U.S. Supreme Court takes up the issue of public dollars for private religious schools, one of the questions is how the curricula in religious schools differs from that of public schools, particularly on sensitive matters of politics and religion.
Frances Patterson, an assistant professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia specializing in education law and professional ethics, recently examined the content in textbooks used in as many as 10,000 evangelical and fundamentalist Christian schools. Her research will be published in a forthcoming book by the Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.
The following is condensed and excerpted from Chapter Two, “Deluded Democrats, Liberal Villains, and Conservative Heroes.”
By Frances Patterson
My study of textbooks used in evangelical and fundamentalist Christian schools underscores that the materials are biased toward an overwhelmingly conservative point of view on social, political, and religious matters.
Shorn of the text that makes them uniquely “textbooks” – long passages about the influence of Prince Metternich, descriptions of Thailand’s geography, and explanations of the Electoral College – the materials are indistinguishable from the literature of the Religious Right.
On matters of religion, the texts adhere to a literal interpretation of the Bible, and are rife with stereotypes and distortions of not only non-Christian religions but of the Roman Catholic Church (see article page 5).
For my research, I studied social studies textbooks published by A Beka press for grades 4 to 12 , by Bob Jones University Press for grades 3 to 12, and 84 social studies booklets published or distributed by School of Tomorrow/Accelerated Christian Education. The texts range from U.S. history books, to civics and government books, to social studies books, to world studies texts.
My study, as researchers Dan Fleming and Thomas Hunt also concluded in their study published in the March 1987 Phi Delta Kappan, shows that the textbooks and materials are clearly biased toward a conservative fundamentalist outlook.
To cite a few examples of the bias:
- One social studies booklet on government tells students “as Bible Believers, we cannot isolate ourselves from our government. We must become involved in the political processes by voting for candidates who support our conservative, Biblical principles.” 1
- One U.S. history text, in a typical passage condemning the 1973 Roe V. Wade decision legalizing abortion, says, “During the 16 years following that 1973 decision, more than 20 million lives were ended by abortion. That number is more than ten times the number of Americans who have died in all the wars the nation has fought! That number is more than three times the number of Jews that Adolf Hitler exterminated in concentration camps during the Holocaust! The United States of America, founded on the Word of God, had legalized the murder of millions of babies.” 2
The texts’ approach to politics can be summarized this way: Democrats are deluded, liberals are villains, and conservatives are heroes. This is part of a pattern where descriptions used for people, groups, and movements clearly imply that some are unacceptable.
In A Beka’s world history textbooks, the term “liberal” is tied to, among other things, the belief in evolution – and both are thoroughly castigated. In the eighth grade U.S. history book, a liberal is defined as: “a person who believes government should have more control over people’s lives, that government through taxes should provide for more of people’s needs, and that Biblical traditional values are not strong considerations.” 3 The authors acknowledge that liberals and conservatives exist in both parties, but point out that liberals are more likely to be found in the Democratic Party and conservatives in the Republican Party.
The publisher’s 10th grade text defines a conservative as “a person who wants to conserve a standard [that] is desirable if the standard is good (the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, Judeo-Christian ethics) and undesirable if the standard is bad (Marxism, false religions, immorality).” 4
The text also emphasizes that “American and other Western conservatives believe there are eternal values that need to be preserved in human thought and action; they also seek to preserve the Judeo-Christian heritage that has made the West great [emphasis in the original].” 5
Another pattern in the Christian school textbooks is that conservatives are cited and quoted with approval, while liberals are given less coverage, omitted, or treated in a critical fashion. A Beka’s fourth-grade history text, for example, includes a color photograph and 22 lines about conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. “Through his own hard work and God-given ability,” the book says of Thomas, “he earned a law degree and achieved several important government positions.” 6 Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American appointed to the court, is not mentioned at all.
The books thoroughly castigate socialism and Communism, and present theocracy as the ideal form of government. The A Beka civics textbook begins by noting that “All governments are ordained by God, but none compare to government by God, theocracy.” 7
The use of the terms “socialism” and “socialistic” in connection with Democratic presidents and their policies is particularly problematic. For example, in A Beka’s senior high school world history book, the authors state, “A serious flaw developed in American culture during the Cold War period as America began to drift away from the institutions and heritage that made her great. For example, the U.S. government continued to move toward socialism following the ‘New Deal’; under the Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter administrations, government spending grew enormously as welfare programs sapped the economy and resulted in a heavier tax burden upon the American people.” 8
Both the civics and history textbooks repeatedly state that America is in a moral decline and blame a variety of causes. For example, Bob Jones’s civics text states that “secular humanistic thought, which puts man at the center of all things, now provides a basis for public morals, judicial decisions, and social values.” 9
Criticism of contemporary culture focuses on alleged breakdowns in social order and family values during the 1960s and 1970s. Eighth graders read that “although the United States has been a sinless nation, conditions of the 1960s and 1970s saw much open defiance of God’s standards” with the result that “hard rock music, drugs, and open immorality continue to plague America.” 10 A Beka’s high school world history book argues that even after the “hippie” decade of the 1960s, “America’s immorality grew worse as abortion and immoral life styles were considered ‘normal’ by many people.” 11
The importance of the family is underscored again and again; however, the family must conform to God’s mandate, which is linked, in turn, to the proper relationship of human beings to government. “ The A Beka civics text notes, “Governmental authority flows from God to human institutions and to the individuals responsible for ruling others within those institutions [according to] a definite order of command from God to human leaders to their followers. For example, the husband is the head of the wife and the parents are God’s representatives to rule their children. Individuals obey God when they submit to and obey the God-appointed authorities over them.” 12
Abortion and homosexuality are strongly condemned. The coverage of abortion begins in elementary school materials and increases in both detail and vehemence through the grades. Language such as “innocent babies,” “grisly procedure,” “legalized murder,” and “slaughter of unborn babies” is common.
Abortion is also explicitly linked to other sinful conduct, including homosexuality, which, in turn, is linked to egregious criminal conduct. Because homosexuals engage in “vile affections,” their claim to legal protection is unwarranted. “These people have no more claim to special rights than child molesters or rapists.” says Bob Jones’s senior high school current events textbook. 13
As with abortion, middle, and junior high school students are exposed to explicit condemnation of gay people and the “gay lifestyle.” Eighth graders learn that “these immoral Americans not only try to excuse their sin as simply another choice of lifestyle but also try to demand special recognition and privilege. Such a situation serves to illustrate man’s sinful condition and his great need for the Savior.” 14
By contrast, issues related to rae and the civil rights movement are discussed in a more straightforward and objective fashion, and the tone is generally cool. For instance, the authors of the senior high school American history book from bob Jones University de-emphasize the inhumanity of the institution of slavery by opining that slavery was not particularly cruel:“A few slave holders were undeniably cruel. Examples of slaves beaten to death were not common, neither were they unknown. The majority of slave holders treated their salves well.” 15
Meanwhile, the texts are uncompromisingly critical of public education. A School of Tomorrow/Accelerated Christian Education booklet links public education to the nation’s religious decline: “There are several reasons why North America has not experienced a great spiritual awakening. The humanist educational system, media, and mindset have trained North Americans to rationalize away much of the Bible and its teaching.” 16
A Beka’s senior high school United States history textbook presents public education as suffering from a process of deterioration: “Because basic phonics, traditional math, drill, and repetition had been virtually eliminated from many school curriculums, students were not learning. Grades fell, and a reliable study classified thirty percent of all public school students as ‘learning disabled.’ As the federal government began to hand out large amounts of money to educate these ‘learning disabled’ students, critics suggested that some educators labeled students ‘learning disabled’ in order to qualify for more government aid.” 17
A School of Tomorrow/Accelerated Christian Education booklet on American government shows a one-room schoolhouse bound by chains. Over the door is a sign that says, “Big Brother Public School.” The caption announces that this is “another fine, professionally engineered, state-of-the-art security, high tech, nonreligious, tax-payer funded, federal government school for your [crossed out with a red X] our children!” 18
Economics, foreign policy
In quasi-economic discussions related to poverty and its amelioration, providentialism predominates fatalism. The authors present poverty as rooted in personal weakness and tend to ignore or downplay possible structural causes. Organized efforts to end poverty are characterized as contrary to God’s plan for humanity, injurious to good government, or both.
Senior high school American history booklets produced by School of Tomorrow/Accelerated Christian Education take a particularly strident tone: “The Founding Fathers plan for government, the Constitution, included the protection of citizens, the promotion of general welfare, and the provision for a common defense. It did not include the giving of handouts to citizens.” 19 In the same section, students read that “like many other government programs, [Medicare and Medicaid] are socialistic [and] Social Security is not a good investment program.” 20
The section concludes by implying that Social Security and other government anti-poverty programs are contrary to the Bible. “Scripture plainly teaches that widows, the needy, and others who cannot provide for themselves are to have their needs met [but] God’s plan is for these needs to be met first by family members and then by local churches, but not by government.” 21
Unemployment also is caused by personal weakness or the actions of government. The market, unencumbered by the restrictions of the minimum wage, is the best solution for unemployment. A Beka’s eighth-grade U.S. history text, speaking of welfare programs during the Kennedy Administration, argues that “because it is human nature to try to get something for nothing, many people took advantage of government handouts.” 22
The texts, especially those from A Beka, view taxation, especially the progressive income tax, as a necessary evil. After drawing a clear connection between the progressive income tax and Communism (the text notes that a graduated income tax is one of the principles of Karl Marx’ Communist Manifesto), one School of Tomorrow/Accelerated American history booklet for senior high school students issues a clarion call to reform or abolish the progressive income tax by stating: “It was wrong for outlaw Robin Hood to steal from the rich and give to the poor, and it is wrong for governments to do it. The U.S. tax law needs to be changed.” 23
Not surprisingly, the texts devote a great deal of space to the issue of Communism. While virtually all government intervention in the economic sphere is described in negative terms, the coverage of Communism and socialism is distinguished by its depth, frequency, and extreme hostility. The authors’ rhetoric can best be described as passionate, and their depth of feeling is matched only in their more abbreviated discussions of abortion, prayer in the schools, and the dangers of religious and political liberalism. The end of the Cold War does not seem to have affected their stance toward Communism and socialism.
The texts also express a substantial degree of animosity toward the United Nations. The A Beka senior high school world history text contains some of the harshest language: “Contrary to the basic Judeo-Christian concept of law which places limits on government, the UN charter laid the foundation for one-world government with unlimited power. … The UN founders envisioned an all-powerful, global authority with power to bend nations into conformity with its plans for the ‘world community.’ Given the radical agenda and the totalitarian philosophy of the UN, one can quickly discern the threat of its plan for world government to the political, religious, and social liberty of all free peoples. It is a collectivist juggernaut that would crush individual freedom and force the will of an elite few on all of humanity.” 24
The above material is a partial summary of my research. Analyzing the material in Christian school texts goes a long way to answering the question of why many conservative organizations advocate programs that would privatize U.S. education. Indeed, one of the primary reasons for conservative support of vouchers and various school choice programs is not only to provide financial support for religious schools, but to also expose larger numbers of American students to conservative ideology.
1 Social Studies, U.S. Civics-4 (#1137) (N.p.: Accelerated Christian Education, 1997), p. 21.
2 Social Studies 1096, rev. 1998 (N.p.: Accelerated Christian Education,1990), pp. 6-7.
3 Kurt S. Grussendorf, Michael R. Lowman, and Brian S. Asbaugh, America: Land That I Love, Teacher Edition (Pensacola, Fla.: A Beka Books, 1994), p. 465.
4 George Thompson and Jerry Combee. World History and Cultures in Christian Perspective. 2nd edition (Pensacola, Fla: A Beka, 1997), p. 446.
5 Thompson and Combee, p. 445.
6 The History of Our United States, Teacher Edition, 2nd ed. (Pensacola, Fla.: A Beka Books, 1994), p. 297.
7 William R. Bowen et al., American Government in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., (Pensacola, Fla.: A Beka, 1997), p. 19.
8 Thompson and Combee, p. 513.
9 Keesee, p. 22.
10 The American Republic for Christian Schools, p. 610-11.
11 Thompson and Combee, p. 513.
12 Bowen et al., p. 16.
13 Teacher’s Resource Guide to Current Events, p. 21.
14 The American Republic for Christian Schools, Teachers ed., (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1988), p. 609.
15 Keesee and Sidwell, p. 219.
16 Approaching the Twenty-First Century. Self-Pac® of Basic Education (#108) (N.p.: School of Tomorrow, 1996), p. 16.
17 Lowman, Thompson, and Grussendorf, pp. 772-3.
18 Social Studies, U.S. Civics-4 (#1136), p. 15.
19 Social Studies 1094, p. 6.
20 Social Studies 1094, p. 6.
21 Social Studies 1094, p. 7.
22 Grussendorf, Lowman, and Ashbaugh, p. 467.
23 Social Studies 1093, p. 6-7.
24 Thompson and Combee, p. 573.