I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Covering the bases this week: Stories about evangelical higher ed, campus free speech, megachurch abuse scandals, and more. Thanks to everyone who sent in stories and tips.

Liberty U student journalist condemns Falwell’s “culture of fear,” at WaPo.

What my team and I experienced at the Champion was not an isolated overreaction to embarrassing revelations. It was one example of an infrastructure of thought-control that Falwell and his lieutenants have introduced into every aspect of Liberty University life.

Mr. Young’s story from Liberty U is heart-wrenching, but it is not new. The dictatorial style of Jerry Falwell Jr. is not an innovation, but rather only a sad flowering of a poisonous fundamentalist flower.

More from Professor Amy Wax. The Penn Law professor is under fire again for “repugnant” statements, allegedly saying, “our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.” At IHE.

An evangelical mega-church reopens after a sex-abuse scandal, at RNS.

[One victim] doesn’t think there’s anything church leaders can say to make the controversy go away. At least not yet.

“I’m just really feeling like they have one last chance kind of to make this right,” she said.

New York’s campaign against Hasidic schools raises tough questions, at EducationNext:

How much authority should the city and state have to impose the government’s vision of an education on a religious minority that would prefer to be left alone? How much power should parents have to send their children to schools that emphasize religious subjects at the expense of topics such as science or math? Does society have a responsibility to ensure that all children receive an education that enables them to participate in democracy and the workplace? And who determines the answers to these questions—parents, politicians, courts, bureaucrats, advocacy groups, or some complicated combination thereof?

Growing up Helter Skelter: LAT interview with the son of Charles Manson.

From the not-learning-our-lesson department: Feds release series of anti-vaping videos, at CNN.

A peek into the ugly politics of school funding. Ohio governor vetoes a last-minute sneaky provision to save rich Clevelanders from paying high school taxes, at Cleveland.com.

Michigan school principal sues district for “anti-white” discrimination, at MLIVE.

Blick’s lawsuit alleges that Ann Arbor school district officials “maintain a custom, policy and practice of: treating Caucasian and nonminority administrators disparately and less favorably than similarly situated African-American and minority administrators; subjecting Caucasian and nonminority administrators to hostility and harassment in the workplace based on their race; accelerating the promotion and advancement of African-American and minority administrators at the expense, and to the detriment, of Caucasian and nonminority administrators.”

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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.

yeshiva

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.

A Creationist Surprise

SAGLRROILYBYGTH can skip this post entirely. For those who are already familiar with the real contours of American creationism, there’s nothing new in this story. But for those who think American creationism means only Kentucky’s arks and Texas’s fist-thumping school-board leaders, read on. Real American creationism—even the radical young-earth sort—can be found where you might least expect it.

AP creationism

Big Apple, Small Timeline

The Associated Press yesterday poked a New York City sore spot. For years, critics and victims have charged the city’s “ultra” Orthodox yeshivas with cruel educational neglect. Today’s story confirms it. Boys in these schools are typically taught scanty secular knowledge. They can graduate, for example, without having learned much English, non-sacred history, or math. Girls tend to learn more about secular subjects, but their overall educational status is decidedly lower than that of boys.

As yesterday’s story tells the tale,

At the ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools Pesach Eisen attended in Brooklyn, most of the day was spent studying religious texts with classes taught in Yiddish. One class at the end of the day was spent on secular subjects including English and math, enough to be “able to go to the food stamps office and apply.”

“Everything was super basic. … Nobody took it seriously, so even if you were a studious person you had no chance,” said the now-32-year-old Eisen, who had to take remedial classes and study intensively on his own before he succeeded in graduating from college in 2016.

These Hasidic schools are once again the subject of lawsuits. It’s not only the schools themselves that are under fire, but Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Education. Critics charge the government with lackadaisical investigation and enforcement of legal minimums of educational standards, even for private schools.

It’s not only secular history, math, and English-language that gets shunted aside. For the approximately 115,000 students in these schools, modern science is extirpated. As one student told the AP,

They erased anything about dinosaurs. . . . Anything more than 5,000 years old was erased.

So when you go out looking for American creationism, don’t just steer South to the Ark Encounter and the Texas school board room. Be sure to spend some time in the Big Apple where radical creationism is thriving.

Is This Child Abuse?

Is it a crime to keep young people isolated from the wider community?  To teach them nothing that will allow them to thrive as independent adults?

From Frimet Goldberger in the Jewish Daily Forward we hear accusations that Hasidic communities in Ontario perpetrate educational crimes on their own children.  She shared a disturbing video in which a journalist asked young men basic questions.  Do you know the name of the Prime Minister?  The names of Canadian provinces?  Do you know anything about Canadian history?  The parts of the body?

The students, all apparently members of the Lev Tahor community—a group of about 40 families—did not seem to understand much about what they were being asked.  Most of the difficulty seemed related to their lack of English language skills.  But the boys did not seem able to answer in Hebrew, either.  One student, for example, asked to explain what he had learned about biology, explained haltingly that it is not healthy to jump too much right after eating.

The Lev Tahor community faces more serious challenges, too.  Some of the members are on the run from Canadian police, facing charges of child neglect and abuse.  Goldberger asks the question we want to hear: Does failing to teach children English or French count as abuse?  As Goldberger puts it, “These boys are lacking the basic language tools to take one step out of the community, to communicate with anyone outside their community.”

The United States has long wrestled with these questions, too.  Most notably, the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 1971’s Wisconsin v. Yoder that dissenting parents had the right to remove their children from public school.  These days, accusations of abuse in the growing homeschooling community have prompted calls for more government oversight.

Does a dissenting community have the right to restrict their children’s future?  If so, how can the wider society make any claims to regulate religious schooling?  And if not, who gets to decide what knowledge (or lack of knowledge) constitutes a limit?  Is young-earth creationism a limit on children’s futures?  Is a belief in faith healing?

If You Don’t Like It, Get Out: Hasidim and Schooling in Rockland County

“The hand that writes the paycheck rules the school.”

That was the line of William Jennings Bryan in the 1920s.  As I describe in my 1920s book, the conservative Presbyterian leader hoped to purge American public schools of theologically suspect notions, especially evolution and atheism.

Almost a century later, we can see a case in which religious conservatives have put this saying into action.

But William Jennings Bryan would have been surprised.  The conservatives in this case are not Protestants, but Hasidic Jews.

Journalist Benjamin Wallace-Wells offers a spellbinding account of the takeover of the public-school system in Rockland County, New York by Hasidic Jews.  Over the past several years, the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect has moved in large numbers into towns such as Ramapo.  Members of the community have used their demographic dominance to win control over the East Ramapo school board.  Since community members send their children to private schools, the school board has shifted funding from those public schools to private yeshivas, most commonly in the forms of special-education services.  Public-school funding has also been cut to the bone and beyond.

Public school students, Wallace-Wells describes, often have a hard time filling their schedules, since so many teachers have been laid off.  When non-Hasidic parents and activists complain, the president of the school board has a simple message: “You don’t like it?  Find another place to live.”

According to Wallace-Wells, the origins of the public-school takeover came from the unlikely field of special education.  Hasidic parents noticed that many of their children needed special-education services.  Yet they could not—for religious reasons—attend the pluralist public schools where such services were provided.  As a result, the Hasidic community won spots on the school board.  That school board then allowed students with special-education needs to receive needed services at private religious schools.

Many of the foes of conservative educational activism and policy worry about a “fundamentalist takeover” of public education.  What would it mean if conservatives won control of public schools?  In this fascinating essay we can see one example of conservative takeover in action.