I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another week, another flood of ILYBYGTH-themed stories. Thanks to everyone who sent in tips…

What happens when computers grade essays, at Curmudgucation.

tank refurbish

My next dream job…

Rednecks bridge the racial divide, at FPR.

School reform? Or social reform? The “Loving Cities” plan, at The Progressive.

  • “promoting school choice as the solution is a distraction from the basic fact that parent income, along with interrelated racial and economic segregation, remain powerful determinants in the quality of education a child receives.”

Ixnay on ace-ray: Wisconsin school district bans talk of “white privilege,” at MJS.

I’ve found my next line of work, at PM.Bart reading bible

Historian John Fea on the coarsening of American culture, at TWOILH.

Has teaching changed? Larry Cuban reflects on the ways teachers taught in the past.

College cuts comedian’s mike. At CHE.

Loving Trump and hating the Age of Reasonthe long history of Christian politics in the US, at R&P.

Conservative commentator resigns in protest from Fox News, calling it a “propaganda machine.”

Why would a creationist praise an academic critic? At RACM.

Genetics and the new science-denial of race, at NYT.

human history map

New maps don’t start at the Garden of Eden…

March Madness and the history of anti-segregation in sports, at LSJ. HT: DW.

What’s wrong with new teacher-evaluation schemes? Peter Greene tees off at Curmudgucation.

  • Best line: “Reducing the evaluation of teacher quality to a “rigorous rubric” is not a positive. Academians and economists like it because it lets them pretend that they are evaluating teachers via cold, hard numbers, but you can no more reduce teaching to a “rigorous rubric” than you can come up with a rubric for marital success or parental effectiveness. . . . at the moment rubrics and checklists still take a back seat in most districts to Big Standardized Test scores soaked in some kind of VAM sauce.”

“Theoretical children . . . don’t fart:” At The Progressive, a call for less theory and more experience with real children.


School Shooting? Blame the Supreme Court

Is the US Supreme Court responsible for the recent horrific shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut?

That is the implication made by Mike Huckabee, conservative radio personality, former Governor of Arkansas, and occasional presidential candidate.  Huckabee told Fox News that school violence could be prevented by letting God back into public schools.

Asked by reporter Neil Cavuto how God could allow such a tragedy, Huckabee responded,

“We ask why there’s violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability. That we’re not just going to have to be accountable to the police if they catch us, but one day we stand before a holy God in judgment. If we don’t believe that, then we don’t fear that. . . . Maybe we ought to let (God) in on the front end and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.”

As I argued recently in an article in the Journal of Religious History, this argument has been a standard theme among conservative evangelical Protestants since SCOTUS’ 1963 Schempp decision.  The journal is subscription-only, but the essence of my argument is as follows:

many religious Americans, far beyond the ranks of evangelical Protestants, concluded that the Court had kicked God out of public schools.  Unlike other religious Americans, however, evangelicals had long had special influence over public education.  These Court decisions had a unique impact on evangelical attitudes because evangelicals had harbored an implicit trust in their own unique role in public education.  When the Supreme Court ruled that evangelical staples such as recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and reading from the Bible could no longer be performed in public schools, it forced evangelicals to an unexpected grappling with their wider relationship to American society.  Not only did the Court decisions kick God out of public schools, in other words, but it effectively kicked evangelicals out of the American mainstream.  

            As a result, evangelicals shifted from feeling part of a politically invulnerable religious majority to feeling themselves part of a put-upon minority. This dramatic and relatively sudden change in evangelical sentiment had important results.  For decades, politicians and politically minded preachers attracted evangelical support by articulating these new minority sentiments.  Jerry Falwell, for example, organized the significantly named Moral Majority as an effort to represent the values of conservative Fundamentalists, whom Falwell called “the largest minority bloc in the United States.”[i]  Similarly, in a stump speech in early 1984, Ronald Reagan played to the sensibilities of evangelical voters when he condemned “God’s expulsion” from public schools.[ii] 

Could a more robust religious curriculum in America’s public schools have deterred the school shooter in this case?  That does not seem to fit the facts.  However, Governor Huckabee has articulated a notion that remains very common among some religious conservatives: Schools cannot teach without religion.

[i] George Vecsey, “Militant Television Preachers Try to Weld Fundamentalist Christians’ Political Power,” New York Times, January 21, 1980, A21.

[ii] Quoted in Catherine A. Lugg, For God and Country: Conservatism and American School Policy (New York: Peter Lang, 2000), 159.

In the News: Fundamentalist Religion and the “Liberal Media?”

Fundamentalist America has long had a somewhat uncertain relationship with mass media.  On one hand, lots of prominent conservatives make their mark by bashing the biases they see in what they call the “liberal media.”  For a recent example, check out William Kristol’s challenge to the New York Times regarding its treatment of Andrew Breitbart.  On the other hand, conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the late Andrew Breitbart himself have relied on their mastery of mass media in order to win whatever influence they may have.

Conservative religious folks usually complain the loudest about media bias.  Two years ago, for instance, a comment by Fox News’ Brit Hume that golfer Tiger Woods ought to embrace Christianity evoked a teapot tempest of discussions about the anti-Christian bias in most media outlets.

Thanks to Walter Russell Mead at Via Meadia, we come across a new study by scholars at the University of Southern California and the University of Akron.  This survey suggests that there may be more to conservative religious folks’ complaints than just Fox News sensationalism.  This study surveyed 2000 media consumers and 800 producers.  Some of the findings seem to confirm an anti-religious bias among most journalists.  More precisely, they seem to confirm a NON-religious bias.  Among the reporters, only 20% described themselves as “very knowledgeable” about religion.  Also, the category of white evangelical Protestants was notably underrepresented among the reporters surveyed.  Reporters tended to feel that the most important part of religion was its impact on politics (48.1%), while fewer media consumers (37.0%) saw that as the most important religious topic.  Also, the general public tended to think there was far too much sensationalism in religious coverage (66.5%), as opposed to reporters (29.8%).

The survey broke down media producers into categories including “Focused,” “Frequent,” “Infrequent,” and “Non-producers” of religion coverage.  In terms of religious identity, only a small minority of the reporters surveyed (5.1%) called themselves white evangelical Protestants, compared to 20.8% white Catholic, 34.9% white mainline Protestant, and 12.8% unaffiliated.  This doesn’t match the percentage of the general population.  According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, evangelicals make up just over a quarter of the US population.  If we look a little closer, even among the self-identified white evangelical Protestant reporters, there is a distinct skew toward religious coverage.  White evangelicals made up just over 16% of the “focused” religion reporters, and only 2.1% of the “non-producers.”

What does it all mean?  First of all, as with any such survey, the results mustn’t be overdone.  The fact that a minority of journalists who took part in this survey called themselves “very knowledgeable” about religion doesn’t mean that they are biased against religion, much less against a certain type of religion.  But the fact that white evangelical Protestants are notably underrepresented among this sample suggests that there is a trend among reporters away from evangelical Protestantism.  Especially when the responses are broken out into more detail.  Even among the small minority of evangelical reporters, the percentage of such reporters who are not specifically focused on religious issues shrinks to near-nothingness.  One way to look at this might be to think that evangelicals—when they become journalists at all—tend to restrict themselves to specifically religious issues.  Just as with other minority groups, evangelical reporters might find themselves pigeonholed into just one aspect of their public identity.  In this case, evangelical reporters might be considered to be legitimate only for reporting on religious issues, not for sports, education, politics, or foreign affairs.
Does it mean that the “mainstream media” are unfair to Fundamentalist America?  From this limited evidence, of course, it’s impossible to say for sure.  However, this survey does suggest that reporters tend to look different from the rest of America.  They tend to be less knowledgeable about religious traditions than the rest of America. They tend to be less interested in spirituality than the rest of America.  And they tend to be less often from a white evangelical Protestant background than the rest of America.

As with any sort of bias, it is much easier to be inadvertently biased about groups different from ourselves.  It is even easier to be biased when we know very little about such groups.

Fundamentalist America complains that most reporters don’t “get” them.  This study seems to support that complaint.