Bashing the Common Core

Is there a “conservative” attitude toward the new(ish) Common Core State Standards?  Though as we’ve noted, conservatives disagree, the session at the on-going Conservative Political Action Conference about the standards sounded like a bash-fest.

In the pages of The American Conservative, Gracy Olmstead offered a fly-on-the-wall report.  Conservative luminaries such as Phyllis Schlafly, Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation, Robert Enlow of the Friedman Foundation, and Jim Stergios of the Pioneer Institute took the CCSS to task for centralizing education.

Such centralization, Schlafly warned, does not occur in an ideological vacuum.  With more control from Washington comes more “liberal propaganda,” Schlafly insisted, as she has done before.  Enlow warned that centralization introduced yet another level of government control, blocking parents from their rightful control of their children’s education.  And Stergios insisted that the CCSS claim to be “state-led” was laughable.

Did this CPAC panel define the only “conservative” position on the Common Core?  As Stergios noted, many conservatives like the core.  He thought that opinion was “ludicrous.”  But correspondent Gracy Olmstead disagreed.  She noted that the standards still attracted fans and foes from all political sides.


Required Reading: Greg Forster and the Hundred Years’ War

At the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse this morning, Greg Forster introduced a three-part series inquiring into the changing relationship between evangelicals and politics in the United States over the past century.  The series, Evangelicals and Politics: The Hundred Years’ War, promises to examine the tense relationship between conservative evangelicals and political life.

An Impassible Chasm

From EJ Pace, Christian Cartoons, 1922

Forster is deeply sympathetic to the cultural claims of conservative evangelical Protestants.  Though he would likely dispute the label, he writes about what I call Fundamentalist America from deep inside its boundaries.  He works and has worked for a variety of conservative foundations, including the Kern Family Foundation and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.  He has written about the Joy of Calvinism and argued in favor of the marketization of schooling.

In this series, he asserts that evangelical political activism has been a force for good throughout the twentieth century.  “Good citizens,” he notes,
“don’t stand by while their nation is threatened, and evangelical political activity has accomplished much good. Although the rising tide of moral disorder has not been reversed, its progress has been halted in many respects, and forces of renewal are gathering. All of this was made possible largely by evangelical efforts.”

But Forster does not simply present the History of Heroic Fundamentalists.  He takes conservative evangelicals to task for misunderstanding the implications of the Great Schism, the split among Protestants around the turn of the twentieth century between “modernists” and “fundamentalists.”  In Forster’s words:

“Before the schism, America had a longstanding social consensus on how to reconcile religious freedom with public morals: the state would legislate based on the moral consensus of society, but keep its hands off directly confessional issues and try to steer clear of inhibiting diverse religious exercise. Meanwhile, beyond the bounds of state power, America’s leading institutions would be predominantly defined by and loyal to the Protestant view of the world. This strong yet informal Protestant cultural authority would keep the citizenry moral, so the coercive power of the state could be mostly kept out of moral formation in the interests of religious freedom.

“The Protestant schism was the decisive factor that ended the old social order. To be sure, a variety of other factors were already weakening it; for example, the injustices imposed upon Catholics and Jews were becoming steadily harder to ignore. However, the schism destroyed the framework of the social order from within. Protestantism could no longer serve as a moral center of society once no one could say with any confidence what “Protestantism” was.

“But evangelical leaders misunderstood the nature of the threat. They didn’t seem to grasp that the schism had destroyed America’s Protestant cultural consensus. They spoke and acted as though it was still basically sound in the country at large, and was only being challenged by a cabal of liberal secularists who were hijacking America’s culturally leading institutions (especially denominational bodies and universities). In short, they thought of the crisis more in terms of apostasy by a relatively narrow set of leaders than a true schism of the church.

“Because of this misunderstanding, evangelicals turned to politics as a tool for mobilizing social power and cultural influence to wage their battle against the liberal secularists. They expected that politics would give them the power they needed, because elections are based on majority rule and America was still basically a Protestant country.”

Forster’s analysis fits.  In some key “fundamentalist” political battles, conservatives hoped to mobilize the power of the state to support their cultural power.  As I argue in my book Fundamentalism and Education in the Scopes Era, (coming soon in paperback, pre-order now!) 1920s fundamentalists were successful when they mobilized a broad spectrum of Protestant support.  They were less so when they fought against liberal Protestantism.  So, for instance, when they disputed the teaching of evolution in public schools, liberals successfully castigated them as hillbillies and anti-intellectuals.  But when they pressed for laws mandating Bible reading in public schools, they met far less resistance.

I’m looking forward to the rest of Forster’s series.