The Conservative/Christian Coalition Gets Weird…

You scratch my back, I’ll…erm…pretend I didn’t just see that dinosaur on Noah’s Ark. It’s not news that more-secular conservatives have long paired up awkwardly with Christian conservatives. With T-Diddy in the White House, though, things seem to be reaching a crescendo of ultimate weirdness. A couple of recent news stories underline the contortions that both sides have to go through to make America great again.

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Fox n Friends strategist: Who’da Thunk We’d Be Hanging out with Dinosaurs for this…?

First of all, let’s clear the air of a few stubborn misconceptions. As we’ve pointed out over and overSAGLRROILYBYGTH are likely tired of hearing it—there’s absolutely nothing “new” about the idea of conservative evangelicals getting involved in politics. The so-called “New Christian Right” of the 1970s was not the first time that evangelicals decided to jump into the political fray. As historians such as Daniel K. Williams, Matthew Avery Sutton, and yours truly have argued for years, evangelical Protestants have always been politically hyperactive.

As any historian knows—and any savvy evangelical could tell you—the evangelical community has always included political conservatives, political progressives, and a bunch of people in the political middle. The emergence of the “New Christian Right” was not a question of evangelicals getting into politics for the first time, but rather an always-awkward alliance between politically conservative evangelicals and the conservatives within the Republican Party.

Having said that, let’s look at some of the recent unpleasantness. At evangelical Taylor University in Indiana, for example (see our further coverage here), Vice President Mike Pence has caused a furor over his invitation to deliver a commencement address. Politically progressive members of the Taylor community have protested.

Not surprisingly, non-evangelical conservatives have weighed in to support the university’s decision. Non-evangelical conservatives have highlighted the justice of the conservative evangelical side at Taylor. For example, Fox & Friends tracked down a politically conservative alumnus of Taylor, who told them,

The vice president has very orthodox Christian beliefs – very traditional beliefs – that a vast majority of Christians believe. His political views are shared by a large section of America, so it’s not a radical choice, and I think people should be able to engage and disagree with his views and do it in a mature fashion.

The conservative PJ Media concluded,

Sadly, this incident illustrates yet again the trend of liberals demonizing dissent from their ideas. Conservative speech is not violence, and Mike Pence is not “rooted in hate.”

It’s no surprise that secular conservatives would jump in to side with evangelical conservatives at Taylor. After all, secular progressives have done the same thing for the anti-Pence side. Things get a little weirder, though, on a different episode of Fox & Friends.

fox n friends at the ark encounter

just…wow!

One of the F&F hosts, Todd Piro, goes on a tour of Answers In Genesis’ Ark Encounter. With a straight face, so to speak, the F&F segment shows the creationist megalith in all its zombie-science glory. The camera pans over dinosaurs in cages. Piro interviews visitors who sincerely praise the displays. As one earnest youth explains,

Not only did it give you the Biblical side, but it gave you a lot of scientific facts.

In his introduction, Piro says the Ark is just… “Wow!”

Not, ‘Wow, do you really believe that dinosaurs lived at the same time as humans?’

Not, ‘Wow, do you really believe that a flood could have actually covered the entire planet?’

But, ‘Wow, this is a neat museum, full of learnin n stuff.’

Now, I’m no conservative, but I can understand perfectly well why non-evangelical conservatives would fall all over themselves to support Taylor’s conservative evangelicals. After all, both evangelical and non-evangelical conservatives can agree on their opposition to LGBTQ rights.

But I’m truly flabbergasted when I see non-evangelical reporters describing the Ark Encounter as if it were just another neat museum. How is it possible for anyone who is not themselves a radical young-earth creationist to see the Flintstones-level scientific displays and not ask about them? How is it possible that any journalist can see dinosaurs in cages and not wonder how they count as “scientific facts”?

Watching Piro sugar-coat the radical science on display at the Ark Encounter, one can almost hear the political calculations going on in the offices of Fox & Friends. We can almost hear the implicit deal non-evangelicals want to cut with evangelical conservatives. “You give us a solid 81% vote for T-Diddy,” we can hear them thinking, “You give us university commencement speeches for Pence, and we’ll give you a cake-walk visit to your kooky Bible-science museum and a stirring defense of your stubborn resistance to LGBTQ rights.”

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I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Even with big holidays, this was a humdinger of a week. Pence commencement, tortured homeschoolers, and, yes, the progressives come out against Buttigieg’s progressive Christianity:

This week’s special: More proof—no one knows how to draw the line between church, state, and school.

For the Easter season: History’s other victims of crucifixion, at H&H.

A progressive voice speaks out against Buttigieg’s progressive Christianity, at FA.

once the satisfying adrenalin rush subsides, we need to ask ourselves if this is really where we want to take the American political dialogue. Arguing over how to define a “real” Christian might have its place — in churches and homes — but not at the top level of policy-making.

More from Taylor as the Pence parade comes to town:

dino at ark encounter

Vote Pence 2020!

A new route to school segregation: Wealthy areas splitting off to form their own school districts, at EW.

What’s wrong with leasing? At FPR.

to the extent that we can practice it virtuously, ownership can result in a greater investment in society and considerable potential for self-development. We should not give it up so easily. In a leased reality we are less aware of our limits and more subject to the winds of economic change and the whims of corporations.

Erm…Fox & Friends goes full creationist with a happy visit to Ark Encounter.

God, School, and Abuse

Try it. Ask someone what the government should do to restrict parents’ rights to send their kids to religious schools. Nine times out of ten, you’ll get the same answer: Nuthin. But if you ask if the government has a duty to protect kids from horrific abuse, most people will say yes. And as this week’s news headlines confirm, that contrast leads to our endless confusion about the proper relationship between religious schools, parents, kids, and government.

turpins homeschool abusers

Whatever your religion, you don’t have a right to abuse your kids and call it “homeschooling.”

Exhibit A: The parents in the terrible Turpin case have been sentenced to life imprisonment. You may remember this horror-show case from last year. A family with a dozen kids was caught subjecting the kids to abuse—including starvation, sexual abuse, and neglect—under the guise of “homeschooling.”

Exhibit B: A New York judge has ruled that conservative religious schools do not have to comply with government orders. In this case, the city and state governments have been trying for a while to supervise the curriculum at some private Jewish schools. The accusation was that the religious schools had been teaching students only in Yiddish and Hebrew, neglecting their studies in English and science, and neglecting the education of girls as a whole.

Exhibit C: New York has also threatened to take away religious exemptions for measles vaccines. Lots of Orthodox Jewish families have abstained. Traditionally, they were given lots of wiggle room for religious claims. No longer.

Measles NYC orthodox

…but do parents have a right to teach only in Yiddish? …or to skip vaccines?

What does all of this tell us about the proper relationship between government, family, and private schools? Just this: The dividing line is not really about religion. Rather, it is about abuse. Parents and religious communities generally have lots of leeway when it comes to their kids’ educations.

If and when a kid is being abused, however, or hurt physically, the government tends to feel justified in stepping in. This is true when the harm is done only to the religious kids themselves—as in the case of the Turpins or the Jewish-school students—or to the wider public—as with the unvaccinated students.

The problem, of course, is that “abuse” is often in the eye of the beholder. What the Turpins did to their children was an obvious case. But, as Lawrence Krauss has accused, are ALL young-earth creationists guilty of abusing their kids by teaching them zombie science? Or, remembering the case of NFL legend Adrian Peterson, what about parents and schools who use corporal punishment?

No one knows. We don’t have a clear and universal definition of “abuse” that we can apply in every situation. For secular people like me, the idea of neglecting topics such as English and science seems abusive. It seems to harm the life chances of students. For people like me, too, it seems abusive to teach kids–for religious reasons–that only heterosexuality can be practiced morally.

But there’s the rub. I know that plenty of parents disagree. They want their kids to learn young-earth creationism because they love their kids. They want their kids to learn the (alleged) dangers of LGBTQ sexuality because they love their kids. Can that be abuse?

No one knows.

In the end, the reason it is so hard to build a convincing wall of separation between church, state, and school is not because of Jesus or Jehovah or Jefferson. Rather, it is because no one has a simple, universal definition of “abuse.”

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.

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.

bryans-hobby-illustration-shows-william-jennings-bryan-as-a-horse-ER9571

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.