I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

August already! Instead of reading those stupid back-to-school ads, read some of these ILYBYGTH-themed stories from the past week:

Which comes first, God or politics? Michele Margoulis’s new book says people choose their party first, then their pew, at RNS.

Richard Dawkins’s anti-Islam rants miss the point. At The Conversation.

The changing face of private education—the rich get richer. At Atlantic.

Dawkins call to prayer

Are some calls to prayer more violent than others?

Helpful locals donate eight assault rifles to their local Texas school along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in other weaponry. At AP.

Collusion confusion: Is Trump really in cahoots with Nancy Pelosi? At The Hill.

Milwaukee sheriff in hot water for touting toilet-paper doctorate from unaccredited fundamentalist colleges, at JS. HT: NS.

An atheist’s case for religion at RNS.

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The Catholic Elephant in the Room

Why didn’t she mention it? For people familiar with the twentieth-century history of Catholic education, it looms as the biggest issue. Yet in a recent article about changing private-school enrollment in The Atlantic, Alia Wong leaves it out entirely. I’m stumped.

Students in class at St. John Villa Academy Catholic School

…or maybe it was the plaid?

Wong looks at the changing face of private education. With the dwindling enrollment in low-tuition Catholic schools, she notes, more expensive private schools are gobbling up a larger and larger share of the private-school market. The average tuition at private schools in the latest available data approached $11,000 annually. For most parents, that’s simply unaffordable.

So far, so good. If we really want to get a sense of the staggering inequalities built into America’s educational landscape, IMHO, the bigger story is the startling disparities between public schools. Even in the same city, some public schools resemble upscale educational hotels while others feel like seedy fleabags. But Wong makes a good point that private schools are becoming the province of a shrinking economic elite.

However, I can’t figure out why she left out the most obvious explanation for the shrinking of America’s Catholic school network. Here’s how she puts it,

A number of factors are contributing to the phasing-out of Catholic schools. One is a drop in the number of clergy members, who historically taught for relatively low wages. Another is the Church’s sex-abuse scandals, whose financial ramifications have undermined its ability to operate schools. In addition, demographic shifts such as falling birth rates, the growing concentration of black and Hispanic families in the bottom tier of the country’s income distribution, and a decline in religiosity among Americans, combined with the rise of charter schools, have led to lower enrollment in parochial education.

All true and important. But Wong doesn’t mention the impact of Vatican II. The public perception of the Church’s 1965 statement, Gravissimum Educationis, was that Catholic parents had been released from the requirement to send their children to Catholic schools. As the 1965 statement said,

Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.

Of course, at least as I read it, that statement is more about helping Catholic parents get a tax break to send their children to Catholic schools, but in the public eye the Vatican II agreement was often seen as freedom to attend public schools. Not surprisingly, given the choice between free-tuition public schools and low-tuition Catholic schools, huge numbers of Catholic parents began sending their children to local public schools instead.

Vatican II is not the only reason for shrinking enrollments in Catholic schools, for sure. At least in the popular understanding of American Catholic history, though, it played a huge role.

…so why wouldn’t Wong mention this epochal shift in American Catholic education? If we’re trying to understand the changing enrollment in private Catholic schools, it seems like an odd thing to leave out.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Our weekly list of ILYBYGTH-themed stories from around the interwebs:

Queen Betsy jeered from Left and Right:

betsy devos dolores umbridge

Saving Hogwarts: Something we can all agree on?

What’s wrong with data? Jeff Tabone reviews The Tyranny of Metrics at FPR.

  • Best bit: “measurements rarely reflect the prime educational mission of an institution.”

Historians tweet about Trump ‘n’ Putin at HNN.

A sort-of-conservative fix for higher ed: Razib Khan reviews The University We Need at NR.

Abortion rights and the coming divide. Will the USA be split in three? At RCP.

SCOTUS could get a different sort of new majority, too: Private-school attendees. At Atlantic.

After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans scrapped its entire public-school system in favor of privatization and competition. Did the charter-school revolution help New Orleans?

Trump’s Christian Nationalism, by Gene Zubovich at R&P.

Is it kosher for public-school student to fundraise for a religious mission trip? A Colorado court says no, at FA.

When it comes to fixing schools, tech billionaires will continue to fail. Zeynep Tufekci in NYT.

School Choice: Failing

We don’t normally hear criticism of school privatization from free-market conservative types.  But a recent essay by Michael Q. McShane in National Review included some harsh talk about vouchers and charters.

McShane, Education Fellow at the staunchly free-market American Enterprise Institute, complained that free-market solutions were not working.

Seems like a shocking admission for a conservative intellectual, until we get into McShane’s argument.

Vouchers aren’t working, McShane argues, because they are not being pushed hard enough.

McShane looks at the example of Milwaukee.  For twenty-five years, as McShane points out and as academic historians have agreed, Milwaukee has been one of the most “choice-rich” big cities in the nation.

The result?  As McShane notes, Milwaukee’s student test scores lag far behind Chicago and other big cities.

Some critics might conclude that “choice”—vouchers for parents to send children to private schools, charter schools that use public funding but avoid public-school bureaucracy, and rules that encourage parents to move their children between schools—has been proven a loser.

McShane says no.  What school systems really need, he argues, is a more thorough-going application of the principles of “choice.”  Ultimately, cities such as Milwaukee have only tinkered around the edges of the destructive public-school mentality.  Free-market solutions won’t really work, McShane believes, until cities allow the “creative destruction” that the market demands.

Private schools must be encouraged, he writes, to create new schools and new capacity, not merely fill existing seats.  In conclusion, McShane writes,

Private-school choice will drive positive change only when it creates high-quality private schools within urban communities. New schools and school models need to be incubated, funding needs to follow students in a way that allows for non-traditional providers to play a role, new pathways into classrooms for private-school teachers and leaders need to be created, and high-quality school models need to be encouraged and supported while they scale up. In short, policymakers, private philanthropy, and school leaders need to get serious about what’s necessary to make the market work.

Those of us hoping to make sense of conservative attitudes toward American education must grapple with this free-market thinking.  To scholars such as McShane, data that seem to prove the failure of free-market reform really only means such reforms have not been implemented thoroughly enough.

 

Are Conservatives Facing Oppression in Texas’ Private Schools?

The Texas Freedom Network Insider gives us a look this morning at an intriguing and influential line of conservative educational thinking.  For several decades now, conservative educational activists have claimed to be fighting for their civil rights.

The TFN, a liberal watchdog group, denounced Texas State Senator Dan Patrick’s attempt to make this argument recently.

Patrick, as chair of the Senate Education Committee, made his statement in favor of Senate Bill 573.  The bill would allow homeschool and private-school students to compete in the state’s University Interscholastic League.

Patrick claimed in a recent hearing,

“When you say the UIL has functioned for a hundred years, and everybody’s been happy, if you were black in this state before the civil rights movement, it didn’t function for you. And now I feel there’s discrimination against Catholics and Christians in these parochial schools.”

The TFN columnist and several commentators did not buy Patrick’s argument.  After sharing pictures of a lavish private school and a cramped, inadequate African-American school (c. 1941), the TFN columnist asked, “Seriously, guys?”

Commenter Linda Hunter asked, “Is it possible he [Patrick] actually believes what he’s saying? If so, perhaps he received the standard whitewashed version of history in school. Oh, I don’t think even that explains his argument.”

Whether Patrick is sincere or not, this line of argument has long been a favorite of conservative educational thinkers and activists.

Gish fossils say noTo cite just one example, in the early 1980s the late creationist leader Duane Gish was invited to join a conference of mainstream scientists to discuss evolution and creationism.  At the time, Gish was a leading voice at the Institute for Creation Research and best known for his book Evolution: The Fossils Say No! (1973, 1978, 1979)

At the conference with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Gish grumbled right away that he had been led into a trap.  He complained that only two creationists had been invited to face a bevy of evolutionists.  As he put it, he would “proceed to take one of the two seats on the back of the bus reserved for the creationists in this meeting.”[1]

Around the same time, the creationist academic Jerry Bergman protested that he had been denied tenure at Bowling Green State University due to rampant discrimination against his religious beliefs.  As Bergman claimed in his 1984 book The Criterion,

“Several universities state it was their ‘right’ to protect students from creationists and, in one case, from ‘fundamentalist Christians.’. . . This is all plainly illegal, but it is extremely difficult to bring redress against these common, gross injustices.  This is due to the verbal ‘smoke-screen’ thrown up around the issue.  But, a similar case might be if a black were fired on the suspicion that he had ‘talked to students about being black,’ or a woman being fired for having ‘talked to students about women’s issues.’[2]

Bergman the criterionFor Gish and Bergman in the 1980s, as for Senator Patrick today, as for the generation of conservative activists in between, the notion is a powerful one.  Many intellectuals and pundits have claimed that conservatives today face the same kind of repression that bedeviled African Americans in the run-up to the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s.

For those of us who want to understand conservative educational philosophy, the Texas Freedom Network’s question is not the point.  Whether or not conservatives really believe they are oppressed, pundits and politicians have found the claim of minority persecution effective.

Check out Senator Patrick’s speech on the TFN Insider.  They include a video so we can see this ideology in action.


[1] Duane T. Gish, “The Scientific Case for Creation,” in Frank Awbrey and William Thwaites, eds., Evolutionists Confront Creationists: Proceedings of the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Pacific Division, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Vol. I, Part 3 (San Francisco: Pacific Division, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1984), 26.

[2] Jerry Bergman, The Criterion: Religious Discrimination in America (Richfield, MN: Onesimus Press, 1984), 44.