Gay Trump Card

Okay, folks, here’s another head-scratcher from the world of America’s educational culture wars. SAGLROILYBYGTH have probably already seen the latest expose of James Manning’s ATLAH school. So here’s the puzzle for this morning: In spite of long efforts on the Left to combat racism, is it really only on the fundamentalist Right that the war on racism has been won? Where white and black fundamentalists agree on the meanings of race and racism? I don’t know what to think.

manning atlah

Westboro, NYC.

First, a little background: If you haven’t seen the HuffPost expose, it’s worth your time. Pastor James Manning has attracted attention in the past for his fervent and ferocious anti-LBGTQ views. He made wild accusations that Starbucks was infusing lattes with semen. His church sign went into full Westboro mode at times, proclaiming “Jesus would stone homos” and “Obama is a Muslim. Muslims hate fags. They throw fags off buildings.”

Now Manning is facing accusations of abuse of his students and congregants. According to the HuffPost article, Manning locked a student in a dark basement, used sexually suggestive language with minors, and clamped down viciously on any murmur of dissent in his school and congregation.

The recent expose leaves lots of big questions unexamined. Most telling, the racial ideology/theology of Pastor Manning throws a monkey wrench into any simple culture-war divisions. For instance, according to HuffPost, his school uses both A Beka and Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) materials. ACE, at least, has been credibly outed as a congenitally racist and white supremacist outfit.


What do white fundamentalist think about race and racism?

One might think that Manning simply didn’t care about the entrenched racist attitudes in the ACE materials because he was looking for fundamentalist schoolbooks and couldn’t find any that weren’t racist.


In other publications, though, Pastor Manning has insisted on some non-conventional racial attitudes. He furiously attacked President Obama. And in the clip below, he insists,

Not only am I not an African American, but I’m not a black man.

[Warning: Video below contains extremely offensive racial language.]

I don’t want to jump to too many conclusions, but I can’t help but wonder if Manning’s outside-the-box racial ideology makes him generally comfortable with the racial ideology of the Accelerated Christian Education materials. After all, fundamentalist curricular materials talk about more than just race.

When it comes to student learning and behavior, for example, Manning’s school touts its “memory/articulation/discipline” approach. It is a traditional approach that comports nicely with the classroom ideology of A Beka Book. As one of A Beka’s promoters promised, A Beka materials do more than just teach facts. At an A Beka school, one leader promised,

You learn the Bible.

You learn that God created.

You learn the worth of your soul.

You master the three R’s and other subjects.

You sit up straight and pay attention.

You learn that it is right not to cheat.

You learn to recite when called upon.

You learn honor and respect for your parents.
You learn respect for authority.

You learn that a man’s word is his bond.

You learn that a job worth doing is worth doing well.

You learn personal initiative.

You develop pride in America.

You learn that the free enterprise system is still the best system.

You learn that competition is healthy.

The goal of a school like this, according to A. A. “Buzz” Baker, is not only to teach a few fundamental religious truths. Rather, a good fundamentalist school will bundle those religious facts into a deeply conservative view of life and learning.

To this reader, Manning’s radically traditionalist, violently anti-LGBTQ school fits perfectly into this fundamentalist educational attitude. At first, we might think that the rest of the fundamentalist package—anti-gay, pro-discipline, pro-memorization, pro-Bible—allows African-American conservatives to overlook the racist component of fundamentalist textbooks.

I think the truth is more complicated than that. In the case of ATLAH schools, at least, the racial ideology/theology of white fundamentalism has leaped over the color line. In this one case, at least, both white and black fundamentalists embrace similar notions of race in these United States. I don’t think those notions are healthy, but like violent anti-LBGTQ rhetoric, they seem to have been taken to heart in some surprising quarters.


What Vouchers Can Do: Florida Tax-Funded Fundamentalism

I guess we shouldn’t really call it an “exposé” because it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t expect. Still, it can be eye-opening to see the sorts of things voucher programs can do. This week, the Orlando Sentinel explores the content of fundamentalist textbooks used at area private schools. The story prompts us to ask a tough question about voucher programs: Is it fair to limit voucher programs only to religions we like?

ACE florida 1

Should taxes pay for these textbooks?

As I’ve argued in a couple of academic articles, the history of fundamentalist textbook publishing is key to understanding both the “Christian-school” movement and the subsequent evangelical homeschooling exodus.

Without the work of school publishers such as A Beka Book, Accelerated Christian Education, and Bob Jones University Press, I believe, conservative evangelicals in the 1970s and 1980s would not have been able to open so many small private schools. And without pre-made curricular materials, evangelicals would not have been able to leave school by their millions in the 1990s to homeschool.

Plus, no one should think that these fundamentalist textbooks are static or monolithic. As I explored in a chapter in AJ Angulo’s terrific book Miseducation, ACE, A Beka, and Bob Jones are all very different from one another, and all have radically changed their treatment of topics such as US History.

It’s not just me: Dr. Jonny Scaramanga has devoted his early academic career to exploring the curriculum to which he was subjected as a youth. Dr. Scaramanga argues that Accelerated Christian Education never escaped its racist, homophobic origins, despite some surface changes and lip service to liberalization.

As the Orlando Sentinel explains, voucher programs in Florida are sending tax dollars to schools that use textbooks by the “big three” fundamentalist school publishers. As the investigators discovered, the textbooks are full of creationism, ethnocentrism, and historical denialism. As OS puts it,

[Investigators] found numerous instances of distorted history and science lessons that are outside mainstream academics. The books denounce evolution as untrue, for example, and one shows a cartoon of men and dinosaurs together, telling students the Biblical Noah likely brought baby dinosaurs onto his ark. The science books, they added, seem to discourage students from doing experiments or even asking questions. . . .

The social studies books downplay the horrors of slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans, they said. One book, in its brief section on the civil rights movement, said that “most black and white southerners had long lived together in harmony” and that “power-hungry individuals stirred up the people.”

We have to ask: Is this sort of thing okay for a tax-funded school? After all, there is nothing in this story that should come as a surprise. If we want to allow voucher programs that send tax money to private schools, we should expect some of those dollars to pay for curricula we disagree with. Is that okay?

ace florida 2

Hard-hitting curriculum for Florida’s third-graders. This sample comes from an Accelerated Christian Education reader.

Or, to put it in nerdier terms: How should policy-makers decide if religious schools qualify to participate in tax-funded programs? It can’t be simply on the basis of our own personal religious views. For example, I believe the ACE, BJU, and Abeka textbooks are terrible and I would never want my kid to use them in school. But my personal preferences can’t suffice to dictate policy. How can we decide which religious schools qualify for tax-funded voucher programs?

One option would simply be to make ALL religious schools off-limits for voucher-funded students. In some cases, though, that would seem to keep deserving kids from getting a higher-quality education than their local public schools can provide.

Another option would be to rule out schools that limit their students’ life chances. As one of the OS investigators argued, for example, using these creationist textbooks would hurt students. As the article explains,

“Students who have learned science in this kind of environment are not prepared for college experiences,” said Cynthia Bayer, a biology lecturer at the University of Central Florida who reviewed the science books. “They would be intellectually disadvantaged.”

But WOULD they? Anyone who knows the real story of American higher education knows that creationist students have plenty of creationist colleges they can attend. Is it fair to say that students can’t study creationist books because they don’t agree with mainstream science? Isn’t that the whole point of private schools in the first place?

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m firmly against using tax dollars to fund private religious schools. I think we should nix ALL religious schools from that sort of public funding. But we can’t do it only for some religious schools and not for others, based on the fact that we don’t like some of the religions. And we should not be surprised to find out that voucher programs are doing precisely what they were designed to do: Fund religious schools.

If You Don’t Teach about It, Will It Go Away?

Nothing is touchier than teaching young kids about sex. A new bill in South Dakota’s state senate illustrates the painfully deep culture-war divide we face on this topic. Progressives like me think teaching young kids about sexual identity and gender identity can save lives and create a more equitable society. Some conservatives think it warps minds and turns children into homosexuals or transgender people. But just like evolution and US history, the real divide isn’t over what to teach, it’s over how to teach it. The real issue, as always, is not sex or evolution or history, but TRUST.

Here’s what we know: A bill in the South Dakota senate would simply prohibit schools from teaching elementary students about transgender identity. It’s brief:

No instruction in gender identity or gender expression may be provided to any student in kindergarten through grade seven in any public school in the state.

This is the first bill of this sort, but it joins a group of similar bills about teaching sexual identity. As the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports, those laws, sometimes called the “no-promo-homo” laws, are in effect in Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas. They prohibit teaching positive messages about homosexuality to young students.

And, as SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, it’s the “positive” part of the subject that is the trickiest. As we’ve seen in these pages time and again, conservatives mobilize to block certain books and ideas that hope to teach children that homosexuality is perfectly natural and wholesome.

PACE 1107

Image from PACE 1107.

But it’s not the case that conservatives don’t want their children to learn about homosexuality. In fact, even the most ardent fundamentalists teach their children about sexual identity and gender identity. The staunchly conservative Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, for example, includes a lot of information about homosexuality. For example, children will read the following:

Some people mistakenly believe that an individual is born a homosexual and his attraction to those of the same sex is normal. Because extensive tests have shown that there is no biological difference between homosexuals and others, these tests seem to prove that homosexuality is a learned behavior. The Bible teaches that homosexuality is sin. In Old Testament times, God commanded that homosexuals be put to death. Since God never commanded death for normal or acceptable actions, it is as unreasonable to say that homosexuality is normal as it is to say that murder or stealing is normal.

Now, this is a fairly extreme attitude toward homosexuality; most conservatives wouldn’t want their children learning this sort of idea either. Accelerated Christian Education is only popular among a certain subset of religious conservatives. However, when even those most anti-gay-rights conservatives teach their children explicitly about homosexuality, we see that the problem isn’t the topic, but the approach.

The problem, I think, for many conservative activists is a deep and abiding mistrust of how schools will teach young children about these issues. Conservatives (not all, but it gets repetitive to keep writing “some,” so I’ll shorten it from here on out to “conservatives”) worry that schools will indoctrinate young children with pro-gay, pro-trans messages.

To be fair, those fears are well-founded. Most educational programs that I’ve seen really do hope to foster a sense that homosexuality and transgender are healthy ways to be a person. To cite just one example from my adopted home state of Wisconsin, activists staged a reading of the controversial book I Am Jazz in order to help trans students feel “safe and accepted.”

Indeed, the intention of such books and curricula is precisely to help young people see sexual identity and gender identity in a non-traditional light; the goal is to help everyone accept non-traditional gender identities and sexual identities as healthy and normal. The kind of gender-identity education I support doesn’t just teach students neutral facts about gender. It really does hope to help young children see sexuality and gender identities as variable.

i am jazz

What should children learn about gender identity?

And, to be double fair, if the shoe were on the other foot, I would protest as well. That is, if children in public schools were learning ACE’s message about homosexuality, I would do everything I could to block it.

In South Dakota, and likely in other states soon as well, conservatives are hoping to ban a topic they can’t control. They worry that any instruction about transgender issues will turn into an attempt to indoctrinate young minds. They fret with good reason that progressives hope to get young children to accept non-traditional gender identities and sexual identities. In the end, conservatives don’t trust the public schools to teach their values, so they simply block certain topics altogether.

Arking the Right Questions

John Oliver thought it was just quirky. There’s a more obvious explanation.

john oliver ark manure

For the full scoop on poop, go to 6:20.

As I discovered on my recent trip to the creationist Ark Encounter, the displays spend a LOT of time explaining where all the poop went. They also explain in great detail how Noah crammed huge dinosaurs on a boat.

There’s more going on here than simple scatophilia. Other radical creationists, too, like to focus on some sorts of questions for sensible reasons. If we spend all our time talking about HOW Noah handled all the dinosaur manure, for example, we’ve already conceded the most important point, which is that Noah really existed with his real ark surviving a real world-wide flood. With dinosaurs on board.

PACE 1096 diplodocus

How do SCIENTISTS think Noah squeezed dinosaurs onto his ark? From PACE 1096 (1986 edition)

The folks at Answers In Genesis aren’t the only ones to ask HOW questions instead of WTF questions. The fundamentalist curriculum specialists at Accelerated Christian Education, too, like to help young creationists focus on the details of their creationist vision. In PACE 1096, for example, creationists will read that Noah could easily have solved the problem of fitting huge dinosaurs on his ark if he simply used juvenile dinosaurs.


From the Ark Encounter: It’s easy if you just use the small dinosaurs…

That’s the general argument at Ark Encounter, as well. Visitors will see charts and graphs of various species, explaining clearly how enormous dinosaurs could have been squeezed onto the ark. The dinosaurs themselves were comfortably situated in roomy cages on the deck.


Plenty of room for all kinds of dinosaurs on board…

What about all the poop? The Ark Encounter offers an extensive explanation. In their vision, Noah and his crew fitted their boat with an elaborate system of pipes and pulleys. Excrement could easily be flushed into the floodwaters. Fresh water was collected on the roof, thanks to the endless rain.


From the Ark Encounter: Focus on the HOW…

By focusing on these sorts of detailed, science-y sounding explanations, young-earth creationists can reassure themselves and their children that the ark really could have worked. I have to imagine that such conversations serve a vital function: By talking at length and in detail about HOW these things happened, creationists can rest assured that they DID happen.


A #2 solution…

What Goes on in Fundamentalist Schools?

When does bad school cross the line into child abuse? The depressing answer is that it depends on who’s asking. Jonathan Kozol famously decried the racist and abusive practices in America’s urban public schools. Now Rebecca Klein is warning that tax-funded evangelical schools are doing more than just bad teaching. Are these schools using your tax dollars to abuse children?

Klein’s article focuses on the stories of fundamentalist school survivors such as Ashley Bishop. Bishop tells a story that has become depressingly familiar to SAGLRROILYBYGTH. Like some of the voices on this blog, Bishop’s experience in conservative evangelical schools was beyond terrible. Her schooling left her deeply conflicted and depressed. It took her years to become comfortable with herself and with her sexual identity.

My heart breaks for Ashley and all the other young people traumatized by hostile school environments. We tend to hear about brave survivors like Ashley, but we must remember that there must also be many more students who never escape, who make their lives entirely within a community in which they feel isolated and unworthy. The more attention such students can receive from journalists like Klein, the better.

Klein looks at the number of schools that use fundamentalist textbooks and concludes grimly,

there are thousands of kids receiving an extremist and ultraconservative education at the expense of taxpayers.

For full disclosure, I should point out that I spoke with Klein as she put this article together and she refers to my research. I must also point out that there are a few important points that she leaves out.

Ace hokey

This is terrible stuff. But is it abusive?

First of all, education scholars and historians know that we can’t simply equate textbooks with school curriculum. We certainly can’t look only at textbooks and think we know what kind of learning goes on.

Second, though Klein states that A Beka, Bob Jones, and ACE all share “largely similar educational philosophies,” that’s simply not the case. As I discovered a few years back, there are actually vast differences between the A Beka, ACE, and BJU approaches. A Beka insists on a rigid, traditionalist, teacher-driven classroom. BJU wants the opposite.

It’s also important to note that these textbooks are not static. In a recent book about education and ignorance, I argued that the treatment of history in A Beka and BJU textbooks has changed dramatically in the past thirty years. In some ways, the textbooks have become more like mainstream offerings. In others, they have become very different. In general, both BJU and A Beka have increased their emphases on the distinctive religious elements of their historical vision. A Beka history books, for example, explain in more recent editions that Native American populations originated from the downfall of the Tower of Babel.

a beka babel big

Textbook apocalypse.

Finally, and most important, we need to remember that abusive schools are not bad only if they use tax dollars. The state has a responsibility to protect all children in any school or homeschool. Even if a school is entirely privately funded, it has no right to enact policies that aren’t in children’s best interests.

In some cases—such as physical abuse or neglect, or sexual predation—that line is fairly easy to discern. When it comes to religious ideas, though, it becomes enormously difficult. Is it abusive to teach children that homosexuality is a sin? Is it abusive to teach children that mainstream science is a cauldron of lies?

If it is, then the state has the right and duty to intervene. It doesn’t matter whether or not the schools receive tax dollars in the form of vouchers. If it isn’t, though, then religious families and schools must be allowed freedom to have schools that we wouldn’t want our children to attend.

Forget the Intelligent Designer: What about Creationist Graphic Designers?

[Thanks to JS for PACE materials.]

Ken Ham is right again.  I’m no creationist, much less a young-earth type, but Mr. Ham’s Answers In Genesis organization has done it again.  As they did with their museum, AIG has managed to overcome the traditional stylistic weirdnesses of creationist outreach.

Weird science, but good-looking graphics...

Weird science, but good-looking graphics…

Ham has bragged recently about the high-class materials his group has cranked out.  In answer to the new version of Cosmos, Answers In Genesis has produced classroom materials to rebut the claims of the popular science show.  As Ham put it,

The AiG graphics department and publications team did a great job designing Questioning Cosmos. Its full-color glossy pages are packed with illustrations, questions for discussion, and detailed answers and explanations to help parents, teachers, and youth group leaders teach young people (and adults!) how to discern what observational science is presented in the Cosmos series and what material is best described as an evolutionary infomercial.

Even those of us who want more evolution taught in public schools must admit that Mr. Ham is right.  The anti-Cosmos materials don’t look any different than mainstream school texts.  Just as Answers In Genesis has done with its museum, this outreach effort has erased some of the obvious outward signs of the non-mainstream nature of creationist science.

It used to be easy.  Creationists used to produce school materials that looked hokey, weird, old-fashioned.  Consider just a few samples from Accelerated Christian Education.  As these pictures show, not only is the science much different from mainstream science, but the workbooks themselves seem obviously out of date.  The graphics are weird, the comics are jerky, and the lettering looks homemade.

Creation science used to look as if it were created in six days...

Creation science used to look as if it were created in six days…

Creation science books used to LOOK different...

Gee whillikers!

That’s just not the case with AIG’s anti-Cosmos materials.  The graphic design is very similar to the production values we’d expect from mainstream school materials.  And that matters more than we might think.  Parents, school administrators, and, most important, children tend to judge books by their covers.  The shoddy production values of cheap creationist pamphlets used to make them less attractive.

In the case of Answers In Genesis, mainstream science-ed materials can no longer count on such weak and ugly competition.

Hamas, Textbooks, and a Real Educational Culture War

What does a real educational culture war look like?  A recent story in the New York Times describes the way the Hamas government in Palestine’s Gaza Strip has pushed its all-out war against Israel into its textbooks.

The militant Hamas government has produced new histories that glorify the role of Hamas, that denigrate Israeli land claims, and that teach a self-consciously heroic history to youngsters in the Gaza Strip.

Will these textbooks change the way the next generation understands the Palestinian/Israeli conflict?

The director of the research study about the Hamas textbooks thinks so.

As quoted in the NYT story, Daniel Bar-Tal, a professor at Tel Aviv University, explained,

When a leader says something, not everyone is listening. But when we talk about textbooks, all the children, all of a particular peer group, will be exposed to a particular material. . . . This is the strongest card.

Fair enough.  Textbooks matter.  As Professor Bar-Tal carefully put it, textbooks “expose” children to a certain perspective.   As we’ve seen in the American context, every conservative group from the American Legion to Accelerated Christian Education has attempted to introduce patriotic or religious textbooks that will transform schooling and culture.

But “exposing” children to a certain worldview is not the same as imposing that worldview on them.  Textbooks make up only one part of education.  As we’ve seen with evolution/creation battles in the USA, the way teachers use textbooks is significantly more important.  As political scientists Eric Plutzer and Michael Berkman argued, teachers function as “street-level bureaucrats,” making important decisions about what to teach and how to teach it (pg. 149, see also pps. 160-169, 219).

As the NYT article argues, Hamas certainly seems to understand this.  The education policies of Hamas have ranged far beyond altering textbooks.  Hamas sends morality police to patrol school campuses for proper behavior between boys and girls.  They have also made important structural changes in schools in the Gaza Strip.

Most of all, we see in this case the central importance of schooling and education in culture-war battles far beyond the shores of the United States.  It seems whenever two groups come into drawn-out conflict, schools become an important battleground.


Should Adults Lie to Children?

I’ll say it: Lying to children is a vital part of a good education.

Adults lie to children all the time.  Santa Claus. Easter Bunny. Tooth Fairy. Daddy will eventually come home again…

But can such lies be considered “education?”  Our attitude toward this question might tell us a thing or two about the continuing culture wars over American education.

The question came up again in Professor Jerry Coyne’s review of Jonny Scaramanga’s Salon article.  For those of you who just joined the party, Professor Coyne is an irascible atheist and scientist.  He is an inveterate campaigner against creationism and delusional religionism.  Scaramanga is a recovering fundamentalist, blogger, and sometime contributor to these pages.  Scaramanga’s Salon article decried the repackaged fundamentalist curricula that are being taught in some publicly funded charter schools in Texas.

In response, Coyne thundered,

Adults have the right to be as stupid as they want, but I don’t think they have the right to tell lies to children. Those lies include not only religious dogma, but the antiscience attitudes that come with it. How sad that a group of bright and curious children can become ignorant, superstitious ideologues simply because they were born into the wrong families.

Professor Coyne is not the first science pundit to take this position.  In his 1964 anti-creationism book This View of Life, paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson blasted the lies that had thwarted evolution education.  “Even now,” Simpson argued,

a hundred years after The Origin of Species, most people have not really entered the world into which Darwin led—alas!—only a minority of us.  Life may be considerably happier for some people in the older worlds of superstition.  It is possible that some children are made happy by a belief in Santa Claus, but adults should prefer to live in a world of reality and reason.

But as anyone involved with education knows, adults lie to children all the time.  Doing so is a vital part of every good education.  Let’s look at a couple of examples.

1.) “This is what we believe.” 

Every education, in every culture, whether it means formal schooling, apprenticeships, or informal instruction, includes the passing along of central ideas.  Professor Coyne meant that adults should not tell young people things that are untrue.  But what if the adults believe it fervently?  Is that a lie?  Or, to complicate the matter, what if the adult isn’t sure if she believes it fervently, but is convinced that it will be good for the young person to believe?  For example, in the world of religious faith, an adult may have had serious doubts about her faith, but decide that a young person is not yet mature enough to consider those gray areas.  She might then tell young people that certain religious mysteries are simply truths, knowing that later the child will and should wrestle with the more complicated questions about it.

2.) “You can do this.”

This can be a flat-out lie.  Teachers and parents often work to inspire confidence in their children and students, even when the adults are very unsure of the truth of their statements.  Adults may have serious doubts that young people can, indeed, accomplish certain goals.  Yet the adults might tell the children that such goals are definitely, absolutely, 100% achievable.  It’s a lie.  But it is something good parents and teachers do.

3.) “I hate phonies.”

In our culture, many of the biggest truths are best understood through lies.  I’m no Salinger fan, but I still remember reading Catcher in the Rye in high school.  I remember Holden’s struggle with phonies.  It taught me important truths about the ways people interact with one another.  None of it was “true,” of course.  It was all fiction, all lies.  But my teacher taught me those lies.  And I’m very glad she did.

Our attitude about lying to young people can tell us a lot about our positions on key educational culture-war issues.  Professors Coyne and Simpson think it is not okay for young people to learn creationism or other religious falsehoods.  But that position doesn’t include room for the complexities of real education.  Adults lie to children all the time, for the children’s benefit.  Sometimes they do so deliberately.

But more often, adults tell children things that the adults think are true.  Creationists don’t set out to deceive their children; they hope instead to protect their children from the deceptions of mainstream science.

But what if we don’t agree that creationism is true?  Are those creationists guilty of lying to children?  Professor Simpson said yes.  Professor Coyne says yes.  Jonny Scaramanga, I’m guessing, would say yes.

I disagree.  Teaching children our core beliefs is not lying.  Even if I think those beliefs are untrue (and I do think young-earth creationist beliefs are untrue), parents who teach such things to their children are guilty of nothing more than educating their offspring.

There is no parental right more fundamental than that.


Charter Schools Teach Fundamentalism

Can fundamentalist Protestant educators change their packaging and call their new schools charters?

Leaving Fundamentalism’s Jonny Scaramanga argued recently in the pages of Salon that some fundamentalist leaders are doing just that.

As we’ve seen, publicly funded charter schools elsewhere have been accused of simply re-branding religious schools and siphoning off public money.

Scaramanga, a product of the fundamentalist Accelerated Christian Education curriculum and now its fiercest critic, uncovered Texas charter schools in which ACE’s rigid fundamentalist materials are paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Check out the full article.  Scaramanga describes ACE-derived textbooks that promote skepticism toward mainstream evolutionary science.  He found evidence that ACE-influenced charter schools guided students by the Ten Commandments but called them non-religious “success principle[s].”  Most headline-grabbing, the ACE-ish books blamed evolution for the rise of Hitler.

Scaramanga even cites yours truly as a source, so you know his article’s gotta be good.


Does Reading the Bible Make Children Violent?

Does reading the Bible lead to violent crime?  That’s the question nobody is asking these days.

Here at ILYBYGTH, we have to ask: Why not?

After all, it seems violent crime has been falling in the past few decades.  Those have been the decades in which American children no longer prayed or read the Bible in their public schools, officially at least.

Religious conservatives have long bemoaned the social dangers of kicking God out of public schools.  Is it only fair, then, to blame God for all the rapes, burglaries, and assaults that haven’t been happening lately?

That doesn’t seem like a comfortable suggestion for most religious conservatives.  Yet thoughtful conservatives must recognize that they have long warned about the dangers of removing traditional religion from public schools.  Some of those warnings, at least, seem to have been flipped on their heads.  Without mandatory Bible-reading in public schools, American society has grown noticeably less violent.

This is not what religious conservatives have predicted.

In 1942, for example, Bible activist W. S. Fleming insisted that more states must pass mandatory Bible laws for their public schools.  As I noted in my 1920s book, these mandatory Bible laws were a prominent but little-noticed element of 1920s educational culture wars.  Fleming, a former Chicago pastor and full-time activist for the National Reform Association, claimed that Bible laws for public schools would enable society to maintain basic morality.  Fleming pointed out that most states gave Bibles to prison inmates.  Why not skip the middle man, he asked, and deliver the Bibles to the schools?  If Ohio had followed this suggestion in 1925, he recalled, “as her neighbor, Pennsylvania, did, with the same result, more than half of her present 9,310 convicts would now be law-abiding citizens.”[*]

Two decades later, just after the Schempp decision by the US Supreme Court seemed to eliminate Bible reading from public schools, William Culbertson of Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute warned that the decision did not bode well for America’s public safety.  “No nation can turn its back on God without tragic consequences,” Culbertson cautioned.  “We have traveled a sorry road of unbelief in the less than two hundred years of our country’s history.  The Supreme Court decision—and our willingness in many cases to justify it—say plainly that a sorrier road may lie yet ahead!”[†]

Similarly, in the early 1980s, Donald Howard, creator of the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum and an energetic supporter of independent evangelical schools, preached a fiery jeremiad about the dangers of removing Bibles from public schools.  Because “the Bible by judicial review [had been] legislated out of the schools,” Howard warned, schools in the 1970s suffered from an array of terrible problems, including “X-rated textbooks,” 70,000 assaults on teachers in one year, violence, vandalism, alcohol and drug abuse, a profusion of “witchcraft and the occult,” and rampant deviant sexuality.  This lamentable situation, in Howard’s opinion, underscored the need for independent evangelical schools.  Only there, he argued, could students be safe from the perils of the now-Godless schools.[‡]

In the 1990s, prominent conservative intellectual William J. Bennett published his blockbuster Index of Leading Cultural Indicators.  This collection of worrisome statistics demonstrated, Bennett claimed, what happened when a society abandoned its traditional moral teachings.  Crime soared, despair ruled.  Though Bennett noted a dip in crime during the 1990s, he argued that since 1960 the trend was clear: less traditional morality meant more violent crime.

Less prominent conservatives, too, warned that schools without prayer and Bibles led directly to a wave of violent crime.  By “kicking God out of public schools,” Americans traipsed foolishly down the path to Sodom and Gomorrah.

Without prayer and the Bible, religious conservatives have insisted, public schools had turned into sin factories.  Young people did not learn to check their carnal instincts.  They killed and fornicated with abandon.

So what does it mean about Bibles in schools if violent crime has dropped precipitously in recent decades?

As reviewed in a fascinating article in this week’s Economist, violent crime has plunged in industrialized nations around the globe in the past twenty-five years.  As the article describes, talking heads have ascribed this happy circumstance to an array of possible causes: more abortions, fewer young men, better policing, even better violent video games.

Back in the 1950s, when the US Supreme Court had not yet “kicked God out of public schools,” violent crime skyrocketed.  To be consistent, we must ask: Did all that violent crime result from students reading the Bible?  Saying the Lord’s Prayer?  If conservatives predicted that removing Bibles from schools would cause more violent crimes, must they now acknowledge that the USA is a safer place without all that school Bible-reading?


[*] W. S. Fleming. God in Our Public Schools. 3rd ed. (1942; repr., Pittsburgh: National Reform Association, 1947), 90.

[†] William Culbertson, “Is the Supreme Court Right?” Moody Monthly 63 (July-August 1963): 16.

[‡] Donald Howard, “Rebirth of a Nation,” Facts About A.C.E. (Lewisville, TX: Accelerated Christian Education, n.d. [1982?]), 25.