Religious Extremists Capture Major Political Party

Old news, right? SAGLRROILYBYGTH won’t be surprised to hear that the Republican Party is addicted to the political support of conservative evangelicals. These days, though, we have a sad reminder of the fact that both major parties can fall victim to special-interest lobbies, lobbies that put children in a terrible educational position.


Who is watching out for the kids?

For Republicans, this is nothing new. For a long time now, Republicans have been trembling at the thought of angering evangelical creationists. The most egregious example, IMHO, was the waffling of former Governor Bobby Jindal.

Jindal, you may recall, was the popular governor of Louisiana who briefly made a bid for the GOP nomination in 2016. No matter what you might think of his politics, Governor Jindal is no dummy. He graduated from Brown with a degree in biology. He went on to Oxford, turning down acceptances at Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School. He may not have made much of a splash in the 2016 presidential race, but we can safely assume that Jindal knows plenty about evolution and many other things.

Yet in spite of all his knowledge, when asked what he thought about evolution in 2014, Jindal hedged. Yes, he wanted his own kids to learn about evolution. When it came to public schools, though, Jindal defended the rights of creationists. If a local school district wanted to teach creationism as science, Jindal argued, that should be up to them.

Bad thinking, but good politics, I suppose.

We see a similar tragedy unfolding these days in Arizona. To win election in the Republican Party, it seems, candidates felt pressed to endorse a bigger role for creationism in public schools.

It’s been true for a long time and it doesn’t seem like it is going to change any time soon. The Republican Party forces candidates to ignore their own ideas and truckle to the desires of radical young-earth creationist supporters.

Recent news from my adopted home state shows that this is not only a problem for the GOP. The Democratic Party, too, seems to have entered into a deal with religious extremists. Just as Republican pandering hurts schoolchildren in Louisiana and Arizona, so too does Democratic deal-making hurt kids in New York.

Here’s what we know: Governor Andrew Cuomo is accused of a sordid educational quid pro quo. He allegedly promised prominent Hasidic leaders that he would not interfere with their religious schools in exchange for a vital political endorsement.

If it’s true, it’s more than a shame. Politicians of every party have a duty to safeguard the educational chances of students. The schools in this case don’t seem to do that at all. As a lawsuit this summer charged, significant numbers of yeshiva students in New York aren’t adequately taught secular subjects such as English, history, and science. Their curricula for boys focus almost exclusively on studying ancient religious texts.

As the New York Times reported, the state has promised to investigate these schools.  As they wrote last summer,

In 2015, the city Department of Education said it was opening an investigation into about 36 private yeshivas to see if they were providing adequate secular education according to state law. But in the three years since that announcement, the city has not released any results. Jaclyn Rothenberg, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said the investigation is still active and the department would deliver the report “soon.” The city has visited 15 schools so far, according to Ms. Rothenberg.

A year ago, when asked when the education department planned to release a report on its investigation, a spokeswoman, Toya Holness, said the investigation is continuing. “We are treating this matter with utmost seriousness,” she said.

This month, Governor Cuomo was accused of promising the Hasidic community that the investigation would continue to languish in exchange for the political endorsement of an influential leader in the Hasidic community.

If true, the charges show how difficult it is to protect the educational rights of children. Children don’t vote.  Children don’t meet with governors to insist the law be obeyed. Children can’t promise a solid block of political support in exchange for special favors.

To be fair, I think the GOP problem is worse. But this story demonstrates that the problem is not only a “conservative” one. Rather, any political party risks being held in thrall to special-interest groups, groups that might not have the best interests of children at heart.


Astorino Blasts the Common Core: “Our Children Are Not Guinea Pigs!”

Should conservatives embrace the Common Core? As we’ve seen [check out ILYBYGTH coverage here, here, or here, for instance], conservative intellectuals have disagreed about the new standards. New York gubernatorial hopeful and staunch conservative Rob Astorino offered a stinging attack on the new standards last week. His analysis of the good and the bad might give us some insight into the ways conservatives view these new standards. Indeed, Astorino’s comments might offer insight into conservative attitudes about education as a whole.

Astorino is leading the conservative charge against sitting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Astorino, a County executive from affluent Westchester County, just north of New York City, has pledged to take the Great State of New York in a more conservative direction. As part of that campaign, Astorino issued a blistering attack on the Common Core Standards.

Flanked not only by the US flag, the New York flag, and a copy of the US Constitution, but also by a few cheerful children’s drawings, Astorino blasted the CCSS as an “untested experiment” that would lead America in dangerous directions. Indeed, Astorino repeated the word “experiment” or “experimental” a total of four times in the four-minute announcement. He also repeated the phrase “Andrew Cuomo’s Common Core exam” four times. Clearly, Mr. Astorino hopes to label the CCSS as both experimental and part of Governor Cuomo’s program.

Most compelling, Astorino announced last week that his own children will be opting out of the exams. The Opt-Out movement has attracted support from all across the political and ideological spectrum.

For Astorino, opting out is the right choice for conservatives. Why? He offered a laundry list of problems with the standards and with the associated exams.

First, with common standards and exams, Astorino warned, local schools will become “centralized organs of the Federal government.”

Second, these exams and standards will raise property taxes “through the roof.”

Third, these exams are not tested, but are simply the misbegotten brainchildren of people such as Bill Gates. According to Astorino, the exams came from the same political greenhorns who cobbled together the disastrous “Obamacare.” Worst of all, Astorino asserts, these standards and exams represent just the latest effort by distant educational elites to exert their unwanted and poorly conceived influence over all the nation’s schools. As he put it, “We’re risking our children’s futures for a few scraps from Washington.”

As I argue in my upcoming book about conservatism and American education, the notion that a scheming group of educational usurpers has taken—or is taking—control of our nation’s schools has a long and potent history. Astorino appeals to this tradition by taking a firm stand on what he calls this “expensive, experimental, Federal curriculum.”

So what’s a conservative to do? According to presumptive GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, conservative parents should run for the hills.