Dragging Creationism into the Twenty-First Century

At first, it might seem confusing. Why is radical-creationist pundit Ken Ham so upset about men in heels? It might seem like “Sparkle Leigh” has nothing to do with evolution or creationism or any of that. If we want to understand young-earth creationism, however, we need to understand that these sorts of culture-war standoffs are absolutely central to radical creationism itself.Ken Ham drag school

Here’s the latest: Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis has been warning about the looming threat of men in drag reading books to schoolkids. As Ham warned last year,

If you think our Western culture can’t get any more perverse than it already is, think again! In a new trend, public libraries in America are hosting “Drag Queen Story Hours,” where drag queens (generally, men who wear feminine clothing or makeup to entertain people) come and read books, sing songs, and do crafts with children in the library.

What does that have to do with the idea of a young earth, a literal world-wide flood, and the rejection of modern evolutionary science? Well, nothing, from one perspective. Accepting the power of evolutionary theory does not somehow force people to endorse drag culture. Accepting a non-literal reading of the Book of Genesis doesn’t either.

On the other hand, if we hope to understand radical creationism, we have to understand the fact that things like drag culture, changing gender norms, and even pedophilia are absolutely central. Radical young-earth creationism has always been about building walls to fend off looming cultural changes, not building labs to produce new scientific ideas.

As I’m arguing in my new book (exciting news on that front coming soon), radical creationism is not really a protest against the science of evolutionary theory as such. Rather, radical creationism is all about holding the line against changing cultural norms. Back in the 1950s, when conservative-evangelical Bernard Ramm promised his evangelical friends that science should not scare them, fundamentalists disagreed.

The radical-creationist movement was born out of a deep-seated feeling that traditional American culture was threatened. Evolutionary theory became the canary in the devil’s coalmine, but the real threats came from elsewhere. Changing sexual norms, changing gender relations, and changing attitudes about everything from proper dress to proper politics fueled the movement.

evil tree new

Why attack evolutionary theory? Let me count the ways…

At its heart, however, radical creationism has never actually been about evolution itself. Rather, as cartoons and pamphlets have shouted for decades now, evolution is only the convenient place to draw the line, the convenient place to defend against everything from feminism to abortion to communism.

So why is Ken Ham so upset about men with sparkles and heels? It’s not really about evolutionary theory, but it is absolutely central to radical creationism.

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It’s Really All Over for Charter Schools

Although some smart people apparently didn’t see it coming, the writing has been on the wall for charter schools for about two years now. The final nail in its coffin might have come yesterday when former President Barack Obama endorsed a mea culpa from the “ed-reform” movement.obama tweet

As SAGLRROILLYBYGTH are sick of hearing, the remarkable success of charter schools resulted, in large part, from the diverse political coalition that backed them. Conservative evangelicals liked the idea of a refuge from the supposedly secularized public schools. White segregationists hoped charters could stave off school integration. Urban African-American activists liked the notion of a better option for low-income youth. Secular free-marketeers wanted to break the monopoly of the teachers’ unions. Ambitious young overachievers liked the idea of entrepreneurship in education, instead of slogging up the teacher-career ladder.

To be sure, the so-called “reform” movement wasn’t only about charter schools. It also included a heavy emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing. The goal was to make sure lazy teachers and underresourced schools could no longer ignore children who didn’t sparkle. Reformers dreamed of displacing the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and making sure no child was left behind.

All laudable goals, and all goals that attracted support from across the political spectrum. Until, that is, Hurricane Betsy swept into town. As we’ve discussed in these pages, Secretary DeVos’s reign as educational Trumpist has changed the nature of the ed-reform discussion. Instead of a broad movement open to both Democrats and Republicans, charter schools and the rest of the “reform” movement have now become the signature ed policy of Trump-wingers.

Democrats have fallen over one another rushing for the exits. Leading 2020 contenders such as Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Beto O’Rourke all have significant histories as charter supporters and they’re all scrambling to find ways to deny it.

Yesterday, when St. Obama tweeted his agreement with a recent Atlantic article, the handwriting on the wall received its final punctuation. As President Obama wrote,

This is worth a read: a thought-provoking reminder that education reform isn’t a cure-all. As a supporter of education reform, I agree that fixing educational inequality requires doing more to address the broader, systemic sources of economic inequality.

By throwing his enormous party prestige into the mix, President Obama has surely spelled the doom of charter-schools and other “reform” measures among the Democratic Party. And when any reform becomes the signature issue of only one political party, it is surely doomed to deadlock, decline, and defeat.

From the Archives: The Bad Old Days of Educational Entrepreneurship

More proof, if more were needed, that today’s bold claims to “free” education from the cold dead hands of bureaucracy are not an innovation, but a step back into the ooze from which public schools evolved. As I argued recently in the pages of the Washington Post, Secretary Betsy Devos’s plans for public education mostly consist of returning schools to the bad old days of the early 1800s. In yesterday’s archive dig, I ran across a sad reminder: Entrepreneurship just doesn’t work when it comes to public education.arthur donaldson school announcementSAGLRROILYBYGTH need no reminder, but here’s a little historical background anyway: Before the mid-1800s, most towns and cities had a mish-mash of school options. In places such as Boston, Philadelphia, and New York City, there were tax-funded schools that were free to attend.

In most towns and cities, there were church schools or entrepreneurial “dame” or “master” schools. The former usually charged some kind of tuition but they also usually raised money to pay for lower-income students. The latter were businesses run by a teacher. These teachers survived by attracting pupils and charging tuition. All in all, it was a fine system for people with money or lucky people without money, but it left a lot of people out.

In 1810, Arthur Donaldson hoped to fix the situation. He was a teacher in a Quaker/Friends-run school for African-American kids. He hoped to broaden the school options for low-income African-American kids by raising more funds from wealthier people to open new schools for students who couldn’t afford to pay tuition. As Donaldson advertised, he wanted

to build a School-house, to admit of two schools, for the accommodation of Children of Colour, males and females separate. And as soon as the income arising from said school will admit (or other means obtained) to procure a well qualified person, to assist him therein. He also has it in view, as the school increases, to reduce the price of tuition, so as to make it more easy to parents of children. . . . he solicits the aid of the Benevolent minded, in hopes that he will meet with encouragement in his undertaking; believing it will be a means of laying a foundation for that which may be of lasting benefit to this neglected class of the community; whose welfare he has sincerely at heart; and is disposed to devote his whole time and attention, without any view of any thing more to himself than a reasonable and moderate living.

Hooray for Donaldson, right? Sounds like good news for the lower-income African-American children of Philadelphia. The catch was, these schools never opened.

Eventually, in 1822, the emerging public-school system of Philadelphia opened a tuition-free school for African-American kids on Mary Street. In 1826 Philly opened a second, the “Gaskill St. School for Negro Girls,” and the Mary Street School became boys-only. In 1828 they added another segregated tuition-free African-American school on Lombard Street.

The take-away? Let’s assume Mr. Donaldson had a pure heart and good intentions. He was a Quaker, a member of the Society of Friends, and he already worked as a teacher in the tuition-charging church school for African-American kids, so he doesn’t seem like a bad guy. As he stipulated, let’s assume that he only wanted to make a “reasonable and moderate living.” He thought the market could support a school for African-American kids. He thought Philadelphia’s wealthy elites could be cajoled into coughing up some of their money to pay for it.

He was wrong. Philanthropy wasn’t enough. Good intentions weren’t enough. Vim, vigor, and smarts weren’t enough. When schools are left to follow market forces, only people with money benefit.

From the Archives: The Best Name Ever

Found this fellow in 1825:

InkedSir Manly Power Malta_LI

…that’s SIR Manly Power to you.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Just because I’ve been stuck in the 1810s all week doesn’t mean you have to be. Here are some of the top ILYBYGTH-themed news stories from 2019 for ya:

NPR podcast on the history of evangelicals and politics.

Yes: Schools can’t FIX America, schools ARE America. At The Atlantic.

Where are all these school-Bible bills coming from? Mark Chancey digs into the “Project Blitz” playbook. At TBaI.

How do parents feel about the creepy no-excuses style of discipline? At EdWeek.

The Black and Latino parents we interviewed in a no-excuses middle school valued discipline, but viewed it as more than rule following. They wanted demanding academic expectations alongside a caring and structured environment that would help their children develop the self-discipline to make good choices.

Student protests get expensive: Oberlin ordered to pay $11 million for libeling local bakery as “racist,” at IHE.

  • Will the punishment make cautious university presidents re-think their support for student activism? Here at ILYBYGTH.oberlin protest real

I’ve been deep in the 1800s all week. What have you missed from the archives?

InkedAnti Vaxxers had no rights_LIOuch. So this principal totally copied his graduation speech from—you guessed it—Ashton Kutcher.

Teaching evolution without alienating creationists, at TC. HT: AP.

It is not the role of educators to forcefully convert doubters into accepting evolution, but to build an inclusive classroom that encourages those less comfortable with the concept to willingly engage with it. What is important is that all students can explore and understand the theory in a context that doesn’t force them to choose between science and their religious beliefs.

No big surprise: Cutting funding hurts students, at The Economist.economist test scores smaller

From the Archives: When Did We Stop Expecting School to Be Violent?

It’s an awkward thing to say, but I’ll say it: schools have always been violent places. Since the Columbine shootings, it has become traditional to mark 1999 as the start of an era of school violence. Historically, though, there has never been an era in which schools have not been violent.InkedSchool Violence Was Expected in 1830_LI

I understand that we’re talking these days about a grim new form of school violence–the mass shooting. And please don’t get me wrong: I abhor school shootings and school violence of any kind.

As I claw through the archives today doing research for my new book, though, I came across another bit of evidence that school violence has always been an expectation. When Louisville set up its free public school system in 1830, it created a short list of rules to handle expected problems. One of them was student violence. As the Louisville rules stipulated,

For violent or pointed opposition to his authority in any particular instance, or for the repetition of any offence, the instructer [sic] may exclude a child from his school.

Between 1830 and now, we seem to have lost the expectation that students will occasionally be violent. We seem to have stopped saying out loud that when we coop students up together for long stretches of time, some amount of violence will be likely. Why? Is it just politically expedient to pretend that schools could be violence-free?

I’d love it if schools could be violence-free, but it seems to me we gain nothing by pretending to be shocked that schools experience violence. Like our forebears, let’s assume the worst and hope for the best.

From the Archives: Mandatory Vaccines Are an American Tradition

I admit, I don’t ever actually talk to anyone who opposes vaccinating their kids. But if I did, I can imagine they might protest that mandatory vaccinations are somehow un-American, that people are free to do what they want in America. Or maybe they would insist that their religious liberty to avoid vaccines is a constitutional right. Or something.InkedAnti Vaxxers had no rights_LI

In the archives today I came across a little vaccinatory surprise. In either 1827 or 1830, Philadelphia set up a society to establish “infant schools.” These were schools for young children, under six years old. Even back then, Philadelphians assumed that women would be running these kinds of pre-schools.

They also assumed that only vaccinated kids could attend. As they stipulated,

Children, male and female, under the age of six years, may be received into the Infant School, or Schools, provided they be free from all contagious disorders; but no child shall partake of the benefits of the institution unless it shall have passed regularly through the vaccine disease, or whose parents or guardians will not consent to its immediate vaccination upon introduction to the establishment.

For Philadelphians, at any rate, the notion that kids could be subject to mandatory vaccinations was as American as apple pie.

The Original TFAer

Way before Wendy Kopp made her plan at Princeton to send graduates of elite colleges to Teach (briefly) For America, at least one wealthy American spent a brief time as a teacher before moving on to his “real” career. In Philadelphia, Roberts Vaux (yes, with an -s. Family name.) began his career as a philanthropist and man-about-town by teaching at the Adelphi School for one year.roberts vaux

For Vaux and his family, it wasn’t a TFA thing, it was a Quaker thing. The idea of self-sacrificing service was a strong one among his religious group, as it was (and is) among a lot of religious groups. So, at the tender age of twenty, Vaux taught briefly at the Adelphi School, a Quaker school for low-income kids. For him, the experience was transformative. After he completed school and established himself as a successful merchant, Vaux devoted himself to improving his city.

One of Vaux’s causes was public education. He was the first president of the Pennsylvania Society for the Promotion of Public Schools and the first president of the Board of Controllers for Philadelphia’s public schools.

Just as Wendy Kopp hoped it would do for a later generation of well-to-do young people, Vaux’s early experience teaching low-income children sparked a lifetime of interest in education and philanthropic work. As I read through his voluminous correspondence, it’s clear Vaux’s dedication to education for the poor was more than a whim or a hobby.

Lane letter schools work

We can’t tell if they really meant it or not, but lots of students wrote letters like this to Vaux.

Though it’s easy to mock the implied arrogance of Kopp’s Ivy-League TFA scheme, it’s hard to dislike Vaux. By the 1820s, Vaux was basically a full-time philanthropist, leading and participating in a million causes. He led the fight against slavery, even protesting against Quaker abolition societies for not going far enough. He also never did much self-promotion. That’s why there aren’t a lot of “Vaux-” named streets or buildings in Philly, even though he as a pillar of the community two centuries ago.

For Vaux at least, the experience of working as a teacher–even for just a short time–seemed to energize him for the rest of his life. Wendy Kopp would be proud.

The Least Surprising School Research Ever

Are you sitting down? Because the results of some recent studies might shock you. As The Economist reported recently, it turns out that cutting school budgets…hurts student learning. And all joking aside, though the connection might be glaringly obvious, the details are pretty interesting and point us once again toward the most important school reform.economist test scores smaller

After the Great Recession of 2008, state governments slashed funding for school budgets. They had to. The impact of those cuts was not distributed equally to school districts, however. More affluent districts could support their schools, but districts with fewer financial resources couldn’t. Lower-income districts have traditionally relied more on state funding, so the cuts hurt them worse.

We know that test scores and other school numbers only tell part of the story, but in this case, that part is sad. Studies of the post-recession funding dip found that lower-income schools cut “core activities.” They saw a drop in reading and math test scores, as well as a drop in graduation rates. As one study found,

A 10% reduction in spending per-pupil in all four years of high school reduced the likelihood of a student graduating by 2.7 percentage points.

What’s the solution? For one thing, state support needs to return. By 2015, most states had not returned to pre-2008 school spending levels. A more comprehensive fix will be to eliminate the cruel educational gerrymander that determines school funding by zip code. Instead of fighting for more charter schools and voucher plans, we should put our energy into unifying city and suburban school districts, bringing together students of different backgrounds and leveling out our current senseless feast-or-famine funding scheme.

Sure, you say, but politically such “redistribution” schemes are a dead letter. No affluent suburban voter would support them, and without that support it’s a no-go. Maybe not. Recent polls in Massachusetts and across the South find that large majorities support overhauls of their states’ school-funding schemes. It’s time to stop fighting about charters and start pushing for real school-funding solutions.

Will THIS Make Colleges Think Twice?

It doesn’t matter how deep your pockets are. An $11,000,000 fine still hurts. I can’t help but wonder this morning if colleges will see Oberlin’s punishment as a wake-up call to rein in their activist students.oberlin protest real.jpg

Here’s what we know: A bakery across the street from Oberlin’s uber-liberal campus has just won a whopping $11 million judgment against the school. Back in 2016, three African-American Oberlin students stole from the bakery. The owner chased them down and they were caught. They admitted to the attempted crime and agreed that the incident was not racially inflected.

Before the students confessed, however, outraged Oberlin students took to the street. They chanted that the bakery was racist and waved signs and banners. According to Inside Higher Ed, the administration of the college assisted with the student protest, suspending business with the bakery, organizing protests, and providing materials such as gloves for the protesters.

In light of the facts of the case, the bakery successfully sued for libel. It convinced a state court that the protests

interfered with business relationships, inflicted emotional distress and libeled the owners.

Will this judgment make other college administrators think twice about supporting student protests? As we all know, no matter if a school is conservative, liberal, or other, no administrator is willing to risk legal liability. I can’t help but think that this case will make cautious university presidents reconsider their knee-jerk support for student activism.