Religious fundamentalism threatens American public education (and much more)

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Betsy DeVos is no longer there, but for North Carolina, “Devosism” is not. Throughout his tenure as secretary of education, DeVos sought to convince Congress to allocate $ 5 billion in tax credits to fund scholarships for private, religious, and home schools. . These “scholarships” – the vouchers – were a central theme of her tenure, and now, notes Rebecca Klein, many state legislatures continue to push this program through 2021. The Network for Public Education has reported efforts in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and New Hampshire to dramatically expand voucher programs. In North Carolina, the legislature moved in its first week in session this year to extend the vouchers.

Because the good guys siphon money from cash-strapped public schools, it is often assumed to be a public school problem. In North Carolina, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) led the fight, with a group of parents who filed a lawsuit against the state voucher program, arguing it was unconstitutional.

This battle, however, is much more than a ‘choice’ or even privatization, and concerns everyone in the academy – every historian, scientist, anthropologist, political scientist, drama professor and the rest – as Betsy DeVos is the proud flagship of Christian Dominionists, who are part of a once marginal group of religious extremists now at the heart of the effort to reshape American public education. DeVos and other Dominionists see the school system as the ultimate symbol of community liberalism and want it replaced by private schools that will usher in a new kingdom of God.

Betsy DeVos

These coupons are therefore more of a threat than the educational colleges or public schools they ostensibly serve. The curricula of many of these schools threaten America’s ideals of multiculturalism, democracy, and science. A study by the League of Voters of North Carolina examined what was taught in these voucher-funded ‘schools’ in the state and found that “76.7% of voucher funding goes to schools with a vision. literal biblical world that affects all areas of the school curriculum …[and] educators concluded that this biblical worldview program does not prepare these students for 21st century colleges or careers.

Indeed, the programs appear to be designed to prepare students for life in the 13th century. Most of the textbooks come from the Abeka series of Pensacola Christian College (PCC) or have been published by Bob Jones University. Children learn from scientific texts published by a company that considers an “article of faith” that “God created the heavens and the earth in six literal days” and rejects “the man-made theory of evolution. over millions of years. and believe[s] that the earth is about 6,000 years old.

When Dr. Lawrence Kessler of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examined the Asia unit of Abeka’s world history textbook, the researcher literally found “factual errors on every page”, including references. to Chinese intellectual traditions, Confucianism and Taoism as “false religions”. The history textbooks in the series attribute divine providence as explanations of human events.

Important as these appalling programs are, the lawsuit filed by parents in North Carolina argues that “the voucher program directs funds to schools” that divide communities on religious grounds, denigrate beliefs and identities many North Carolina residents and force families to live under religious orders. . ‘”From Raleigh News and Observer notes that many schools receiving these vouchers “have policies prohibiting the enrollment or allowing expulsion of students which refute the school’s statements of faith” and that students “may be excluded from certain schools if the beliefs of their parents are not compliant. “

In short, North Carolina taxpayers subsidize superstition and support fanaticism. While it is certainly true that these vouchers will drain funds from public schools, all of society loses when education is mocked in this way.

The threat therefore extends far beyond the damage inflicted on public education. These voucher programs subsidize the “education” that makes America less safe for religious and ethnic minorities, makes it harder to deal with global issues like climate change, and encourages the kind of Luddite behavior we’ve seen. during the pandemic in the battles for masks, distancing, vaccines, etc.

The responsibility for dealing with this problem does not lie solely with educational colleges or with policy makers and teachers in public schools. This may be a good thing, since North Carolina colleges of education are clearly silent on the issue. Higher education, at all levels, can no longer be left out of this crucial political issue. Tar Heel taxpayer money is funneled into creating a Tar Heel Taliban, and Tar Heels – all of us – will pay a terrible price. The danger is too great, the threat too real. We can no longer accept that taxpayer funds are funneled into programs that undermine America’s ideals of pluralism, democracy and tolerance. The university has a role to play in defending these ideals: all university — and it’s now.

J. Allen Bryant is Associate Professor of Elementary Education at Appalachian State University.


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