AlterNet - May 23, 2011
The 'Christian' Dogma Pushed by Religious Schools That Are Supported by Your Tax Dollars
By Rachel Tabachnick, AlterNet
Are your state’s tax dollars funding the teaching of religious supremacism and bigotry? What about creationism? The answer is undoubtedly yes, if you live in a state with a voucher or corporate tax credit program funding “school choice."
Religious schools across the nation are receiving public funds through voucher and corporate tax credit programs. Many hundreds, if not thousands, of these schools use Protestant fundamentalist textbooks that teach not only creationism, but also a religious supremacist worldview. They offer a shocking spin on politics, history and human rights.
In 12 states and the District of Columbia, almost 200,000 students attend private schools with at least part of their tuition paid with public funds. The money is taken from public school budgets to fund vouchers or by diverting state tax revenues to tuition grants through corporate tax credit programs. An interconnected group of non-profits and political action committees, led by the wealthy right-wing school privatization advocate Betsy DeVos and heavily funded by a few mega-donors, is working to expand these programs across the nation. The DeVos-led American Federation for Children hosted Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Michelle Rhee at a national policy summit earlier in May.
Take a look at what growing numbers of students are being taught with taxpayer funding. The textbook quotes are followed by a description of the Florida tax credit program, the largest of its kind in the country.
In 2003, Dr. Frances Paterson, a specialist in education law, published Democracy and Intolerance: Christian School Curricula, School Choice, and Public Policy, summarizing her extensive study of the curricula of the three most widely used Protestant fundamentalist textbook publishers in the nation: A Beka Book, Pensacola, Florida; Bob Jones University Publishing, Greenville South Carolina; and Accelerated Christian Education, Lewisville, Texas.
Her research included surveys in Florida, including one of private schools receiving public funding in the Orlando area. Of those that responded, 52 percent used A Beka textbooks, 24 percent used Bob Jones and 15 percent used ACE. A Beka publishers reported that about 9,000 schools nationwide purchase its textbooks.
In 2003, the Palm Beach Post conducted its own survey of Florida’s voucher schools, and of the religious schools that responded, 43 percent used either A Beka or Bob Jones curriculum. The percentages may be higher in Florida than some other states; however, these three curricula series are used by thousands of private schools across the country.
Unsurprisingly, the textbooks are fiercely anti-abortion and virulently anti-gay, similar to the ideology of Religious Right organizations (heavily funded by Betsy DeVos and family) that have been labeled hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. A Bob Jones current events text argues against legal protection for gays, stating, “These people have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.” The text uses an often-repeated phrase that homosexuals and abortion-rights supporters are “simply calling evil good.”
They also teach a radical laissez-faire capitalism. Government safety nets, regulation, minimum wage and progressive taxes are described as contrary to the Bible. Many of these textbooks were first published in the 1980s, evidence that the merging of Religious Right ideology with extreme free-market economics predates the Tea Party movement by many years.
The textbooks exhibit hostility toward other religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, and traditional African and Native American religions, and other Christians are also targeted, including non-evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics.
All three series include biblical creationism in their science curriculum.
The following textbook quotes about social issues, science, history, government, economics, and religion, are taken from Dr. Paterson’s documentation or directly from my own collection of textbooks from the three publishers.
The term liberal is associated throughout all three series with moral decline. For example, under the subtitle “A Liberal Supreme Court,” an A Beka eighth-grade text reads, “The Supreme Court made several liberal decisions in the 1970s, indicating the moral decline of the nation as a whole.” Another A Beka text states, “Modern liberalism has had many tragic consequences -- war, tyranny, and despair -- for mankind.”
An A Beka government text describes Roe v. Wade, “Ignoring 3,500 years of Judeo-Christian civilization, religion, morality, and law, the Burger Court held that an unborn child was not a living person but rather the 'property' of the mother (much like slaves were considered property in the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford).”
Both Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education are described as social activism by the Supreme Court. The Bob Jones high school civic texts states, “While the end was a noble one -- ending discrimination in schools -- the means were troublesome.” The text continues, “liberals were not willing to wait for a political solution.”
History and Government
These texts are less militantly Christian nationalists than some other homeschooling and private school textbooks, such as the popular America’s Providential History. Nevertheless they present a view of the nation’s history and government that closely hews to that of the Religious Right.
The A Beka civics text states, “God’s original purpose for government was to punish the evil and reward the good.” The same text describes the ideal form of government. “All governments are ordained by God, but none compare to government by God, theocracy.”
Predating today’s “tenther” movement, the texts consistently accuse the federal government of exceeding its constitutional authority as described in the 10th Amendment and taking powers that belong to the states. The 14th Amendment, passed during Reconstruction to give citizenship to African Americans, is criticized as taking away state’s rights.
Concerning slavery in America, a Bob Jones high school text states, “To help them endure the difficulties of slavery, God gave Christian slaves the ability to combine the African heritage of song with the dignity of Christian praise. Through the Negro spiritual, the slaves developed the patience to wait on the Lord and discovered that the truest freedom is from the bondage of sin.”
In an A Beka high school history text, American education is described in glowing terms until the 1920s, when damaging influences of liberalism began to sweep the nation. Under the heading “Liberalism in American Life” these influences are described as the social gospel, socialism, secular psychology, progressive education, and secular humanism. The “most destructive idea to sweep the nation in the 20th century was Charles Darwin’s doctrine of evolution,” according to the text.
Under the subtitle “Socialist Propaganda” the Great Depression is described as having been exaggerated so that Franklin Delano Roosevelt could pass New Deal legislation. The text states, “Perhaps the best known work of propaganda to come from the Depression was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. [...] Other forms of propaganda included rumors of mortgage foreclosures, mass evictions, and hunger riots and exaggerated statistics representing the number of unemployed and homeless people in America.”
Ironically, the same A Beka text claims the New Deal prolonged the Depression. The purpose of the Taft-Hartley Act, which began to unravel New Deal legislation, is described as “to remove certain labor abuses and to curb the growing power of labor unions over individuals and employers.”
Commentary on the Vietnam War states that it divided the country into the “hawks who supported the fight against Communism, and doves, who were soft on Communism.”
Throughout these texts the tone of despair changes as President Ronald Reagan’s presidency is celebrated. A fourth-grade A Beka text announces the administration of Ronald Reagan under the heading “A Return to Patriotism and Family Values.”
Even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the textbooks continue to promote fears of communism invading American life. An A Beka text states, “It is no wonder that Satan hates the family and has hurled his venom against it in the form of Communism.” The same text claims “history shows socialism gradually opens the door to Communism.” The terms socialist and socialism are used repeatedly in references to Democratic presidents.
The A Beka high school text describes President Bill Clinton’s administration. “The First Lady announced that she would personally lead the effort to implement a plan for socialized medicine in the United States. Bill Clinton’s running mate, Al Gore, a senator from Tennessee known for his radical environmentalism, became the new Vice President.”
These textbooks provide a window into a worldview that has recently impacted the political scene -- the merger of social conservatism with radical free market ideology.
Global warming is presented as a theory that is “simply not supported by scientific evidence,” and is supposedly promoted by environmentalists for destructive reasons, according to the A Beka economics text. ““Global environmentalists have said and written enough to leave no doubt that their goal is to destroy the prosperous economies of the world’s richest nations.”
In the same text a graphic of Bruegel’s famous painting of the biblical Tower of Babel is followed by a presentation of globalism in conspiratorial “one-world government” terms. This chapter on globalism describes the forces behind a one-world government as the United Nations, European Union, trade agreements (because they take away sovereignty), peace organizations and environmentalists.
A sidebar in the chapter on globalism explains that many Christians believe that that this “drive toward a one-world government fits in with prophecies” about the Antichrist and the end times. “But instead of this world unification ushering in an age of prosperity and peace, as most globalists believe it will, it will be a time of unimaginable human suffering as recorded in God’s Word. The Anti-christ will tightly regulate who may buy and sell.”
The authorship of this text is credited to the late Russell Kirk, an economist awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Ronald Reagan. The edition from which I took the above quotes was published after Kirk’s death, but still lists him as author.
The text includes lessons in the form of fictional accounts of companies. For example, the fictitious Gray Iron Fabricating is described as failing due to the National Labor Relations Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and lawsuits: one brought by the widow of a man electrocuted on the job (he failed to follow safety instructions), and a second by a female junior executive who was passed over for a promotion in favor of a man. This section of the text is followed by a cartoon and the story of “The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs” -- implying that government and greedy workers are destroying businesses.
Sweden and Canada are portrayed as “unwittingly snared in the command policies of socialism.” Based on the text, a reader might conclude that these nations are failed states.
The A Beka Web site advertises its fifth-grade text, Observing God’s World, as, “This teachable, readable, and memorable book presents the universe as the direct creation of God and refutes the idea of man-made evolution.” A section on the origin of the universe retells the Genesis story of creation and states, “Throughout history there have been people, even scientists, who have thought up their own stories of how things came to be.”
A quiz in the teacher’s guide for the A Beka eighth-grade text Matter and Motion asks, “Why did superstition take the place of science during the Middle Ages?” The answer key tells us, “People did not have the Bible to guide them in their beliefs. Many looked back to the false ideas of Aristotle.” The next question is, “Why did modern science begin so suddenly in the 1500s?” The answer given is, “As people returned to the authority of the Scriptures during the Protestant Reformation (1517), they started learning the truth about God and His creation.”
A three-page section in this A Beka text leads with a headline “Two Faiths: Creation and Evolution” and states, “Creation, not evolution, is based on a reasonable faith.” A Bob Jones science text includes a chapter titled “Biblical Creationism,” claiming that evolution cannot be a part of science, since it can not be observed and must be accepted by faith.
The same Bob Jones text explains, “From a Christian standpoint, there are only two worldviews from which to choose -- a Christian worldview or a non-Christian worldview. The most important beliefs in a Christian worldview are the beliefs that the Bible is the Word of God and the only completely reliable thing in this world.”
The text suggests that sedimentary fossils were formed in Noah’s flood. One and a half pages are dedicated to the possibility that the Bible refers to dinosaurs and closes with the warning, “Bible-believing Christians cannot accept any evolutionary interpretation. Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on the earth at the same time and may have even lived side by side within the past few thousand years.”
Religion and Ethnicity
Paterson described the texts as “having an arrogance and hostility toward non-Western religions that is truly breathtaking.”
An A Beka grammar school text states that traditional African religions are “false religious beliefs” from the Egyptian descendants of the biblical figure Ham. A fifth-grade text tells a narrative of a great chief who was a Christian convert, although his subjects were “ruled by witchcraft,” and drank corn beer that made them “lazy and wicked.” The claims of witchcraft are ironic given the fact that many of the schools using these textbooks are associated with churches that have joined the current wave of obsession with witchcraft and expelling demons.
All three publishers stress the need for missionary work and reject religious pluralism. Non-Christians are described as living in “spiritual darkness,” which is credited as the source of poverty and societal ills.
The teacher’s edition of a A Beka geography text describes “Modern Africa’s Needs” as follows. “Africa is a continent with many needs. It is still in need of the gospel. Many people have gone there as missionaries but the continent is so vast, and spirit worship and the Muslim religion so strong, that only a small percentage of Africans claim to be Christians. [...] Only about ten percent of Africans can read and write. In some areas the mission schools have been shut down by Communists who have taken over the government....”
These statements are not factual and were not in 2004, when this text was published.
One of the more shameful episodes in American history, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, is apparently mitigated by the fact that “God used the Trail of Tears to bring many Indians to Christ,” according to an A Beka text.
Paterson points out that several textbooks claim that Chinese ideographs indicate that the Chinese people once had access to “biblical truth” but later embraced false religions including Confucianism. I’ve seen this curious and factually flawed argument in a number of other sources that claim, for example, that the Chinese character for boat indicates that ancient Chinese knew of the Noah story.
Islam is also portrayed as a false religion and Hinduism is described as “devastating to India’s history.” Followers of Shintoism are described as being “very similar to the Jewish Pharisees whom Jesus condemned for putting outward cleanliness above inward purity.”
Although the texts repeatedly use the term “Judeo-Christian,” Jews are also considered to be in need of conversion. An ACE text states, “Not realizing that he is already come, Orthodox Jews continue to look for their Messiah. As the end time prophesied in the Bible draws near, many Jews are now turning to Jesus Christ and accepting him as Messiah.”
Non-evangelical and non-fundamentalist Protestant denominations are described as liberal, a dirty word in these texts. Paterson dedicates an entire chapter of her book to examples of anti-Roman Catholic bias, which is taught to students beginning around the fifth grade. Catholicism is described with terms such as "distorted," "false," and "error." A Bob Jones high school text states, “The seed of error that took root during the fourth and fifth centuries blossomed into the Roman Catholic Church -- a perversion of biblical Christianity.”
An A Beka text reads, "The doctrines and practices of the Roman church had digressed so far from Scripture that the church was compelled to keep its members from reading the Bible and discovering the truth." The A Beka text also repeatedly uses the term Romanism, which has pejorative connotations and has been used as a slur against Catholics for generations. It is still used by apocalyptic televangelists, like John Hagee, claiming that “Romanism” is the biblical “Whore of Babylon” in his descriptions of the destruction of Rome and the Catholic Church in the end times.
In a perverse irony, the pro-voucher proponents working to remove the clauses in state constitutions that prevent public funding of religious schools, claim that this must be done because these “no aid” clauses, also known as Blaine Amendments, are a vestige of historic anti-Catholicism.
The worldview of these textbook publishers impact areas you might not suspect, including choosing phonics over whole language reading instruction and rejecting the teaching of set theory in mathematics, both on religious grounds. The A Beka publishers advertise the math curriculum as, “A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.”
Florida’s Corporate Tax Credit Program: Do They Know What They're Funding?
Florida has the largest “school choice” program in the country, followed by Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Over 54,000 tuition recipients are enrolled in private schools in Florida, with the majority of these students in a corporate tax credit program that allows businesses to divert their taxes, dollar for dollar, up to 75 percent of taxes owed to the state.
Florida currently has a voucher program limited to special-needs students, since the state’s Supreme Court struck down a more expansive program in 2006. The Florida House and Senate have approved a ballot initiative for the 2012 election to try to remove the “no aid” clause in the state’s constitution that would open the door to Gov. Rick Scott’s vouchers-for-all scheme.
Florida’s corporate tax credit program disbursed the full amount allowed last year -- $140 million dollars for tuition to students in 1,092 schools and has a cap of $175 million for 2011. These funds are handed over to private non-profits for distribution, with the vast majority since 2002 disbursed through Step Up for Students, also a recipient of funding from the DeVos family foundations.
This is one of several names used by the Florida School Choice Fund, Inc. a 501(c)(3) headed by John Kirtley, a venture capitalist who is also vice chairman of the Betsy DeVos-led American Federation for Children and a director of the James Madison Institute, one of many right-wing think tanks that promote privatization of public education. (The institute’s founding vice chairman, J. Stanley Marshall, has signed a proclamation calling for the end of public education.)
As of February 2011, 83.8 percent of the students in the Florida tax credit program were attending religious schools, approximately the same rate as Milwaukee’s voucher program. However, unlike Milwaukee, hundreds of the Florida schools fall into the category of right-wing evangelical or fundamentalist, with many using A Beka, Bob Jones, or ACE curriculum.
The Step Up For Students reports describe the typical student in the tax credit program as a minority from a one-parent home. Currently 35.6 percent are African American and 27.5 percent are Hispanic. The organization's glossy reports tout the improved opportunities of the students provided with tuition grants to private schools.
The Florida tax credit program is voluntarily supported by corporations including AT &T, Burger King, CVS, Lowe’s, Marriott, Sysco Food Services, and others, described in the Step Up For Students annual reports as “receiving a high rate of return on their investments.” Do these corporation know what they are supporting? The Step Up For Students reports and other pro-privatization propaganda openly report the participating private school’s use of the curricula series quoted in this article, without revealing what that means.
The Step Up For Students reports also fail to include the fact that some American universities refuse to accept high school credit for courses taught from several textbooks quoted in this article. University of California specifically cited several A Beka and Bob Jones textbooks and, although challenged in court, won the case.
Some of the glowing testimonies in the Step Up for Students annual report include this 2008 description of Bible Truth Ministries Academy. “Students are divided into multi-grade learning groups and taught with the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, which is self-paced and has allowed some of the students to advance well beyond their grade level.”
The 2007 annual report features Esprit De Corps Center for Learning in Jacksonville. Next to a photo of smiling African American children, smartly attired in uniforms and berets, the curriculum is touted. “Using an A Beka curriculum designed to challenge students to reach their full potential, the school offers outstanding academic programs that provide its students with the skills and knowledge to become active, productive members of society. [...] EDC has partnered with Step Up For Students since its inception.”
When the Palm Beach Post conducted its survey in 2003, the Potter’s House Christian Academy was one of the major recipients of voucher funding and reported using both the A Beka and Bob Jones curriculum series. The school is affiliated with the politically influential Jacksonville mega-church, the Potter’s House Christian Fellowship, led by Bishop Vaughan McLaughlin.
In February 2005, an estimated 2200 people attended a rally at the church in support of Step Up For Students, led by Governor Jeb Bush and the state’s attorney general at that time, Charlie Crist. This June, the Potter’s House will be a host of the Global Day of Prayer, led by an international Charismatic network, which includes Apostle Ed Silvoso, Bishop McLaughin’s spiritual mentor. This network teaches that Christians must take control or “dominion” over government and society. (Silvoso is the brother-in-law of evangelist Luis Palau, whose ministry has received at least $3.5 million from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.)
This tax credit program money could have been used to improve Florida’s urban public schools, but that would not serve the purpose of indoctrinating the largely minority recipients of the tuition grants with the right-wing religious worldview found in these textbooks. As Frances Paterson states in her research, Americans absolutely have the right to send their children to schools that use these fundamentalist curricula. But she adds, “The public policy makers can and should ask whether the alternative system of Christian education for which they seek public approval and support is ideologically driven in ways that run contrary to the best interests of a diverse, democratic society.”
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