Hope for Us All

Impeachment drama got you down? Then check out this story from my local paper. The tenor of our national debate may have grown sour, but people still endorse basic decency and decorum.

brindisi town hall

Anthony Brindisi: How to disagree in the Trump era.

Here’s what we know: My US Representative, Anthony Brindisi, held a town-hall meeting last night. Much of the goings-on were predictably humdrum. He posed for pix with a group of Girl Scouts; he talked about keeping the local AA baseball team in town.

At one point, though, an audience member grew belligerent. Brindisi, a Democrat in a heavily Republican district, had voted for Trump’s impeachment. The woman insisted that Brindisi had promised her he’d vote against impeachment. She grew increasingly hostile as other members of the audience and Rep. Brindisi tried to calm her.

Woman: You lied to us. I want an answer.

[hubbub in audience…]

Brindisi: I never said that. What I said was…

Woman (interrupting): You said you were…

Voices from audience: LET HIM FINISH!

Woman: …I have it on my phone. I would like to know an answer to that.

Brindisi: ..what I said…

Woman (interrupting): You represent US.

Brindisi: …what I said was I was waiting for all the evidence to come out before making a decision. And I did make a decision and I’m sorry we disagree.

LOUD APPLAUSE

Eventually, the woman was asked to leave by a sheriff’s deputy. My hunch is that plenty of my neighbors agree with her about impeachment. Trump has a lot of support around here.

However, my neighbors don’t approve of her in-your-face style. She didn’t come to listen. She came to shout. The audience preferred Brindisi, with whom many of them disagreed, to the woman, with whom many of them agreed. Not for their stance on the issues, but for Brindisi’s obvious regard for basic politeness and civil tone.

Seems like some pretty basic political virtues are still being practiced:

  1. Cheer for the home team, even when things look bleak;
  2. Love your neighbors;
  3. Be polite, ESPECIALLY when you disagree strongly.

The DeVoses Have Always Been Wrong about College

You’ve probably seen the graph floating around the interwebs this week. The Economist reported that–despite jeremiads by Betsy DeVos–higher education in America does not seem to be turning students into left-wing drones. As SAGLRROILYLBYGTH know, conservatives have always fretted about it. And they’ve always been wrong. Their schemes to infiltrate left-wing colleges have never panned out and today’s college conservatives should pay attention.

economist college influence

Not a lot of change there…

In a speech a few years back, Queen Betsy warned students that college was trying to brainwash them. As she put it,

The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.

Were QB’s worries fair? The Economist dug through a study of political thinking among college graduates. Either college professors—who really do skew to the left—are not “ominously” trying to tell students “what to think,” or they’re bad at it. As The Economist summarized,

Between 2010 and 2014, survey respondents were asked every year which political party they identified with. The share identifying as Democrats did not shift significantly between freshman year and graduation. Similarly, when asked about their political viewpoints, the share of students identifying as conservative changed little during their time at university. The same pattern held for questions about climate change, health care and immigration.

Yet Queen Betsy’s vision of the college threat is anything but idiosyncratic. Throughout the twentieth century, the conservative educational activists I’ve studied uniformly agree that left-wing professors are a deadly threat to students’ faiths and America’s chances.

In 1909, for example, journalist Harold Bolce scored a major scoop when he interrogated college professors about their secularism and anti-Christian ideas. For example, Bolce quizzed Syracuse sociologist Edwin L. Earp and reported to America that the professor no longer valued traditional religion. As Bolce wrote in Cosmopolitan (yes, Cosmo),

‘Do you not believe, Professor,’ I asked, ‘that Moses got the ten commandments in the way the Scriptures tell?’

The professor smiled.  ‘I do not,’ said he.  ‘It is unscientific and absurd to imagine that God ever turned stone-mason and chiseled commandments on a rock.’

bolce page image

Left-wing professors, c. 1909.

Earp was not alone, Bolce warned. At all leading colleges, issues such as “marriage, divorce, the home, religion, and democracy,” were studied and propounded “as if these things were fossils, gastropods, vertebrates, equations, chemical elements, or chimeras.”

Conservative anxiety about college professors never went away. In the 1920s, for example, William Jennings Bryan often warned about the dangers of higher education. He liked to cite a study by psychologist James Leuba, which found that more than half of “prominent scientists” in the USA no longer believed in a “personal God and in personal immortality.” The upshot on college campuses where those scientists taught? Though only 15% of freshman had discarded Christianity, Leuba found, 30% of juniors had and 40-45% of graduates did.

It hasn’t only been religious conservatives like Bolce, Bryan, and DeVos that have worried. In 1939, the obstreperous leader of the American Legion’s Americanism Commission schemed with a business ally to disrupt the goings-on at Columbia University. Both men—Homer Chaillaux of the American Legion and Alfred Falk of the National Association of Manufacturers—assumed that colleges were ideologically dangerous places. Professors at Columbia had been spewing their left-wing propaganda into the ears of students for too long.

What could they do about it? Chaillaux told Falk that he had some spies “on the inside at Columbia University.” Chaillaux planned to have those “friends” conduct a campaign against leftist professors among students. As Chaillaux optimistically predicted,

possibly we can make the classes of such instructors as George S. Counts and Harold O. Rugg sufficiently unpopular to reduce their present drawing power.

It might sound nutsy to dream of sending secret right-wing agents onto college campuses to denounce and dethrone popular leftist professors, but Queen Betsy and the rest of the Trump regime are engaged in similar stuff these days.

Perhaps most famously, Charlie Kirk and Turning Point USA have made a career out of provoking leftist backlash from college students and professors. And now, Kirk has teamed up with Trump’s favorite evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. to open a new kind of campus center, one devoted to promoting Trumpist ideas in higher ed.

Will it work? No. It wasn’t necessary or effective in 1939 and it won’t happen today. I don’t doubt the sincerity of Queen Betsy (though I’m iffy these days about Kirk or Falwell). For a century and more, conservatives have fretted that colleges in general were left-wing indoctrination factories. They’re not. At least, they’re not very good ones.

Were You Trumpared, Part Deux

Thank you, The Internet! Yesterday I asked you if you were surprised by the rise of Trumpism. Over on The Twitter, some topnotch academic historians shared their experiences. I’ll share a few highlights here for those SAGLRROILYBYGTH who don’t tweeter.

It started with an offhand comment by blogger Peter Greene. As he reflected on the end of 2019, he noted,

In many ways, becoming a student of ed reform prepared me for a Trump presidency, because it made me really confront the degree to which many of my fellow citizens do not share values that I had somehow assumed were fundamental to being a citizen of this country.

Unlike The Curmudgucrat, my experiences in the 2010s left me utterly unprepared for the rise of Trump. The archives I explored for my book The Other School Reformers led me to conclude that Trumpish tendencies were usually quashed by conservative organizations, in the name of “respectability” and “mainstream” appeal.

It appears I wasn’t alone. As Rick Perlstein shared, he had to re-calibrate his thinking. He had written back in 2016,

I’ve been studying the history of American conservatism full time since 1997—almost 20 years now. I’ve read almost every major book on the subject. I thought I knew what I was talking about. Then along comes Donald Trump to scramble the whole goddamned script.

And, as Natalia Mehlman Petrzela noted, the “time and style” of Trumpish conservatism feels a lot different from the conservatism of the later twentieth century. As Prof. Petrzela asked,

There’s no way “F*CK YOUR FEELINGS” as a tee-shirt saying for the winning GOP presidential candidate in 2016 was foreseeable from the 60s/70s, right?

natalia on TrumpIt seems that Trump’s ascendancy has changed the way historians of conservatism approach the topic, or at least pointed us in slightly different directions. As Kevin Kruse wrote, he is now working on a new book about

“law and order” politics as seen through NYC[.]

It doesn’t usually work this way, but yesterday at least Twitter helped me learn a lot about a complicated topic and gave me a new reading list. I just ordered a copy of Timothy Lombardo’s book about Frank Rizzo and blue-collar conservatism in Philadelphia.

We Need LESS History, Not More

With apologies to SAGLRROILYBYGTH, I just couldn’t shut up and enjoy Christmas in peace. Instead, I had to keep brooding over the reasons why Andrew Ferguson’s piece was so silly. trump meanHere’s the upshot at Washington Post. Not only should historians be encouraged to talk about politics, but the best reasons for historians’ engagement can be pulled from history itself. In this piece, I pull from my new book about American creationism to point out the obvious: Historians’ expertise is important and it can move the needle on issues like impeachment.

In this case, America is not suffering from a lack of historical awareness. Rather, we find ourselves with a wide variety of histories to choose from. Like President Trump, we can assume that George Washington would smile on Trumpism. Or like the thousands of historians who support impeachment, we can point out that Trump’s misdeeds fit the Founders’ definition of impeachable offenses.

What does this have to do with creationism? A lot. The problem with creationism is not a lack of science. Rather, it is the fracturing of science. When Darwin first made his claims about natural selection and evolution, some fans assumed that people would accept it as soon as they heard about it. But we all know that’s not what happened. Instead, a bunch of different sciences developed, competing for followers.

We’re in a similar situation with history. There is not one history to learn, but a million. People are forced to pick a history to trust. They can believe Trump’s version, or they can listen to thousands of professional historians who disagree. In situations like this, expertise matters. Historians can help people agree on the historical truths that have the best claims, instead of just picking the ones they find most convenient.

At least, that’s the argument I made this week over at Washington Post. Click on over and read the whole thing.

Should Historians Talk Politics?

The question is not whether or not historians should get into politics. The proper question is whether or not historians should get into history. In case you missed it, journalist Andrew Ferguson just antagonized historians by mocking their attempts to weigh in on impeachment. As I’m arguing in my new book about creationism, sometimes the intellectual “sloppiness” Ferguson condemns is right on the money.

president supervillain

Should cartoonists weigh in on cartoons? Should Red Skull weigh in on villainy? [Side note: If you’re not following President Supervillain (@PresVillain) on Twitter, you’re missing the best part of today’s politics.]

Full disclosure: I signed. Ferguson was fluffed about the petition signed by over 2,000 historians in favor of Trump’s impeachment and removal. And, no doubt intentionally, Ferguson used provocative language to condemn activist historians, calling them merely “obscure signatories from backwater colleges scattered between the coasts.”

Beyond my hurt feelings, I think it’s fair to wonder if Ferguson’s accusations have any merit. The basis of his complaint is that historians are calling for impeachment based only on an argument from authority. As he puts it,

It is a reflexive form of what logic-choppers call an argumentum ab auctoritate, or argument from authority. The idea is to prove a disputed claim by pointing out that some expert or other authority believes the claim to be true. It’s a bogus but very popular trick.

In this case, though, Ferguson misses the central point. Historians are not merely weighing in as credentialed experts who have a certain political belief. Rather, in an age of fractured truth, historians are weighing in on an historical issue, as credentialed experts who have earned their expertise at great cost and toil. They are signaling to a bewildered public that not all forms of history have equal merit. All historical claims are tentative, but some are far more wildly bogus than others.

Trump letter pelosi

It is no longer self-evident that all historical arguments are not born equal.

The disagreement in this case is not merely whether or not historians as individuals think Trump is a dangerous lout. More specifically, the impeachment case hinges on the nature of American history itself. In his self-defense, for example, Trump has made all sorts of claims based on his reality-TV-level understanding of history. As he wrote in his recent letter to Speaker Pelosi,

You dare to invoke the Founding Fathers in pursuit of this election-nullification scheme—yet your spiteful actions display unfettered contempt for America’s founding and your egregious conduct threatens to destroy that which our Founders pledged their very lives to build.

In other words, Trump is leaning on history to make his case against impeachment. Trump is not only defending his “perfect” phone call, but insisting that his actions are in line with the intentions of America’s founders centuries ago. The fight here is not only about today’s politics, but yesterday’s. To say that historians should not weigh in on events of the past seems more than a little silly. As Princeton’s Kevin Kruse put it,

The GOP invoked “history” repeatedly in their defense of the president — making claims about the Constitution, Franklin, Hamilton, past precedents of impeachment, etc. Don’t get angry when actual historians respond to those claims to point out they’re wrong.

Right on. In this case, historians are not merely voicing their views about politics based on their PhDs and institutional authority. They are speaking to the public on issues in which they have reasonable claims to expert authority.

Consider a parallel from another field of fractured truth. As science historian Adam Shapiro noted, telling historians not to speak politically is similar to the ways scientists have been told to stay in their labs. And it is just as meaningless.

Back in 1968, for example, SCOTUS was considering the constitutionality of a bunch of 1920s anti-evolution laws. As SCOTUS considered, scientists weighed in. The scientific case was clear. Leading biologists, 179 of them, signed a brief informing the justices that “scientists and other reasonable persons” no longer doubted the explanatory power of mainstream evolutionary theory. The justices eventually agreed.

These days, too, mainstream scientists happily lend their authority to the prestige of mainstream evolutionary theory. As the National Center for Science Education playfully demonstrated with its Project Steve, the number of scientists who support evolution—JUST NAMED STEVE—stretches to over a thousand.

Are these arguments from authority? In a way, but what Ferguson misses is that in an age of fractured truth, when politicians and preachers make outlandish claims about history and science, the authority of historians and scientists has real value. To a public confronted with bogus ideas about the past or about DNA, arguments based on the number of experts who attest to the truth of the matter is not only acceptable, but absolutely vital.

The Politics of Evangelical Magazines

The kerfuffle over Christianity Today got us thinking: How often have evangelical magazines gone out on a political limb? And what happened when they did?

First, the basics: Outgoing editor Mark Galli got people’s attention yesterday when he called for the impeachment and removal of Trump. As Galli wrote,

the facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.

Some observers wondered if this statement by a leading evangelical publication signaled a “crack in the wall of Trump evangelical support.”

Trump’s evangelical supporters didn’t seem to think so. Conservative stalwarts such as Franklin Graham blasted CT‘s statement, saying his father, CT-founder Billy Graham, “would be embarrassed.”

trump et

Taking a bold stand against aliens…or Entertainment Tonight.

True to form, Trump himself blasted the decision in confusing and seemingly uninformed ways. He called CT a “far left magazine” and concluded that he “won’t be reading ET [sic] again.”

SAGLRROILYBYGTH already know all that. What they might not know is the history of political statements by leading evangelical magazines. From my Fundamentalist U research, I pulled up an example from the twentieth century.

Back in 1957, Billy Graham started a similar political firestorm among the white evangelical community by integrating his revival meetings. Based at Biola University in Los Angeles, the popular evangelical magazine King’s Business came out in favor of integration.

Editor Lloyd Hamill made clear in a scathing editorial in November, 1957, that King’s Business supported racial integration. As Hamill put it,

Graham was only proclaiming what the Bible plainly teaches. . . . No Spirit-controlled Christian can escape the solid fact that all men are equal in God’s sight.  Integration is not only the law of our nation, it is also the plain teaching of the Bible.

Another writer wrote in the same issue,

Now and then you hear some Christian say, ‘I don’t want any Negroes or Mexicans in my church.’  In whose church?  Christ paid for the Church with His precious blood and some saints seem to think because they put an offering in the plate on Sunday they have bought the Church back.

Bold words for the world of white evangelicalism in 1957. And predictably, the president’s office of Biola University was immediately flooded with mail. A few white evangelicals agreed with Hamill. But by a factor of about ten to one, the readers expressed their outrage.

earnestine ritterHamill did not back down. He pointed out that the offices of King’s Business did not only advocate racial integration, they practiced it. As Hamill noted in the following issue,

As a matter of record The King’s Business has had a Negro on the editorial staff for nearly a year.  She is Earnestine Ritter who has studied journalism at New York University and Los Angeles State College.

What happened? Hamill was fired. Biola President Samuel Sutherland apologized to Billy Graham for the “very foolish letters [Hamill] wrote and statements which he made.”

Mark Galli won’t be intimidated. He already planned to retire soon. But the controversy unleashed by his anti-Trump editorial is far from the first time an evangelical editor has tried to push the needle among evangelical Americans.

Trump-ing Academic Life

A Miss USA, a bachelor, a gun-toter, a filmmaker, and a MAGA youtuber, all clumped together on a college campus to promote “Judeo-Christian values.” What could go wrong? If it were a reality show, I’d watch it. But it’s not. Instead, this group of culture-war B-listers is the first cohort of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center Fellows. These Trumpish all-stars promise/threaten to upend a long tradition of alternative academic institution-building in conservative evangelical higher ed.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, we’ve been following developments at Liberty’s new Falkirk Center with a lot of interest. The founders—Jerry Falwell Jr. and Turning Point’s Charlie Kirk—warned us that they plan to put “Judeo-Christian values” back in the center of American political life via an “aggressive social media campaign.” Given the history of ambitious academic centers at conservative evangelical universities, there’s not much of a chance the Falkirkers will achieve their goals. Given the recently announced line-up of founding Falkirk Fellows, I’m starting to think that they might, in fact, have a totally different goal in mind. Namely, they might want to trash the entire evangelical academic tradition, or at least not mind if they do.

As I argued in Fundamentalist U, since the 1920s conservative evangelical colleges, institutes, and universities faced a formidable task. They had to create an entirely separate academic system of prestige, one that rewarded scholars outside of mainstream academic channels. As part of their effort to do so, many universities poured scarce resources into the painstaking effort to build their own independent network of academic prestige, one that did not rely on mainstream ideas. For example, institutions such as Wheaton College and Gordon College heaped honors on creationists such as Harry Rimmer. Authors such as Arthur Brown scrambled to compile impressive-sounding lists of academic “experts” who scorned mainstream science.

To be sure, these alternative academic “experts” often had extremely shallow credentials. When evangelical universities gave them honorary doctorates and other academic honors, however, they were signaling to the conservative evangelical community that their universities shared the religious and political values of their honored experts. The universities were creating, in essence, a world of academic prestige outside the entire system of mainstream academics.

The recent move by Liberty University seems as different from that kind of thinking as Trump is from Reagan. What does it take to earn a coveted spot as an inaugural fellow at the Falkirk Center? Let’s take a look:

Frantzve

Adding a little sparkle to academic life…

First, we have Erika Lane Frantzve, Miss USA 2012. Ms. Frantzve claims a “background” in political science and is dedicated to charity work. Next, there is Josh Allan Murray, best known from his appearance on The Bachelorette. These days, in spite of the quick break-ups of his TV nuptials, Mr. Murray is apparently “bouncing back better than ever.” Third comes Antonia Okafor Cover, who works to get more guns on college campuses. She claims to have been told she should not feel free to speak her mind, but as she puts it, “I didn’t listen.” Another fellow will be David J. Harris, Jr., a vlogger and Trump enthusiast who preaches the dangers of the “crazed left.” Last but not least is Jaco Booyens, filmmaker and opponent of sex trafficking.

I don’t mean to be a campus snob, but what kind of achievements can a group like this hope to achieve? To quote Charlie Kirk, how can this assemblage “‘play offense’ against efforts by liberals to water down Judeo-Christian values in the Bible and Constitution”?

The short and obvious answer is, they can’t. This is a group of second-rate conservative media presences, not a group of alternative academics. Unlike people like Harry Rimmer in an earlier generation, they have no coherent ideas to promote. They are not scientists frozen out of mainstream science, or theologians pushed out of mainstream institutions. Those kinds of non-mainstream intellectuals used to be the ones to win academic honors from the evangelical academy. This group looks decidedly different.

Even from within the alternative academic tradition of conservative evangelical schools, a tradition in which non-traditional intellectuals were often awarded traditional academic honors, this group of Falkirk Fellows looks remarkably intellectual weak. Instead of building an independent system of academic prestige as earlier evangelical colleges have done, the Falkirk Center seems to be merely leaping aboard the Trump Train to trash the entire idea of academic prestige.

Fizzle Alert: New Campus Center Will Try to Prove that Jesus Was Not a Socialist

The history is not particularly encouraging. Nevertheless, Liberty University plans to open a new academic center, one devoted to promoting Judeo-Christian values in American society. How do we know it won’t work? Three reasons, plus one counter-point.

Here’s what we know: Liberty University recently announced its new Falkirk Center. The name comes from a combo of Jerry Falwell Jr—Liberty’s president—and Charlie Kirk, leader of Turning Point USA. The goal of the center will be to blitz social media with traditional Christian messages. As Falwell and Kirk described,

Said Kirk, “We’re in a culture battle right now where you have to fight and play offense, and part of this effort is to try and play offense against the secular Left.”

Falwell added, “As attacks on traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs grow in frequency and intensity, the need has never been greater for a national revival of our foundational principles throughout our society and institutions in America.”

The center will use an aggressive social media campaign to push back against what Kirk described as the Left’s effort to “try to convert young Christians into socialism and to intentionally misrepresent the gospel and the teachings of the Bible to try to convert young people to be further on the left.”

Will it work? No.

First of all, there are a few big established conservative think-tanks that don’t leave much room for a new one. Why would anyone go to work at the Falkirk Center when they could go the Heritage Foundation instead?

Second, the name itself spells doom. Generally, any academic center or think-tank needs a clear and unified purpose. Often, that takes the form of a charismatic leader. In this case, trying to balance the big egos of both Falwell and Kirk will mean that neither of them gives the center his full attention and support.

Third, as I found in the research for Fundamentalist U, when conservative evangelicals have tried to establish alternative academic centers in the past they haven’t had a lot of success. Consider the ill-starred National Freedom Education Center (NFEC). It was an organization based at The King’s College in New York (now in New York City).

national freedom education center letterhead

They had enough money for letterhead, but that’s about it…

One of the NFEC’s goals was to spread “American Studies” programs on evangelical campuses. As their promo materials put it,

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 . . . . 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]

Did it work? Nuh-uh. A few institutions, such as Azusa Pacific, signed up. They received a few hundred dollars and some books for their libraries. Other schools blanched. Gordon College in Massachusetts, for example, rejected the overtures of the NFEC. The faculty at Gordon did not want to turn their conservative religious school into merely a conservative political school.

There’s no doubt, however, that the NFEC would have had more luck if it had had deeper pockets. And that’s where the Falkirk Center might get its glimmer of hope. Liberty University has bajillions of dollars to spend from its online empire. Could that $$$ make a difference? Maybe.

After all, the Falkirk Center is NOT trying to build academic prestige. That takes time, vision, and patience. It is only trying to mount an “aggressive social media campaign,” which is quick, dirty, and easy. It seems at least possible that the Falkirk Center might splash out money on a blitz of popular media, and that the blitz might reinforce already-existing stereotypes. It COULD become, even, a new sort of academic center, one that doesn’t care much about traditional academics but has a big social-media footprint.

I don’t think it will happen, because President Falwell has always been more invested in football than academics, but it seems at least possible that the Falkirk Center might take advantage of a fat wallet to do more than talk about making a difference. I’m not going to worry too much about it, yet.

Can We Talk about Charter-School Politics without Using the “BD Word”?

It seems like a big omission. It’s like talking about immigration policy without mentioning Trump. Or reviewing the history of impeachment without using the phrase “Talk to Rudy.” Yet in a recent piece about the politics of charter schools, two New York Times journalists left out the most important fact of all. Why?

NYT charters

We ALL want ALL kids to have awesome schools.

Here’s what we know: The New York Times article gave compelling testimony to the emotional power of the charter-school issue. As one parent and charter-school founder told the reporters,

We look at it as a burning ship going down with thousands of kids in it, and we’re trying to get kids on lifeboats.

And as another charter-school leader put it,

“It shouldn’t be about what’s better: charter schools or neighborhood schools,” he said. “It should be about what schools will help our children succeed.”

At the school’s campus in southeast Washington, where more than 90 percent of students are black, Eagle Academy seeks to provide the same resources that white, affluent children have: a swimming pool, a chef who serves fruits and vegetables and a “sensory room” modeled on private medical facilities where students can calm down.

With appeals like this, it is hard to see how anyone but a moral monster could oppose expanding charter schools. Yet as the article correctly points out, all but one of the leading Democratic 2020 candidates have turned their back on charter schools. Why? The journalists say only that

the leading Democratic candidates are backing away from charter schools, and siding with the teachers’ unions that oppose their expansion.

True enough, but the article leaves out the most important explanations for this sudden shift in Democratic Party thinking. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing, it was not at all unusual for leading Democrats to support expanding charters and vouchers as recently as last year. Yet now even St. Obama has agreed that charters and other market-based “reforms” are not a “cure-all.”

We could get all complicated and talk about the long history of greater conservatism among African-American Democrats than white ones. We could talk about the changed political landscape since the teacher walk-outs of the past few years. But if we want to understand the political shift about charter schools, there is one glaring fact that we absolutely can’t leave out: Betsy DeVos has become the public face of charter schools. And that changes everything.

betsy devos dolores umbridge

The elephant in the classroom…

I don’t mean to criticize journalists for not writing the story I wanted to hear instead of the one they needed to write. In this case, however—a story about the changing politics of charter schools—it seems oddly misleading to leave out the huge obvious fact of Queen Betsy’s school-reform revolution.

Squaring the LGBTQ Circle

I thought I understood it, but this story has me stumped. I’ve wrestled with the complicated history of LGBTQ issues at evangelical universities, but I just don’t understand recent news out of evangelical flagship Fuller Seminary.

Fuller entranceHere’s what we know: The storied seminary is facing a lawsuit from a former student who was kicked out for being married to another woman. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH know, I personally support greater LGBTQ rights at all institutions, civil and religious. But I also sympathize with the position of conservative religious schools for whom this issue poses an authentic moral conundrum.

In the twentieth century, evangelical universities had a shameful history of dealing with LGBTQ students, but so did non-evangelical ones. As historians Maggie Nash and Jennifer A.R. Silverman have argued, all sorts of universities conducted vicious purges of non-heterosexual students in the middle of the twentieth century.

In this century, many evangelical institutions have come to an uneasy and awkward position on LGBTQ rights. At many universities, for example, LGBTQ identity is welcomed, but LGBTQ “practice” is not. To my mind, this is not a very sustainable position. It feels like a temporary holding plan until institutions decide whether to support LGBTQ rights or to oppose them.

I don’t support that compromise, but at least I understand it. What I don’t understand is the position taken by Fuller Seminary. According to the LA Times,

Though the college does allow same-sex relationships, it does not allow “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct” and has made clear that it believes sexual intimacy is reserved for a marriage between a man and a woman….

What is the distinction here? Did the reporter maybe just muddle the explanation of Fuller’s true position? Or maybe does Fuller allow students and faculty to be engaged in non-sexual same-sex relationships? That would explain the distinction between “same-sex relationships” and “homosexual sexual conduct.” In effect, that would be just another, more complicated way of stating the distinction between identity and practice made by several universities.

But even if that’s the explanation, it doesn’t seem to make sense in this case. How would Fuller know that the expelled student was engaged in “explicit sexual conduct” with her wife? According to the article, the student was expelled when her same-sex marriage was discovered by Fuller’s administrators. As everyone knows, however, there have been plenty of celibate marriages. That leads me to wonder if there is some other distinction being made in this case. Perhaps the problem comes from the student’s marriage. Maybe by Fuller’s definition, a “marriage” automatically implies “sexual conduct.” . . . ?

I’m honestly stumped. Can anyone explain it?