Creationism’s Middle Ground—Is It Enough?

The radical creationists at Answers in Genesis have offered an explanation of their vision for proper evolution education. Short version: They want all kids to learn about mainstream evolutionary theory, in a way. Is there enough here for a long-lasting compromise?

SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing about it, but I’m up to my eyeballs with my new book about creationism. I sent the manuscript to the Oxford folks and we’ll have a book ready for shelves soon. I’m arguing in the book that the real problem in America’s long-running culture war about evolutionary theory isn’t really evolutionary theory itself. (It’s about something, but for the full argument you’ll have to wait for the book version.)

This morning, the radical creationists at AIG offer a lengthy exposition of their view of proper evolution education (starting at 18:04 in the video above). (Why use the term “radical creationist?” My explanation here.) It gives us a chance to ask: Is there enough middle ground here for all of us? Or do radical creationists want too much?

First, a little background: Ken Ham and some colleagues from Answers In Genesis are reacting to evolution-education outreach from the Genetic Literacy Project, starting at about 18:04 in the youtube clip above. The outreach was apparently targeted to college instructors, hoping to help them help students overcome their religious resistance to evolutionary ideas.GLP AIG

There are a lot of things in this AIG commentary that we can all agree on. Let’s review a few of the big ones:

First of all, we can all agree that evolution educators shouldn’t be trying to convert their students toward or away from any religion. As one of the AIG commentators describes (19:19), the article is essentially asking,

How do you become an evangelist for evolution? To convert these backwater, very confused creationists into the “truth” that they would follow Science?

I don’t think the Genetic Literacy Project folks would explain their goals that way, but we don’t have to agree on that. We can agree that science educators have no desire to promote any specific religion.

Second, students should be learning more than just terms and facts about evolution. They should be learning a deep understanding of the underlying ideas. As the AIG commentator put it,

We need to promote true science and teach [students] how to think scientifically . . . not just dump facts at them.

Third, radical creationists should stop using bogus arguments against evolution. These radical creationists agree that those bogus arguments only muddy the waters. As another chimed in,

We wanna make sure we’re not setting up straw men or being fallacious with an evolutionary worldview so when we refute it we refute what they actually believe.

coloring book beginners bible basicsAlso, we can all agree not to poke fun at radical creationists for no good reason. The first image on the GLP evolution-education presentation was of a macho Jesus riding on a scary dinosaur. If you’re interested in American creationism, you’ve probably seen the image. It looks like it comes from a sad creationist coloring book, but in fact it was created by artist Derek Chatwood in 2014 to poke fun at radical creationism. It is not an artifact of American creationism, but rather a clever and cruel insult. The radical creationists objected to the (18:30),

stupid cartoon on the front. I don’t understand why this idea of Jesus riding a dinosaur…they keep using this…. I hate seeing this picture. It’s just a caricature of what creationists believe.

We can all agree on that. We can agree on all these things, and they are big things:

1.) There’s no need to insist on cartoonish misrepresentations of creationist ideas.

2.) Creationists should not make bogus straw-man arguments about evolutionary theory.

3.) Kids should learn more than facts about evolution; they should learn to “think scientifically.”

4.) And evolution education should not try to preach any religious idea to students.

Are we all in agreement about everything? Certainly not. The radicals at AIG insist that evolutionary thinking is itself a religion. It’s not. The radicals want children to learn, in the end, why evolutionary science is inadequate for explaining major changes in species. It’s not. They want to teach children that they must choose between mainstream science and their religion. They don’t.

Those are huge areas of disagreement and we can’t simply ignore them. When it comes to our public schools, however, we have enough agreement to move forward. We can all agree that science class should not mock religion of any kind. We can agree not to focus on fake arguments about the other side, and that students need to learn a deep understanding of the ideas that led to mainstream evolutionary theory.

Can we agree on the rest? No. To create a productive science class, though, we don’t need to.

Lamanites and the Ugly History of Racism at Evangelical Colleges

It must be jarring. Imagine opening the new Sunday-school manual of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and finding cruel racist histories and warnings against racial mixing. It’s not that plenty of white Christians aren’t sincere about fighting racism. But episodes like this show how paper-thin those efforts are, given the nasty history of white racism. It’s not only LDS, by any means. The history I researched in Fundamentalist U shows the same Get-Out-level nastiness in white evangelical institutions.

Here’s what we know: The LDS hierarchy recently apologized for a glaring “error.” (I know, we’re not supposed to use “LDS” anymore, or “Mormon,” but calling it the whole long name every time seems crazy.) The new Sunday-school manual included old language about race, ideas the LDS church no longer teaches. Most shocking, the new 2020 manual says the following:

“The dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing,” the book explains, citing a statement made some 60 years ago by then-apostle and future church President Joseph Fielding Smith.

Erm.

Today, a spokesman announced, LDS churches “unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.” Good for them. Nevertheless, this episode serves as a reminder of the explicit, official racism that was church policy until very recently. It helps show how inadequate it is to simply promise not to be racist anymore; it helps demonstrate why we haven’t moved beyond our racist history, even if many people would like to believe we have.tisby color of compromise

It certainly isn’t only a problem among LDS churches. I just finally ordered my copy of Jemar Tisby’s Color of Compromise. I’m looking forward to reading it. As I found in the research for Fundamentalist U, many evangelical colleges have an ugly history of racism. These days, even the schools with the most aggressively racist histories have disavowed racism, officially at least. But like the LDS “error,” its legacy is clearly visible. Like the painfully tense garden-party scene in Get Out, the history of institutional racism has been awkwardly papered over, leaving a painfully inadequate no-longer-racism where all the racism used to be.

Just a reminder: Yes, Bob Jones University—like the LDS—issued in 1960 a searing “Biblical” defense of racial segregation. But even up north, evangelical institutions such as Wheaton College and Moody Bible Institute suffered from explicit intentional racism.

bju race statement

Mea culpa, sorta…

At Wheaton, for example, in the 1950s there was only one integrated student club. Ironically, that was the Dixie Club for southern students. As one white Wheaton student later remembered from that era, one African American student seemed to prefer the company of her white southern friends, “even though obviously we represented repression for her in some ways.”

swartz moral minorityAs historian David Swartz described in his terrific book Moral Minority, Wheaton tried hard to become less racist. It led to some strange tensions. One white anti-racist faculty member in the 1960s edited an anti-racist newsletter, Freedom Now. If Wheaton students wanted a copy, they could get one at the campus bookstore, but only by asking for it by name. Copies were kept under the counter.

Wheaton wasn’t the only prominent evangelical school to wrestle awkwardly with its own institutional racism. At MBI, in 1952 an interracial couple was asked to split up. As Dean Maxwell Coder reported internally, he asked them

not to associate on or off the campus in anyway [sic] that would attract attention to themselves as a couple and give rise to criticism . . . because of the racial problem involved.

By 1970, MBI had taken bolder steps to fight its own racist history. In that year, segregationist fundamentalist John R. Rice had been invited to give a prominent talk at MBI. Rice had continued his pro-segregation rhetoric. MBI disinvited him. (For the intensely awkward details, see here. The MBI leaders had a hard time settling on language that would satisfy all parties.)

I recognize and admire the efforts of lots of white evangelical activists who have tackled this racist history, now and in the past. Yet it just doesn’t feel like quite enough. In the end, I agree with one LDS scholar:

The manuals “should have been shredded when this egregious error was found prior to international distribution,” said Jerri Harwell, associate professor in Salt Lake Community College’s English, linguistics and writing studies department. “The money that would have been lost on this is nothing compared to one day’s interest on $100 billion in [the church’s] reserves.”

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Okay, so now that the Packers are out of the playoffs we can see what else is going on in the world. Here are some top stories from last week:

Kicked out for a gay cake. How conservative school leaders can mess up on LGBTQ stuff, at ILYBYGTH.

gay cake

Out, vile monster!

FL teachers march, at TD.

Teachers, parents and their supporters brought downtown Tallahassee to a standstill Monday as they protested what they said has been a systematic attack on public education dating to the late 1990s — when, coincidentally, Republicans took over the Legislature and Governor’s Office.

fl teacher march

Progressive college has to change to survive, at IHE.

“They have a very different vision of what college would be and have different needs,” [President George] Bridges said. “They want to leave Evergreen with a degree they can use in a career, in a market,” and that’s explicable to employers. Students who attended in past decades grew up in a different economic climate, he said, and weren’t seeking such specific outcomes.

RIP, Roger Scruton. Eulogy at AC.

Taking Edmund Burke and Adam Smith as his exemplars in thought, Scruton’s traditionalist conservatism always revolved around his love of place and the need for real and organic community, held together by habit, custom, and experience. All good in society, then, flows from the bottom up, rather than from the top down.

Who is an evangelical? An interview with Thomas Kidd at R&P.

the media has come to discuss evangelicals in a very narrow way. The implication is that, when we use the term, we are talking specifically about white Republicans in the United States. But when you think about the evangelical movement on the world stage, this is very misleading.

Trump’s new guidelines for school prayer. What’s new? Not much, really, for schools, but a reversal of other rules, at WaPo.

Under current regulations, faith-based providers — such as health care entities, child welfare organizations, educational nonprofits — need to give beneficiaries notice of their religious character and their right to get services elsewhere. They also have to make reasonable efforts to refer beneficiaries to another provider if the person receiving services is uncomfortable. . . . The Trump administration announced rules to end the requirement, created under the previous administration.

god-is-my-heroMormon Sunday-school manual accidentally includes racist Mormon history, at SLT.

several early readers of the 2020 “Come, Follow Me” manual were troubled to see a note in one lesson that is a throwback to previous thinking.

“The dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing,” the book explains, citing a statement made some 60 years ago by then-apostle and future church President Joseph Fielding Smith.

From the Archives: Protecting Children from Imaginary Threats

Okay, so we know Trump’s recent announcement about protecting student prayer in schools was nonsensical. Students already CAN pray in school if they want. In a different sense, however, Trump’s prayer defense was not only politically savvy, but a continuation of a long tradition of wildly disproportionate responses to non-existent threats. This morning, a few examples from the archives.

Trump prayer anncment tweetExample 1: Harold Rugg’s textbooks, 1939. I’ve read them. In a word, they are bland. Hardly the stuff to inspire violent protests. They were hugely popular in the 1930s, selling millions of copies. In 1939, conservative groups such as the American Legion and National Association of Manufacturers fretted that these books were indoctrinating students in left-wing directions.

What happened? In cities across the Northeast and at least one town in rural Wisconsin, conservatives threatened to pile the books up and burn them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Boring…boring…boring from within.

Burning textbooks in an era of Nazi occupation in Europe seems like a remarkably disproportionate response to a popular textbook. So why do it?

Among themselves, Legionnaires warned darkly that Rugg’s books were only the sharp edge of a long-planned socialist revolution. As one Legion activist wrote in a private letter, colleges like Teachers College at Columbia University had become nests of “socialist fanatics” who schemed to use Rugg’s textbooks as part of their plan to subvert American institutions.

roscoe letterWe can only make sense of the violent response to Rugg’s textbooks if we put the story in this imaginary context. In the imaginations of many conservatives, Rugg’s textbooks were an immediate threat to American society as a whole. Destroying them was the only way to protect children from that imaginary threat.

Example 2: Fast forward a few decades and conservatives again responded violently to an imaginary school threat. In Kanawha County, West Virginia, a new set of textbooks was approved by the state. When conservatives previewed the books, they were alarmed by what they saw. School-board member Alice Moore denounced the books as anti-American, anti-Christian, and even simply anti-proper-English.

Local conservatives agreed and they boycotted local schools until the offending books were removed.

The boycott became violent. Schools were firebombed, busses shot, and the school-board building dynamited. Two people got shot along the picket lines.

alice moore posterAgain, seems like a startlingly violent reaction to a fairly humdrum textbook problem. Along the picket lines, however, activists were circulating flyers with shocking language. The quotations were purportedly from the offending textbooks, but the offensive language was not found in the actual adopted textbooks. In the imagination of the protesters, however, it seemed entirely believable that school textbooks in 1974 might really include offensive sexual language. They were willing to take extreme measures to protect children from these threats, even though the threats never really existed.

alice moore again

Ms. Moore makes her case in a crowded 1974 school-board hearing…

We could cite other examples from throughout the twentieth century. When it came to racial integration, for example, attempts to integrate schools from Boston to Oxford, Mississippi were routinely met with ferocious violence.

It’s not surprising to find such violence in educational politics. People care a lot about their kids, obviously. And they care a lot about controlling schools. In this case, though, there’s a particularly virulent form of culture-war violence at play. It’s not only about actual policy, but of imagined threats to an imagined past.

For many conservatives, public schools traditionally included God. And that’s not imaginary–public schools really do have a long history of being dominated by white evangelical Protestants. The history of the twentieth century can be seen as a long struggle to nudge or shove evangelicalism out of its historically dominant role. Integration, school prayer, sexuality, history textbooks…all became symbols of the ever-diminishing clout of white evangelicals in public schools and in public life.

Consider one final example of the unique power of schools in America’s culture-war imagination. Years after the fact, one of the schemers behind the “New Christian Right” in the 1970s and 1980s remembered the issue that got conservative Christians most riled up. As Paul Weyrich recalled, it wasn’t “abortion, school prayer, or the ERA.” Sure, those things made conservatives mad in the 1970s, but they didn’t push conservative Christians en masse to the GOP. The issue that did? According to Weyrich,

Jimmy Carter’s [1978] intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation.

Against this historical backdrop, Trump’s nonsensical protection of school prayer makes a little more sense. Schools play a unique and uniquely influential role in culture-war politics. Even imaginary threats—perhaps especially imaginary threats—get people roused with violent fury.

In that sense, it should come as no surprise that Trump played the school-prayer card. It isn’t sensible policy, but it tends to get people angry. In that sense, it seems like a perfect example of Trumpism in action.

Why Would Trump Talk about School Prayer?

On the face of it, the statement was meaningless, or even weirdly insulting to evangelical activists. Yet President Trump announced yesterday that he was taking “historic steps to protect the First Amendment right to pray in public schools.” If students already had that right, why would Trump bother?Trump prayer anncment tweetThis move is not a new one for Trump. SAGLRROILYBYGTH will recall he made similarly meaningless promises to defend the use of the Bible in public schools. In his announcement yesterday, Trump declared,

in public schools around the country, authorities are stopping students and teachers from praying, sharing their faith, or following their religious beliefs. It is totally unacceptable.

Such a statement might seem ill-advised. After all, Trump has always bent over backwards to court support from evangelical Protestants. And evangelicals have long bent over backwards to prove that students DO have the right to pray, share their faith, and follow their religious beliefs in public schools.

For example, the See-You-At-The-Pole movement is all about demonstrating students’ continuing right to pray in their public schools. One might think that these evangelical activists would be offended at Trump’s assumption that they have not been praying in schools already.

I don’t think they will. Instead, I think a lot of MAGA Christians assume that their children are under threat. And to be fair, if you were to read only MAGA/Christian news, you’d get plenty of support for that mistaken notion.

Consider a couple of examples of the things some conservative Christians are hearing. Organizations such as Focus on the Family warn readers of experiences like the following:

  • A father expresses concern after his daughter, a high school student, tells him an education official stopped her from bowing her head to silently pray before eating lunch.

  • A fifth-grade student brought his favorite book, the Bible, with him to class to read during a free reading period. But according to news reports, the teacher had him come up to her desk and, in front of the class, left a message for his parent explaining that she noticed he had a religious book and was not “permitted to read those books” in her classroom.

Sadly, none of these scenarios are fiction.

Or what about the sad story of ten-year-old Erin Shead? Erin was told by her teacher to think about her hero. She did. It was God. But then her teacher told Erin that God could not be her hero.god-is-my-hero

We could go on. Plenty of conservative Christians read stories like this and they fret about the state of prayer in America’s public schools. They might even send their own kids to public schools like the ones in Greenwood, Indiana, where old-fashioned evangelical Christianity still dominates the school. As the superintendent in Greenwood explained,

I don’t think any of us leave our faith at the door because the bell rings. . . . Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and that doesn’t stop just because the school bell rings. . . . As a leader, I’m hoping that we’re promoting what people would call Christian values.

What does Greenwood, Indiana have to do with 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? I don’t want to accuse President Trump of thinking strategically, but I think his announcement about school prayer might make political sense even if it makes no policy sense.

Yes, students are free to pray in their public schools if they want. And plenty of public schools—like the ones in Greenwood, Indiana—incorporate Christian values deeply into everything they do. It doesn’t really matter. When Trump voters read that a fourth-grader got in trouble for announcing that God was her hero, Trump wins. And when voters read that school officials are stopping students from praying, Trump wins.

It doesn’t matter that students actually have plenty of prayer rights already. Trump stumbled onto an issue that matters to a lot of people. Students’ right to pray is beyond dispute. But people still think it is under attack.

Why Won’t This Myth about Teachers Go Away?

It won’t be easy, but I’m going to avoid defending graduate programs for teachers. Instead, I want to take issue with a persistent myth about teacher pay that showed up once again in this article about teacher education. I can’t help but think that popular understandings of the history of teacher pay have had a bad influence on the way we think about teaching today.

If you’re involved in teaching you’ve probably seen the article. Too often, Grace Gedye alleges, hard-working teachers are forced to pay for useless graduate degrees. As Gedye charges,

the teachers I interviewed told me that they had spent too much time on theory and not enough on practical teaching skills; professors were too far removed from the classroom and using out-of-date pedagogy; and many programs simply weren’t rigorous.

I’m super biased so I won’t push the point too hard, but I have to briefly disagree with this premise. Feel free to discount my point, because I spend my days working with graduate students in a teaching program. The classes I teach focus on diving deeply into US history. Do my classes help my students on Sunday night with their plans for Monday morning? No. But knowing more about history and historical thinking can’t help but make them better history teachers. Right?

We can argue about graduate programs if we want, but instead I’d like to focus on a lil nugget buried deep in the heart of the article. Gedye mentions that teacher pay has long been tied to graduate education. As she recounts,

American teachers weren’t paid salaries at all well into the 19th century. Schools were largely community organized, and teachers’ compensation mostly consisted of free room and board.

Now, I’m not taking the author to task for this inaccurate summary of the history of teacher pay. She isn’t claiming to have done research about this history; she isn’t basing her argument on it. No, the problem is much bigger than that. The author is merely rehashing what she thinks is a commonly accepted truth. And she’s right: Generally, people tend to assume that this history of teacher pay is correct. It’s not. These assumptions about teacher pay are wildly false and hugely hurtful.

The assumption that teachers were historically unpaid or underpaid shows up all the time. For example, SAGLRROILYBYGTH may recall a recent flap about it from the Hoover Institution’s Eric Hanushek. Hanushek argued a few months back that teachers were generally underpaid because they went into the field “for love of kids, for feeling of social purpose, or for what-have-you.”

Certainly, plenty of teachers choose the field for those reasons. I did. But historically, teaching did not begin as a “service” profession, driven by low pay but high emotions. It’s no secret: In the USA, at least, teaching in the 1800s began as a highly paid, highly respected, highly unequal/hierarchical profession.

As I’m finding in the research for my upcoming book about the first big urban school reform, teachers originally had status as entrepreneurial businessmen and women. (Mostly men.) In the first decades of the 1800s, teachers ran schools as independent enterprises, making handsome incomes—not salaries—by attracting large numbers of tuition-paying students.

To be sure, there were also teachers who did not make big money, working at schools for lower-income students. Teachers at these “church schools” or “charity schools” were certainly the model for Dr. Hanushek’s vision of teacher motivation. But they were the exception.

What happened? When did teachers stop making big bucks? Here’s the important historical truth, the reason why this myth about teacher pay is so destructive: Teachers stopped making big paychecks when the government started paying for schools for all students. Once the taxpayers began footing the bill for low-income students, the race was on to find teachers who would work for peanuts.

Where could such teachers be found? It’s not a pretty story. First, cities like New York tried to get defenseless children to do it. In New York in 1818, the school board even flirted with the idea of making their youthful teachers indentured servants, to force them to work for free until they turned twenty-one.

When children proved unable to handle the task of teaching, reformers turned to another disempowered group, women. By the mid-1800s, child teachers were out of favor and women-teachers were in. Hiring women had the huge advantage of lower salaries, salaries that taxpayers would agree to pay.

Sorry to belabor this point, but I think this history of teacher pay matters. Why?

Well, first, I think it’s generally better to know the truth than to believe a convenient myth. But even aside from that lofty goal, we’ve got teacher pay back in the headlines, thanks to the presidential race. If we’re going to talk about teacher pay, we need to stop pretending that teachers have always been given skimpy salaries.

Imagining a past in which teachers worked for free is common, but leads to terrible assumptions. Namely, if teachers always worked for diddly, then we’ve made big progress. But it’s just not historically true. In fact, teachers went from highly paid experts to low-paid drones, exploited by their status as lower-powered members of society. First children, then women.

Knowing the real history clarifies what happened. There was a specific time when teacher pay dipped and respect for teachers dwindled—when the government took over paying for low-income students’ tuition. And knowing that history gives us a clear path to follow. Better teacher pay will happen only when the government stops trying to get something for next to nothing. Better teacher pay will come about through a saner government commitment to fully funding schools for all students.

When Is a Gay Cake Enough?

Have you seen the story from Louisville? To people unfamiliar with the world of evangelical education, the story might seem incomprehensible. To this reporter, it looks like a savvy 15-year-old (and her mom) just outfoxed her school principal.

gay cake

Out, vile monster!

Here’s the little that we know: Whitefield Academy, a conservative evangelical school in Louisville, just expelled a freshman. Why? The immediate cause was that the student posted a picture of herself wearing a rainbow sweater and smiling in front of a rainbow-colored birthday cake.

Even super-conservative Christians such as Rod Dreher have expressed their disapproval. As Dreher tweeted,

Unless there’s something not in the story, this sure sounds like an idiotic, even cruel, move by the Christian school

Moreover, the story has drawn unwelcome attention to the school from other sources. Curmudgucrat Peter Greene doesn’t mind if conservative Christians embrace their values, but he does care if public tax dollars fund it. And as Greene wrote recently,

This is some first rate bluegrass bullshit (and the type preferred by Secretary DeVos). . . . the end result is exactly precisely the same as spending tax dollars on vouchers for private schools. Private schools just like Whitefield Academy.

Why would Whitefield Academy do it? I have zero inside knowledge, but my guess is that Bruce Jacobson, the head of the school, simply goofed. He played right into the student’s hands. Jacobson tried to explain that the student was not kicked out only for the cake/sweater “incident.” He explained that she had been in trouble for two years, following a series of unspecified “lifestyle violations.”

I’m guessing Jacobson overestimated his own power. He assumed people would take his word for it. Instead, he faces a teenager and her mom who know how to generate bad publicity for the school. And instead of being known in Louisville as a serious Christian school with well-behaved students, now Whitefield Academy will be known as the kooky right-wing anti-gay school who kicked out a kid for a cake.

Love the History Textbook Story? Some Resources for Further Reading

It is a great day in the offices of ILYBYGTH International when a study of US History textbooks makes the front page of the New York Times. Dana Goldstein’s comparison of textbooks from Texas and California has been a big hit. My fellow nerds and I have been swapping books and sources we’ve used to teach this kind of thing. I thought I’d collate them here to make it simple.

NYT TExtbooks CA TX

What students see in CA is not what they see in TX.

Outside of academic sources, anyone who wants a quick intro to Texas textbook policies could start with Trey Kay’s podcast about the Gablers. They were a powerful couple who pushed Texas textbooks in more conservative directions, with impressive results.

If you’re more of a watcher than a listener, check out The Revisionaries. This great documentary tells the story of Texas’s school board in 2010.

If you’re in the mood for an academic look at these issues, here is a short list of a few great books in no particular order.zimmerman robertson case for contention

#1: Jonathan Zimmerman and Emily Robertson, The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools.  From the publisher:

From the fights about the teaching of evolution to the details of sex education, it may seem like American schools are hotbeds of controversy. But as Jonathan Zimmerman and Emily Robertson show in this insightful book, it is precisely because such topics are so inflammatory outside school walls that they are so commonly avoided within them. And this, they argue, is a tremendous disservice to our students.

#2: Ronald W. Evans, Social Studies Wars: What Should We Teach the Children? From the publisher:

The history of social studies is a story of dramatic turf wars among competing political camps. In this volume, Ronald Evans describes and interprets this history and the continuing battles over the purposes, content, methods, and theoretical foundations of the social studies curriculum.

binder contentious#3: Amy Binder, Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools. From the publisher:

Both [Afrocentrism and creationism] made similar arguments about oppression and their children’s well-being, both faced skepticism from educators about their factual claims, and both mounted their challenges through bureaucratic channels. In each case, challenged school systems were ultimately able to minimize or reject challengers’ demands, but the process varied by case and type of challenge.

#4: John Fea, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? John Fea has long been one of the most astute and penetrating scholars studying the history culture wars. In this book he examines the claim that America’s history proves that it was meant to be a specifically Christian nation. If you don’t have time for his whole book, you can get a taste at his blog.

#5: Adam Shapiro, Trying Biology: The Scopes Trial, Textbooks, and the Antievolution Movement in American Schools. Okay, it’s not about US History, but Shapiro’s analysis of the process by which textbooks authors, editors, and publishers come up with a final product is an absolute must-read.

#6: Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture. Also beyond a narrow focus on history textbooks, Prof. Petrzela looks at the culture-war history of California schools in the twentieth century.

Trying Biology

#7: Sorry to include a book of my own, but The Other School Reformers looks hard at the politics of history textbooks. Conservative reformers spent a lot of time examining textbooks. They complained about progressive-sounding ones and successfully had them removed. They had less luck when they tried to publish textbooks of their own, as I recounted recently in these pages.

What else? This list is just a start. What other books and resources would you recommend for people interested in the culture-war politics of history textbooks?

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Well, it looks like the holidays really are over. This week was full of action, from ineffective left-wing college brainwashing to God’s endorsement for 2020:

Are lefty professors turning college students liberal? Short answer: No. The Economist.

Although the survey responses oscillated from year to year, the effects were not big enough to be statistically significant. Such a lack of evidence should discourage people from believing that academic elites push their left-wing agenda onto their impressionable young pupils. But given how often conservative-leaning media rail against leftist indoctrination in universities, it almost certainly will not.

economist college influence

Not a lot of change there…

IS God’s hand on America? A review of Michael Medved’s new book at WaPo.

With every bullet that didn’t hit an intended target and every carriage or car accident that did not end in a fatality, [Medved] sees the hand of God. . . . The shameful, racist, violent aspects of the American narrative are swept away or excused. . . . for good or ill, the book will mostly appeal to listeners of right-wing radio and viewers of Fox News.

medved gods handSome people think it is. A skeptical look at the Evangelicals for Trump rally at USAT.

Trump the strongman was on display. Like autocratic leaders before him, he stirred fear among his people and offered them safety under his regime. . . . I was stunned when I witnessed evangelical Christians — those who identify with the “good news” of Jesus Christ —raising their hands in a posture of worship as Trump talked about socialism and gun rights.

Bernie: Ban high-stakes testing, at USAToday.

The most serious flaw of high-stakes testing . . . is that it ignores the real problems facing our teachers and students: social inequality and underinvestment in our schools.

How to teach history right, at EdWeek.

[Baltimore’s] emphasis on this [local history] approach that allows students to see themselves in history puts their own lives and people they know at the center of what can feel detached and distant. The consequences for this approach, if done right, can be profound, [Superintendent Sonja Santelises] argued. . . . it allows children to see complexity in history and not just (in the case of black Americans, for example) one long and painful struggle against oppression.

Well….yeah. More secure housing helped students do better on high-stakes tests, at Chalkbeat.

“Housing policy is education policy,” said Amy Ellen Schwartz, one of the researchers and a professor at Syracuse University. “We want to improve kids’ outcomes — sometimes what we’re going to have to do is look outside of the schoolhouse door and think about housing.”

God weighs in on 2020 elections:

“Evangelical Christians of every denomination and believers of every faith have never had a greater champion, not even close, in the White House, than you have right now,” Mr. Trump said. “We’ve done things that nobody thought was possible. Together we’re not only defending our constitutional rights. We’re also defending religion itself, which is under siege.”

Student #2 sues evangelical Fuller Seminary for anti-LGBTQ bias, at CT.

“It’s a very important case at this time in our nation’s history,” said Paul Southwick, the attorney representing Maxon and Brittsan. “This case could set an important legal precedent that if an educational institution receives federal funding, even if it’s religiously affiliated, even if it’s a seminary, that it’s required to comply with Title IX prohibitions on sex discrimination as applied to LGBT individuals.”

Richard Mouw comes out against Trump, at R&P.

When Trump’s evangelical supporters tell us that in presidential elections we are not voting for candidates for sainthood, I agree. . . . But Christians do have a responsibility to promote the cause of moral leadership in public life. And I do want Christian leaders to be guided in their decisions by keeping the “What would Nathan do?” question clearly in mind. The writer of the Christianity Today editorial has now done just that in the case of President Trump. I am grateful for the prophetic message.

Methodist split over LGBTQ also a split among colleges, at IHE.

“The younger generation will not want to continue to be involved in a church that continues to discriminate against the LGBQIA community,” said the Reverend Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, the president of Claremont School of Theology. “This will allow for our seminaries to focus on our mission in training leaders regardless of human sexuality.”

Same publisher. Same authors. Different states = different textbooks, at NYT.

Texas says that white Southerners opposed Reconstruction because of tax increases as well as racial resentment. California instead includes primary-source quotations from black historical figures about white resistance to civil rights.

NYT TExtbooks CA TX

What students see in CA is not what they see in TX.

Conservative History Textbooks: The Rest of the Story

Have you seen it yet? The New York Times just published Dana Goldstein’s comparison of US History textbooks from California and Texas. The results won’t shock SAGLRROILYBYGTH. This morning I’ll offer a little additional history of the long feud over US History textbooks.

NYT TExtbooks CA TX

What students see in CA is not what they see in TX.

As Goldstein documented, US History textbooks look very different in the two states, even though they come from the same publisher and include the same authors. Yet the differences can be glaring. For example, in a section on the Constitution, the California edition notes that there have been some restrictions on Second Amendment gun rights. The Texas edition leaves that part blank. The California editions emphasize African American struggles and LGBTQ history far more than do the Texas ones.

It’s not only US History textbooks that have experienced this sort of regional culture-war editing. As Adam Shapiro explained in Trying Biology, science textbooks have long been an awkward weapon in evolution/creation culture wars.

As I argued in The Other School Reformers, in the twentieth century conservatives worked hard to promote a more-conservative textbook option. Their record was mixed. At times, conservative history-textbook activism flopped in embarrassing ways.

For example, in 1925 the American Legion commissioned a new, patriotic history of the United States. Too often, the Legion complained, American youth “grow up ignorant or anarchistic or otherwise ‘destructive.’” They needed a textbook that told the nation’s history as it really was. Namely, the Legion insisted, despite “occasional mistakes,” American history has been “so glorious that its proper study must inspire any child to patriotism.”

horne rejection AL

From the Legion commission’s report, 1926

Unfortunately for the American Legion, the actual textbooks they commissioned were terrible. Like, Jefferson Lies terrible. After a prominent historian called them “perverted American history” in The Atlantic, the Legion appointed a special commission to analyze the books. After this Legion commission concluded that the books were “filled with incomplete and inaccurate statements,” the Legion withdrew their support and the textbooks stayed in their warehouses.

Other conservative activists have had far more success with their history activism. Most famously, the roots of the Texas bias that Dana Goldstein uncovered can be traced to the Daughters of the American Revolution. Journalists tend to focus on the textbook activism of Mel and Norma Gabler, which began in the 1960s. That activism mattered, but the Gablers got their ideas from the Texas DAR.

For decades, the DAR—at both national and state levels—made history textbooks the focus of their activism. For instance, in 1928 the national President General told the annual gathering that some state DARs had chosen

to look into the matter of textbooks used in some of the schools.  Individuals have sounded a warning that many books deny the Christian faith and contain sacrilegious and scornful sentences which will have a disastrous effect upon the impressionable minds of the young.

In 1941, a new President General repeated this call, in more gendered terms. As Helen Pouch exhorted her DAR audience,

Do all that women can do to eradicate questionable textbooks from the schools. This can and has been done in many cities.  It should be done in every city where these books are used.

Similarly, in 1950 new President General Marguerite Patton told the assembled DAR:

members should be especially aware of the schools in their own communities.  They should know the teachers who instruct their children; they should know the wording of textbooks, especially those pertaining to American history; and they should be cognizant of the manner in which the teachers present the subject matter to the pupils.  The interpretation of historical data can be, and often is, twisted erroneously, if a teacher is inclined to do so.

These decades of DAR activism paid off. DAR members were in a position to send uninvited “inspectors” to local schools to read textbooks and listen in on classroom teaching. They had the energy and drive to read through history textbooks to sniff out evidence of progressive politics or anti-patriotic teaching.

By the 1960s, their activism had become an expected part of textbook politics, especially in Texas. It lasted well into this century. If you haven’t seen The Revisionaries yet, it’s worth a watch. The documentary examines the conservative takeover of the Texas State Board of Education in the early 2000s.

Science and history were both targets of the new conservative majority. Creationist Don McLeroy wanted the science textbooks to help students reject mainstream evolutionary theory. McLeroy and his conservative allies also hoped to skew the history textbooks in a more conservative direction. From the list of required terms, the conservatives cut out “hip-hop” and inserted “country music.” They insisted on more about Reagan and the NRA.

More recently, too, Texas tweaked its list of required historical terms. In 2018, “Hillary Clinton” was out, but “Billy Graham” stayed in as terms Texas students needed to know.

It might seem shocking to some, but Texas’s careful curation of its history textbooks has a long and checkered history. Conservatives haven’t always won in Texas or elsewhere. When they did win, it was by harping on two points.

1.) Conservatives won by insisting their patriotic, conservative history was truer than other options. Conservatives haven’t won by saying kids should be kept ignorant. They’ve won by arguing that their vision is closer to historic fact. And,

2.) Conservatives won by insisting those other histories were at best misleading and at worst downright subversive. As always, any whiff of danger to students always makes parents and school administrators nervous. Conservatives have won their history-textbook wars when they’ve convinced enough people that their version of history is safer for both students and society.