I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Summer’s here and the culture wars are bloomin. Here are some of the top stories from the interwebs this week. Thanks to everyone who sent in tips.

White supremacists keep leafleting college campuses, at IHE.

What’s going on in Indianapolis’s Catholic schools?

Was Anita Bryant really the first Christian martyr to LGBTQ rights in the 1970s? Not really, at WaPo.anita bryant protest

The latest from Taylor University: President suddenly retires, at CT.

Working at Liberty University…not so great, from WT.

Liberty University as a whole was as shifty, dishonorable, unprincipled, and hypocritical a work environment as could be offered.


I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Just because I’ve been stuck in the 1810s all week doesn’t mean you have to be. Here are some of the top ILYBYGTH-themed news stories from 2019 for ya:

NPR podcast on the history of evangelicals and politics.

Yes: Schools can’t FIX America, schools ARE America. At The Atlantic.

Where are all these school-Bible bills coming from? Mark Chancey digs into the “Project Blitz” playbook. At TBaI.

How do parents feel about the creepy no-excuses style of discipline? At EdWeek.

The Black and Latino parents we interviewed in a no-excuses middle school valued discipline, but viewed it as more than rule following. They wanted demanding academic expectations alongside a caring and structured environment that would help their children develop the self-discipline to make good choices.

Student protests get expensive: Oberlin ordered to pay $11 million for libeling local bakery as “racist,” at IHE.

  • Will the punishment make cautious university presidents re-think their support for student activism? Here at ILYBYGTH.oberlin protest real

I’ve been deep in the 1800s all week. What have you missed from the archives?

InkedAnti Vaxxers had no rights_LIOuch. So this principal totally copied his graduation speech from—you guessed it—Ashton Kutcher.

Teaching evolution without alienating creationists, at TC. HT: AP.

It is not the role of educators to forcefully convert doubters into accepting evolution, but to build an inclusive classroom that encourages those less comfortable with the concept to willingly engage with it. What is important is that all students can explore and understand the theory in a context that doesn’t force them to choose between science and their religious beliefs.

No big surprise: Cutting funding hurts students, at The Economist.economist test scores smaller

Why CTE Makes Historians Nervous

It sounds like a good idea, especially when it is presented in a convincing manner. As Oren Cass recently argued in the conservative City Journal, Career & Technical Education deserves a better rap (and better funding) than it usually gets. Yet this morning I’m going to explain why historians like me get nervous whenever people bring it up.

Cass lays out the glaring disparities. At both the K-12 and university levels, American education is geared toward supporting college students. Educational opportunity for students who might want to pursue job-related training is criminally paltry. As Cass explains,

States spend $70 billion annually on their university systems and offer another $10 billion in grants to cover remaining tuition obligations that otherwise fall to students. The federal government chips in $28 billion in Pell grants, plus $26 billion in tax breaks and $19 billion in loan subsidies. None of those funds or programs is available to students if they choose a vocational track. Congress’s 2017 appropriation for CTE was $1.2 billion.

I’m on board with Cass up to this point. Non-college-track programs deserve just as much attention and financing as do college-track ones. Students and families who want to learn hands-on trades should be supported institutionally and financially. Definitely.

But here’s the rub. As even Cass acknowledges, non-academic school programs have historically turned into low-rigor dumping grounds for less-affluent, less-white students. And that’s why educational historians get our dander up when we hear wonks celebrating the glories of vocational training.

anderson 1

…not all that “technical” after all.

For example, all of us have read James Anderson’s Education of Blacks in the South. As Anderson makes clear, white philanthropists ruthlessly pushed vocational training on African-American students and their educational institutions. Time and time again, these were go-nowhere programs meant to teach students to be docile, low-level workers in low-paying, low-prestige manual jobs.

We’ve also all read Herbert Kliebard’s Schooled to Work. As Kliebard found in his study of (mostly) Milwaukee vocational programs, in spite of the best intentions, students were treated mainly as “raw materials” for industrial needs, not as people and citizens deserving maximum educational opportunity. It has always been a mixed bag, of course, but as Kliebard found, non-college-track programs too often veered from their goal of helping students achieve their maximum potentials.

Kliebard schooled to workAnd, as I’m finding in my current research, as long as there have been public schools there have been attempts to squeeze low-income students into “apprenticeships” that only serve the needs of the school administrators. As I argued yesterday in a piece at History News Network, the first administrators of New York’s fledgling public-school system considered a plan to force their young students to serve without pay as “apprentice” teachers.

As the voluminous records of the Free School Society make clear, in the late 1810s administrators pondered a plan to turn their youngest student/teachers into free labor. Yes, they called it an “apprenticeship” program, but they only wanted the students to work for free. They never thought of their program as a way to maximize the career chances of their students.

So for those families who are looking for high-quality career and technical education, I’m with you. I support your fight to secure better funding and better resources for programs that you freely choose after being offered all the choices the rich kids get. 100%.

But we can’t ignore the warning from the archives: Whenever schools have turned to vocational training, it has devolved (or begun) as a program to keep low-income students stuck in the lowest-income rungs of the economic ladder.

The Wrong Way to Attack Creationism

Okay, okay, I know it’s a joke. I know we’re not supposed to take it seriously. But if we want less creationism in our public schools—and we all should, even if we are creationists—this kind of snark only makes things worse.

Here’s what we’re talking about: On Bored Teachers, one episode depicts a parent-teacher meeting from creationist hell.

In this cartoonish portrayal of radical creationism, the dad leaps to the attack, warning the teacher about spreading “blasphemy in the classroom” such as the Big Bang theory. When the teacher asks if the parents know it’s not a religious school, the creationist dad smugly replies, “not yet.”

When the teacher notes what “scientists say” about mice, the dad gives her the Baptist stink-eye. The only reason the creationist dad can give for the teacher’s disagreement is that she is “obviously possessed.” And when she growls at him, he’s scared. Not only that, but the creationist wife secretly doesn’t like the creationist husband either. She’s trying to get a divorce.

So what? Why does this joke hurt our chances in real life of reducing creationism in public schools?

Here’s my two cents: I’m a secular teacher fighting for wholly inclusive public schools. There shouldn’t be a religiously inspired science curriculum. Moreover, religious activists should never be able to push their ideas of right and wrong into classrooms.

In spite of all that, I’m opposed to this sort of goof on creationism. Caricatures like this of ignorant, bitter, anti-science creationists are totally misleading. If this is what we tell ourselves about our creationist friends and colleagues, no wonder we can’t make much progress in our creation/evolution debates.

What should we do instead? Talk with real creationists instead of only mocking them. Talk about our shared interest in science instead of using “science” as a weapon with which to deride them. Read the work of the creationists—the vast majority of creationists—who don’t have any problem with evolutionary science or the idea of deep time.

I know that this skit is not supposed to be taken as a serious policy proposal. I get that. But the attitudes about American creationism embedded in this sort of skit are not just silly, they can have serious negative consequences.

How to Lose: Conservatives’ Campus Persecution Complex

What do people usually do when they win? They celebrate. Just ask Virginia. So why is this conservative campus group turning its victory into a loss? And why is this conservative strategy a long-term losing bet?

Here’s what we know: You might think Turning Point USA would be cutting down nets and passing out collectible hats to celebrate its victory. After all, when the student government at Texas State voted to ban TPUSA, the university instead declared its support for the organization. As the Dean of Students wrote in a press release,

While Student Government exercised its right to act on a resolution put forth on April 1 to bar a recognized student organization from Texas State campuses, established University policy states that student organizations can only be barred if they are under disciplinary sanctions. . . .  the organization will not be barred from Texas State campuses. Texas State supports the constitutional rights of all of our students, faculty, staff and visitors.

From the noise coming out of TPUSA, though, you wouldn’t think they had been vindicated. As TPUSA front man Charlie Kirk lamented,

Last night @txst officially voted to BAN our @TPUSA chapter which advocates for free markets and free speech. The intolerant left can‘t tolerate the idea there are other ideas.  This is exactly why @realDonaldTrump signed free speech executive order. Pull their funding!

What gives? Why would a conservative student group call a victory a loss?

To this reporter, it looks like another example of a self-defeating conservative campus strategy. By turning themselves into “punchbait,” campus conservatives can generate more attention than they could ever hope to get merely by discussing issues.

charlie kirk texas state

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory…

In the long run, though, these strategies will be counterproductive. If conservative activists hope to turn campuses into more welcoming environments for an ideologically diverse array of ideas—including conservative ideas—they will be wiser to follow a different path.

Instead of proclaiming themselves hapless victims, conservative intellectuals should double down on their intellectual and academic superiority. The Charlie Kirks of the world will come and go, but academic heavyweights such as Robert P. George of Princeton and Patrick Deneen of Notre Dame will prove to be far more influential in the long run.

So what should TPUSA do? Instead of lamenting its victimhood, it should celebrate its status as a legitimate academic enterprise. It should tell young conservatives that they should never feel victimized on campuses, but rather that they own it. They should make sure every conversation includes Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek, instead of Donald Trump and Charlie Kirk.

When Jesus Is your Fairy Godmother

We’ll know more later today, but so far Liberty’s men’s basketball team has already paid off one of the most remarkable gambles in American higher education.liberty ncaa 2019

SAGLRROILYBYGTH know the story: Back in the 1970s, as I detail in Fundamentalist U, Moral Majoritarian Jerry Falwell dreamed of elbowing his way into elite higher-ed circles. Back then, it didn’t seem at all likely.  In the 1970s, the school that became Liberty University had a squalid little campus, overcrowded classrooms, and no money to pay its faculty.

About twenty years ago, though, second-generation leader Jerry Falwell Jr. won the higher-ed lottery by continuing the long evangelical tradition of non-traditional distance education. Turns out online education was an incredibly lucrative business at the time, and Falwell Jr. plowed his billions into fulfilling his father’s dream.

Falwell invested in traditional markers of prestige in higher-education, including high-performing sports teams. As we’ve seen, they’ve scored big successes in football and now they are poised to be this year’s Cinderella story in the NCAA men’s basketball tourney. Later today, they’ll take on Virginia Tech, having clambered over #5 Mississippi State.

Whatever happens in today’s game, having Liberty teams considered part of the usual landscape of elite college sports already signals a huge win in the Falwells’ long-term strategy. As have other groups before them such as Catholics at Notre Dame and LDS at Brigham Young, Falwell Jr. hopes that Liberty can sport its way into the roster of high-end American universities.

How Do We Know It Won’t Work? Well, Madame Secretary…

Normal people might have trouble staying awake for it. But when politicians start talking about tax-credit scholarships the way Queen Betsy did recently, historians get antsy. I uncovered even more evidence on my recent NSB that today’s tax-credit schemes revive the worst parts of pre-public schooling.

misc files

How I spent my Spring Break…

A little background to start with: Queen Betsy recently proposed five billion dollars to support tax-credit scholarships. What does that mean? Wealthy people could give their money to non-profit organizations that support the private schools of their choice, then receive (sometimes) a dollar-for-dollar tax credit. In short, it would allow some people—people who have enough money to care about tax breaks—to direct their tax money toward private schools instead of the public-school tax fund. [For more on the financial ins and outs of the program, check out this Have You Heard episode.]

With help from the archivists at the New-York Historical Society, I was able to spend the last week digging through the records of New York’s Free School Society. This was a group of well-to-do New Yorkers dedicated, as they pledged in 1818, to providing schools for poor children in the city,

poor and suffering children, who must progress from the cradle to maturity with no Schools but those of profligacy and guilt, unless the hand of Charity be extended to reclaim their steps.

What do they have to do with QB’s tax-credit scheme? Everything. At first, the society thought it could cobble together a mix of funding, a mish mash of “the donations and Legacies of charitable Individuals, the bounty of the Corporation [i.e. city government] and the munificence of the Legislature.”

It didn’t work. At the beginning of 1819, the FSS found itself in a life-or-death financial crisis, running a deficit of $11,465, with only $2,235 in their treasury. What to do? They asked the state legislature in Albany for a grant of $10,165. In their application, the FSS warned the legislators that without this money, without the “hand of Charity,” their city would soon fall prey to “the vices and crimes of European Cities.” The money was meant for the public good, the FSS explained, to continue

early education and early habits, the fundamental springs of action and character in all communities, as the protecting resort if we would perpetuate our Civil Institutions and our Religious privileges.

The tight-fisted legislators weren’t convinced. They grudgingly offered only $5,000, so the FSS had to cut teacher salaries and student prizes. It had to—guess what—increase class sizes and abolish frills such as food and clothing for the destitute students.

Subscription book for school 3 1818

How it worked before public funding: A subscription book from 1818, in which well-heeled New Yorkers offered poor kids a little help…

In response, the FSS came up with a radical idea. In 1822, they floated a new kind of funding idea past the mayor. What if everyone in New York—130,000 people at the time, according to the FSS—chipped in a little bit through taxes to help pay for these schools? It wouldn’t cost much. The FSS needed its additional $5,000, and they calculated that each New Yorker could pay an additional four cents in annual taxes to cover the deficit.

Their plan didn’t go anywhere at the time, but it stands as a stark lesson for the likes of Queen Betsy and her privatizing brigade. The United States has already tried mixing public and private funding for our public schools and we learned our lessons the hard way: It doesn’t work.

…too soon?

In the I-showed-up-late-to-this-party department, I’m just now reading today’s depressing expose of rich families cheating and bribing their way into elite college admissions. As Inside Higher Ed reports, fancy schools such as Yale, Stanford, and Georgetown have been charged with an array of admissions improprieties.

I’m saddened and embarrassed to read these reports, but I gotta ask: Is anyone really surprised that rich people buy their way into elite colleges? Have those people really never seen Thornton Melon’s work?

I’m takin the rest of the night off…

Friends, I’m tickled pink to report that Fundamentalist U has received some great new reviews in top journals by some of my academic heroes. I leaned on both their books as I was working on mine, so it is a real honor to have them say some nice things.

The first is in American Historical Review, by Professor Matthew Avery Sutton. SAGLRROILYBGTH will know Prof. Sutton as the author of American Apocalypse, among other books. Sutton is one of today’s leading experts on the history of American evangelicalism, so it was with some trepidation that I opened his review.

What did he think? He called Fundamentalist U

an engaging, well-researched study of an important, understudied, and underappreciated aspect of American culture and life. The schools that he analyzes have produced generation after generation of students who have had a major impact on American society and politics. . . . Fundamentalist U is an excellent book.

The next review came in the other big journal for US historians, the Journal of American History. The reviewer was none other than Prof. Andrew Jewett, whose book Science, Democracy, and the American University has been a leading guide for my work lately. What did Prof. Jewett have to say about the book?

Fundamentalist U is a superb book and a significant contribution to the histories of U.S. religion and politics as well as higher education.

Woo. Hard to top that, so I think I’ll call it a night. Maybe look up some more gifs.

Fire Sale!

Hurry, hurry, hurry…these prices can’t last. Because I’m pathetic, I was looking at the Amazon page for Fundamentalist U just now, and I noticed for some inscrutable logarithmic reason the price is down to just over ten bucks.FU cheap

If you ever wanted a copy, now’s a great time to get your hands on one!