What’s Wrong with Safer Schools?

For anyone who thinks Dan Patrick has a solution to school shootings, I have a two-hundred-year-old solution to urban poverty to sell you. As-is.

NYC manual 2 diagrams alphabet wheel

The solution to urban poverty, 1820 style…

You may have seen it by now: In the aftermath to the latest horrific school shooting, Texas’s Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has suggested tightening up school architecture. As Patrick put it,

We may have to look at the design of our schools looking forward, and retrofitting schools that are already built and what I mean by that is there are too many entrances and too many exits. . . . There aren’t enough people to put a guard at every entrance and exit.

Let’s be clear: There’s nothing wrong with thinking about school architecture and changing doors. What IS wrong is diverting attention from a real problem by directing conversations toward secondary considerations. In this case, we need to talk about school cultures that coerce and alienate students. We need to talk about gun laws that put deadly weapons in the hands of angry boys.

Along the way, we might ALSO talk about entrances, but it can’t be our main focus. In this case, IMHO, Dan Patrick is trying to wiggle out of a difficult political position by diverting attention from the real problems.

And, as I’m finding in my current research, this sort of diversionary tactic is the oldest trick in the school-reform book. Two hundred years ago, city planners in places such as Philadelphia, Boston, and New York faced a difficult dilemma. They had crowds of children in their streets from low-income families. The families couldn’t afford to send them to school so the children were growing up without being able to read or write.

What could be done? From London, Joseph Lancaster promised a solution. He described his system for educating poor children in meticulous detail. With the right school architecture and equipment, he promised, cities could eliminate the problem of poverty in just a few short years.

It didn’t work.

Just like Lt. Gov. Patrick’s plans to block doors and windows, Lancaster’s supposed solution treated minor symptoms in order to ignore the underlying cause. The right reading strategy is a good thing, but it is not a cure for urban poverty.

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Copy-editing Out Evolution

In our continuing creation/evolution culture wars, copy-editing out evolution is the oldest trick not in the book. Historian Adam Shapiro has showed us how textbook publishers have always done it. Today we see a spanking new example of this old trick from Arizona.

Trying Biology

Leave evolution in, take “evolution” out…

As Professor Shapiro noted, back in the 1920s publishers made big promises about cutting evolution out of their textbooks. In many cases, though, they left the content the same and merely took the word “evolution” out of their indexes. Sometimes they changed the word “evolution” to “development” in the text itself.

Usually, this wasn’t due to any ardent love or hate for science or creationism. Rather, publishers just wanted to sell books. If buyers wanted evolution out, so be it. But changing text was expensive, so publishers tended to make the smallest changes they could get away with.

We see today similar edits in Arizona. This time around, though, it looks as if standard-makers really do want to water down the teaching of evolution.

AZ evol edits 2018

Change over time…

Here’s what we know: The latest science standards up for adoption in Arizona have made a bunch of changes. Time after time, the Department of Education has revised out evolution. Here are a few examples (you can see the whole thing here with changes marked in green):

4 The theory of evolution seeks to make clear the unity and diversity of organisms, living and extinct, is the result of evolution organisms.

43           Life Sciences: Students develop an understanding of patterns and how genetic information is passed from generation to generation. They also develop the understanding of adaptations contribute to the process of biological evolution how traits within populations change over time. [sic]

69           Gather, evaluate, and communicate multiple lines of empirical evidence to explain the mechanisms of biological evolution change in genetic composition of a population over successive generations.

Will this sort of editing make any difference? Will science teachers in Arizona change what they are doing based on these cosmetic changes? Does it matter if creationists believe in “change in genetic composition of a population over successive generations,” but refuse to accept the evidence for “biological evolution”?

Do They Know?

You’ve heard all about it by now. Vice President Pence traveled to Hillsdale College in Michigan over the weekend to cheer on the conservative college’s commencement. So here’s our question: Why don’t the locals mention Hillsdale’s peculiarities?

hillsdale pence

…no controversy here…

After all, neither Hillsdale nor Pence seemed reticent about the conservative particulars of the school. Pence called Hillsdale a “beacon of liberty and American ideals.” He praised the college’s aggressive leader, Larry Arnn, for grounding students “in the traditions and teachings that are our greatest inheritance in America.”

Hillsdale, too, regularly brags about its conservative stances on curriculum and funding. All students enroll in a great-books curriculum and no students receive any federal funding. In case anyone misses it, the campus includes statues of conservative icons such as Ronald Reagan.

hillsdale college reagan statue

Ronnie relaxin on campus…

So why don’t the locals seem to care? On the local news about Pence’s address, absolutely no mention was made of the conservative nature of the college. Pence’s speech was stripped of any ideological meaning. Graduates talked about their jobs and their hopes for the future, a future pointedly stripped of any mention of taking over Washington DC with a new, Hillsdale-inspired conservative vision.

Is this simply Midwestern politeness? Local-news inoffensiveness? Or do they just not care about the central mission of their local university?

Don’t Read This

It keeps showing up. Even the smartest, best-informed people still make a huge mistake when it comes to understanding the history of white American evangelicals.

reagan at BJU 1980

The Gipper greets BJU students, 1980.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH know, we’ve been obsessed these days about white evangelicals’ love affair with Trump. In talks and article after article after article, we’ve wondered why white evangelicals support a seemingly amoral leader.

We’re not the only ones. Evangelicals themselves such as John Fea and Michael Gerson have wondered about it. And recently John Ehrenreich took another stab at the question. Ehrenreich makes some great points, but he miscategorizes twentieth-century evangelical history.

I’m 100% on board with Ehrenreich’s central theme. As he puts it,

behind the apparent disparity, there exists a psychological kinship between Trumpism and evangelical thought—at least, for white evangelicals. . . . The similarities in their approaches to the world run so deep that I believe that white evangelicals would continue to support Trump even if Roe v. Wade weren’t in the picture.

Right.

It seems obvious: there is an intense and powerful tradition of Make-America-Great-Again thinking among white evangelicals, a tradition to which Trump makes an intense and powerful (if surprising) appeal. If we really want to understand white evangelicalism in America, it does not help to start and finish with theological notions, IMHO. We need to include the mish-mash of history, memory, nostalgia, and politics that leads many white Americans—including white evangelicals—to yearn for the good old days.

Bibb-Graves hall bju til 2011

It didn’t start with Reagan. Bibb Graves was the Governor of Alabama and close political friend of Bob Jones College in the 1920s…

Trump appeals to something deep, something beyond tax policy or even abortion policy. Now, I don’t buy Prof. Ehrenreich’s explanation of this evangelical-Trump affinity. He wants to tie the Trump connection to white-evangelical psychology, which seems a little simplistic.

But that’s not my main beef. This morning I’m objecting to Prof. Ehrenreich’s quick sketch of twentieth-century evangelical history. He repeats the tired myth that white evangelicals only really became political and conservative in the 1970s. He argues that white evangelicals had been split, politically, between progressive and conservative wings. Only in the late 1970s, he thinks, did the bulk of white evangelicalism embrace political conservatism. As he puts it,

by the end of the ’70s, things began to change. The percent of the American population adhering to evangelical beliefs grew rapidly. Right-wing fundamentalist preachers took over organizations such as the Southern Baptist Convention. There was a rapid rise of separatist Baptist churches, proclaiming a fundamentalist theology, denouncing the moral ills of society and communism, and often promoting segregationist views. In 1979, Jerry Falwell joined hard-line conservative activists such as Heritage Foundation and American Legislative Exchange Council co-founder Paul Weyrich to form the Moral Majority, a political action group focused on mobilizing Christians against “secular humanism” and moral decay. Evangelical pastors threw themselves into the political arena and worked for 1980s conservative electoral victories. Simultaneously, largely evangelical white voters in the South shifted rapidly from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, and American politics as a whole moved sharply to the right.

I thought we were beyond this. The facts of Ehrenreich’s historical sketch are basically correct, but taken together they don’t prove that conservative evangelicals got political only in the 1970s.

As our leading historians such Daniel K. Williams and Matthew Avery Sutton have demonstrated, white evangelicals ALWAYS were political. Yes, there were progressive and conservative wings, but there was never a “retreat” from politics. As Williams showed, something big really did happen in the 1970s, but it was not that white evangelicals got into politics. They had always been into politics. Instead, what happened was that white conservative evangelicals embraced the GOP as their single political vehicle.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s easy to think that white evangelicals retreated from mainstream politics in the 1930s, only to reemerge with a flourish in the Reagan years. After all, it is a story that white evangelicals have told themselves and the rest of us for many years. As I point out in my recent book about evangelical higher ed, fundamentalist college leaders often insisted that they and their schools were above politics.

Consider the example of Bob Jones Jr. and Bob Jones University in the era of the so-called “New Christian Right.” In 1969, Junior told a friend that he was “opposed to party politics . . . on principle.” In the very same 1969 letter, though, he gave a glimpse of what he meant by that. Was BJU above political activism? Not at all. As Junior explained, BJU was always “urging our students to remember how their senators voted when the next election comes up in their state.”

In other words, white conservative evangelical leaders such as Bob Jones Jr. SAID they were above politics, but what they meant was that they were not wedded to one major party or the other. By 1976, Jones had begun to change his tune. As he put it in 1976, evangelical leaders

should denounce what’s spiritually and morally wrong, and if that means getting into politics, so be it.

When Jones said he was “getting into politics,” what he meant was that he was embracing the GOP alone. He might have sincerely thought that he and his school were above politics before that, but it just wasn’t true. Way back to the 1950s and into the 1980s, Junior continued to talk about getting “into” or “out of” politics, but he never meant that he wouldn’t be throwing his political weight around.

And he certainly never meant that he was somehow split between progressive and conservative political ideas. For fundamentalists like Jones, going all the way back to the 1910s, Christian politics were always conservative politics.

When the Reagan administration angered Jones Jr., for example, Junior threatened in 1982 to take his followers “out” of politics. As he put it, he might just urge BJU voters to

stay away from the polls and let their ship sink.

Now, clearly, withholding votes from the GOP is just as political an act as giving votes is. When white evangelicals in the twentieth century talked about staying out of politics, they didn’t really mean it. They didn’t really mean they wouldn’t vote for conservative candidates or mobilize for conservative issues.

All they meant was that they weren’t married to one party or the other.

When will we stop reading the misleading myth that white evangelicals retreated from politics until Falwell and Reagan?

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.

Before You Blame Fundamentalism, Read This

I can understand why some conservative evangelical intellectuals wouldn’t like my book. In chapter after chapter, I look at some of the most uncomfortable tensions in the world of evangelical higher education, the often-poisonous legacy of decades of fundamentalist anger and vitriol. But why should we single out religious schools for this sort of criticism? Public schools, after all, have their own legacies of racism and pandering, as the news from Colorado attests.

ColoradoState

It’s not only fundamentalist colleges that have to deal with their ugly racist legacies…

At Colorado State, as IHE reports, two high school students were singled out for their appearance, racial and fashion-wise. The students were of Native American background and had driven seven hours to take the campus tour. They joined the tour late, apparently, and didn’t answer the tour guide’s questions adequately.

So another tour member called 911. The two kids, she reported, “really stand out.” Their t-shirts, she complained, featured “weird symbolism.” (They look to this headbanger like pretty standard heavy-metal logos.)

Campus cops came and talked with the teenagers. The two were polite and the cops agreed the high-schoolers had done nothing wrong. The teens told the cops they were shy and didn’t know how to respond to the tour guide’s question. They were invited to rejoin the tour, but unsurprisingly they didn’t feel like it and drove home.

What does any of this have to do with fundamentalism and evangelical colleges? It proves that ALL colleges are in a similar bind. ALL colleges need to pander to the lowest common denominator in the families they are trying to attract. If an ignorant and apparently racist mom decides two other teenagers “really stand out,” the college administration needs to address those concerns, even if the mom in question goes far beyond daffy.

Why AZ Teachers Still Aren’t Happy

Seems like a big fat win for Arizona’s striking teachers. Headlines this morning announced a whopping 20% salary raise over three years. So why are some teachers still mad?

az teacher strike

Is RedforEd Dead?

For one thing, many of Arizona’s teachers wanted more than a pay raise. As the legislators voted on the new budget that included their pay raises, the crowd of striking teachers applauded the “no” votes, not the yeses. As one striker told USA Today,

This was never about teachers’ salaries. This was about the future of our kids and the future of education in Arizona.

Striking teachers didn’t only want increased salaries. They wanted a vastly increased budget for public education in general. They wanted funding restored for programs and staffing.

As another strike leader told Jacobin magazine, the new budget—including promises of salary raises—is really only a stopgap, a half-measure meant to distract attention from the state’s real educational funding problems. As she put it,

We’re opposed to this budget, it does not give us what we want. It does not put $1.1 billion back in the funding. What it does give us is a tiny piece of the puzzle, $400 million dollars. Which means we’re responsible for going and getting that other $700 million. We’re going to pivot and go fight to get that money ourselves. We need to fight for the money for our kids and colleagues, because they’ve been left out — and that’s one of the main reasons why we don’t support this budget.

I didn’t hear any strikers mention it, but I can’t help but think that some striking teachers are also peeved at the way they are being talked about by some conservative politicians. I know I would be. For example, even as the budget was being passed, one republican legislator tried to cram in three anti-teacher amendments.

The first would have banned any school closures, except in case of non-political emergency. The second would have allowed lawmakers to call for an investigation of any school district that seemed to be too sympathetic to teachers. The one best calculated to provoke the ire of striking teachers, though, would have prohibited teachers from spouting political ideology in their classrooms, including possible fines of up to $5,000. As this conservative legislator fumed,

It’s far beyond time we rein in indoctrination in our public schools.

As I argue in my book about the history of educational conservatism, this notion that sneaky subversive teachers are using their positions to warp students’ minds has a long and bitter history. Conservative pundits and politicians have long assumed that left-wing teachers were out to corrode children’s faith in America and capitalism. And for most teachers, those sorts of accusations are not only bizarre, but profoundly insulting.

In addition, then, to feeling shorted on their real goals of increasing school funding and reining in charters, I imagine some Arizona teachers must be chagrined to be subjected to this sort of continuing casual slander from their state leaders.

Is This the One Thing that Stops the Chatterers from Chattering?

I sat down curious. I got up stumped. Why didn’t the usual conservative and progressive websites and magazines have anything to say about this momentous event? I’m wondering if the topic is too touchy even for the most brazen of cultural commentators.

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Remembering…

Here’s what we know: A new lynching memorial opened this week in Montgomery, Alabama. The mainstream press covered it in detail: NPR, New York Times, The Conversation, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post…newspapers and news outlets rushed to describe the wrenching attempt to remember the brutal legacy of racial violence in America.

Most of the coverage mixed outraged descriptions of the ugly history with hopeful intimations that this memorial might help open ancient festering sores to the bracing effects of sunlight. For me, as both a history teacher and a human being, I’m optimistic that the memorial might fulfill its goal of helping Americans recognize and deal with the fundamental historical facts of slavery, lynching, and their legacy.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH may recall, we’ve spent our fair share of time wondering why lynching is such a third-rail topic in American culture and education. Teachers have gotten in trouble for introducing the topic in their classrooms. I’ve wondered if we are simply too hamstrung to teach our children the truth about American history.

image-from-who-was-jim-crow-coloring-book

Is it appropriate for children?

As a teacher, I have always had a difficult time helping students understand why people would send postcards to friends with cheerful mementoes of the lynchings they’d witnessed. It seemed like serial-killer behavior, yet it was fairly commonplace. (I won’t include the images here, because they are truly horrifying. With preparation, though, I’ve introduced students to the grim collection at Without Sanctuary. In particular, I challenged students to try to make sense of image #28.)

As I was flying home recently, I sat next to a very friendly woman. Once she found out I was a history nerd, she mentioned that she had recently seen news of the lynching memorial in Montgomery. And she was shocked. She was in her mid-fifties, she said, and she knew vaguely about racial violence and lynching, but the memorial opened her eyes to the numbers of victims and the peculiarly brutal nature of racial lynchings.

If more and more Americans can have similar experiences with the Montgomery memorial, I think we will have made significant but insufficient progress.

But here’s what I don’t understand: Why don’t the usual pundits have anything to say about it? This morning, I conducted a very unscientific survey of both left and right. I found almost no mention of the Montgomery memorial. Why not?

From the left, I looked at The Progressive, The Nation, and ThinkProgress. From the right, I searched American Conservative, Weekly Standard, National Review, and even Wallbuilders.

Of all those sources, only National Review had anything to say about the new memorial. In its pages, sociologist Gabriel Rossman offered an intelligent analysis of the way racial lynchings differed from other sorts of vigilante hangings.

Why don’t other progressive or conservative commentators have anything to say? Are they waiting for someone to say something provocative about the museum for them to react to? Did I just look in the wrong places?

I’d think this intensely provocative topic would attract a lot of culture-war commentary. Why hasn’t it?

Why Jimmy Carter?

If you didn’t know much about Liberty University or conservative evangelical higher education, you might be surprised to hear that President Jimmy Carter will be giving the commencement address at Liberty this year.

Trump at liberty

Glories of past Liberty commencements…

For SAGLRROILYBYGTH, it makes perfect sense. I lay out my case this morning at The Conversation why Jerry Falwell Jr. would want President Carter to come to Lynchburg.

Why would he? Click on over and check it out. Let me know if you think I’m off base.

A New Low?

It was despicable. It was crass. It was ugly. IMHO. But as far as I’m concerned, Professor Randa Jarrar’s comments about war criminals, Barbara Bush, and the status of tenured radicals were not much different from what we’ve seen already.

The topic came up when a journalist called me yesterday to talk over the case. Among her questions, she wondered if Professor Jarrar’s hateful tweets represented a new low in academic discourse. I invite SAGLRROILYBYGTH to disagree, but I think Jarrar’s comments, as nasty as they were, are nothing new in academic life.randa jarrar 1

Here’s what we know: Professor Jarrar teaches English at Fresno State University. When former First Lady Barbara Bush passed away, Professor Jarrar seized the opportunity to tweet her outrage about President Bush’s policies. As Jarrar put it,

Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who . . . raised a war criminal. . . . I’m happy the witch is dead.

As Jarrar attracted attention from friends and foes for her comments, she bragged that she made a six-figure salary and couldn’t be fired. Trolls dug up video clips of Jarrar’s public talks, in which she seemed to call for violence against white-supremacist Richard Spencer, among other things.randa jarrar 2

Loud. Brash. Unpleasant. But a new low? I don’t think so. I think Professor Jarrar, like so many other academics these days, was scrambling to build her brand. She was looking for attention—as all humanities academics these days feel pressed to do—and she did so in a particularly nasty way.

I don’t like it, but I don’t think it’s worse than other provocations from pundits of both the left and the right. Am I missing something?