Indiana school vouchers: subsidizing extremism

Back in the spring, when Indiana legislators were about to pass school-voucher legislation, Republican Sen. Brent Steele fretted that public money could fund the teaching of Islamist extremism. “What if you get a school that’s taking vouchers and it’s teaching a particular brand of hate or intolerance?” he asked School Matters.

He was right to worry. But he was worrying about the wrong religion.

Nearly all of the more than 250 private schools approved for vouchers by the Indiana Department of Education are Christian schools. A large majority are Catholic schools; but a sizable minority are evangelical or nondenominational Christian schools, some of which use textbooks that infuse Christian fundamentalism with far-right politics and anti-government extremism.

A number of the schools say on their websites that their curriculum is based on materials from the A Beka or Bob Jones publishing companies, which espouse a narrow form of religion that some describe as “Christian supremacist” and take positions well outside the Christian mainstream.

“The texts’ approach to politics can be summarized this way: Democrats are deluded, liberals are villains, and conservatives are heroes,” wrote Valdosta State University professor Frances Paterson, author of Democracy and Intolerance: Christian School Curricula, School Choice, and Public Policy.

It’s no surprise that the books embrace creationism. Science of the Physical Creation in Christian Perspective, an A Beka science textbook for ninth-graders, includes a 30-page chapter rejecting scientific consensus on evolution, with subtitles like “Effects of the Flood,” “Lack of Transitional Forms: Evidence against Evolution” and “The Evolution of Man: A Mistaken Belief.”

But the same book goes beyond the Bible to reject the idea that chlorofluorocarbons damaged the Earth’s ozone layer and to dismiss evidence that human activity could have a serious impact on climate. “All of the scientific evidence gathered indicates that there is no danger of a global warming disaster,” it says.

A Beka science books demonize environmentalists. The publisher’s history textbooks do the same for anyone to the left of the current Republican Party. Taxes, regulation and government are always portrayed negatively. “We present free-enterprise economics without apology and point out the dangers of Communism, socialism, and liberalism to the well-being of people across the globe,” A Beka says on its website.

Here are a just few examples from the teacher guide to an A Beka 11th-grade history text, United States History in Christian Perspective: Heritage of Freedom:

FDR and the New Deal: “New Deal socialism is but a halfway house to Communism; what Communists seek by violent revolution, socialists seek by legislation, regulation, and taxation … The effects of the New Deal can be seen today in the Social Security system, Medicare, various welfare programs, and the numerous federal regulatory agencies in operation today. Many Americans depend on the government for their daily needs and all suffer from excessive government regulation in one way or another.”

Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s crusade against Communists: “Senator McCarthy’s aggressive manner and his physical appearance – he did not photograph well and often appeared to be scowling – did not play well in front of the television cameras … In addition, the print media and radio roundly castigated McCarthy. The combined effect of this propaganda turned many people against the senator.”

LBJ and the Great Society: “Higher taxes drained money from individuals and business to fund programs that destroyed the work ethic among the poor while eroding the self-sufficiency of the American family.”

Environmentalism: “In 1970, the Environmental Protection Act called for large-scale government interference in the use of private lands and other properties. Often using unscientific studies and citing false statistics, radical environmentalists created a climate of crisis which drove up the cost of business, thwarted exploration for new resources, and encouraged abortion as a means of population control.”

Short-answer questions: “The policies under President Reagan that economically benefited all Americans – lower taxes and less government regulation” … “Two instances in which federal law enforcement officials abused their power in the 1990s – Ruby Ridge and Waco.”

For more examples, including some from Bob Jones textbooks, see Rachel Tabachnick’s May 2011 post on the progressive website AlterNet. She writes, “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.”

Frances Paterson, whose 2003 book was published by Bloomington-based Phi Delta Kappa, told School Matters by email that the disparaging of other people on the basis of religion is one of the most disturbing aspects of the Christian textbooks.

“Moreover, asking taxpayers to support the dissemination of negative and/or contemptuous views of their (that is, the taxpayers’) religion is, in my opinion, reprehensible,” she said. “Conservative Christians are and would be outraged if they were asked to contribute to use of such materials in public school.”

The First Amendment gives extremists the right to advocate for their beliefs and to establish schools to teach their children whatever they like. But taxpayer support is another matter.