I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

While we were getting ready for Memorial Day, the world kept on turning. Here is some of what we might have missed this past week:

Polite protesters pique Pence. Notre Dame students walk out on VP Mike Pence’s commencement address.  HT: MM

reading cat

Words, words, meow…

If you want to keep your job at Yale, don’t make fun of your “white trash” neighbors.

What happened at Duke Divinity School? A professor retires angrily after a blow-up over mandatory diversity training.

Kicking white supremacists out of your gym. A Georgetown professor takes on the alt-right.

The state school board in Texas gets more power to reject textbook content.

From CNN: ten tweets that define the weird Trump/Pope Francis relationship.

What school cuts will the Trump budget make? Politico dishes on the slices. There are a few surprises.

How non-Christian does a charter school have to get? Allie Gross explores the conversion of Michigan’s Cornerstone schools to officially secular charters.

Thanks to all who sent in stories and tips.


Shame on You!

Okay, kids, time to fess up. Some of you students at conservative schools have been trying to cheat on your exams…haven’t you. Here’s how we know: Our editorial page here at ILYBYGTH lets us see the terms people type into their Google machines. Lately, as final-exam time swings near, we’ve noticed a definite uptick in the number of hopeful plagiarists.

search terms

What are you looking for?

It is often fun and enlightening to read the search terms. Mostly, they are from people interested in the same issues that trouble SAGLRROILYBYGTH: higher education, creationism, evangelicalism, conservatism, etc.

Here are some of the recent examples:

  • does hillsdale college teach evolution

  • is the moody institute anti catholic?

  • gay pride rainbow painted on wheaton bench

I hope those searchers found what they were looking for. Sometimes, the search terms themselves make for a kind of interwebs poetry. Once, for example, your humble editor was touched by this plaintive search:

  • Can a creationist and evolutionist be in love?

Obviously, too, some of our searchers will probably move on disappointed. Lots of people, for example, are just looking for information and don’t give a whoot for all our ILYBYGTH culture-war dickering.

For example, the person who searched for “Kentucky attractions” probably didn’t find what she was looking for.

But none of that is what we’re talking about today. In the past week or so, your humble editor has noticed a definite trend. Check out the search terms below and tell me I’m not seeing would-be plagiarism:

  • Discuss the value of traditional education;

  • What are the main problems of evolutionary theory? How do alternate ideas such as theistic evolution, progressive creation, day-age creationism, and gap theory fall short of a biblical understanding;

  • In a mid-length essay (5-7 pp.) describe the historical development of traditional education;

  • Essay creationism superior.

To me, these look obviously like test questions. And not just any tests. The kinds of schools that want students to write these sorts of essays can only be conservative religious schools. Right? Only students at conservative religious schools would be likely to be asked to write out the problems with evolution. Or the values of “traditional education.”

It wouldn’t be the first time that students at conservative schools worked hard to cheat their way through their morally elevating curricula. During the research for my current book about evangelical higher education, for example, I came across one sad-sack letter in the Moody Bible Institute archives.

In 1931, an alumnus wrote to the MBI administration with a fulsome confession. When he was a first-year student, he had cheated on every “examination, mid-term and final, through-out the year.” He had never been caught. He had never even been accused. But this student was so “conscience stricken” he pleaded with the administrators to take away all his credits.

They obliged.

Perhaps someday the cheaters and plagiarists who are hoping to evade their work by dipping into the ILYBYGTH archives will meet a similar fate. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Christian School Causes Student to Abandon Creationism

How can parents make sure their children don’t lose their faiths? Enrolling them in religious school is not enough. As a recent story from the BioLogos Forum makes clear, education ranges far beyond schooling. Too many hasty critics, religious and secular alike, have assumed that we can control education by controlling schooling. It’s just not that simple.

This Christian learned to embrace evolution, but not in school...

This Christian learned to embrace evolution, but not in school…

In the pages of the BioLogos Forum, college sophomore Garrett Crawford shared his educational story. Crawford was raised in a conservative evangelical household. He went to a Christian school, one that presumably hoped to shield Crawford’s faith from secularism. While at that school, Crawford relates, he grew curious about the scientific evidence for evolution. After a lot of reading and study, Crawford concluded that he could no longer believe in young-earth creationism. After a lot more reading and study, Crawford concluded that Christian faith does not require a belief in a young earth. It is entirely theologically legitimate, he decided, to accept the science of evolution.

In Crawford’s case, his education took him in directions his school never intended.

Such stories shouldn’t surprise us. After all, with just a moment or two of reflection, we can all think of ways that our “education” has differed from our “schooling.” Yet in all of our tumultuous educational culture wars, pundits rush to make sweeping claims about education based on scanty evidence from schools.

We’ve seen this recently in the pages of the New York Times, when philosopher Justin McBrayer declared–based on data that was not just slim, but positively anorexic–that Our Schools Were Training Amoral Monsters.

Among conservative Christians, too, this tradition of school-bashing has a long history.  In the 1970s, for example, fundamentalist school leader A.A. “Buzz” Baker decried the tendency of many conservative Christians to rush into school-founding for the wrong reasons. In his book The Successful Christian School (1979) Baker warned that too many parents and pastors rushed to open new schools because they thought

Public education has failed! It is failing to provide a good academic education while exposing our children to a godless, secular-humanistic approach to life.

Leading young-earth creationists have long assumed that the best way to protect their children’s faith is by attending creationism-friendly schools. Ken Ham, for example, argued that Christian colleges and universities can lead students astray from true faith when they abandon young-earth thinking. As he put it,

the real issue concerns Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries that break away from the authority of Scripture in Genesis—held to by the majority of scholars up through the Reformation—and teach students that God’s Word doesn’t mean what it says. That’s what makes students doubt the truthfulness of the Bible as a whole, and can be a major reason many of them walk away from the Christian (not “creationist”) faith, as we see happening in our culture today.

From the other side, many secular or liberal critics insist that fundamentalist schools are nothing but indoctrination factories. As friend of ILYBYGTH (FOILYBYGTH) Jonny Scaramanga told the BBC, his fundamentalist schooling experiences were nothing short of “horrendous.” During his sojourn in a fundamentalist school, Scaramanga remembers, he did nothing but recite back theological nostrums. The school was so socially crippling, Scaramanga relates, for the rest of his life he was “always playing catch up.”

Scaramanga’s own case, however, shows that schooling of any sort is only one part of a person’s education. Scaramanga himself has now become a leading voice in the anti-fundamentalist education scene. Like Garrett Crawford, Scaramanga’s education took him in directions that his schooling never intended.

The take-away? Of course we should all care about the way schools operate. Better schools will help produce better educations for all students. At the same time, though, we all need to remind ourselves that formal schooling makes up only one slice—sometimes a small slice—of a person’s education.

How many of us, after all, can say that we came out the way our schools intended?

Christian School: Be a Girl

Does an eight-year-old girl have the right to like traditionally “boy” things such as baseballs and short haircuts? Or, more precisely, is she permitted to cause confusion about her gender identity among her fellow students? Not if she wants to attend Timberlake Christian School in Virginia.

Does this story represent an outrageous outlier along the fringes of Christian education, or is this typical of the strictly gendered worldview of conservative evangelical Protestantism? Here at ILYBYGTH, we try not to rush to assume the worst about conservative schooling. In this case, however, it seems the school really did push Sunnie to be more of a girl.  And prominent evangelical intellectuals are willing to defend this decision as central to the cultural politics of conservative evangelical Protestantism.

According to a story by James Gherardi at WSET TV in Lynchburg, Virginia, eight-year-old Sunnie Kahle likes to have short hair. She likes to dress in jeans and t-shirts. She likes to play outside. For all these reasons, school administrators at Timberlake Christian School worried she was not acting enough like a girl. To be more specific, they worried about student confusion. Apparently, a group of boys had attempted to pull Sunnie into a boys’ bathroom.

It seems this is not a case of a student who chooses to identify as a different gender than the one she has been assigned. Sunnie agrees that she is a girl. She just likes to have short hair and play outside in the mud. Her fellow students think she acts too much like a boy and insisted she use the boys’ bathroom instead of the girls’ room.

School administrators worried that Sunnie’s dress and behavior did not match the school’s gender standards. As principal Becky Bowman told Sunnie’s guardians (her great-grandparents) in a letter,

we believe that unless Sunnie as well as her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God ordained identity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education.

For their part, Sunnie’s great-grandparents insist they will not accommodate the school’s demands. Sunnie is just fine, they insist. They pulled her out of TCS and enrolled her in the local public school.

For those of us outsiders trying to understand conservatism in education, we have some questions we need to ask: Does the attitude of TCS represent the thinking of many other conservative evangelical Protestants? Would other Christian schools have acted similarly? Or was this an outrageous exception, a story that garnered international attention precisely because it was so outlandish?

As we’ve noted in the past, conservative Christians have long worried about loosening gender norms in schools. School bathrooms, specifically, have been a hot-point in these school-gender deliberations. Can students who were identified as one gender at birth, but who choose to identify as another, use bathrooms of their chosen gender? That is, can a student who was called a “boy” at birth but who calls herself a “girl” use the girl’s room? This has been a concern far beyond the reaches of Timberlake Christian School.

And significantly, Mat Staver of Liberty University School of Law has waded into this controversy. Staver has announced that Liberty will represent the nearby Christian school. This issue, Staver announced, “is far beyond a simple ‘hairstyle and tomboy issue’ as inaccurately portrayed.” The support and involvement of Staver and Liberty University makes it appear as if this issue represents something widespread among conservative evangelical Protestant educators.

For their part, the school clarified its position. This was never about hairstyles or clothing, they insist. Nor was Sunnie every kicked out of the school. Rather, this was in line with the school’s duty to create and maintain a Christian environment. As the school explained in a public statement to the Roanoke Times,

Parents and guardians send their children to the School because of our Christian beliefs and standards. We have a duty to create an environment that is supportive of these Christian values. We cannot have conflicting messages or standards because such conflict will confuse our students and frustrate the parents and guardians who have entrusted the education of their children to us.

When elementary children and their parents or guardians express concerns regarding use of the restroom and other matters arising from the sensitive issues here, the School has a duty to address those concerns and to ensure that all interests are heard and protected in accordance with the Christian mission of the School.

At least according to these sentiments, this episode was more than just an over-hyped miscommunication. The school really did insist that Sunnie make her gender identity clearer to other students. And school administrators really did envision this as part of the central mission of the school.

But note also that the school was not the gender-monolith we might think. According to Sunnie’s great-grandmother Doris Thompson, Sunnie’s kindergarten teacher worried about Sunnie’s gender identity. But Sunnie’s first-grade teacher did not. Then again this year in second grade, the issue cropped up once more. It seems the teachers at TCS have different attitudes themselves about the centrality of gender identity to proper Christian education.

So what’s the connection between gender identity and conservative Christian schooling?   It seems the attitudes of Timberlake Christian School administrators represent widespread feelings among conservatives. Girls must be clearly girls. Boys must be clearly boys. This is not just a question of haircuts and blue jeans. This is a more profound question of public behavior and gender expectations.  At TCS, traditions of gender behavior and identification have become a central part of non-negotiable theological principles.


What Does Your Kid Sing in the Bathroom?

In the pages of Christianity Today, Andrea Palpant Dilley makes the case for private Christian schooling.  Her best argument?  Thanks to her new Christian school, Dilley’s daughter now sings “Holy, Holy, Holy” while going to the bathroom.

Dilley’s being humorous, of course, but her main point is this: despite legitimate arguments among evangelical Christians over the proper type of schooling, a good Christian school can push young people in healthy Christian directions.  A good school can help turn their souls and minds to the beauties and challenges of living a faith-filled life.  Does a Christian school guarantee that each kid will grow up to be a good Christian?  No.  But it gives young people a different set of mental furniture with which to fill their young heads.  Instead of singing the Ninja Turtles theme song, Dilley’s daughter sings “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

As I’ve reviewed in some of my academic publications, the decision to send children to private Christian schools is not a simple one.  Many Christian schools have been accused of being nothing more than “segregation academies.”  In practice, though, the racial politics of private schooling includes complicated decisions about where to send our children.

We have a few academic studies of these sorts of schooling decisions.  One 1991 study from Stanford wondered why parents chose Christian schools.[1]  Not surprisingly, the question turns out to be remarkably complex.  School founders and parents offered a mélange of explanations for their choice of a private Christian school, from bad discipline at public schools to creationist belief.  Similarly, a 1984 study from Philadelphia found that parents had many reasons for choosing private Christian schools.[2]  Again, parents listed public-school factors ranging from “secular humanism” to drug use and poor discipline.

Moreover, as Dilley notes, some Christian parents insist their children should remain in public schools in order to provide needed moral backbone in struggling schools.  Fair enough, Dilley acknowledges.  But for her daughter, the “Christian-school bubble” was the right choice.  Though the family had to scrape together money for tuition, Dilley’s daughter is able to attend a school that includes authentic diversity.  More important to Dilley, a Christian school also lets Dilley’s daughter learn the rich heritage and faith of evangelical Christianity.


[1] Peter Stephen Lewis, “Private Education and the Subcultures of Dissent: Alternative/Free Schools (1965-1975) and Christian Fundamentalist Schools (1965-1990),” PhD dissertation, Stanford University, 1991.

[2] Martha E. MacCullough, “Factors Which Led Christian School Parents to LeavePublic   School,” Ed.D. dissertation, TempleUniversity, 1984.

Creationism on the Ropes

Is creationism taking over American education?  Nope.

Not at the Blue Ridge Christian School, anyway.

Readers may remember Blue Ridge for its fifteen minutes of fame last May, when a dinosaur quiz from the school attracted attention.


Image Source: Answers in Genesis

Image Source: Answers in Genesis


According to the Christian Post, the school is closing down.  After all the attention, school founders hoped to raise enough funds to stay afloat.  However, in spite of international attention, the school only raised $15,000 of the $200,000 it needed.

So is creationism taking over?  In this case, at least, it’s not even staying alive.