An Exception? Or a Rule?

Conservatives are cutting up their socks in protest. And at least one evangelical college has dumped Nike over its defense of Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protests. Some in-the-know commentators think this is way out of bounds for evangelical schools. Historically, though…not so much. Is knee-jerk patriotism the rule or the exception at conservative evangelical colleges?

nike sock protest

Take that, anti-anthem mega-corp!

As I argued in Fundamentalist U, during the twentieth century aggressive conservative patriotism played a large role at all the evangelical colleges I studied. At some, such as The King’s College and John Brown University, it became a central focus. In the mid-1960s, at least, notions of fusing traditional patriotic conservatism with evangelical conservatism held a lot of appeal for many evangelical academic types.

A “Freedom Forum” planned at Gordon College in 1965, for instance, offered the following rationale:

What philosophy shall give direction to the material world we are developing?  Shall the long-felt influence of the Christian ethic be brought to bear on current history?  Dare we succumb to the seemingly plausible suggestions that in our time government-over-man is preferable to America’s long proven concept of man-over government?

Can we survive as a people, even with our unparalleled abundance of things, if our thinking excludes our traditionally motivating intangibles . . . . [sic ellipsis in original] reverence for God, total human concern for the individual, an abiding dedication to preservation of our Constitution and a cherishing regard for personal Freedom? [sic]

The Christian educator occupies a unique position of leadership from which emanate those spiritual emphases which give salutary meaning and purpose to life, not only individual but national.  Waiting for that leadership are millions of earnest Americans who need help in their endeavor to ‘prove all things and hold fast that which is good.’ . . .

Objective: Inclusion in the curricula and teaching emphasis in Christian colleges of a pervading high regard for Freedom in its spiritual, economic and political dimensions and to create an informed student-citizen leadership needed to safeguard and extend Freedom in the years ahead.”

In the end, under pressure from Gordon faculty to avoid too close collusion with the political “extreme right,” the vaunted Freedom Forum didn’t happen. But there was always—and I think still is—a very strong push among many evangelicals to tie their conservative patriotic impulses to their religious beliefs.

american studies conference 1966 program

For God and Country…or Country and God…?

This is true not only for uber-patriotic schools such as Harding, John Brown, and the College of the Ozarks. Giants like Liberty University and smaller schools such as Mid-America Nazarene still have a hard time figuring out the relationship between religion and patriotism, with patriotism often coming out on top.

In this case, College of the Ozarks certainly seems like a Nike-hating outlier. But is the impulse to in-your-face conservative patriotism really so out of bounds for other conservative evangelical colleges? I don’t think so.

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Where Are All the Books about This?

It’s a question that has stumped me for the past twenty years, and Stanford’s Larry Cuban brings it up again this morning. Where are all the books about conservatism in American education?

fight for local control

There ARE great books out there…

Professor Cuban makes the crucial point: Public schools in the USA have always been driven by all the same contradictory impulses that drive political life. Some people want schools to be more progressive; others want them to be more conservative. As Cuban puts it,

The contradictory obligations of reforming schools while conserving traditional knowledge and classroom practices has been in the DNA of tax-supported public education for well over a century. It won’t go away. Those cheerleaders for the next new reform need to understand this paradox at the heart of U.S. schooling.

As I started my graduate work lo so many years ago, I was curious about the deep educational conservatism that I saw, felt, and heard as a teacher. To my surprise—and, to be perfectly frank, fueling my academic ambition—there were not shelves and shelves of scholarly work analyzing conservatism in education.

To be sure, there are some historical works out there. Prof. Cuban mentions my look at twentieth century educational conservatism and Diane Ravitch’s Left Back.

There are other books he could have mentioned. Michael Apple’s Educating the “Right” Way, or Herbert Kliebard’s Struggle for the American Curriculum, for example. Hearteningly, newish books have come out that plumb the depth and diversity of conservative activism in American education. Cam Scribner’s The Fight for Local Control, for instance, and Natalia Mehlman Petrzela’s Classroom Wars. And I’m sure SAGLRROILYBYGTH could point out another key title or two.

classroom wars

…but where are the REST of the great books?

But considering the vastness of the topic, the lack of academic work about educational conservatism still baffles me. As Prof. Cuban points out, conservative ideas and impulses have always been at least as powerful as progressive ones. As Cuban writes this morning, if the first obligation of public schools was to serve as a way to change students and society,

The second obligation was for the tax-supported school to actively conserve personal, community and national values ranging from inculcating traditional knowledge, obeying authority including that of teachers, show respect for religious beliefs, practicing honesty, and displaying patriotism.

If these conservative assumptions about the proper role of school are so very influential, where are all the academic studies of them?

Of course, it’s not at all difficult to find conservative how-to books about schools. From the Gablers to Dorothy Sayers to everyone in between, there have never been a lack of guides to make schools more conservative or more authentically conservative.

When it comes to an academic understanding of the meanings and activism of conservative thinkers and activists, though, we still have a decided gap between what happens (and happened) in schools and what academics talk about.

So where are the armies of historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and classroom researchers?

The Catholic Elephant in the Room

Why didn’t she mention it? For people familiar with the twentieth-century history of Catholic education, it looms as the biggest issue. Yet in a recent article about changing private-school enrollment in The Atlantic, Alia Wong leaves it out entirely. I’m stumped.

Students in class at St. John Villa Academy Catholic School

…or maybe it was the plaid?

Wong looks at the changing face of private education. With the dwindling enrollment in low-tuition Catholic schools, she notes, more expensive private schools are gobbling up a larger and larger share of the private-school market. The average tuition at private schools in the latest available data approached $11,000 annually. For most parents, that’s simply unaffordable.

So far, so good. If we really want to get a sense of the staggering inequalities built into America’s educational landscape, IMHO, the bigger story is the startling disparities between public schools. Even in the same city, some public schools resemble upscale educational hotels while others feel like seedy fleabags. But Wong makes a good point that private schools are becoming the province of a shrinking economic elite.

However, I can’t figure out why she left out the most obvious explanation for the shrinking of America’s Catholic school network. Here’s how she puts it,

A number of factors are contributing to the phasing-out of Catholic schools. One is a drop in the number of clergy members, who historically taught for relatively low wages. Another is the Church’s sex-abuse scandals, whose financial ramifications have undermined its ability to operate schools. In addition, demographic shifts such as falling birth rates, the growing concentration of black and Hispanic families in the bottom tier of the country’s income distribution, and a decline in religiosity among Americans, combined with the rise of charter schools, have led to lower enrollment in parochial education.

All true and important. But Wong doesn’t mention the impact of Vatican II. The public perception of the Church’s 1965 statement, Gravissimum Educationis, was that Catholic parents had been released from the requirement to send their children to Catholic schools. As the 1965 statement said,

Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.

Of course, at least as I read it, that statement is more about helping Catholic parents get a tax break to send their children to Catholic schools, but in the public eye the Vatican II agreement was often seen as freedom to attend public schools. Not surprisingly, given the choice between free-tuition public schools and low-tuition Catholic schools, huge numbers of Catholic parents began sending their children to local public schools instead.

Vatican II is not the only reason for shrinking enrollments in Catholic schools, for sure. At least in the popular understanding of American Catholic history, though, it played a huge role.

…so why wouldn’t Wong mention this epochal shift in American Catholic education? If we’re trying to understand the changing enrollment in private Catholic schools, it seems like an odd thing to leave out.

Queen Betsy: It’s Lonely at the Top

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

betsy devos dolores umbridge

Saving Hogwarts: Something we can all agree on?

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

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

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

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

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

Why? As Shindler puts it,

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

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

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

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

What Would Abbie Say?

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

kansas u flag

Revoking your artistic license…

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

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

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

abbie hoffman flag shirt

Respect the threads…

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

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

NFL: Oakland Raiders at New York Jets

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

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

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

How to Break College

Left or Right; SJW or TPUSA; the news from Washington shows that campus activism is hitting higher education where it hurts. Activists should forget about inviting Milo or occupying quads. Instead, they should recognize their true power and consider what target they want to point it at.

Here’s what we know: Due to student activism from both left and right, universities in Washington state are feeling a financial pinch. At Evergreen State, for example, widely publicized left-wing activism has led to a steep drop in applications and enrollments. At the University of Washington, campus Republicans received a six-figure settlement due to their complaints about unfair treatment.

That sort of dollars-and-cents bottom line is the kind of thing school administrators can’t ignore. By and large, they can endure endless accusations of racial insensitivity from the left. They can blithely listen to accusations of biased “totalitarian” campus climates from the right.

But if colleges lose enrollments, they wither and die. And if they lose lawsuits, they can’t function.

So here’s the question for this generation of student activists: What is your real target? Just as in the SDS years, students need to be strategic about their aims, because they have the ability to inflict serious damage if they choose.

sterling hall bombing

Sterling Hall, University of Wisconsin, 1970

Workin’ 9 to 5 (then 5 to 9)

We’ve heard the stories from the teachers’ strikes. Teachers in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Colorado, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Arizona walked off their jobs to protest low salaries and weak funding of public schools. One of the common complaints was that teachers had to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. They were Uber drivers, bartenders, and tutors in addition to their day jobs. Are things really so bad for teachers?

New survey data puts some numbers behind those anecdotal claims. A report from the National Center for Education Statistics for 2015-2016 finds that significant numbers of teachers are working at least one additional job to earn a few thousand extra dollars. As I’m finding in my current research, teachers have always needed to work outside of school to make ends meet.

Two hundred years ago, for example, Joseph Lancaster’s daughter and son-in-law moved to Mexico to start some Lancasterian schools. They hoped at least to be able to make ends meet, but it turned out not to be so easy. Back then, son-in-law Richard M. Jones assumed he’d be able to set up a few income streams. He hoped to get a regular salary from a fully enrolled school. But he also counted on earning even more money teaching individual students on the side.

Unfortunately for Jones, he couldn’t find any students to tutor. No one seemed to want to hire Jones to teach their children English. As he wrote wryly to Lancaster in 1826,

so much for the desire to learn the English Language in the  Great City of Mexico.

Of course, Jones was blind to the likely effect of his own attitude. As he had written to Lancaster in March,

You have can have [sic] no idea of the miserably priest-ridden state of nine tenths of these people, the extreme disposition to indolence rob, gamble . . . without one speck of honor, love of country, or a due proportion of pride, rather beg than do the least thing for a livelihood.

Not the kind of attitude I would want in my kid’s tutor if I were an affluent Mexican parent!Teacher second jobs NCES

How about these days? The survey data from NCES shows that just about one in five public-school teachers work at least one additional job. The largest segment work as tutors. Let’s not forget, too, that these jobs are only the ones taken outside of the district system. Most teachers I know also take additional jobs INSIDE their districts. Athletic coaches, for example, can earn a little extra money while building good connections with students and helping school spirit.

The more frightening statistic, in my opinion, is the number of teachers who leave the field of education. Like Richard M. Jones in 1826, many teachers plan to

bid adieu to the System and teaching and all connected with it and turn my attention to business in some shape or other.

In the meantime, lots of teachers are working 5 to 9 to make ends meet. What do you think? Is it outrageous that so many teachers need to take on outside work to make a living?

What Vouchers Can Do: Florida Tax-Funded Fundamentalism

I guess we shouldn’t really call it an “exposé” because it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t expect. Still, it can be eye-opening to see the sorts of things voucher programs can do. This week, the Orlando Sentinel explores the content of fundamentalist textbooks used at area private schools. The story prompts us to ask a tough question about voucher programs: Is it fair to limit voucher programs only to religions we like?

ACE florida 1

Should taxes pay for these textbooks?

As I’ve argued in a couple of academic articles, the history of fundamentalist textbook publishing is key to understanding both the “Christian-school” movement and the subsequent evangelical homeschooling exodus.

Without the work of school publishers such as A Beka Book, Accelerated Christian Education, and Bob Jones University Press, I believe, conservative evangelicals in the 1970s and 1980s would not have been able to open so many small private schools. And without pre-made curricular materials, evangelicals would not have been able to leave school by their millions in the 1990s to homeschool.

Plus, no one should think that these fundamentalist textbooks are static or monolithic. As I explored in a chapter in AJ Angulo’s terrific book Miseducation, ACE, A Beka, and Bob Jones are all very different from one another, and all have radically changed their treatment of topics such as US History.

It’s not just me: Dr. Jonny Scaramanga has devoted his early academic career to exploring the curriculum to which he was subjected as a youth. Dr. Scaramanga argues that Accelerated Christian Education never escaped its racist, homophobic origins, despite some surface changes and lip service to liberalization.

As the Orlando Sentinel explains, voucher programs in Florida are sending tax dollars to schools that use textbooks by the “big three” fundamentalist school publishers. As the investigators discovered, the textbooks are full of creationism, ethnocentrism, and historical denialism. As OS puts it,

[Investigators] found numerous instances of distorted history and science lessons that are outside mainstream academics. The books denounce evolution as untrue, for example, and one shows a cartoon of men and dinosaurs together, telling students the Biblical Noah likely brought baby dinosaurs onto his ark. The science books, they added, seem to discourage students from doing experiments or even asking questions. . . .

The social studies books downplay the horrors of slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans, they said. One book, in its brief section on the civil rights movement, said that “most black and white southerners had long lived together in harmony” and that “power-hungry individuals stirred up the people.”

We have to ask: Is this sort of thing okay for a tax-funded school? After all, there is nothing in this story that should come as a surprise. If we want to allow voucher programs that send tax money to private schools, we should expect some of those dollars to pay for curricula we disagree with. Is that okay?

ace florida 2

Hard-hitting curriculum for Florida’s third-graders. This sample comes from an Accelerated Christian Education reader.

Or, to put it in nerdier terms: How should policy-makers decide if religious schools qualify to participate in tax-funded programs? It can’t be simply on the basis of our own personal religious views. For example, I believe the ACE, BJU, and Abeka textbooks are terrible and I would never want my kid to use them in school. But my personal preferences can’t suffice to dictate policy. How can we decide which religious schools qualify for tax-funded voucher programs?

One option would simply be to make ALL religious schools off-limits for voucher-funded students. In some cases, though, that would seem to keep deserving kids from getting a higher-quality education than their local public schools can provide.

Another option would be to rule out schools that limit their students’ life chances. As one of the OS investigators argued, for example, using these creationist textbooks would hurt students. As the article explains,

“Students who have learned science in this kind of environment are not prepared for college experiences,” said Cynthia Bayer, a biology lecturer at the University of Central Florida who reviewed the science books. “They would be intellectually disadvantaged.”

But WOULD they? Anyone who knows the real story of American higher education knows that creationist students have plenty of creationist colleges they can attend. Is it fair to say that students can’t study creationist books because they don’t agree with mainstream science? Isn’t that the whole point of private schools in the first place?

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m firmly against using tax dollars to fund private religious schools. I think we should nix ALL religious schools from that sort of public funding. But we can’t do it only for some religious schools and not for others, based on the fact that we don’t like some of the religions. And we should not be surprised to find out that voucher programs are doing precisely what they were designed to do: Fund religious schools.

Dictating Democracy

As I was reminded last week in the Philadelphia archives, it’s the oldest educational idea in the United States. Larry Cuban points out this morning that our dream of educating a new generation of democratic citizens might take us in surprising directions.

First, my full confessions: I have progressive prejudices that are hard to shake. I want public schools to make society better. I believe that better educational opportunities for all people will help achieve that goal. And…and this is the one that matters this morning…I think what goes on in classrooms matters. As John Dewey argued a century ago, if we want a democratic society we need to start by creating democratic classrooms.

Democracy-prep-vote

I can’t vote, and I can’t speak when I want to, and I can’t put my pencil where I want to, and I can’t get out of my seat when I want to…

So I join Professor Cuban in wondering if a school can create democratic citizens by controlling students tightly. Cuban looked at a study of Democracy Prep, a new charter network. The schools make one of their goals the civic education of children, meaning mostly that students learn about government, about public decision-making processes, and about getting out the vote.

As one thoughtful former Democracy Prep teacher noted, it’s hard not to think that the way students are educated matters. As he puts it,

schools are invariably where students go to experience the civic engagement of others. No child thinks of it this way, but surely, he or she picks up clear signals about their place in the world, how they are regarded by authority figures who are not their parents, and how much — or how little — is expected of them. If the relationship a child has with a school is coercive, punctuated by frustration and failure, leading to no good end, then there is no reason to expect strong civic outcomes.

And yet, as Prof. Cuban points out, students at Democracy Prep feel the heavy hand of authority at all times. As one visit to a DP school revealed, students’ actions were constantly tracked and dictated. As the visitor found,

Almost everything on a recent visit to a Democracy Prep charter was highly disciplined. Students spoke only when their teachers allowed them. They could lose points for talking out of turn, or chatting in the halls between classes.

Can it really be feasible, Cuban wonders, that this sort of top-down classroom will produce active citizens? That schools can coerce students into active democratic participation? The charter network has claimed some positive results. A recent alumni study by Mathematica Policy Research found that citizens who had attended Democracy Prep were more likely to register and to vote.

I’m skeptical. Surely a school culture that eliminates any possibility of student leadership will have a depressing effect on student political participation. At least, that’s what makes sense to me. Or is it really possible that schools can control their students all the way to active citizenship?

Time for Conservatives to Tremble?

I’m no conservative. But if I were, images like this would make me very nervous. I’m starting to wonder if Paul Krugman’s warning might be more than just wishful liberal thinking. The recent spate of teachers’ strikes might be pushing the GOP into a very dangerous position electorally.

jay bertelsen arizona

Is Arizona’s Jay Bertelsen putting the handwriting on the wall for the GOP … ?

Don’t get me wrong: I understand that there has long been a chicken-little element to American conservative thinking, especially among religious intellectuals. Things seemed dire for conservatives in 1925, then again in 1962, then again in 2015. Conservative intellectuals like Rod Dreher have created a cottage industry of alarmism.

This time, though, the threat to conservatism is coming from a different direction. As The Economist reports, when even self-identified Christian conservative teachers are out on strike, the long, productive marriage between conservatism and the Republican Party looks mighty shaky. Could recent triumphs for conservative Republicans lead unexpectedly to a deepening, divisive schism between conservatives and the GOP? Could it push conservatives back out into the electoral cold, split between the two major parties?

As The Economist argues this week, conservatives and the whole Republican Party would be smart to worry. As they explain,

states where teaching unions are weaker now have more politically active teachers. Ms. Marohn, one of the demonstrators in Phoenix, says that when parents ask her mother, also a teacher, what they can do to help, she tells them to vote. That should worry Republicans. There are 3.2m public-school teachers in America. Giving them a financial reason to head to the polls could spell trouble for some Republicans running in states with teacher unrest. Arizona, North Carolina and Colorado are all battleground states. Republicans had also fancied that they could flip the West Virginia Senate seat held by Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat. For want of more chalk could the Senate be lost.

When conservative Christian teachers take to the streets in demonstrations against GOP administrations, I can’t help but wonder what the electoral future will bring. If it turns significant numbers of self-identified Christian conservatives against Republican candidates, we might just see a big shake-up at the polls.