Will Liberty Get on the Ozark Train?

For those people who still think evangelicalism should primarily be defined by theological distinctions, consider the news: Yet another conservative evangelical college is considering dropping its Nike contract over the anthem-protest issue. How does theology explain that one?

falwell on nike

Football, America, and God too.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH will remember that the College of the Ozarks already announced its anti-Nike stance in the wake of Nike’s Colin-Kaepernick ad. They may also recall our point here at ILYBYGTH that such staunch knee-jerk conservative patriotism was not the exception, but the rule for evangelical universities in the twentieth century.

Some might say that COE’s uber-patriotism is just an odd outlier in the world of evangelical higher education. Today it looks like COE might have more company. According to President Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty University in Virginia is considering scrapping its sponsorship deal with Nike. Unlike College of the Ozarks, Liberty is a cash-rich up-and-comer in the world of NCAA athletics.

As Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell Jr. told USA Today:

We’re exploring the situation. . . . If Nike really does believe that law enforcement in this country is unfair and biased, I think we will look around. If we have a contract, we’ll honor it, but we strongly support law enforcement and strongly support our military and veterans who died to protect our freedoms and if the company really believes what Colin Kaepernick believes, it’s going to be hard for us to keep doing business with them.

But if it’s just a publicity stunt to bring attention to Nike or whatever, that’s different. We understand that. We understand how marketing works. But they’re going to have to convince us that they’re not proactively attacking law enforcement officers and our military. If that’s the reason behind using this ad, we’re going to have a hard time staying.

For many Americans, Falwell’s defiant conservative patriotism makes sense. For a lot of people, it’s probably even admirable. But how is it part of evangelical religion?

In short, it’s not, if we try to define evangelicalism only by theological notions such as a reverence for Scripture and an emphasis on soul-winning.

But! If we understand American evangelicalism—the Falwell/Liberty kind, at least—as a conservative cultural mish-mash, including conservative ideas about religion, but also about race, the South, gender rules, sexuality, and so on, then Falwell’s aggressive militarism fits perfectly.

Advertisements

An Exception? Or a Rule?

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

nike sock protest

Take that, anti-anthem mega-corp!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

american studies conference 1966 program

For God and Country…or Country and God…?

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

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

What Are Radical Creationists Afraid Of?

What are radical young-earth creationists afraid of? One pastor’s tale about coming out to his flock as a creationist who accepts evolution gives us a few clues. As always, it’s not actually evolutionary theory people loathe, but something else.

The Rev. Matt Herndon shared his experience recently at BioLogos. Like a lot of creationists who accept mainstream evolutionary science, Herndon began his adult life as a radical young-earth creationist. As he put it,

I had grown up a young-earth creationist, even defending the position in college and my early days as a church planter. Slowly, though, I grew dissatisfied with the scientific credibility of young-earth explanations. Also, it gradually became less and less obvious to me that Genesis was intended to be read as a scientific description of events in natural history. And the scientific evidence for evolution and an old earth grew steadily more compelling.

None of this really challenged my faith, which is not rooted in a certain interpretation of Genesis, but (among other things) in the historical resurrection of Jesus and my personal encounter with divine grace. In fact, opening myself up to the scientific consensus gave me a new pair of glasses through which to see the beauty and truth of Christian doctrine.

Before he came out as an “evolutionary creationist,” his church had been split, he explained, between young-earth creationists, evolutionary creationists like himself, and undecided creationists. He thought that meant he could safely reveal—as a staunch Christian and creationist—his new acceptance of evolutionary theory.

AIG foundations

For radicals, evolutionary theory itself isn’t the problem. It’s what they think evolution supports that troubles them…

He was wrong.

When he recommended a book supporting evolutionary creationism on Facebook, his church splintered. There was gossip, anger, hard feelings, and eventually a sizeable faction of young-earthers left the church. Why?

In Rev. Herndon’s opinion, the young-earthers left because they were afraid of what their church would become. They were afraid of what would happen to any church without a firm young-earth pastor. As Herndon explained,

To them, evolution isn’t one issue among many that Christians should deal with. It is THE issue that Christians must NOT “compromise” on. For a pastor to “compromise” on a literal reading of Genesis is, in their minds, not a disagreement. It’s a heresy.

In the end, it was not the science or theology that the young-earth radicals were afraid of. After all, they had long been members of a church that was divided between different types of creationism. But when the pastor came down on the moderate side, the radicals left. They didn’t stay to debate the science of radical creationism or mainstream evolutionary theory. They didn’t try to help Herndon see the theological problems inherent in his new ideas about evolution.

To radical young-earth creationism, mainstream evolutionary theory is mainly a problem for what it implies, not what it says. For generations now, radicals have told one another that mainstream evolutionary theory is a gateway drug, a slippery stepping stone to a devil’s brew of pernicious ideas and trends.

Back in the 1970s, for example, in the Kanawha County (WV) school controversy I’ve written about in my book about educational conservatism, one of the creationist protest leaders explained what he disliked about a new set of textbooks. The Rev. Avis Hill explained to an interviewer that there was not just one thing wrong with the books.

Yes, the books were bad, Hill explained. They were full of “that garbage, that trash, that four-letter words.” They encouraged students to “act out a street riot.” They encouraged the sorts of delinquency Hill deplored,

students drinking and . . . smoking their dope. . . . leaning against the wall with their feet on the wall dirtying and defacing the school with initials and names all over it.

Some of the people who liked the new books, Hill admitted, were Christians, but they were the sorts of Christians who were friendly to “gays and homosexuals . . . and being proabortion.”

When pressed, the Rev. Hill had a quick shorthand that he thought captured all these dire cultural trends. In the end, Hill explained, the problem with the new textbooks was that they were contaminated by “attitudes of evolution and all that.”

Avis Hill was far from the only radical creationist to bundle together a host of cultural issues under the vague but all-encompassing label of “evolution and all that.” National young-earth leaders such as Henry Morris and Ken Ham do the same.

In a recent edition of his book The Long War Against God, for instance, Henry Morris argued that evolutionary thinking was bad science, but more important, it had

Practically eliminated the semblance of Bible-based behavior from American life.

Evolutionary thinking, Morris insisted, could be blamed for increased rates of

premarital sex, adultery, divorce, and homosexuality. . . .Unrestrained pornography. . . . Prostitution, both male and female, is at an all-time high, as is its attendant criminal activity. . . . [and] this rapid change in abortionism from criminality to respectability. . . . [plus] the modern drug crisis (rock music, peer pressure, organized crime, etc.)

Morris is not the only radical creationist leader to make these connections. As Ken Ham is fond of arguing, evolutionary theory is the foundation on which all other social ills are built. Unless creationists take a radical, fundamentalist stance against moderate forms of creationism, Ham insists, their churches will be lost.

Taking a firm line against Rev. Herndon’s evolutionary creationism, then, was likely about cultural issues rather than about actual evolutionary science. The radicals who left were likely asking themselves the questions they had been asked since the 1960s: Do you oppose homosexuality? Do you oppose abortion? Are you against crime? Drugs? Rock music? If the answer is yes, radicals have heard for decades, you can’t remain in a church under moderate creationist leadership.

Of course, none of those questions is really about evolutionary science itself, but together they give radicals a clear line of defense. Remaining in a church under moderate creationist leadership, radicals often believe, means supporting abortion, homosexuality, pornography, and even organized crime. The only option is to get out before the inevitable moral decline.

What are radicals afraid of? Not evolutionary science itself. They are afraid of slipping into a temptingly reasonable cultural position. They are afraid of being too soft on abortion rights, homosexuality, rock music, and drug use. The radicals who left Herndon’s church did not mind praying with non-radical creationists. But when their pastor came down against radical creationism, they felt they had to get out fast. Accepting mainstream evolutionary science, for many radicals, is not really about evolution, but about opening the door to a slew of cultural trends they find abhorrent.

Why School Reform Flounders

How can we make something better if we can’t agree what something is? In The New Yorker, Jill Jepore offers a review essay that raises a key question: Is Education a Fundamental Right? It’s an important question, but it sidesteps an even more fundamental problem: What IS education in the first place? If we can’t agree on that—and we can’t—we won’t be able to make progress toward improving schools.

As brainy observers such as Larry Cuban and Peter Greene have reminded us recently, when we can’t agree on the fundamental goals of education, we won’t be able to formulate sensible plans to improve it.

Prof. Lepore offers an insightful review of Justin Driver’s The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind. Driver examines the key SCOTUS case of Plyler v. Doe, in which undocumented migrants sued for the right to send their kids to public schools.

The case raised difficult questions: Can education be considered a fundamental right? Do undocumented Americans have a right to send their kids to public schools, the way they have the right to fire protection if their house is ablaze?

As historians like Prof. Cuban have long pointed out, the question of whether or not education is a basic right needs to take its place in line with all the other fundamental questions about education. Is it a right? Is it a public utility? Is it a tool of class domination?

In every tough case, these multiple visions of the basic goals of education bump uncomfortably along together. Partisans of various political agendas and reform proposals usually insist on one or more definition of the fundamental purpose of education, even though they almost never notice that they are doing so.

The Plyler v. Doe case was no exception. As Prof. Lepore’s review demonstrates, leading voices in that case relied on different unexamined assumptions about the true nature of American education. Consider the following excerpts:

Education is a Right:

Prof. Lepore asks,

Is education a fundamental right? The Constitution, drafted in the summer of 1787, does not mention a right to education, but the Northwest Ordinance, passed by Congress that same summer, held that “religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” By 1868 the constitutions of twenty-eight of the thirty-two states in the Union had provided for free public education, open to all. Texas, in its 1869 constitution, provided for free public schooling for “all the inhabitants of this State,” a provision that was revised to exclude undocumented immigrants only in 1975.

Education is a Public Good:

During the Plyler hearings,

Witnesses presented testimony about economies: educating these children cost the state money, particularly because they needed special English-language instruction, but not educating these children would be costly, too, in the long term, when they became legal residents but, uneducated, would be able to contribute very little to the tax base.

Education is An American tradition:

As one lawyer in the Plyler case put it,

An educated populace is the basis of our democratic institutions. . . .  A denial of educational opportunities is repugnant to our notions that an informed and educated citizenry is necessary to our society.

Education is A vehicle for fixing social inequities:

In a related recent case, Lepore writes,

the Detroit plaintiffs . . . identified the absolute denial of education as a violation of the equal-protection clause, and ruled that no state can “deny a discrete group of innocent children the free public education that it offers to other children residing within its borders.” Dismissed by a district court in June, the case is now headed to the Sixth Circuit on appeal.

Education is An imposition on non-White/non-middle class children:

Lepore notes,

If the schoolhouse is a mini-state, it has also become, in many places, a military state.

Education is A public utility:

She records this interchange during the Plyler hearings:

Marshall: Could Texas deny them fire protection?

Hardy: Deny them fire protection?

Marshall: Yes, sir. F-i-r-e.

Hardy: Okay. If their home is on fire, their home is going to be protected with the local fire services just—

Marshall: Could Texas pass a law and say they cannot be protected?

Hardy: —I don’t believe so.

Marshall: Why not? If they could do this, why couldn’t they do that?

Hardy: Because . . . I am going to take the position that it is an entitlement of the . . . Justice Marshall, let me think a second. You . . . that is . . . I don’t know. That’s a tough question.

Marshall: Somebody’s house is more important than his child?

Who is correct? They all are. Education is a right, a public good, a public utility, a means for economic advancement, a tool of class domination . . . all at the same time.

With all these unrecognized assumptions about the basic nature of education, it is hardly surprising that improving education has remained such a chimera. Even regarding a SCOTUS case explicitly dedicated to figuring out if education is a right, lawyers, activists, and historians all appealed unreflectively to all the other fundamental goals of education as well. And, of course, there are many others we could add to the list. Depending on whom you ask and on the case at hand, the basic nature of American education can and has been defined as all of the following:

  • A private matter;
  • A religious affair;
  • A consumer product;
  • A national security imperative…
  • And many more.

Is education a fundamental right? Yes. Is it also all those other things? Also yes. Whenever Americans have a disagreement about the goals of education, they pull from this bubbling cauldron of conflicting and confusing fundamental goals to make their cases. And none of them are wrong.

In the end, they point to the reason why it is so difficult to fix schools. Not only is it difficult to tell what is broken; it is difficult even to find out what schools should do if they were fixed.

Where Are All the Books about This?

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

fight for local control

There ARE great books out there…

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

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

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

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

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

classroom wars

…but where are the REST of the great books?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Creationist Tourist Trap?

Charles Pierce called it “batshit crazy.” Other commentators might use more sedate language, but the basic message is the same: For most of us, the fixation on dinosaurs among the young-earth creationists at Answers In Genesis (AIG) is intensely puzzling. And now we have a new wrinkle: A hotel in Japan is bringing Ken Ham’s dinosaur dreams ever closer to fruition. Will YECs notice? Will they care?

dinosaurrobo

Just like old (pre-flood) times…?

To people like me, AIG’s insistence that dinosaurs and humans lived side-by-side is the most egregious and shocking example of their YEC anti-science obliviousness. Of course, if the earth is only about 6,000 years old, humans and dinosaurs would have had to have lived at the same time. But it is such an intensely counter-mainstream notion that you’d think AIG would be a little quiet about it.

dino at ark encounter

No need to go all the way to Japan. They’re all over Kentucky…

They’re not.

Visitors (like me) to the Ark Encounter are impressed right away by the many exhibits featuring domesticated dinosaurs. If I understand AIG’s thinking correctly, they make such a big deal about dinosaurs because they hope dinos can serve as “missionary lizards.” As AIGster Buddy Davis explained,

Dinosaurs and the truths that they share about God’s creation, man’s sin, death, the Flood, and the Ice Age can be used by Christian young people and adults to share the gospel with unbelievers. These missionary lizards uphold the authority of Scripture, and they can be powerful tools in sharing the salvation message, which should be the ultimate goal of every Christian.

As non-Christians hear the biblical explanation of dinosaurs, many have been, and will be, challenged to listen to the rest of what the Bible states. We rejoice that many have been won to the Lord using the true history of these missionary lizards.

I can’t imagine that any secular folks or non-Christian religious people really have been converted to YEC by these missionary lizards. I can’t help but wonder, though, what Ken Ham and his AIG colleagues will make of this dino hotel:

The front desk staff are a pair of that look like cast members of the Jurassic Park movies, except for the tiny bellboy hats perched on their heads.

The robo-dinos process check-ins through a tablet system that also allows customers to choose which language—Japanese, English, Chinese or Korean—they want to use to communicate with the multilingual robots.

The effect is bizarre, with the large dinosaurs gesticulating with their long arms and issuing tinny set phrases. Yukio Nagai, manager at the Henn na Hotel Maihama Tokyo Bay, admits some customers find it slightly unnerving.

This might be a stretch, but is it possible that the hotel might become a YEC tourist attraction? That YECs might flock to the hotel to see what it must have been like to cavort with dinosaurs before the flood?

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

School’s back in session, so here are a few education-related gems from around the interwebs from the past week:

An old (2017) essay proving an old universe. HT: JM.

So, could God not have created the world 6000 years ago and just made it look like it was very old? Personally, I believe he could have, had he wanted to, but does that idea fit the traditional Christian view of the character of God?. . .

In a world where cause and consequences are arbitrary, no evil can be committed and in a world without knowledge no evil can be understood. A universe that pretends to have been evolving and to have continually grown in size, but instead was made in discrete unrelated steps, would be such a world where cause and consequence are not to be trusted anymore.

The issue of education tipping midterm congressional races, at RCE.

The Left eats its own poets, at IHE.

silent sam podium

Even more silent now…

Why not pull down racist statues? At AG.

History is . . . not kind to statue smashers.

Uh oh: A majority of young religious people prefer to worship with people who share their politics, at CT.

How do state standards look after the Common Core dust has settled? Common-Core-loving Fordham reviews the current state of affairs.

Is there a “college cartel?” NR says yes, and it’s weakening.

Peter Greene: What school privatizers are really after.

Modern venture philanthropy doesn’t have nearly as much to do with profiteering as it does with buying influence and compliance.

The country-club set comes out as “solidly secular,” at FA.

The Even-Less-Sexy Truth about this Sexy Scandal

Sometimes the devil doesn’t wear Prada. Sometimes she wears clunky oversized glasses and ostentatiously kitschy t-shirts. At least, that’s the lesson I’m getting from the sad stories oozing out of New York University’s latest scandal. What I don’t understand is why so many academic commentators think the situation is somehow unique to elite academic life. To this reporter, it seems that condemnations of grad studies as “cultish subjection” seem to sidestep the most important point.

Here are the basics: NYU’s comparative literature department is roiled by accusations and counter-accusations in the case of Professor Avital Ronell. Ronell is accused by former graduate student Nimrod Reitman of harassment and abuse. The accusation is littered with kooky emails [here are some examples] and trainwreck-level details about their relationship.

Adding even more complication, several top scholars have come to Prof. Ronell’s defense, claiming special status as feminists.

avital ronell

…you are under my commaaaand…

Former students of Ronell’s have gone public with their additional accusations. According to former student Andrea Long Chu, Ronell really was a mercurial, dictatorial, needy oddball. She insisted her grad students relish their status of “cultish subjection.”

Is this a story a condemnation of elite academic culture? As Corey Robin has argued, is this about more than sex, more than feminism? Professor Robin has argued the case was really about

the question of power. This is a grad student trying to make his way in an institution where everything depends on the good (or bad) word of his adviser.

To my mind, that sounds true enough, but I don’t see how this problematic relationship is unique to academic life. It seems to me that anytime employees are dependent on their boss’s good opinion, exceptions like this will pop up.

I don’t see how this sad scandal tells us anything that we didn’t already know. Namely, in any job in which the employee is willing to do anything to get ahead, some exceptional bosses will take cruel advantage.

Does This Help?

We all know it doesn’t help much to know someone’s religion. That is, just knowing that someone is Catholic, or Jewish, or Muslim, or Protestant doesn’t really tell us much about them. We want to know what KIND of Protestant someone is, what KIND of religious person. The folks at Pew have taken a stab at a new way of grouping religious people. Instead of denominations, sects, or faiths, Pew offers new “typologies.” Do they help you understand American religious and culture better? And do they confirm Professor Hunter’s twenty-five-(plus!)-year-old prediction?Pew typologies

Here’s what we know: The typologies cluster Americans into three categories and seven groups. Some people are “highly” religious, others are “somewhat” religious, and the rest are “non-religious.” The highly religious folks are subdivided into “Sunday Stalwarts,” “God-and-Country,” and “Diversely Devout.” The somewhats are broken down into “Relaxed Religious” and “Spiritually Awake.” The non-religious are cut up into “Religion Resisters” and the “Solidly Secular.”

In some ways, these categories point out surprising facts. For example, as Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta pointed out, the Solidly Secular are surprisingly similar to the stereotype of the GOP: Richer, whiter, and maler than the American average.

In other cases, the categories seem to confirm culture-war stereotypes. As the report notes,

Although no political measures were used to create the typology, arraying the groups from most to least religious also effectively sorts Americans by party identification and political ideology. Republicans make up a majority of Sunday Stalwarts and God-and-Country Believers, while even larger majorities of Democrats comprise the two nonreligious groups. Similarly, self-described conservatives prevail among the two most religious groups, while, by comparison, the two nonreligious groups lean left.

Certainly, when we look at the three “highly” religious typologies, they seem to tilt hard to the cultural right. For example, they are more likely than average to think homosexuality is morally wrong. They are more likely to be leery of immigrants. And the Sunday Stalwarts and God-and-Country folks are more likely to think racial inequalities are a thing of the past.Pew typologies 3 very religious

To my mind, these typologies are much more useful than traditional labels such as “evangelical.” Lots of self-identified evangelicals, for example, cluster in the Sunday Stalwart, God-and-Country, and Diversely Devout types. But there are also plenty of evangelicals who are more “relaxed” about their faiths.

In part, these types seem to confirm what sociologist James Davison Hunter predicted back in the early 1990s. His claim at the time was that traditional religious labels would become less and less important. It would matter less and less, Professor Hunter argued, if someone was Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or Muslim. Instead, people would tend to cluster around the culture-war poles, either “orthodox” or “progressive.”

Does it work for you? Do you feel these types are more useful than traditional labels to understand religious and cultural life in America? Do you fit into one of these typologies, or do they seem too simplistic?

Teachers as Culture Warriors? …Really?

Have you hung out with a schoolteacher lately? In general, we are a pretty mild-mannered set. Sure, there’s the occasional Thursday-night margarita/gripefest, but by and large the teachers I know are mostly interested in doing their jobs well and eventually paying off their student loans. So why, oh why, have teachers always been at the forefront of our educational culture wars? For at least a century, teachers have been the darlings of the Left and the demons of the Right.

Gillum

Love em…

We see it again in the recent surprise victory of Andrew Gillum in Florida. The mayor of Tallahassee, Gillum was far from the front runner in the state’s democratic primary for governor. How did he score the surprise win? For one thing, Gillum has promised to boost pay for Florida’s teachers. As Gillum told his story,

We didn’t have much money, but my parents and grandmother made sure we took our education seriously. I was blessed to have great public school teachers who poured their energy, time and love into me.

Without them I wouldn’t be running for Governor today — and next year as Governor, we’re going to give all of our teachers and support staff the raise they deserve. From setting a statewide floor for new teachers’ salaries of $50,000, to bringing every public school instructional teacher up to the national salary average of $58,000, and making sure veteran teachers are compensated for their years of service, it’s time our teachers get paid appropriately for doing some of the important work in our society.

Right now, they’re woefully underpaid, and many are struggling to provide for themselves.

For Mayor Gillum and other lefties these days, public-school teachers represent all that is good and hopeful in American politics. By maintaining strong unions (maybe) and striking for better conditions, teachers have come to serve—for some—as a symbol of socialist promise.

For once, conservative pundits agree. Unlike Gillum, conservatives hate it, but they agree that teachers are a powerful force for the Left. As one conservative writer described, teachers are

spending time promoting a left-wing agenda and bullying conservative students rather than teaching the subjects they are paid to teach.

It was ever thus. As I argued in my book about the history of conservative educational activism, I looked at culture-war thinking about teachers throughout the twentieth century. In every decade, in every school controversy, teachers were beloved by progressives and despised by conservatives. The assumptions were usually the same—wild-eyed leftist teachers were trying to warp their students’ minds, to get kids to embrace the latest versions of amorality and socialism.

Zoll, Progressive Education Increases Delinquency

… or hate em, both sides agree that teachers are progressive culture warriors.

For example, in 1935 US Communist Party leader Earl Browder took to the pages of Social Frontier journal to encourage teachers to fulfill their potential, to serve as a “special sector of a common battle-front” for progressive ideals. In the same era, right-wing education pundit Allen Zoll condemned precisely the same goal for teachers. Too many teachers, Zoll denounced, only wanted to promote the “inculcation of currently popular herd ideas on a mass basis.” The ultimate goal of teachers, Zoll believed, was to produce

a tragically misshapen generation . . . without the ability to think for themselves, filled only with the desired herd ideas—fit only to be citizens of the authoritarian state?

Both Zoll and Browder were extremists, but they shared this vision of the power, promise, and plausibility of large numbers of teachers who see their main goal as promoting leftist politics.

And, of course, the stereotype sometimes fits. I know teachers who see their primary mission as political. Some teachers hope to push their students toward a leftist viewpoint. But most teachers are mainly trying to help students do as much as well as students can.

So here are my questions this morning:

  • Do many teachers really fit the culture-warrior stereotype?
  • If not, why are those stereotypes so powerful and so enduring?