Too Much? Student Arrested for Finger Gun

Depending on where you sit, this could be a case of wildly disproportional panic by school administrators or a reasonable move to protect student safety. From the cheap seats, I can’t help but think that this case called for a different solution.

Here’s what we know: Two eighth-graders were talking in class. One asked the other which of their classmates she would kill first. The student made a pretend gun and pretended to shoot four specific students, then pretended to shoot herself.

Disturbing, for sure. Here’s the question for this morning: What would you do about it if you were the teacher or principal?

In this case, the principal called the student to his office. The student was handcuffed and arrested. She was charged with a felony for making a criminal threat. As a youthful first offender, her maximum sentence if found guilty would be a period of probation.

Was arresting the student the right move? I hate to second-guess the people who actually know her and the situation, but it seems like this should have been handled differently. Why not have counseling for both the arrested student AND the other student who prompted her with the question about shooting classmates?

I don’t take this kind of threat lightly, but it seems as if dragging this student out of school in handcuffs, then eventually allowing her back in school with everyone knowing this story will only increase the chances that this student will act on her threat.

What do you think? What would you have done if you were the principal?

Gov’t Fights Anti-Christian Bias: Will Conservatives Celebrate?

Maybe you didn’t see this one, because no one seems to be talking about it. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed suit against a Pennsylvania company for bias against three Christian employees. On first blush, it seems like a story that culture-war conservatives would want to celebrate.

EEOC

Big Government fighting for persecuted Christians…

After all, this seems to be good news for conservative Christians. In this case, the EEOC alleges that three workers were insulted and treated badly. Their Pentecostal religion was demeaned as a “disgusting cult.” The suit points out that creation of a “hostile work environment and disparate treatment” due to the workers’ national origin and religion constitutes “unlawful practices.”

On its face, this diligent protection of conservative Christians might seem like good news for anxious religious conservatives. Very different types of conservative Christians have lamented the fact that mainstream society and government persecute traditional Christians.

From the crunchy side, for example, Rod Dreher warns,

the cultural left—which is to say, the American mainstream— has no intention of living in postwar peace. It is pressing forward with a harsh, relentless occupation, one that is aided by the cluelessness of Christians who don’t understand what’s happening.

And from the Kentucky creationism side, Ken Ham has insisted,

It’s not enough to just tell students, ‘Believe in Jesus!’ Faith that is not founded on fact will ultimately falter in the storm of secularism that our students face every day. . . . Our country has forsaken its Christian soul. We need to see that for what it is.

Rod Dreher and Ken Ham probably wouldn’t agree on much, but as Christian conservatives they agree that mainstream society has turned hopelessly anti-Christian. Yet I’m guessing they won’t take this story as good news. Why not?

First, it is simply bad strategy for them to notice. Like a lot of conservative cassandras, Dreher and Ham have both put all their chips on a persecution story. A more complicated version of that story won’t help them much.

If more thoughtful folks like Dreher DO comment on this story, they could explain it a couple of ways. First, they might claim that conservative religion was more of a free-rider in this case. The government was really interested in protecting these particular Christians because they were also insulted for their Puerto Rican heritage. Plus, intellectuals like Mr. Dreher might point out that this sort of legal protection is beside the point. Sure, the EEOC might fight against insults and harassment, but the EEOC will then turn around and persecute Christians who do not recognize LGBTQ rights. The actual beliefs of conservative Christians, Dreher might say, are nowhere protected.

So although these three plaintiffs might have the government on their side when they are mocked for being Puerto Rican Pentecostals, Mr. Dreher might retort, when they actually try to live their lives as demanded by their Christian faith, they become instead the target of the EEOC.

Or maybe conservative pundits just won’t say anything at all.

How Columbus Became Conservative

[Editor’s Note: To commemorate Columbus/Indigenous People’s Day, we’ve pulled up this post from the ILYBYGTH archives, originally posted in 2014.]

Christopher Columbus used to vote Democratic, but now he’s a leading voice among America’s cultural conservatives. Not the man himself, of course. But celebrations of Columbus’ life used to be lean to the left. These days, conservatives have become the leading celebrants. How did that happen?

What are the children learning about Columbus?

In these United States, today is officially a federal holiday. Columbus Day was only established as a federally recognized holiday, though, due to the complicated politics of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s. Italian immigrants had long lobbied for recognition of their greatest ethnic hero. As Roosevelt cobbled together his powerful but shaky New Deal coalition, he couldn’t afford to alienate any urban constituency. Establishing a federal holiday was a politically cheap way to symbolize Roosevelt’s sympathy with Italian-American voters.

At the time, Christopher Columbus represented Italian pride. Columbus stood for the fact that Italy had produced world-beating explorers and scientists. By the early 1900s, of course, Italy had become a leading source of poor, sometimes-desperate immigrants to the United States. The image of Italian-Americans in the yellow press at the time had become one of poorly educated “garlic-eaters.” Columbus Day’s federal recognition in the 1930s represented both a repudiation of those stereotypes and a recognition of the increasing political clout of Italian-Americans in the Democratic Party.

Today, of course, Christopher Columbus has acquired entirely new meanings as a cultural symbol. Instead of representing the heroic triumph of Italians, Columbus has come to embody the culture war over the settlement of the Americas. On the left, Columbus personifies the nature of that settlement. To leading leftist historian Howard Zinn, for example, Columbus’ quest was for loot, and his method was rapine. As Zinn wrote in his popular People’s History of the United States:

The Indians, Columbus reported, “are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone….” He concluded his report by asking for a little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his next voyage “as much gold as they need … and as many slaves as they ask.” He was full of religious talk: “Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities.”

Because of Columbus’s exaggerated report and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indians as captives. But as word spread of the Europeans’ intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.

Today’s leftist activists, too, hope to puncture the heroic legend of Christopher Columbus. As one described it, the main legacy of Christopher Columbus was to turn North America into a “crime scene.

In response, conservative intellectuals have tried to maintain Columbus’ place in the halls of heroes. As the recent controversy over the new Advanced Placement United States History framework has demonstrated, conservatives will unite against anything they perceive as a smear of America’s traditional heroes. For example, long before Dinesh D’Souza rolled out his recent patriotic film, he bashed the left’s tendency to bash Columbus. As D’Souza argued in 1995, Columbus had the moxie to cross a dangerous ocean. And Columbus may have misunderstood Native Americans, but he admired them. The violence came from the native side. As D’Souza put it,

While the first Indians that Columbus encountered were hospitable and friendly, other tribes enjoyed fully justified reputations for brutality and inhumanity. On his second voyage Columbus was horrified to discover that a number of the sailors he left behind had been killed and possibly eaten by the cannibalistic Arawaks.

For many conservatives, as for D’Souza, Columbus has come to represent more than just the beginning of the European colonization of the Americas. For conservatives, Columbus has become the poster child for the proper attitude toward the past. Historians on the left, many conservatives believe, have been very successful in spreading their anti-patriotic smears. The proper thing for conservatives to do, then, is rally around those symbols of traditional American exceptionalism.

Would You Fire This Teacher?

So…would you do it? If you were the principal of his school in Waterloo, Iowa, would you fire a teacher for saying this on Facebook? And, tougher question: Would you fire a teacher if they said similar stuff about someone you despise?

baish teacher greta sniper rifle

Sarcasm? Threat? Free speech?

Here’s what we know: According to the New York Times, chemistry teacher Matt Baish has been put on leave following a Facebook comment. A former student asked who was going to see Greta Thunberg speak at a climate-action rally, and Baish replied,

dont have my sniper rifle

Baish was suspended while the district decides what to do about him.

What do you think they should do? Is this kind of statement an obvious cause for termination? Seems like it to me. After all, this is more than a mere political statement. On its face, this is a threat. To my mind–and I’m guessing lots of people disagree–a high-school teacher who spouts off like this shouldn’t be trusted to teach, even if he says he was joking.

But to be fair, we should consider the reverse as well. If you agree with me about this case, what if you had a teacher in your building who made a sarcastic threat about someone like Donald Trump? Would that be cause for termination?

Ed Mystery: Why Don’t More Democrats Like It?

I understand why more Democrats don’t like the Ed Department right now, governed as it is by Michigan’s Evil Queen Betsy. But I’m surprised to find out that the Ed Department has garnered only minority support during the last ten years. There’s one obvious explanation, but are there more reasons?Pew fed agencies EPA or ED

Here’s what we know: New results from Pew show us that the Ed Department is one of the federal government’s least favorite agencies, with 48% of respondents feeling favorable and 48% unfavorable.

No surprise there. Ever since Jimmy Carter instigated the department it has been the target of conservative fury. Reagan’s first appointed secretary, Terrel Bell, was given the unusual mission to dismantle the department which he headed.

More recently, conservatives such as Texas’s Rick Perry have remembered that they wanted to eliminate the Ed Department, even if he couldn’t remember the other department he wanted to get rid of.

So there’s no surprise for the department’s low favorability among GOP respondents. But why do so many Democrats dislike it? Was something happening in 2010 that led a majority of Democratic respondents to say they didn’t like the Ed Dept?

Here’s my hunch: Back in 2010, teachers and schools were still trying to cope with the strictures of the No Child Left Behind act and the unmanageable requirements NCLB mandated for high-stakes testing. By 2015, those testing requirements were tamped down. Among Democrats, at least, the popularity of the Ed Department went up (in fits and spurts) until the ascension of Queen Betsy.

Is there another explanation I’m missing?

Hope for Campus Christians?

If the decision at Duke left evangelical Christians bummed, this one from Iowa might lift their culture-war spirits. Not only did the Obama-appointed federal judge rule on the side of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, but she threatened to hit the offending college administrators where it hurts. And she included the Hawkapellas.

hawkapellas Iowa

I’m guessing the Hawkapellas didn’t think they’d be part of this culture-war battle…

Here’s what we know: According to Inside Higher Ed, federal judge Stephanie Rose issued her second ruling against the University of Iowa. Back in January, she ruled that the university could not fairly de-recognize Business Leaders in Christ. Now, she ruled not only that the university unfairly de-recognized Intervarsity, but that the university leaders should have known better. She intimated that specific administrators might be personally financially liable.

This ruling might change the climate of these campus de-recognition battles in two big ways. First of all, Judge Rose explicitly agreed that Christian groups can’t be singled out for their discriminatory policies. In Iowa, at least, plenty of other groups discriminate yet were allowed to remain on campus.

She lists several student organizations. The all-female Hawkapella singing club, for example, restricts its membership to women. The Tau Sigma Military Dental Club is only open to military-sponsored students. The Iowa National Lawyer’s Guild “excludes individuals because of their political views, even though such an exclusion constitutes discrimination on the basis of creed.”

As the judge ruled,

The University purports to apply the Human Rights Policy to RSOs [Registered Student Organizations] such that they may not speak about religion, gender, homosexuality, creed, and numerous other protected characteristics through their membership and leadership criteria. But whereas InterVarsity may not require or even encourage its leaders to subscribe to its faith, other RSOs are free to limit membership and leadership based on the Human Rights Policy’s protected characteristics.

How can a university allow the Hawkapellas without including the Intervarsities? How can it recognize some groups that discriminate in their membership and leadership policies and not others? Judge Rose thinks they can’t. At least, not legally.

Perhaps most important, Judge Rose ruled that specific university administrators could be subject to financial damages. I can’t help but think that that provision will make cautious administrators at other schools sit up and take notice.

Seeing Red at the Big Red University

If you read the culture-war headlines these days, you’d likely conclude that elite universities are citadels of uncompromising and relentless leftism. News from my alma mater today makes that myth a little more complicated.

madison trump protest_LI

Waitaminit: Who’s that snappy-looking fellow on the big screen?

Here’s the story: So apparently there is a big digital display board on Madison’s campus. They use it to announce exciting upcoming events, such as the best lecture ever to take place, coming soon on October 14. If you look closely, you can see that someone typed in a derogatory reference to President Trump.

Apparently, a keen-eyed campus Trump supporter (or maybe just a vigorous devotee of Madison’s political-speech policy) complained and the message was removed. As a university spokesperson explained,

university policy prohibits the use of university resources for political campaigns. On UW-Madison’s website explaining the policy, “political campaigns” are described as an activity that “can include, among other things, solicitation of campaign contributions, service in furtherance of candidates, political parties and political action committees, and advocating a particular position on a referendum.

So is this proof that campuses are hotbeds of leftist thinking? Well, yeah, sorta. Someone in charge of that message board saw fit to insert an anti-Trump message. On the other hand, this story also shows that such leftist activism is officially quashed immediately, and that people are on the lookout for it. It is not tolerated or winked at. It is not universally agreed upon.

Most important, it shows that there is a scintillating event coming up on campus. If you’re in Madison on Monday, October 14, be sure to come to Education 245 at noon to hear my talk about the ways conservatives won their school battles in the twentieth century!

madison talk flyer

Preachers or Principals?

It’s not really good news, I guess. Recent poll results from the Pew folks suggest that Americans don’t trust many kinds of authority figures. pew principals or preachers

There is a glimmer of hope, though. When it comes to our school culture wars, it looks like people tend to trust school leaders a little more than the trust religious or “tech” leaders.

When asked if they think tech leaders or religious leaders act unethically all or some of the time, 77% of respondents said yes for tech leaders, 69% for religious leaders. It’s not a great result, but only 52% of people thought “K-12 public-school principals” did. And only 6% thought school leaders acted unethically “all or most of the time,” compared to 12% for tech leaders and 10% for religious leaders.

So if there is any hope for bridging our divides about teaching evolution, sex ed, and real US history, it’s not likely to come from religious leaders or tech whiz-kids, in spite of the fact that they get a lion’s share of headlines.

Pew principals or preachers II

And the school principals fare even better when the questions are phrased in positive terms. A whopping 84% of respondents said they thought school principals care about others or “people like me” all, most, or some of the time.

Of all the categories (principals, police officers, military leaders, religious leaders, local officials, journalists, members of Congress, and tech leaders), school principals scored highest on this measure.

Not really a lot to celebrate, but at least people still seem to have a high regard for the people who work in public schools. We can’t help but wish that the Pewsters had asked the same questions about public-school teachers. My hunch is that they would have a much better reputation than school principals, even.

Stop the Hostage Crisis in Campus Culture Wars

It can be difficult to know what to do on America’s college campuses. Recent cases from Baylor and Duke lead to some difficult questions: Do conservative Christian colleges have a right to discriminate against LGBTQ students? Do liberal schools have a right to discriminate against conservative Christian ones? In all these culture-war tiffs, one fact tends to get lost. Namely, students should not be the ones paying the price for culture-war hostilities.

Houston chronicle Rice LGBTQ

Even if we agree with them, should we be making students fight our battles?

First, a little background: At the recent Rice/Baylor football game, Rice’s band put on a gay-stravaganza to protest Baylor’s anti-LGBTQ student policies. Baylor had recently refused to recognize a campus LGBTQ student group.

Meanwhile, Duke’s student government voted to de-recognize Young Life, an evangelical Christian group. Why? Because Young Life will not allow LGBTQ students to be leaders or volunteers.

We can agree or disagree with the pro- or anti-LGBTQ policies at play. Me, I side with the LGBTQ students—I support efforts to eliminate anti-LGBTQ discrimination. But it’s not really as cut-and-dried a debate as some of my progressive friends seem to think. For example, I also think religious colleges should be free to set policies that accord with their religious views. And I think religious students should have maximum freedom to do the same, wherever they go to college.

While we try to figure out a way to square this circle—a way to allow religious students to express their religion without hurting the right of LGBTQ students to feel included and welcomed—why don’t we consider a tweak of our campus culture-war playbook? Consider a plea for something that should be obvious but seems to get lost in the shuffle?

Here it is: When colleges fight about these issues, why don’t we all agree to keep students out of the firing line? Why don’t we agree to give students maximum ability to experiment with different ideas and identities, instead of punishing them for advocating ideas that are near and dear to them?

Here’s what it could look like in practice: Instead of focusing on kicking off this student group or that student group, ALL student groups could be required to have a faculty advisor. The advisor could represent the student-group’s interests with the school administration. In principle, ALL student groups would be recognized, even if the school did not endorse their ideologies or theologies. It would take a lot to have a student-group de-recognized. The faculty senate—or whatever body represented faculty interests—would have to be agree that the group represented a harm to the university community, not just a disagreement with prevailing policy.

In this set-up, Duke’s student government could not simply vote out a Christian group it didn’t like. Baylor’s administration would be prodded to allow LGBTQ students to organize. It wouldn’t stop the arguments about student groups, but it would make it less likely for students to be penalized for caring about the world around them. It would turn faculty members and administrators into the ones doing the fighting and make it less likely for students to be directly embroiled in bruising culture-war battles.

It would encourage—not discourage—smart, engaged students to get together to make their school and world a better place. And isn’t that what college is supposed to do?

What Does Radical Creationism Look Like?

A reminder, if anyone needed one, that radical creationism does not always look like what you might think. This week Turkish arch-creationist Adnan Oktar is heading off to trial. For Americans who think creationists all look like Christian televangelists, the story is worth a look.

Unlike the American stereotype, Adnan Oktar’s brand of firebrand creationism is Islamic, not Christian. And unlike most of America’s radical-creationist leaders–except maybe Jerry Falwell Jr.–Oktar surrounded himself with roomsful of belly-dancing “kittens.”

Adnan Oktar–who wrote under the name Harun Yahya–was arrested last year on a list of charges ranging from sexual abuse of children to blackmail. If the name sounds familiar and you can’t quite remember why, it is probably because of Harun Yahya’s big creationist splash back in 2007.

harun yahya atlas of creation

Proof of creation! Also, bellydancing.

Back then, Harun Yahya sent unsolicited copies of his radical-creationist book Atlas of Creation to scientists and journalists worldwide. Religion and science agreed, according to Harun Yahya. Both had clearly “refuted the theory of evolution. . . . We never underwent evolution; we were created.”

What’s our takeaway? I have no idea if Adnan Oktar is guilty or innocent. I DO know that his expensive distribution of Islamic creationism didn’t seem to pay off. Most of all, this story serves as a reminder that radical creationism is not limited to northern Kentucky or the Texas state school board.