I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Back to school; back to … losing our religion? Christian colleges that challenge faith, secular colleges that challenge ideas, Rosa Parks Barbie and, of course, Professor Matthew McConaughey all made this week’s list of must-read stories from around the interwebs:

So…now there’s a Rosa Parks Barbie. A triumph for Civil Rights history? Not exactly, at HNN.

The problem is that the more in-depth narrative that historians have worked hard to reconstruct is continually lost in public consumption.

rosa parks barbieHow does Barbie tie in to Newt Gingrich, Bertie Forbes, and the history of racism in the US? The ILYBYGTH take.

How can colleges foster true intellectual diversity? At NYT.

Is the point of a university education simply to provide students a forum in which they can air their political views, no matter how poorly informed? Of course not — and one reason that some students are reluctant to speak in class is because they are confronted, for the first time, by information that undermines their pre-existing assumptions. So how can professors keep exposing students to uncomfortable facts — because that’s our job — while encouraging them to speak their minds and hear out arguments they find outrageous?

Losing your faith at an evangelical college? Don’t worry; it’s always been part of the process. At CT.

At some evangelical schools, religious crisis is provoked by design. Nyack College in New York City offers a slate of first-year classes coordinated with chapel talks meant to challenge students’ beliefs.

“It’s almost that we have to deconstruct their faith, but in a nice way,” said Wanda Walborn, associate professor of spiritual formation at Nyack. “We have to carefully and lovingly get you back to Jesus, get you back to the grace of God, outside of performance.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Queen Betsy DeVost at EdWeek:

There are no shortage of cabinet appointees to take issue with. But I think there’s something particularly egregious with what’s happening with Betsy DeVos in the Department of Education because it’s not just somebody who’s taking the department in a direction I disagree with. She’s somebody who, in my view, is actively undermining the very purpose of the department.

Recruiting top faculty:

From the Big Surprise file: Turns out better pay can attract more teachers. At FP.

Alumni sue NY Jewish school for sexual abuse, at CNN.

The lawsuit accuses former principal George Finkelstein of targeting the children of Holocaust survivors and then imploring them “to not add to their parents’ suffering by telling them about his assaults.”

She’s not racist, but…this Michigan city council candidate wanted to keep her community white. Because the Bible. At FA.

Why do 55% of teachers hope their kids won’t become teachers? At Curmudgucation. The issues are

tied together with the single thread of distrust and disrespect for teachers. . . . we’ve had decades of federal and state programs meant to force teachers to do a better job. In the classroom, much of these “reforms” have sounded like “You can’t do a good job unless you are threatened, micromanaged, and stripped of your autonomy.” There is a special kind of stress that comes from working for someone who says, in effect, “You have a big important job to do, and we do not trust you to do it.”

Teachers do not experience disrespect only on a national level. Talk to individual teachers about their own work circumstances and you will often hear about district and building administrators who treat teachers like children.

“Gifted & Talented” program is out in NYC. What comes next? At Chalkbeat.

“The label is something that people really crave,” said James Borland, a Teachers College professor who studies “gifted” education. “The fact that the curriculum is very weak in lots of gifted programs — or the fact that it’s not that different — it’s a problematic situation,” he added.

What’s it like to be a progressive Christian in a conservative state? A review of American Heretics at R&P.

we hear Walke describe something of a conversion narrative. She transformed from a Southern Baptist in the pews of a church whose pastor was teaching that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for sin into a different sort of Christian—one who now leads in the charge of Mayflower UCC’s vote to denounce racism and become a sanctuary church.

The most touching moment in the film gives us a glimpse of the toll of Walke’s conversion. We sit in the passenger seat of her truck as she drives away from her grandmother’s home, where we’ve just seen the two women reflecting awkwardly (but with great compassion) on their connection as Christians, despite their current theological and political divide. The two women sang together an old-time hymn about heaven. But the voices in unison could not cover up the palpable tension, as her grandma, Novella Lore, appeared to struggle to find something to say about her granddaughter’s making headlines in the local paper for public LGBTQ advocacy. In the truck afterward, Walke confides that Lore is worried about her granddaughter’s eternal salvation. “I just want to know one thing. Are you going to go to heaven when you die?” she says Lore asked her.

Liberty U.’s president gives another big $$$ gift to an attractive young man, at Reuters.

“The concern is whether the university’s president wanted to do his personal trainer a favor and used Liberty assets to do it,” said Douglas Anderson, a governance specialist and former internal audit chief at Dow Chemical Co, who reviewed both the transaction and Liberty’s explanation of it at Reuters’ request. That would be bad governance, he said. “At a minimum, the terms suggest the buyer got a great deal and Liberty got very little.”

Hellfire in the Amazon: fires split Brazilian evangelicals from other faiths, at RNS.

“Due to their alliance with Bolsonaro, the evangelicals started to oppose the protection of the environment. They assimilated the idea that environmentalism is a disguise for communists and for international leaders who want to take the Amazon from Brazil,” said Renan William dos Santos, a researcher at the University of São Paulo who investigates the relations of Christians with environmentalism.

amazon fire

Evangelicals…support it?

Christian colleges watch SCOTUS nervously about LGBTQ cases, at DN.

“Student housing standards would face new pressure. Affiliated clinics and hospitals could be compelled to provide religiously objectionable medical procedures. A religious university’s tax-exempt status could be challenged or revoked,” the brief explains.

The new Gallup poll on creationism is out. The upshot: Lots more people seem okay with evolution this year.

gallup creationism 2019

The problem with ed reform at EdNext:

Why am I able to anticipate these failures in education reform initiatives, while the people devoting fortunes to these efforts and their staff have such a hard time avoiding strategies that result in failure? I’m not that smart and they aren’t that dumb. I suspect the answer is that foundations have organizational interests and cultures that tend to draw them to a mistaken theory about education policy. In its essence, that theory holds that there are policy interventions that could improve outcomes for large numbers of students if only we could discover them and get policymakers and practitioners to adopt them at scale.

I begin with a different theory. I suspect that there are relatively few educational practices that would produce uniformly positive results. Instead, I’m inclined to think of education as similar to parenting, in which the correct approaches are highly context-specific.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another busy week: Here are some ILYBYGTH-themed stories that came across our desk recently:

Can a creationist parent successfully sue a school district for teaching evolution? Not in PA, at NCSE.

READING

Words, words, words…

Are international students a higher-ed security threat? FBI director says yes, at IHE.

Conservative college professor to conservative UCLA students: Don’t invite Milo, at WS.

“Any reasonable person will agree…” At HXA, Musa Al-Gharbi points out that reasonable people are actually better at disagreeing, with three suggestions for better cross-culture-war communication.

How Protestantism shaped the modern world: An interview with Alec Ryrie at R&P.

Was this the most gruesome battle in human history?

RIP Billy Graham, at CNN.

What’s wrong with Black History Month? At The Progressive.

School shootings:

Ted Cruz: The Democrats are the party of Lisa Simpson. GOP is for Homer, Marge, Bart, and Maggie. At USA Today, HT: BM.

What’s wrong with standardizing student assessment at colleges? Molly Worthen tees off at NYT.Bart reading bible

West Virginia teachers go on strike, at CNN.

How Liberalism Failed: Albert Mohler interviews Patrick Deneen.

Conservatives need to confront campus radicalism, by Noah Rothman at Commentary.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

The Thanksgiving break didn’t seem to slow down our educational culture wars. Here are a few stories from this past week you might have missed:

Queen Betsy loves ‘em, but a new research review in EdWeek shows little evidence that voucher programs are good for students.Bart reading bible

Seeing the future? CNN Money looks at Wisconsin after six years of restrictions on teachers’ unions.

At The Atlantic, Hal Boyd asks why it’s still okay to make fun of Mormons.

Why do so many evangelicals still support Roy Moore? David Brooks points to “siege mentality.”

The “college gap” widens. Economist Charles Clotfelder discusses his study of higher education. The takeaway: rich private schools are vastly different from struggling public ones.

Is the new bajillion-dollar Museum of the Bible going to succeed at avoiding controversy? Nope.

Are Christians Extra Post-Truth?

HT: HD, SD

Do you buy it?

I know a lot of SAGLRROILYBYGTH, unlike me, hail from evangelical intellectual backgrounds. And a lot of us have read and pondered Molly Worthen’s recent argument that evangelical Protestantism has midwived a “post-truth” culture. Is she right? Or is this merely true of every American intellectual subculture?

First, some of the usual disclaimers: I’m not neutral. I’m a big fan of Professor Worthen’s work. Her book about the twentieth-century history of the evangelical intellectual tradition is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in the history of American religion, politics, and culture.

I leaned on it heavily in my book about evangelical and fundamentalist higher education. Molly even kindly agreed to read and comment on my manuscript, helping me sharpen up my argument. So I’m biased.apostles of reason

But I think I can put that to one side to consider her latest broadside. What does she say? It’s worth your time to read the whole thing. To get our discussion going, however, here’s her argument in a nutshell:

Evangelicals like Rachel Held Evans were “taught to distrust information coming from the scientific or media elite because these sources did not hold a ‘biblical worldview.’”

At evangelical colleges, Worthen points out, faculty members have often been surprisingly free to teach evolution and biblical skepticism. Yet the deeply embedded evangelical suspicion of mainstream knowledge has led many of them to do “a little bit of a dance with parents.”

Evangelicals, Worthen argues, have long taught themselves to look askance at mainstream sources of information. When it comes to recent harrumphs over “post-truth” politics and charges of “fake news,” she writes, evangelicals find “nothing new.”

What do you think?

To my mind, Professor Worthen’s insight is valuable. Evangelical Christians have been taught for so long to be skeptical of mainstream truthiness that they certainly seem uniquely primed to jump on the post-truth bandwagon. And, as I’ve argued elsewhere, many of Trump’s post-truth themes have long been trump-eted (sorry) on the campuses of evangelical colleges and universities.

But I’m also a little stumped. Couldn’t we say similar things about ANY intellectual subculture? Since the Sixties, for example, left-leaning intellectuals have insisted on the untrustworthiness of mainstream news sources. It all came from “The Man,” after all.

So when I hear of a well-meaning neo-hippie doubting the truthiness of vaccinations, isn’t it the same thing as an evangelical doubting the truthiness of climate change? When I hear of an organcy Trader-Joe shopper turning up his nose at genetically modified crops, isn’t it the same thing as a fundamentalist pooh-poohing evolutionary science?

Is there anything here unique to the evangelical intellectual tradition? Aren’t we all just as guilty of creating a post-truth society?

Required Reading: Molly Worthen on the Intellectual Civil War among American Evangelicals

What does it mean to be an “evangelical” in America?

Molly Worthen of the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill discussed her latest book recently with Tiffany Stanley of Religion & Politics.  The interview is sprinkled with gems that make me look forward to reading Worthen’s new book, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism.

apostles of reason

Of course, for those of us interested in the intersection of conservative politics and American education, the meanings of “evangelical” are always of intense interest.  Controversies over sex education, prayer in schools, and creationism often feature conservative Protestant evangelicals as main players.

What does it mean to be “evangelical?”  In this interview, Worthen suggests three central questions that define the boundaries of the evangelical experience.  As she explains them,

First, how do you reconcile faith and reason? How do you maintain one coherent way of knowing? Second, how do you become sure of your salvation? How do you meet Jesus and develop a relationship with him, to use the language that some evangelicals prefer. And third, how do you reconcile your personal faith with an increasingly pluralistic, secular public sphere?

Worthen also suggests some useful insights into the complex interaction between evangelicalism and education.  For example, how does the historically defined divide between white and black evangelicals play out in schools?  As Worthen puts it,

If you really grilled black or Latino Protestants on this question [of creationism], many of them would say, “I prefer the Genesis narrative to Darwin’s account, but do I get worked up about it? No. I’m more concerned about educational opportunities for my kids and more concerned about structural injustice.”

And of creationists in general, Worthen hits on the deeper intellectual divide at the heart of the evolution/creation trenches.  “I think it’s a mistake,” Worthen told Religion & Politics’ Stanley,

to understand creationists as “anti-science,” at least if we want to understand how they see themselves. The reality is that the creationist movement comes out of a tradition of Biblical interpretation that understands itself as deeply rationalist, deeply scientific, that rests on the premise that God’s revelation is all one, that God is perfect and unchanging, and therefore his revelation must be perfect and unchanging too. Our two modes of encountering his revelation, in scripture and in the created world, cannot contradict each other. . . . To understand reality accurately, they say, you must take as your founding assumption the truth of God’s revelation. I think that is crucial for understanding the frame of mind of creationists and how they view their project.

Of course, as Dr. Worthen knows, it meant very different things to assert this “creationist” way of knowing in 1877 than it did in 1977.  As she points out, one of the main features of the American evangelical experience has been a profound and continuing tension between the claimed authority of religious leaders and that of the wider secularizing society.

In schools, this evangelical “crisis of authority” has often played out as a continuing tension between a lingering desire to assert Protestant authority over “our” schools and a lamentation that “God has been kicked out” of American education.

One of the continuing dilemmas of religious historians has been to reconcile the mixed bag of evangelical intellectual life.  On one hand, American evangelicalism has included many of the great thinkers of the American tradition.  On the other hand, it has included in its big revival tent some of America’s most fervently anti-intellectual personalities.  I’ll look forward to reading in more detail about the ways Worthen wrestles with these perennial questions.

IN THE NEWS: Fea, Worthen, Santorum, and Civil Discourse

Three cheers for John Fea!  Fea is an American historian and blogger.  I’m a big of both his academic writing and his history-themed blog.

Fea recently criticized a piece in the New York Times about Rick Santorum’s mix of religion and politics.  The author, Molly Worthen, marred an otherwise insightful article about Santorum with some unnecessary derogatory comments about Santorum’s religious tradition.

Instead of summarizing any more, I’ll just include a slice of Fea’s conclusion here:

Let me be clear.  This post is not meant as an endorsement or rejection of Santorum’s beliefs or his candidacy. (I voted for Bob Casey Jr. in the 2006 Pennsylvania senatorial race).  It is rather written out of frustration over the way Santorum’s views are so easily dismissed, as if they are not worthy of being engaged in civil discourse or the public square. I wish Worthen would have done one of two things in this piece:
1.  Simply describe, without the gratuitous swipes, the Catholic natural law tradition that informs Santorum’s conservatism.  She is a good historian and a perceptive political reporter.
OR
2.  Directly engage with Santorum’s ideas rather than just assume that he a crazy, prejudiced bigot because his understanding of moral life comes from Thomas Aquinas.

Hear hear!