.