Category: Educational Choice

Hey everybody, Richard Dawkins is selling T-shirts! Get ‘em while they’re hot!

Scandalous! And available for men and women!

One of my favorite bloggers, Allahpundit (who just happens to be an athiest himself), calls this “…a new stage in the transformation of ‘new atheism’ from rational argument to aggrieved identity group,” and has this to say about the t-shirts themselves

Some of our commenters call this sort of thing evangelical atheism but a moron with a scarlet “A” on his chest really isn’t trying to convert you. He’s just trying to get in your face in his own passive way and remind you that nonbelievers exist in case you missed Hitchens’s last thousand appearances on cable news or somehow avoided his, Dawkins’s, and Sam Harris’s ubiquitous books. I hate to frag a guy on my own side but honestly, we can do without these pity parties.

I’ll drink to that. But honestly, the part of this that really caught my attention was the following statement on Dawkins’ homepage:

It is time to let our voices be heard regarding the intrusion of religion in our schools and politics. Atheists along with millions of others are tired of being bullied by those who would force their own religious agenda down the throats of our children and our respective governments. We need to KEEP OUT the supernatural from our moral principles and public policies.

I wonder just how Dawkins and his out-and-proud atheist brethren would propose to accomplish that goal. (An aside – it would be just as fair to say that millions of Christians are tired of being bullied by the much smaller group of quite militant atheists who seem determined to wipe away any acknowledgment of God or the supernatural in all realms of our public life.) Is the argument from Dawkins that those of us who are religious should not allow the principles that form the core of our existence on Earth and inform all of the decisions that we make should be kept completely out of politics and the public square? Or should we be allowed in, but only if we strictly segregate our moral and religious beliefs in our decision making on any public issue? How would such a restriction be enforced? How is that compatible in any way with human freedom? I imagine the discussion going something like this:

Dawkins: I DEMAND THAT YOU NOT ALLOW YOUR BELIEFS TO INFLUENCE YOUR DECISION MAKING ON PUBLIC ISSUES!
Me: Uh… Sorry. No dice.

What is Dawkins’ next move at this point? How does he propose to stop me from ramming my religious agenda down his throat (or, as I like to call it, acting according to the dictates of my conscience within the legal bounds of our political system)?

One other point – One of my former pastors, a big booster of Christian education, often made the point that a non-religious education is impossible, in that all education must have at its root some sort of central organizing principle – some fundamental truth about who man is and how he relates to the world that he lives in. Christianity has a distinct view on that issue – that man is created in the image of God, and because of that has a unique and intrinsic value as a created person, and also has important rights and responsibilities within God’s creation. That worldview has distinct consequences for how a Christian approaches education, and the same could be said for any religious system, including humanism, which is, in reality, the core religious principle of a “non-religious” education.

I’ve always thought that this speaks to a basic truth about mankind – that we were created to be religious. We all have a need to orient our lives toward something, a set of beliefs that we hold to be true and supreme. We’re all religious. Even if you don’t believe in God, you believe in something. So why do the new atheists feel so comfortable accusing believers of trying to “force their own religious agenda down the throats of our children and our respective governments” when that’s exactly what they’re trying to do themselves?

Just a thought.

Here’s the text of a letter sent this morning to the editor at Woman’s Day magazine (don’t ask why I was reading Woman’s Day. I read whatever happens to be sitting in the rack next to our commode):

Paula Spencer’s commentary on the Pledge of Allegiance (“Pledging Allegiance,” September 1, 2007) sounds incredibly McCarthy-esque. Are we to now believe that having qualms about mandatory recitation of the Pledge constitutes an un-American activity?

Spencer dismisses the many reasons that one might object to the Pledge in the context of public schools. These schools are, after all, institutional arms of the government itself, and attendance is mandatory (unless one can afford private or parochial options). A cynic might suggest that when combined with an obligatory recitation of allegiance to the nation, such education runs the risk of becoming indoctrination for the purposes of social control. As to whether nationalism can be such “a bad thing,” consider Germany in the 1930s.

There are also religious reasons why a person might feel compelled to abstain from pledging to a physical object (the flag). For Christians, whose citizenship is finally in heaven and whose ultimate loyalty is due to God alone, concerns about idolatry might compel a person to conscientiously refrain from making such a pledge. Indeed, those two little words “under God” which have occasioned such controversy in recent days are perhaps the only elements of the Pledge that make it even permissible for Christians to profess allegiance to any particular nation.

Patriotism too often can morph into xenophobia and nationalism. Whatever your views of the Pledge, I would think that the educational potential contained in having a “conversation with your child about your family’s approach to the Pledge” would be the sort of engaged parenting that your publication ought to praise and endorse rather than disdain.

The free exercise of religion, not to mention the freedom of speech and independent thought, are thoroughly American. A coerced, perfunctory, and unreflective patriotism is no true patriotism at all.

Jordan J. Ballor
Associate Editor
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty

As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “The nation will always claim a portion of man’s loyalties. Since it usually claims too large a portion, it is necessary that other communities compete with it.”

By my way of thinking, for Christians the Church ought to be that community of primary loyalty (for Niebuhr, it’s the class: “There is no reason why a class which is fated by its condition of life to aspire after an equalitarian society should not have a high moral claim upon the loyalty of its members”).

It seems to me that American churches have a particularly hard time separating out what elements of their worship and piety are merely the trappings of civil religion and which are the indispensable elements of catholicity.

At the recreation center where my wife plays softball, and which is explicitly supported by the denomination, players, coaches, and umpires only pause to pray after the national anthem has been played. In itself its a small thing, perhaps even unimportant, but when combined with all the other similar elements (American flags near the pulpit, for example), it raises in my mind the perennial questions about ultimate loyalties and the proclivity for Christian denominations, particularly Protestants, to align themselves along national boundaries.

See also: “Which of These is More Offensive?”

I like to think of J. Gresham Machen as the American Presbyterian Chesterton — though he is sometimes more explicit in his societal commentary than his British Catholic counterpart. In my Sunday reading, I keep coming across interesting lines from his selected shorter writings (edited by D.G. Hart) that call to mind current campaign rhetoric, especially from senators Obama and Clinton, about the need for expanded or universal preschool and state-subsidized education in general. Here are a few quotes from Machen’s 1933 address titled, “The Necessity of the Christian School”:

…The tyranny of the scientific expert is the most crushing tyranny of all. That tyranny is being exercised most effectively in the field of education. A monopolistic system of education controlled by the state is far more efficient in crushing our liberty than the cruder weapons of fire and sword. Against this monooply of education by the state the Christian school brings a salutary protest; it contends for the right of parents to bring up their children in accordance with the dictates of their conscience and not in the manner prescribed by the state.

Every lover of human freedom ought to oppose with all his might the giving of federal aid to the schools of this country; for federal aid in the long run inevitably means federal control, and federal control means control by a centralized and irresponsible bureaucracy, and control by such a bureaucracy means the death of everything that might make this country great.

Against this soul-killing collectivism in education, the Christian school, like the private school, stands as an emphatic protest….The only way in which a state-controlled school can be kept even relatively healthy is through the absolutely free possibility of competition by private schools and church schools; if it once becomes monopolistic, it is the most effective engine of tyranny and intellectual stagnation that has yet been devised.

A Christian boy or girl can learn mathematics, for example, from a teacher who is not a Christian; and truth is truth however learned. But…the bearing of truth, the meaning of truth, the purpose of truth, even in the sphere of mathematics, seem entirely different to the Christian from that which they seem to the non-Christian….True learning and true piety go hand in hand, and Christianity embraces the whole of life — those are great central convictions that underlie the Christian school.

Senator and Presidential candidate Barack Obama has gained support from some Evangelical Christians. I recall some students and faculty at the Wesleyan Evangelical seminary that I attended supported Obama. Jim Wallis of Sojourners, when on the lecture circuit, constantly compares Obama with famed British Parliamentarian William Wilberforce.

This week, Obama spoke to a Planned Parenthood gathering where he reinforced his support for sexual education for kindergarteners. To be fair, Obama said the education should be age appropriate and that he “does not support teaching explicit sex education to children in kindergarten.”

However, let’s keep in mind the audience to whom Obama was speaking — Planned Parenthood. When I attended public school in the state of Hawaii, I was introduced to Planned Parenthood in my mandatory health class in 7th grade. Planned Parenthood tried to teach us how to use condoms with cucumbers and instructed the class about spermicidal jelly, dental dams, and other birth control devices and methods. I was 13 years old.

I remember taking a survey which Planned Parenthood brought to my class. The group wanted to gauge our sexual knowledge and experience. I remember wondering if I was abnormal because I had not experienced the depth of extensive sexual activity that Planned Parenthood was asking me about. I recall one of the questions was, “How many times are you laid in a week?”

This survey information was taken by Planned Parenthood workers and was never seen by students again. I also specifically recall one Planned Parenthood worker reminding the girls in the class that, if they became pregnant, they could tell or visit them before informing their parents.

The problem that arises from “age appropriate sexual education” is who decides what is appropriate? Is it parents, public school administrators, Senator Obama, or Planned Parenthood? When Planned Parenthood is involved, all of the concerns about social engineering and radical sexual agendas should be taken seriously.

[Ed. note: See also Acton's Jennifer Roback Morse, "Get the Government Out of Sex Ed."]

Blog author: blevitske
posted by on Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I would say I met Jeremy Jerschina by chance on the campus of Calvin College, except that nothing ever happens by chance on the very Reformed sidewalks, hallways, and parking lots of Calvin College. So I’ll say I met him by Providence.

Jeremy was visiting from New Jersey as a prospective Calvin student, to study Philosophy or Theology or something in the humanities. He struck me as being extremely well-read, genuine, and sensitive to the call of God on his life. When I heard just a few weeks ago that he was graduating as valedictorian of his high school class, it didn’t surprise me in the least.

What did surprise me was the fact that officials at Jeremy’s high school rejected his speech because of its religious content. Jeremy wanted to pray at the end of his address to acknowledge God as the reason for his academic success, but the principal of Bayonne High School and its board of education told him he could only give the speech if he left out the prayer. So Jeremy chose not to speak at all.

Within the week, Fox News had heard about the incident and invited Jeremy on-air to read for a huge cable TV audience the prayer he could not deliver to the comparative handful of people at his graduation ceremony.

Hearing about Jeremy was a reminder to me that the increasing secularization of schools and other state-run organizations has real consequences for Christians. Most frightening is that religious expression is coming to be viewed as second-class speech. Think about it. Valedictorians across America this year were able to give self-exalting, arrogant speeches praising their own intelligence and hard work without anyone worrying they’d “offend” someone in the crowd. (We’ve all suffered through such speeches and know how distasteful they can be.) But to thank God and publicly attribute success to “a religious figure”? That was considered somehow lesser and therefore forbidden. Amazing.

It also made me think about how Christians react when Muslims, Hindus, Wiccans, etc. want to exercise their freedom of expression — we are (often rightly) accused of taking offense too easily at non-Christian demonstrations of religious sentiment. Perhaps it’s time for the Christian community to develop a tougher skin in this area. The minute we view others’ religious speech as second class, we give philosophical ground to those who would relegate our religious speech to sub-societal realms. Unless we’re prepared to retreat into the catacombs, we need to affirm the 1st Amendment’s guarantee to Americans of every creed.

And for my part, I’d be more “offended” to hear a narcissistic valedictorian praising himself than to hear a Muslim valedictorian praising Allah any day of the week.

Children in a summer program in the Atlanta Public School System.

Jonathan Kozol misses the point again in his op-ed in today’s New York Times. Last month’s Supreme Court decision is not a dismantling of Brown vs. Board of Education but a continuation of it. It continues in the spirit of Martin Luther King that children will not be educated according to race.

One wonders if Kozol, and others, actually like racial minorities. What’s so wrong with predominantly minority schools that represent the real demographics of the neighborhood the school is actually located? Predominantly black and Latino schools are not the problem. Poor performing schools are, regardless of the racial make-up. This is the point that Kozol misses entirely.

Kozol says nothing about ways to improve failing schools. His well-intentioned concerned is only located in getting a small group of minorities away from other minorities. This is not what Brown vs. Board of Education corrected. Brown vs. the Board of Education prohibited districts from using race to prevent children from attending schools in their own district. Remember, Linda Brown was denied admittance to a school in her district because of race.

Kozol is correct that educational choice provisions should be enhanced to give parents more freedom to make decisions about where their kids go to school. Parents should be free to remove their kids from failing schools if they choose. However, we have a duty, as a nation, to do more than shift people away from bad schools but to improve low-performing schools so that parents do not have to make geographic decisions that introduce additional stress into already overburdened lives.

Sadly Kozol remarks, “In the inner-city schools I visit, minority children typically represent 95 percent to 99 percent of class enrollment.” Kozol sees all minority schools as a problem that needs to be solved by getting minority kids in the same building as white kids. What’s so special about white kids that minorities will suffer unless they are in the same building them? Kozol actually intimates an unbelievably weak correlation that minority kids at white, suburban schools perform better.

Mr. Kozol should visit the dozens of predominantly minority private and parochial schools to be introduced to a law of education: students perform well in challenging and affirming academic environments with involved parents regardless of race.

Kozol has confused race and class. Public schools in America are separated by class not by race. The black and Latino middle-class (and up) put their kids in good schools because they live in school districts with quality public education or pay for private education. As long as our neighborhoods are segregated by class (which may appear racial) we will have education disparities between school districts. Government cannot force mixed classes to share the same neighborhoods.

Common sense thinking about our public schools should focus on two areas: (1) improving the education culture at low-performing schools which includes teachers, administrators, parents, and students; and (2) giving parents greater and greater control over their education choices for their children.

I wrote about this nearly five years ago here. I write this as a former high school teacher and administrator.

From Luther’s exposition of the fourth commandment in his Treatise on Good Works (1520), alluding to King Manasseh’s actions in II Kings 21:

What else is it but to sacrifice one’s own child to an idol and burn it when parents train their children more in the love of the world than in the love of God, and let their children go their own way and get burned up in worldly pleasure, love, enjoyment, lust, goods, and honor, but let God’s love and honor and the love of eternal blessings be extinguished in them? (LW 44:83)

In the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, the Supreme Court today struck down a move to use race to determine which students attend certain schools and which one who will not. Students will not be assigned to schools according to the color of their skin. We are finally approaching King’s dream. Hopefully, this will end the tremendously failed race-based busing programs nationwide. The 5-4 ruling rejected racial decorating programs in Louisville, Kentucky, and Seattle, Washington.

CNN reports:

The court struck down public school choice plans in Seattle, Washington, and Louisville, Kentucky, concluding they relied on an unconstitutional use of racial criteria, in a sharply worded pair of cases reflecting the deep legal and social divide over the issue of race and education. . .

Louisville-area schools endured decades of federal court oversight after schools there were slow to integrate. When that oversight ended in the late 1990s, county officials sought to maintain integration, requiring that most public schools have at least 15 percent and no more than 50 percent African-American enrollment. The idea was to reflect the whole of Jefferson County, which is 60 percent white and 38 percent black. Officials say their plan reflects not only the need for diversity but also the desire of parents for greater school choice.

A white parent, Crystal Meredith, sued, saying her child was twice denied the school nearest their home and had to endure a three-hour bus ride to a facility that was not their top choice. Many African-American parents raised similar concerns. . .

White parents have been suing nationwide because the racial decorating prevents white kids from going to schools in their own neighborhoods. This is a great example of elites using government to produce social results that were doomed to fail from the start because they failed to respect freedom and dignity.

Today’s ruling is good news for several reasons (see below):
(more…)

Speaking of Christian education, here are some relevant thoughts plucked out of Richard Baxter’s most excellent treatise, How to Do Good to Many (London, 1682):

A general observation about the importance of knowledge:

Goodness will never be enjoyed or practised without knowledge. Ignorance is darkness, the State of his Kingdom, who is the Prince of darkness, who by the works of darkness leadeth the blind World to utter darkness: God is the Father of Lights, and giveth wisdom to them that ask and seek it: He sent his Son to be the Light of the World: His Word and Ministers are subordinate Light: His servants are all the Children of Light: Ignorance is virutally Errour, and errour the cause of sin and misery. And men are not born wise, but must be made wise by skilful diligent teaching: Parents should begin it: Ministers should second them: But alas! how many Millions are neglected by both? And how many neglect themselves when Ministers have done their best? Ignorance and errour are the common Road to wickedness, misery and hell.

Regarding the contemporary situation in Britain:

I think we have Grammar Schools enough. It is not the knowledge of Tongues and Arts, and Curious Sciences which the common people want, but the right understanding of their Baptismal Covenant with God, and of the Creed, Lords Prayer, Decalogue and Church Communion. A poor honest man, or a good woman, will Teach Children thus much for a small stipend, better than they are taught it in most Grammar Schools; And I would none went to the Universities without the sound understanding of the Catechism: Yea, I would none came thence or into the pulpit without it.

How to further engage the education of children:

When you have got them to read, give them good books, especially Bibles, and good Catechisms, and small practical books which press the fundamentals on their Consciences: Such books are good Catechisms: Many learn the words of the Creed, Lords Prayer, Commandments and Catechism, by rote, and never understand them, when a lively book that awakeneth their Consciences, bringeth them to sensible consideration, and to a true understanding of the same things, which before they could repeat without sense or favour. It is the Catechistical truths which most of our English Sermons press. And the lively pressing them maketh them pierce deeper than a Catechism.

How to meet the financial obligations to educate the Christian youth:

If men that in life, or at death, give a stated revenue for good works, would settle the one half on a Catechizing English School, and the other half on some suitable good books, it may prove a very, great means of publick reformation. When a good book is in the House, if some despise it, others may read it, and when one Parish is provided, every years rent may extend the Charity to other Parishes, and it may spread over a whole Country in a little time. Most of the good that God hath done for me, the knowledge or Conscience hath been by sound and pious books.

My wife and I recently had occasion to discuss and decide how we would like our child to be cared for if we were both to pass away. Godly education was a top concern. Baxter often emphasizes the importance of determining how your inheritance should be spent. It’s true that the responsibility of stewardship is not dispensed with at your death. With that in mind, let’s conclude with this quote from Cyprian of Carthage on the responsibilities of parenting:

Neither should you think that he is father to your children who is both changeable and infirm, but you should obtain Him who is the eternal and unchanging Father of spiritual children. Assign to Him your wealth which you are saving up for your heirs. Let Him be the guardian for your children; let Him be their trustee; let Him be their protector, by His divine majesty, against all worldly injuries. The state neither takes away the property entrusted to God, nor does the exchequer intrude on it, nor does any forensic calumny overthrow it. That inheritance is placed in security which is kept under the guardianship of God. This is to provide for one’s dear pledges for the coming time; this is with paternal affection to take care for one’s future heirs, according to the faith of the Holy Scripture, which says: “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed wanting bread. All the day long he is merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.” And again: “He who walketh without reproach in his integrity shall leave blessed children after him.” Therefore you are an unfair and traitorous father, unless you faithfully consult for your children, unless you look forward to preserve them in religion and true piety. You who are careful rather for their earthly than for their heavenly estate, rather to commend your children to the devil than to Christ, are sinning twice, and allowing a double and twofold crime, both in not providing for your children the aid of God their Father, and in teaching your children to love their property more than Christ.

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Friday, April 20, 2007

The feature film "Freedom Writers" appeared on DVD this week. It stars two-time Oscar winner Hillary Swank as a very young Long Beach (CA) high school teacher assigned to a freshman English class made up of students all destined to fail. The kids are African-American, Asian and Latino inner-city kids raised on drive-by shootings in a hard-core death-based culture. The story is true and the film is genuinely beautiful.

Erin Gruwell, the teacher in the story, gave her students a voice of their own, a sense of place and a future. She empowered her kids by getting them to read, write and think. She accomplished this by getting them to read The Diary of Anne Frank and then by having them write their responses in a personal journal. The experience slowly transformed how these kids understood life and coped with their own past. Gruwell continually battled an uncaring school system that was set up to fail, like most school systems in the cities of America. She was hated by some of her peers for rocking their boats and she lost her husband’s support, and thus her marriage, in the process. (Sadly, her husband is the epitome of a self-centered male who wants his little wife to abide by his desires and then give up her own personal dreams. I know too many Christian males who think this is godly but I will save that sermon for another day!)

The kids learn to tell their own stories and through this they find real freedom. A group of "unteachable" teens discover the power of acceptance, tolerance and love. Their lives are changed and their dreams are recovered in the process. The cast is superb, the script compelling and the end is deeply moving. The movie is rated PG-13 for violence and language, as you would expect. I recommend "Freedom Writers" to teens and adults.  Christians have a lot to learn about getting involved in real culture change. Gruwell’s transforming work provides a powerful model that tells a very moving story quite well.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."