What Vouchers Can Do: Florida Tax-Funded Fundamentalism

I guess we shouldn’t really call it an “exposé” because it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t expect. Still, it can be eye-opening to see the sorts of things voucher programs can do. This week, the Orlando Sentinel explores the content of fundamentalist textbooks used at area private schools. The story prompts us to ask a tough question about voucher programs: Is it fair to limit voucher programs only to religions we like?

ACE florida 1

Should taxes pay for these textbooks?

As I’ve argued in a couple of academic articles, the history of fundamentalist textbook publishing is key to understanding both the “Christian-school” movement and the subsequent evangelical homeschooling exodus.

Without the work of school publishers such as A Beka Book, Accelerated Christian Education, and Bob Jones University Press, I believe, conservative evangelicals in the 1970s and 1980s would not have been able to open so many small private schools. And without pre-made curricular materials, evangelicals would not have been able to leave school by their millions in the 1990s to homeschool.

Plus, no one should think that these fundamentalist textbooks are static or monolithic. As I explored in a chapter in AJ Angulo’s terrific book Miseducation, ACE, A Beka, and Bob Jones are all very different from one another, and all have radically changed their treatment of topics such as US History.

It’s not just me: Dr. Jonny Scaramanga has devoted his early academic career to exploring the curriculum to which he was subjected as a youth. Dr. Scaramanga argues that Accelerated Christian Education never escaped its racist, homophobic origins, despite some surface changes and lip service to liberalization.

As the Orlando Sentinel explains, voucher programs in Florida are sending tax dollars to schools that use textbooks by the “big three” fundamentalist school publishers. As the investigators discovered, the textbooks are full of creationism, ethnocentrism, and historical denialism. As OS puts it,

[Investigators] found numerous instances of distorted history and science lessons that are outside mainstream academics. The books denounce evolution as untrue, for example, and one shows a cartoon of men and dinosaurs together, telling students the Biblical Noah likely brought baby dinosaurs onto his ark. The science books, they added, seem to discourage students from doing experiments or even asking questions. . . .

The social studies books downplay the horrors of slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans, they said. One book, in its brief section on the civil rights movement, said that “most black and white southerners had long lived together in harmony” and that “power-hungry individuals stirred up the people.”

We have to ask: Is this sort of thing okay for a tax-funded school? After all, there is nothing in this story that should come as a surprise. If we want to allow voucher programs that send tax money to private schools, we should expect some of those dollars to pay for curricula we disagree with. Is that okay?

ace florida 2

Hard-hitting curriculum for Florida’s third-graders. This sample comes from an Accelerated Christian Education reader.

Or, to put it in nerdier terms: How should policy-makers decide if religious schools qualify to participate in tax-funded programs? It can’t be simply on the basis of our own personal religious views. For example, I believe the ACE, BJU, and Abeka textbooks are terrible and I would never want my kid to use them in school. But my personal preferences can’t suffice to dictate policy. How can we decide which religious schools qualify for tax-funded voucher programs?

One option would simply be to make ALL religious schools off-limits for voucher-funded students. In some cases, though, that would seem to keep deserving kids from getting a higher-quality education than their local public schools can provide.

Another option would be to rule out schools that limit their students’ life chances. As one of the OS investigators argued, for example, using these creationist textbooks would hurt students. As the article explains,

“Students who have learned science in this kind of environment are not prepared for college experiences,” said Cynthia Bayer, a biology lecturer at the University of Central Florida who reviewed the science books. “They would be intellectually disadvantaged.”

But WOULD they? Anyone who knows the real story of American higher education knows that creationist students have plenty of creationist colleges they can attend. Is it fair to say that students can’t study creationist books because they don’t agree with mainstream science? Isn’t that the whole point of private schools in the first place?

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m firmly against using tax dollars to fund private religious schools. I think we should nix ALL religious schools from that sort of public funding. But we can’t do it only for some religious schools and not for others, based on the fact that we don’t like some of the religions. And we should not be surprised to find out that voucher programs are doing precisely what they were designed to do: Fund religious schools.


Getting Stoned at Bob Jones University

Is it now okay to be gay at fundamentalist Bob Jones University? Last week, former president and current chancellor Bob Jones III apologized for vicious anti-gay rhetoric from 1980. But this does not mean that homosexuality is now an accepted thing at BJU.

Time to celebrate?

Time to celebrate?

For those like me outside the orbit of fundamentalist colleges, the cultural politics of BJU can come as a shock. BJU has a long history of holding out against progressive social trends. Until the twenty-first century, for example, the South Carolina university proudly opposed interracial marriage.

As I’m finding as I research Bob Jones and other fundamentalist colleges, BJU has always been an outlier. The family leadership has a long tradition, when challenged, of doubling down on its own opinions as God’s Truth. Any criticism from within or without merely strengthened the leaders’ resolve. Again and again, this has led to purges of dissenting faculty, students, and administrators.

For those in the know, then, the recent apology for anti-homosexual rhetoric seems like another welcome change. In a press release, BJIII responded to a petition from a gay-rights group at BJU. In 1980, at a White House press conference, then-president BJIII suggested that the appropriate punishment for homosexuality was stoning. Here’s what he said back then:

I’m sure this will be greatly misquoted. But it would not be a bad idea to bring the swift justice today that was brought in Israel’s day against murder and rape and homosexuality. I guarantee it would solve the problem post-haste if homosexuals were stoned, if murderers were immediately killed as the Bible commands.

In his recent apology, BJIII distanced himself from such shocking language. As he put it,

I take personal ownership of this inflammatory rhetoric. This reckless statement was made in the heat of a political controversy 35 years ago. It is antithetical to my theology and my 50 years of preaching a redeeming Christ Who came into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Upon now reading these long-forgotten words, they seem to me as words belonging to a total stranger—were my name not attached.

So can gay people at BJU now come out of their fundamentalist closets? Apparently not. As anti-fundamentalist Jonny Scaramanga noted, BJIII’s apology still condemned homosexuality. The statement apologized for the threat of stoning, not for labeling homosexuality a sin. BJIII carefully noted that he did not believe stoning was the appropriate punishment for “sinners.” He never apologized for considering homosexuality itself a sin.

Nevertheless, as the response from the gay-rights group BJU Unity makes clear, homosexuals are part of the BJU community. As I’m finding in my current research, they always have been. BJIII’s apology is not nothing, but it does not welcome homosexuals openly into BJU’s fundamentalist family.

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?

Children Must Submit

First learn to obey

First learn to obey


What is the role of the child in school? Many conservative thinkers, now and in the past, have insisted that children must learn to submit to teachers’ authority. Before they can learn to read or figure, children have to learn that obedience is their proper attitude. These days, this penchant for submissive children has leached out of the world of traditionalist thinking into the burgeoning world of charter schooling. A recent interview with a leading scholar highlights the ways conservative values have reasserted themselves as the mainstream norm.

Thanks to a watchful colleague, I came across this interview with Penn’s Professor Joan Goodman. Professor Goodman works in the Teach for America program at Penn and spends a good deal of time in urban charter schools. In many of those schools, Goodman finds a rigorous standardization and a vigorous effort to train children to be submissive. As Goodman told EduShyster,

these schools have developed very elaborate behavioral regimes that they insist all children follow, starting in kindergarten. Submission, obedience, and self-control are very large values. They want kids to submit. You can’t really do this kind of instruction if you don’t have very submissive children who are capable of high levels of inhibition and do whatever they’re told. . . . They want these kids to understand that when authority speaks you have to follow because that’s basic to learning.

At the same time, Goodman notes, the schools insist on lockstep performance by teachers. Every teacher is supposed to be delivering the same content at the same time in the same way. Goodman calls it a “very uniform and scripted curriculum.”

Ask anyone familiar with urban charter-school education these days, and you’ll hear similar stories. For those of us trying to figure out what “conservatism” means in education, this leads us to some difficult questions: Did these goals and values move from fundamentalist and conservative activists into the mainstream? And if they did, how?

In my historical research into the worlds of conservative educational activism, I’ve seen it time and again. For decades—generations, even—conservative thinkers have insisted that submission is the first lesson of successful schooling. Without submissive children, teachers will not be able to transmit information. Without the successful transmission of information from teacher to student—according to this conservative logic—education has not happened.

Originally published in 1979...

Originally published in 1979…

In the world of Protestant fundamentalist education, youthful obedience is often elevated to a theological value. Writing for an A Beka guide in the late 1970s, fundamentalist writer Jerry Combee warned that Christian teachers must be stern disciplinarians. “If Christian educators give one inch on discipline, the devil will take a mile.” Combee continued,

Permissive discipline, for example, is wrapped up with teaching methods that always try to make learning into a game, a mere extension of play, the characteristic activity of the child. Progressive educators overlooked the fact that always making learning fun is not the same as making learning interesting. . . Memorizing and drilling phonetic rules or multiplication tables are ‘no fun’ (though the skillful teacher can make them interesting). They can have no place in a curriculum if the emotion of laughter must always be attached to each learning experience a la Sesame Street.

That same A Beka guide to good fundamentalist schooling promised that good schools always taught in lockstep. At the time, A Beka offered a curriculum for private start-up Christian fundamentalist schools. Not only would schools get curriculum infused with dependably fundamentalist theology, but

the principal can know what is being taught. He can check the class and the curriculum to make certain that the job is getting done. Substitute teachers can also step in and continue without a loss of valuable teaching time.

Some bloggers confirm that fundamentalist schooling has continued to emphasize obedience over intellectual curiosity. Jonny Scaramanga, Galactic Explorer, and Samantha Field have all shared their experiences with this sort of fundamentalist educational impulse. In their experiences, fundamentalist schools and homeschools have insisted on obedience, and have done so in a sinisterly gendered way. Young women and girls, especially, were taught to submit to male authority figures. Every student, however, seems to be pressed to submit and conform, not as a punishment, but rather as a foundation for education.

To be fair, as I argued in an academic article a while back, there has been a lot of disagreement among fundamentalist Protestants about proper education. Just as the folks at A Beka were insisting that proper education began with submission, the equally fundamentalist thinkers at Bob Jones University pushed a very different vision of proper education. Led by long-serving dean Walter Fremont, the school of education at Bob Jones promoted a more child-centered sort of fundamentalist education.

We also need to note that this insistence on submissive children is not just a fundamentalist one. Secular conservatives have long insisted that learning can only begin with obedience. In many cases, this has been a conservative response to a left-leaning progressive pedagogy. For example, leading progressive thinker Harold Rugg began his career with recommendations for proper classroom attitudes. In an article from the 1920s, Rugg instructed teachers to share authority with students. Good teaching, Rugg wrote, did not dictate to children; it did not insist on obedience. Rather, good teaching pushed students to think of themselves as autonomous, self-directed learners. Good teachers, Rugg insisted, asked students again and again, “What do you think?”

In the 1920s, this notion of proper student behavior divided progressives from conservatives. One conservative leader of the Daughters of the American Revolution offered a very different vision of good teaching. Writing in 1923, Anne Minor explained that the best teachers begin with “truth and integrity, orderliness and obedience, loyalty and love of country.”

In the 1950s, another conservative Daughter of the American Revolution warned that teaching had gone astray when it encouraged children to be “persistent in their own ideas, disobedient, and resent[ful of] parental discipline.”

Another secular conservative in the 1950s agreed. One letter-writer to the Pasadena Independent described the problems with progressive education this way:

discipline, as well as the lack of fundamental knowledge teaching [sic], is one of the biggest lacks of the progressive school. Some parents shift the discipline to the school which is wrong, of course, but if the parents are at fault for lack of discipline, so are the schools. . . . Lack of consideration of others is the biggest fault of children today, and should not be too difficult to correct. Tantrums should never be tolerated, sassiness and disobedience should be controlled at an early age.

rafferty what they are doing to your children

And, of course, other conservative educational thinkers and activists also pressed for an obedience-first vision of good education. The leading secular conservative voice of the 1960s, Max Rafferty, agreed that schools could only function if children first learned to submit. As Rafferty put it in his 1964 book What They Are Doing to Your Children,

School, you see, was not considered ‘fun’ in those days. It was a mighty serious business and was conducted that way. At any rate, once the two premises are accepted that (1) boys won’t behave in schools unless compelled to do so and (2) boys must be made to behave so that they can learn things that are essential for them to know, then the whole paraphernalia of corporal punishment falls into proper perspective. . . . Things have changed of late in the field of discipline, and more than somewhat. They started to change at home first, back in the twenties and thirties. The prime mover in their change was the new psychology, which was widely publicized and which caused parents seriously to doubt their proper role vis-à-vis their children for the first time in the recorded history of the human race. . . . The result was the emergence of the least-repressed and worst-behaved generation of youngsters the world had ever seen.

As I researched my upcoming book about conservative activism in education, I found this theme repeated over and over. It goes something like this: Good schooling means the transmission of information to children. That transmission cannot occur unless children submit to teachers’ authority. Therefore, any meaningful education reform must begin with the establishment of an atmosphere of relentless obedience and submission.

Professor Goodman doesn’t talk about “conservatism” or “fundamentalism” in the schools she visits. And many of the reformers these days who push for youthful obedience and teacher standardization would never call themselves conservatives, let alone fundamentalists. But it is difficult not to notice the overlap.

Conservative notions of youth and education, it seems, have become the standard way to think about educational reform among groups such as Teach For America. First and foremost, in this understanding of education and youth, children must submit.

Child Abuse or Church Camp?

The way we ask the question says a lot.

We could ask it this way: Is it abusive to encourage children to have certain religious experiences?

Or we could put it like this: Should children and toddlers be coerced and terrified?

Either way, these questions are prompted by a new church-camp video that is making the rounds these days.  In the video, we see young children experiencing some of the typical manifestations of charismatic Christian worship.  They jerk their limbs, fall to the ground, engage in babbling speech, cry and shout.

Adults surround the children, clearly encouraging them to behave the right way.  Some children seem to participate enthusiastically.  Others seem confused, intimidated, or tearful.

There’s not much new here.  These sorts of behaviors have been manifestations of charismatic worship for a long time.  For just as long, they have been criticized by critics.  In the first Great Awakening of the 1740s, Boston minister Charles Chauncy famously attacked the revivalists for their embrace of “enthusiasm.”  Their emotional services prompted false conversions, Chauncy believed.  Attendees at big revival meetings found themselves caught up in the moment, jerking their bodies, crying out, falling down, but not becoming truly Christian.

More recent critics focus on the way young children are bullied into a traumatic emotional experience.  Atheist pundit Jerry Coyne, for instance, puts it this way:

It’s brainwashing, pure and simple. The kids have no choice. Is there anyone who wouldn’t call this abuse?

These behaviors seem bizarre to me as well.  But I don’t call it abuse.  The adults in this video, to my mind, don’t appear to be victimizing children, but rather trying to share an authentically held belief with them.  That’s a big difference.

I know this is a difficult topic to discuss.  I also know that I have absolutely no personal experience with this sort of thing.  And I sympathize deeply with those who found themselves traumatized by this sort of intense religious upbringing.

But if we call it “abuse” we are doing more than simply insulting these adult believers.  If we call it “abuse” we open the door to government intervention in these religious ceremonies, and others.

Perhaps some other examples will help make the case.  It is sadly not uncommon for religious people to insist on alternative medical care for children.  Instead of chemotherapy, for example, some believers may lay hands on a child who is suffering from cancer.  This is abusive.  The child is being substantially harmed by being denied effective treatment.

It is also sadly not uncommon for religious organizations—and, to be fair, non-religious organizations—to cover up sex abuse of minors in the name of religious solidarity.  Here, too, the government must intervene.  This is abuse.

Again, my heartiest sympathies go out to those who are struggling to overcome religious upbringings they found coercive.  Writers such as Samantha Field and Jonny Scaramanga have educated me a great deal about the ways religious beliefs can cause emotional harm and long-term trauma.

I’m not dismissing that.  But the church-camp activities here seem to be something different than “abuse.”  Am I wrong?


Evolution Rock

I ran into some mysterious evolution-related lyrics in a trademark song by my favorite band ever.

Of course, this is not the first time rockers have messed with evolutionary themes.  ILYBYGTH readers may remember our ponderings about Bruce Springsteen’s muddled ideas about evolution.  And thanks to Jonny Scaramanga we all learned something about the vibrant creation-rock scene.

But I guess I had never listened closely enough to the lyrics of MC5’s “Sister Anne.”  The Detroit outfit’s signature song starts out like this, the best I can decode:

Sister Anne don’t give a damn about evolution

She’s a liberated woman, she’s got her solution

Like a dinosaur, she’s going off the wall

She’s gonna make it her own crusade

It raises two obvious and difficult questions.  First, how much more evolution-rock is out there?  Not to be too nerdy about it, but how deeply do the questions of evolution and creationism sink into the marrow of American culture?  If we hear the echoes of creationism even in the skudjiest of Motor City rock anthems, is there anywhere we won’t find them?

The second question is much simpler: What the *@#% do these “Sister Anne” lyrics mean?  The title character seems to be some sort of soul-saving, evolution-hating, sexy Catholic nun.  I know she can…but can what?



Fundamentalism’s Roots: A Review

What does it mean to be a “fundamentalist?”

At his lively blog Leaving Fundamentalism, Jonny Scaramanga has offered a review of my 1920s book that puts this question squarely at the center.

Two Thumbs Up...

Two Thumbs Up…

As Scaramanga points out from his current work and from his personal life history, the term “fundamentalist” is often used as more of a bludgeon than a label.  People accuse each other of being “fundamentalist” about this issue or that.  People dither over whether this or that person is a true “fundamentalist.”

Scaramanga notes that unless and until we get a sense of the formative first decade of American fundamentalism—the 1920s—we’ll never wrap our heads around the contentiousness that has always been at the core of defining the term.  I agree entirely.

Best of all, he gave the book a thumbs-up.  As Scaramanga put it,

I was genuinely surprised how much I liked this book. I’m a longtime reader of Adam’s blog and he’s helped me out with research on numerous occasions, so I knew he’s an engaging writer and a top bloke, but I was still expecting to find this a dry, academic slog. Actually, I was riveted. Everything I’ve studied of fundamentalism makes so much more sense in the historical context this book provides. I’d recommend it to people with a casual interest in fundamentalism just as much as those with an academic interest.

Thanks, Jonny.  I don’t think I’ve ever been called a “top bloke” before.  A “top bloke’s” a good thing…right?

Should Adults Lie to Children?

I’ll say it: Lying to children is a vital part of a good education.

Adults lie to children all the time.  Santa Claus. Easter Bunny. Tooth Fairy. Daddy will eventually come home again…

But can such lies be considered “education?”  Our attitude toward this question might tell us a thing or two about the continuing culture wars over American education.

The question came up again in Professor Jerry Coyne’s review of Jonny Scaramanga’s Salon article.  For those of you who just joined the party, Professor Coyne is an irascible atheist and scientist.  He is an inveterate campaigner against creationism and delusional religionism.  Scaramanga is a recovering fundamentalist, blogger, and sometime contributor to these pages.  Scaramanga’s Salon article decried the repackaged fundamentalist curricula that are being taught in some publicly funded charter schools in Texas.

In response, Coyne thundered,

Adults have the right to be as stupid as they want, but I don’t think they have the right to tell lies to children. Those lies include not only religious dogma, but the antiscience attitudes that come with it. How sad that a group of bright and curious children can become ignorant, superstitious ideologues simply because they were born into the wrong families.

Professor Coyne is not the first science pundit to take this position.  In his 1964 anti-creationism book This View of Life, paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson blasted the lies that had thwarted evolution education.  “Even now,” Simpson argued,

a hundred years after The Origin of Species, most people have not really entered the world into which Darwin led—alas!—only a minority of us.  Life may be considerably happier for some people in the older worlds of superstition.  It is possible that some children are made happy by a belief in Santa Claus, but adults should prefer to live in a world of reality and reason.

But as anyone involved with education knows, adults lie to children all the time.  Doing so is a vital part of every good education.  Let’s look at a couple of examples.

1.) “This is what we believe.” 

Every education, in every culture, whether it means formal schooling, apprenticeships, or informal instruction, includes the passing along of central ideas.  Professor Coyne meant that adults should not tell young people things that are untrue.  But what if the adults believe it fervently?  Is that a lie?  Or, to complicate the matter, what if the adult isn’t sure if she believes it fervently, but is convinced that it will be good for the young person to believe?  For example, in the world of religious faith, an adult may have had serious doubts about her faith, but decide that a young person is not yet mature enough to consider those gray areas.  She might then tell young people that certain religious mysteries are simply truths, knowing that later the child will and should wrestle with the more complicated questions about it.

2.) “You can do this.”

This can be a flat-out lie.  Teachers and parents often work to inspire confidence in their children and students, even when the adults are very unsure of the truth of their statements.  Adults may have serious doubts that young people can, indeed, accomplish certain goals.  Yet the adults might tell the children that such goals are definitely, absolutely, 100% achievable.  It’s a lie.  But it is something good parents and teachers do.

3.) “I hate phonies.”

In our culture, many of the biggest truths are best understood through lies.  I’m no Salinger fan, but I still remember reading Catcher in the Rye in high school.  I remember Holden’s struggle with phonies.  It taught me important truths about the ways people interact with one another.  None of it was “true,” of course.  It was all fiction, all lies.  But my teacher taught me those lies.  And I’m very glad she did.

Our attitude about lying to young people can tell us a lot about our positions on key educational culture-war issues.  Professors Coyne and Simpson think it is not okay for young people to learn creationism or other religious falsehoods.  But that position doesn’t include room for the complexities of real education.  Adults lie to children all the time, for the children’s benefit.  Sometimes they do so deliberately.

But more often, adults tell children things that the adults think are true.  Creationists don’t set out to deceive their children; they hope instead to protect their children from the deceptions of mainstream science.

But what if we don’t agree that creationism is true?  Are those creationists guilty of lying to children?  Professor Simpson said yes.  Professor Coyne says yes.  Jonny Scaramanga, I’m guessing, would say yes.

I disagree.  Teaching children our core beliefs is not lying.  Even if I think those beliefs are untrue (and I do think young-earth creationist beliefs are untrue), parents who teach such things to their children are guilty of nothing more than educating their offspring.

There is no parental right more fundamental than that.


Charter Schools Teach Fundamentalism

Can fundamentalist Protestant educators change their packaging and call their new schools charters?

Leaving Fundamentalism’s Jonny Scaramanga argued recently in the pages of Salon that some fundamentalist leaders are doing just that.

As we’ve seen, publicly funded charter schools elsewhere have been accused of simply re-branding religious schools and siphoning off public money.

Scaramanga, a product of the fundamentalist Accelerated Christian Education curriculum and now its fiercest critic, uncovered Texas charter schools in which ACE’s rigid fundamentalist materials are paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Check out the full article.  Scaramanga describes ACE-derived textbooks that promote skepticism toward mainstream evolutionary science.  He found evidence that ACE-influenced charter schools guided students by the Ten Commandments but called them non-religious “success principle[s].”  Most headline-grabbing, the ACE-ish books blamed evolution for the rise of Hitler.

Scaramanga even cites yours truly as a source, so you know his article’s gotta be good.


Our Fundamentalist Neighbors: A Rebuttal

Guest Post by Jonny Scaramanga

I am very happy to welcome a guest post today by Jonny Scaramanga. Jonny’s blog, Leaving Fundamentalism, is a must-read for everyone interested in issues of conservative Christianity and education. Jonny and I have gone back and forth a little bit about the propriety of attacking creationism. Recently, I contributed a guest post to Leaving Fundamentalism about how to handle our fundamentalist neighbors. The following is Jonny’s rebuttal. What do you think?

Adam and I are bad at choosing neighbours. I too have had a bothersome neighbour. Unlike Adam, though, I found the law quite helpful in dealing with the antisocial Ned Flanders next door.

He let his dog bark all day and night for months, so I informed the city council. They served him with an abatement notice and then fined him £5,000.

He built a hideous extension on his house without permission. For this he faced a choice between removing the extension and paying a maximum fine of £20,000.

When he continually harassed and berated me for not sharing his worldview, he received an Anti-social Behaviour Order. And when he was caught persistently leaving his rubbish on someone else’s property, he went to prison for five years.

It is true that we can’t legislate against being an unpleasant person, but we can and do legislate against behaviour that harms other people.

Adam has argued on my blog that banning the teaching of Creationism would not make sense, in the same way that passing an anti-dick law would not make sense. But the two cases are not equivalent. For one thing, dickish behaviour is already covered by existing legislation, while teaching Creationism in private and home schools is not. For another, we are not talking about the right to be a Creationist. We are talking about the right to impose Creationist views on someone else.

Adam also argues that banning the teaching of Creationism probably wouldn’t stop people doing it. That might be true, but it’s a practical matter. I’m more interested in whether there’s a moral case for banning Creationism in education.

First, we need to get the misleading notion of parents’ rights off the table. Parents are humans, with human rights; children are humans, and they also have human rights. Parental rights are not human rights; they are rights that one human being has to exert control over another. Can you think of another instance where liberal democracies allow a person to act in this way? The only similar examples I know are slavery, imprisonment, and archaic ideas of marriage where ownership of a woman passes from her father to her husband. These do not seem like paradigms to emulate.

Children have rights, but they are not yet capable of exercising those rights wisely. Someone must make decisions on their behalf. Usually, the best-placed people to do this are parents. Generally, a child’s interests and her parents’ are aligned, and parents are best placed to act in the child’s interests. But – apart from a right not to be forcibly separated from her children without good reason – these are not rights. These are responsibilities. Other conceptions of childrens’ rights treat children as though they are the property of the parents.

The right to teach Creationism is not the right to practice religion. It’s the right to indoctrinate someone else. The only relevant question is whether teaching Creationism harms children. The answer seems entirely obvious to me. Teaching Creationism involves telling children blatant falsehoods, which have no practical application, which reduce the likelihood of their integrating with wider society, and which require the corruption of the ability to think logically. I think you’d struggle to argue this could be anything other than harmful.

The only exception I can see is that it is in children’s interests to have a good relationship with their parents. It’s also probably beneficial for children to have good relations with their parents’ community. If rejecting the theory of evolution is a requirement for this, then perhaps teaching Creationism serves the child’s interests.

This would ignore the list of possible harms caused by Creationism. If followed to its logical conclusion, the study of ‘scientific’ Creationism has devastating consequences for the life of the mind. It impacts not only on obvious areas like biology and astronomy, but also on areas as diverse as history, linguistics, and psychology. ‘Survivors’ of Accelerated Christian Education writing for my blog express bitterness at the educational opportunities they were denied. Creationism may have united their families when they were children, but now it has created rifts. Creationist children endured mockery and alienation from their evolution-accepting peers, for no obvious benefit. Now they complain of setbacks in their professional life, because their poor education failed to set them up for a real career.

I suspect Adam, along with the Sensuous Curmudgeon, is right that a petition to ban Creationism in schools is likely to be counter-productive. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for effective ways to get rid of it.

About the author: Jonny Scaramanga grew up as a fundamentalist and a student in Accelerated Christian Education. He is now a PhD candidate at the Institute of Education, University of London. He has written about creationism for the Guardian and Times Education Supplement, and discussed it on the BBC and Channel 4 (UK). He blogs about his fundamentalist experiences at Leaving Fundamentalism.