I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

What did you miss this week? Trump bashing public schools? Catholic colleges loving LGBTQ students? The latest on “Satanic pregnancies?” It’s all here in our weekly news round up. Plus Kobe Bryant, John Whitcomb Jr., our next Ed Secretary, and Tennessee’s bad plan for funding schools.

Trump talks education at SOTU.

Only snobs would sneer at Paula White’s call to miscarry “Satanic pregnancies,” says DF.

remember that Pentecostal Christianity was born out of America’s poor and working-class communities—people who feel the tremendous, grinding weight of poverty, of addiction, of oppression—and it is sweeping through the global south in communities who face many of these same challenges. These people are not privileged. They don’t have the power and confidence of America’s prosperous Christian class. The Holy Spirit bursts into their lives like a supernova of hope.

How should Catholic colleges treat LGBTQ students? At America.

How can Catholic colleges respond to the needs of L.G.B.T. people? It is often a contentious topic. But it need not be. Because at heart it is about something that Jesuits call cura personalis: care for the whole person, care for the L.G.B.T. person.

Who might be the next Secretary of Education? At EdWeek.

Some you’ve probably heard of, like Jerry Falwell Jr., Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and Tony Evers of Wisconsin. But others you probably haven’t.

Who was the late Kobe Bryant’s biggest inspiration? His English teacher. At WBUR.

Tennessee’s Governor Mike Lee announces new $$$ for schools.

Not so fast: Fifth Third Bank reverses its decision to pull out of scholarship program, at OS. It seems they’re back in after receiving assurances that none of their $$$ would go directly to anti-LGBTQ schools.

Fifth Third said Friday that it changed its views based on “detailed conversations” with the AAA Scholarship Foundation, which administers some of the program. The bank said that the foundation had agreed to “develop a roadmap to help parents navigate the school selection and application process.”

RIP Dr. John Whitcomb Jr. I’m no creationist, but there is no denying the long-lasting influence of Whitcomb’s work. It was Whitcomb more than his more-famous co-author Henry Morris who sparked the rise of young-earth creationism in the 1960s.

“Failing Government Schools:” the Next Page in Trump’s Playbook

By and large, people like them. Why would President Trump attack them? He has scored some victories by backing extremist views. Will it work with schools, too?

Here’s what we know: In his State of the Union speech, Trump took the highly unusual step of criticizing public schools as “failing government schools.” Why would he do that? By and large, public schools are enormously popular with Americans. Yes, people tend to agree that the nation’s schools as a whole have problems, but huge majorities (65%-77%) give their kids’ schools an “A” or “B.”

gallup kids schoolsNot only that, but public schools have a unique place in America’s vision of itself. For a long time now, as Jonathan Zimmerman explored, Americans have considered their local public school a central part of their community.zimmerman small wonder

Traditionally, presidents and other national leaders like to set themselves up as defenders of the public schools. It seems like a bad move for Trump to attack them, like pitting himself against baseball. Or apple pie. Or motherhood.

Will Trump’s attack on public schools hurt him? With normal politicians, I’d think so. But Trump has made a presidential career out of embracing non-mainstream views.

Remember Charlottesville? Most politicians would have denounced a racist, murderous, extremist march. But Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides.”

america school heiderich 1897

What Trump is now against. (c. 1897)

And as a few historians discussed yesterday on Twitter, the phrase “government schools” has a long and tangled history. Back in the 1950s, it was used by a few libertarians such as Milton Friedman. It was also the language used by white supremacists in the South to denounce integration. By the 1970s and 1980s, it had become the language used by a certain type of extreme religious conservative.

By adopting the rhetoric of “failing government schools,” President Trump has once again upended presidential tradition. Instead of trying to represent a respectable, staid, traditional middle, he has taken on the position of extremist, aggrieved conservative outsiders.

Will it work? Four years ago, I would have said no. So far, though, it has been Trump’s go-to move. As the head of the government, attacking “government schools” makes no sense. It alienates large portions of the voting populace. But it also motivates and encourages a small group of outsiders and extremists, people who hadn’t considered themselves welcome in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue before 2016.

Beware: “Government Schools”

What’s the difference between a “government school” and a “public school?”

It seems a “government school” is one calculated to impose a sinister ideology of sloth, poor manners, high spending, and bestial morality on its students.

At least, that’s what reading today’s conservative headlines would lead one to believe.

Anyone who browses certain conservative writers and activists will soon notice this ubiquitous usage.  Again and again, we read about “government schools” instead of about “public schools.”

For example, pundit James Ostrowski warns readers to pull their children out of “government schools.”  There’s nothing more important if readers want to “save America, not to mention your own kids.  Government schools,” Ostrowksi warns,

Were not established out of any dire need for them but rather for a variety of crass religious, political and economic motives.  They were not immaculately conceived but rather were born out of a toxic stew of religious absolutism, Prussian militarism, utopian socialist leveling, special interest greed and power lust.

It is not only the history of “government schools” that troubles Ostrowski.  Today’s government schools, he insists, are “loaded with crime, bullying, drugs and sexual promiscuity.  They indoctrinate students into a false view of American history, one that is invariably favorable to ever-expanding government.”

Ostrowski’s jeremiad may sound far-fetched to some readers, but his strident anti-public-school-ism is widely shared among conservative commentators.

“Government schools” force students to act like slaves, we read.

“Government schools” expose children to drugs, sex, and even early deaths, we read.

It seems the phrase “public school” still retains too many positive connotations to suit the taste of some commentators.  In order to convince readers of the terrors of public education, many conservative activists seem to have adopted the label “government schools” instead.  With this flip of a rhetorical switch, those innocent red schoolhouses on the hill have been replaced by gloomy outposts of centralizing overreach.  “Government” schools carry all the terrifying baggage among some conservatives of any other government program.  If schools are outposts of the government, then they must be outposts of the regime to strip Americans of their traditional religion, their ferocious independence, and their hard-earned tax money.

I’ve been intrigued by this common rhetorical switch among conservatives lately.  It is a powerful yet simple change.  After all, no one can gainsay the fact that public schools are, indeed, government institutions.  But if we think of them as “public,” they seem to belong to us all.  If we think of them as the “government,” then we can rally Tea Party angst and energy to reject them.

The historian in me grew curious to track back this change in conservative school talk.  I looked back through all my overstuffed files and reading notes.

The earliest usage I could find traced back to the influential conservative pundit Sam Blumenfeld.  Blumenfeld wielded significant influence in the 1980s.  My research in the National Archives revealed that Blumenfeld’s work was promoted by the highest levels of William J. Bennett’s Education Department.

It was Blumenfeld that offered the earliest example I could uncover of calling public schools “government” schools.

In his 1981 book Is Public Education Necessary?  Blumenfeld warned that public schools did not live up to their own positive reputation.  Public schools did not work to promote democracy.  They did not function as religious and ideologically neutral institutions.  They did not wisely use public money.  They did not hire quality teachers.  In short, public schools, Blumenfeld argued, did not deserve their unassailed reputation as necessary governmental institutions.

In effect, Blumenfeld insisted, a student going to public school “emerges indoctrinated in a body of secular values as if he had gone to a sort of government parochial school.”

Now, I’m not suggesting that today’s conservative pundits are all deriving their use of the term “government school” directly from Sam Blumenfeld.  But his use was the earliest I could find.  My hunch is that Blumenfeld’s considerable influence among conservative educational activists did a great deal to promote the term’s widespread popularity today.