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.

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Gay Marriage and Christian Resistance

What is a conservative Christian to do? The US Supreme Court’s decision in favor of gay marriage has sent shock waves across America. Will conservative Christians accept this decision? Or, as some have warned, does this move our culture war over sexuality one step closer to real war?

More rainbows than a box of Lucky Charms...

More rainbows than a box of Lucky Charms…

Of particular interest at ILYBYGTH these days, the new ruling will likely meet its first test at conservative religious colleges. As we’ve noted (and as the New York Times eventually noticed) the SCOTUS ruling has brought up questions about the limits of acceptable dissent in higher ed. Can schools discriminate against homosexual “practice?” As I’m writing about in my current book, the same tension played out in the 1970s, when Bob Jones University insisted on its religious right to racial discrimination. It seems colleges will be the first institutions to feel pressure to accommodate demands to end institutional discrimination against homosexuals.

The reaction to the SCOTUS decision has been fast and furious among conservative evangelicals and other Christians. Rick Scarborough of Vision America told the New York Times that the decision must be resisted. “If they change the playing field and make what we do out of bounds,” Scarborough said,

we will disobey; we will disrespect this decision. . . . We’ll treat it like Dred Scott and other decisions courts have handed down over the years that counter natural law. God made a male and a female, and no amount of surgery is going to change that.

Similarly, Robert Jeffress told the Christian Post that the decision proves America’s persecution of Christians. As the Rev. Jeffress put it,

I think today’s decision is just one more step in the marginalization of conservative Christians. I made this argument and have been ridiculed for doing so, but I think it is very legitimate. The Nazis did not take the Jews to the crematoriums immediately. . . . The German people would not have put up with that. Instead, the Nazis begin to marginalize the Jewish people, make them objects of contempt and ridicule. Once they changed the public opinion about the Jewish people, then they engaged the [Holocaust]. . . . Once secularists have made Christians objects of contempt, I think it will be very easy to revoke other rights that they have as American citizens.

And in the pages of World Magazine, Ryan Shinkel advocated Christian resistance to an overweening state and society. “The movement for marital restoration is beginning,” Shinkel wrote just before the SCOTUS decision,

and the chance for moral courage and a life daring to be countercultural is at hand. By continuing to speak up for religious freedom, the restoration of a marriage culture, and dignity of the family in the face of potential setbacks at the Supreme Court, we can become the Nietzscheans who hammer the libertine and atomistic idols of our age.

Secular folks like me, progressive people who celebrate the SCOTUS decision, might blanch at these dire warnings. Some of my friends and colleagues might take these statements as proof that conservative Christians will never admit to marriage equality. But folks like us need to listen also to the other voices of conservative Christians.

In the Washington Post, for example, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention suggests Christians calm down. It is a terrible ruling, Moore agrees. And it does indeed push conservative evangelicals into a dissenting position that might seem “freakish” these days. But so what? Moore wants conservatives to “embrace a freakishness that saves.”

Similarly, Mark Galli of Christianity Today worries that evangelicals will react badly. “The temptation,” he writes,

is to go off and sulk in our holy corner. Or to dig in our heels and fight harder. Or to lash out in anger. Or to despair. We can do better.

The goal for Christians, Galli writes, is to take confidence that they are on the right side, God’s side. This decision provides another healthy—if intensely uncomfortable—opportunity for Christians to re-engage with important questions above love, marriage, and the proper relationship between Church and society. Though some conservatives might offer extreme rhetoric, Galli warns, evangelicals in America “are far from living at the margins.”

If we are to make sense of the culture-war rhetoric surrounding this SCOTUS decision, we need at least to remember some historical precedent. As I’ve argued elsewhere, for generations evangelical Christians have been battered by landmark SCOTUS decisions that seem to kick them out of public life. In every case, evangelical pundits have insisted that each new SCOTUS decision changed America from a Christian nation to a persecuting Babylon. In every case, however, evangelicals have continued to wield enormous cultural and political power.

Will this decision be any different? Will this decision really change the balance of power in America’s continuing culture-war debates?

Are We Post-Racial Yet? Conservatives and Affirmative Action

It appears the US Supreme Court’s non-decision today about affirmative action won’t settle anything. In its 7-1 ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas, the Court sent the case back down to lower courts to decide.  This doesn’t rule out university use of affirmative action policies in admissions, but it does not exactly endorse it either.

Significantly, Court conservatives including Justices Scalia and Thomas voted with the majority today, but both indicated they would be willing (eager?) to rule such affirmative-action policies unconstitutional.

Legal and higher-ed policy wonks will have plenty to chew over in coming days.

For me, the recent ruling underscores the ways debates over affirmative action in university admissions policies have become a stand-in for conservative sentiment about race and racism in America.  Though it is too simple to say anything about conservatism as a whole, the last forty years have established a new kind of anti-racist conservatism.  These self-described anti-racists, however, have struggled to convince anyone besides themselves of their sincere dedication to fighting racism and traditional preferences that favor whites.

The recent SCOTUS history alone has given the debate over race and schooling a kick in the pants.  In the late 1970s, in the Bakke case, the Supreme Court ruled against the use of any racial quotas in college admissions.

More recently, in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), SCOTUS decided that race could be used in admissions decisions, as one category among others.  The key element in this decision was that race could be used to further the state’s interest in fostering a diverse learning environment.

One influential strain of opinion among conservatives can be summed up in a pithy statement by Chief Justice Roberts from 2007.  In a case from Seattle, Roberts insisted, “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discrimination on the basis of race.”

Conservative thinking on this issue has, in some ways, remained remarkably constant for the past generation.  In the mid-1980s, for instance, writing for the Heritage Foundation, Philip Lawler articulated a conservative critique of affirmative action admissions policies that sounds fresh today.  Such policies, Lawler argued, effectively promote racism against African Americans and other historically underrepresented college populations.  Affirmative action degrades true achievement and breeds resentment towards all African Americans.  It also leads to a racist dismissal of the true achievements of some African Americans.

Former US Representative Allen West made similar arguments in his amicus brief filed in the Fisher case.  “Race-conscious policies do not advance – in fact, they harm – the most compelling of all governmental interests: protecting and defending our Nation’s security. This is true whether practiced by colleges and universities (which, together with the Nation’s military academies, produce the majority of the commissioned officers in our country’s military), or by the military itself in the selection and advancement of its officer and enlisted personnel,” West argued.  West, a prominent African American conservative, argued that affirmative action policies degraded all applicants, African Americans most of all.

The problem with these kinds of conservative arguments is that they are often dismissed as mere window dressing.  With important exceptions such as Representative West and Justice Clarence Thomas, most African Americans support affirmative action policies.  The NAACP, for instance, has consistently and energetically supported Texas’ race-conscious admissions policy.  The National Black Law Students Association, in its amicus brief in the Fisher case noted the “systematic racial hierarchy that produces and perpetuates racial disparities in educational opportunities and outcomes.”  Affirmative-action admissions policies, the NBLSA insisted, remained necessary to promote a truly non-racist society.  Conservative insistence that such affirmative action policies actually support anti-black racism tends to fall on deaf ears among the majority of African Americans and whites who consider themselves racial liberals.

Conservative activists and intellectuals—white and black—often express what seems like honest surprise when accused of anti-black racism.  Perhaps one episode that illustrates this kind of conservative anti-racism might be that of Alice Moore and the 1974 Kanawha County textbook protest.  In this battle from the Charleston region of West Virginia, conservative parents and activists protested against a new series of English Language Arts textbooks.  Among the many complaints were protests against the inclusion of authors such as Eldridge Cleaver and George Jackson.  Such militant African American voices, many Kanawha County residents insisted, did not belong in school textbooks.  Conservative leaders insisted that this was not because they were black, but because they were violent and criminal, and apparently proud of it.

Conservative leader Alice Moore came to the 1974 controversy freshly schooled in the ideology of anti-racist conservatism.  She had attended a conference in which conservative African American politician Stephen Jenkins blasted the anti-black implications of multicultural literature.  Such literature collections, Jenkins insisted, implied that the violent, angry, criminal voices of militants such as George Jackson and Eldridge Cleaver represented the thinking of African Americans.  Such implications, Jenkins explained, proved that the true racists were the multiculturalists.  By pushing a skewed vision of African American culture, such multicultural textbooks implied that African Americans as a whole were criminal and violent.

Moore embraced this sort of anti-racist conservative ideology.  When she (politely, as always) confronted African American leader Ron English at a heated board of education meeting, Moore seemed honestly flummoxed that the English did not agree with her.  Moore pointed out that voices such as Jackson and Cleaver did not fairly represent the truths of African American life.  But The Reverend English rebutted that such militant voices represented an important part of the American experience, stretching back to Tom Paine.

Moore’s befuddlement in 1974 matches that of anti-racist, anti-affirmative action conservatives today.  Many conservatives feel that their opposition to affirmative action makes them the true anti-racists.  Yet they consistently find themselves accused of racism.  The fight over Fisher never seemed to be changing this dynamic.  Now that the Court has punted, there is even less resolution on offer.  Conservative notions that true anti-racism requires the elimination of race-based considerations in college admissions will likely continue to fall on deaf ears among leading African American advocacy groups.

Gay Marriage and School Bathrooms

Will same-sex marriage turn public schools into orgies of sexual confusion?  Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis has connected the dots.

The Supreme Court is wrestling with two cases about same-sex marriage.

Conservatives have long insisted that same-sex marriage would lead to a breakdown in the value of marriage itself.  One commenter recently called same-sex marriage the threshold of an “abyss of nihilism.”

Ham’s analysis sexualizes that nihilism and brings it right into public schools.  Ham, America’s leading young-earth creationist, insists that same-sex marriage is only part of an “evolving sexual agenda.”  (Ham is a smart guy, so I am confident he chose that word—“evolving”—intentionally.)

In Ham’s recent piece, he argues that the next step after gay marriage will be a profound and aggressive attack on all traditional gender norms.  As evidence, he cites recent public-school guidelines in Massachusetts.  As we’ve noted on ILYBYGTH, these new school rules allow students to identify their own gender identity and require schools to respect those identifications.

As Ham writes, the trickiest part of this school rule has become bathrooms.  If a student was born a boy but identifies as a girl, Massachusetts schools must respect that choice. Ham worries about a boy who pretends to identify as a girl just to get access to the girls’ locker room.

Ham is not the first conservative thinker to make this connection between same-sex marriage and a sexual free-for-all in public schools.  But for those of us non-conservatives who try to understand conservatism in American education, Ham’s argument offers two important reminders.  First, schools are tied into every culture-war argument.  Though marriage laws seem relatively distant from education policy, conservative (and liberal) arguments against same-sex marriage often rely on the harmful effects gay marriage will have on children and schooling.  Second, for those outside the orbit of American creationism, Ham’s argument underscores the fact that creationism is an outgrowth of conservative Christianity, not the root.  Besides Ham’s use of the word “evolving” to damn the same-sex marriage “agenda,” this article does not talk about creationism or evolution.  Rather, Ham concludes that the main reason to oppose same-sex marriage and the abandonment of gender rules is more broadly Christian.  As Ham argues,

As Christians, we should affirm our children’s God-given genders and cultivate godly masculinity and femininity in them, rather than encouraging them to abandon the gender God gave them in the womb . . .

For Ham, as for many creationists, Christianity comes first.  Creationism is only one important element of the crusade.  Ham himself has often reminded readers of this fact.  Nevertheless, it is common for outsiders like me to pigeonhole Answers in Genesis as narrowly interested in establishing the case for a young earth.

As Ham’s recent argument proves, AiG’s sort of young-earth creationism has a much broader conservative agenda.