Evangelical Influence on Western Education

When Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala became the first Hindu priest to offer an invocation before Congress in 2000, the Family Research Council (FRC) had this to say:

While it is true that the United States of America was founded on the sacred principle of religious freedom for all, that liberty was never intended to exalt other religions to the level that Christianity holds in our country's heritage। The USA's founders expected that Christianity--and no other religion--would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples' consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference. (1 )

The FRC group, along with hundreds of other organizations like them, is a Christian Right non-profit think tank designed to lobby for Conservative Legislation on Capital Hill, dealing with topics including divorce, homosexuality, abortion, abstinence-only sex education, intelligent-design teaching in schools, and military conflict against Islam. From September 26-28, the FRC political arm (FRCAction) and several other organizations held a conference with speakers including Fox News correspondents, best-selling authors, political commentators, U.S. Senators, Presidential candidates, and even the White House Press Secretary, denouncing homosexuality and promoting prejudicial values, while calling for the leadership of the country to make a unified stand against liberalism in general. (2) These are the most influential people in charge of the most disseminated forms of media, and can potentially dictate the fate of our most basic liberties.

What these groups and values believe is that legislation must be influenced by Christian ideology, thus negating the secularist principles that the United States founded itself upon while reducing all other religions to second class status. The above quote represents the ideological supremacy many Christians maintain in their beliefs and recognizes the contradiction of its existence in a society which values the separation between church and state.

Though we may often times dismiss our nation's need for the maintenance of this separation, too frequently do religious principles dictate the chosen course for these topics. Definitions of “marriage” and “right to life” have confused the legitimacy of homosexual couples and prevented ideas like abortion from becoming legalized in many areas, as opponents believe these issues are counter-productive to the basic laws of human nature which must be determined by morality and religion. These are issues that deserve private meditation in order to determine what may be right for an individual, but morals must not be the fundamental basis on which we ground our nation's principles or dictate how we should live- in a state where religious motives become the authoritative dictator of civil discourse and national character. This “war” between secularism and a Neo-theocracy movement has moved beyond just angry protesting mobs and into the “front lines” of education, often through the manipulation of public media. Though many different steps have been taken to prevent this kind of influence, more and more parents are taking their children out of public schools and placing them into home schools.

The typical American homeschooling parents are white, married, with three or more children, educating them “primarily for religious and moral reasons,” and are twice as likely to be evangelical Christians than the national average. Within this group, 91% describe themselves as Christians and 50% as “Born-again” Christians. We can see a dramatic increase in the number of home schooled children, as 700,000-750,000 kids in 1995-96 jumped to over 1.9-2.4 million children being home schooled in 2005-06, almost a 400% increase. During this time, the number of parents of home schooled children with a high school degree or higher decreased, although this fact is disputed by the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. 85% of parents cited the social environments of the school (dealing with safety, drugs, bullying, negative peer pressure, etc...) as being primary reasons for homeschooling and 72% of parents home schooled their children “to provide religious and moral instruction.” (3)

Perhaps this idea that schools are an unsafe place for children is legitimate; perhaps it is not: “Good-hearted Americans have come to believe that the public schools of their nation are in a crisis state because they have so often been given this false message by supposedly credible sources.” (4)

Campaigns prepared to manufacture crises in education have been documented as starting from even earlier than the White House's release of A Nation at Risk 1983 or the No Child Left Behind act of 2001.

In 1964, an educational observer named John Caldwell Holt published his first book, “How Children Fail,” which said that children fail simply because they go to school in the first place. Although being a former WW2 submariner and having no former training in education, his ideas caught on and the author reached new heights of fame, making appearances on TV shows and writing book reviews for major magazines. Three years later, his second book “How Children Learn” tried to show how schools inhibit the learning process of a child. After talking with a bunch of other authors who had written knock-off books in the years following, he wrote his third book, “Instead of Education; Ways to Help People Do Things Better,” and started the magazine “Growing Without Schooling.” Backed by simultaneous studies proving that “the bonds and emotional development made at home with parents during these years produced critical long term results that were cut short by enrollment into schools, and could neither be replaced nor afterward corrected in an institutional setting,” the philosophy of homeschooling inspired many parents to keep their children out of school in order to teach them at home. (5)

Similarly, in 1983 the Secretary of Education Terrel Bell prepared A Nation at Risk endorsed by President Reagan. It talked about all the “failures” of our school systems and the “evidence” that supported it, when no such factors really existed. A disinformation campaign manufactured a fictitious crisis that called for a “reform” in education, which if adopted posed serious threats to the school system. In the early 70s, a bunch of rich conservatives got together to work and promote a right wing agenda and their reactionary views, with the intent

“ of funding right-wing student newspapers, internships, and endowed chairs for right-wing spokespersons on American campuses; supporting authors who write books hostile to American higher education; attempting to discredit social programs and other products of 'liberal' thought; supporting conservative religious causes; lobbying for reactionary programs and ideologies in the federal congress; and so forth.” (4)

The policies that the far right, the religious right, and the neo-conservatives advocated in no way reflected the interests of any minorities and misunderstood all of the basic problems that the public schools faced. At the time that A Nation at Risk was prepared, a bunch of other independently generated books and commission reports about American education came out, fanning the flames that the right had ignited. In 2001, virtually the same thing happened again, this time under the title, No Child Left Behind. Sponsored again by the Secretary of Education, prepared by a prestigious committee and endorsed by the president, the act charged schools with a serious decline of American education, made allegations about a failure in leadership concerning economies due to inadequate schooling, and blamed teachers and educators for all the failures of the schools. The manipulation of media is apparent and is still going on today. With the backing by Fox News of such commentators as Ann Coulters and David Horowitz, authors and reactive right mouthpieces for bigotry and racist-veiled right-wing ideas who have absolutely no authority on the subjects and whose. ideas involve the installation of Evangelical Christianity in the UC Santa Cruz curriculum (6) and that teachers are becoming pedophiles across the country (7), it is really no wonder why parents are pulling their kids out of public schools and keeping them at home. The exact same formula is used again and again to manipulate public awareness of issues concerning education without fail or countering and decisive action to combat it.

The dramatic increase in homeschools and the religious influence that accompanies it makes ideas concerning “education” suspect. 77% of kids use homeschooling catalogs, publishers, or individual specialists (i.e. Christian Book Distributors and the Elijah Company); 50% use books from homeschooling organizations; 37% use materials provided by religious institutions; 20% learn using TV, Radio, or Videos; and 15% take a correspondence course by mail. (3) Throughout this course we have learned how TV, Radio, and Videos can use their manipulation of facts and data to generally “misinform” or “reeducate” a public to the distributors way of thinking. All-in-one curricula contains everything a parent needs to educate their children, but when these kids are given material that promotes a specific ideology and indoctrinates kids with ideas when they are too young to differentiate between truth and fiction, it becomes a problem. This is apparent when issues like creationism are promoted over evolution and people believe that the literary interpretation of the bible is inherent.

The National Education Association- a teachers' union and the largest labor union in the United States is on record opposing homeschooling outright. They believe that it detracts from the academic competence of the child, it reduces funding for the public schools, a lack of socialization leads children to fear “outside groups” and those different from them, it excludes critical subjects vital for a child's growth as a human being, and it denies the student an overall awareness to the relevant issues in todays society. Parent's who believe unquestioningly that what their religion dictates to them to be the “right” way to live is in fact just that, often times may shelter or deny the child equal opportunity for information not readily available to them. (8)

In attempt to contradict allegations of incompetence from those who do oppose homeschooling, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association has come up with several other facts to support their cause.

  1. Home schooled kids outperform public school kids (If half of conventionally schooled children score at 50% (in theory) only 10.3% of H.S kids do, rising from there. Also, performance gaps between minorities and gender is non existent.
  2. 15 Billion of tax dollars are saved on public education
  3. Home schoolers are active in their communities (71% involved in communities vs. 37% of U.S average)
  4. Home schoolers are more involved in civic affairs (76% 18-24 voted in last 5 years compared to 29% of corresponding U.S. Pop. 95% of older age groups voted vs. 53% of corresponding pop)
  5. Home schoolers are happy! (58.9% of Home schoolers consider themselves “very happy” compared to 27.6%. 73.2% find life “exciting” vs. 47.3%) (3)

These points run almost in direct opposition to what the Teacher's Union says and it is important to remember that, but it is also important to understand who funds these studies and what final goal these statistics are meant to find. After all of the studies conducted, Brian D. Ray (who conducted many of them), the president of the National Home Education Research Institute had this to say:

“It is possible that homeschooling causes the positive traits reported above. However, the research designs to date do not conclusively “prove” that homeschooling causes these things. At the same time, there is no evidence that homeschooling causes negative things compared to institutional schooling. Future research may better answer the question of causation. (9)

Another interesting fact to look at is that the overall opposition to home schooling dropped from 73% in 1985 to 54% opposed in 2001. Whether this is due to the media's portrayal of public schools or homeschooling in a different light, or people's own consciousness of the subject is impossible to know for sure and so is irrelevant to argue, but what is important to recognize is that the child often times has little to no say about his or her own options concerning their future.

There are four ways in which homeschooling is initiated. Through filling out the right forms and signing the right documents, a family can turn their own home into a “private school.” This undermines the actual legitimacy of the educational system by equating a home with absolutely no training in education or childhood development the same status as a place that does. One can also enroll in a private OR public school that offers independent study programs. This has the potential to divert resources away from qualified educators and places it in the hands of the people aforementioned. The final way to start a “school” at home is to utilize a credentialed teacher, for a minimum of 3 hours a day for 175 days. Without bringing attention to the obvious fact that 3 hours a day is in no way equal to a normal school system, it also becomes relevant from the fact that the only necessary qualifications of these teachers is that they must be “capable of teaching.” This open ended term is left for individual interpretation as teachers in private schools are not required by California Educational Code to hold a state teaching credential or have any of the equivalent and necessary training.

The resulting environment is not altogether a desirable one. When an ideology permeates to such a degree the political, economic, and social structures of the general public, its implications become quite clear. The potential for supremacist values to be instilled in legislation, supported by the most powerful people in the country, while unregulated in its ability to be transferred to the next generation of children takes on new meaning and requires a complete reassessment of the situation. The separation between church and state needs to be enforced strictly, education needs to be regulated to certain degrees, and moral and ethical construction must be limited to the home. This is not to say that public schools should not educate students about religion. As religion governs much of the controversy we deal with in our culture today, it is in fact imperative to inform children about these issues in order to help them create their own understanding and awareness of the world around them. But what is happening is that people are justifying the imposition of their values onto others with religion and this contradicts the constitutional right for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What is good for one person is not necessarily good for another and individuality needs to be recognized and protected. A current example of this push of values into the political arena is the premise behind the Christian Exodus group. (10) This group of Christians, after suffering the indignity of having to live in a country where homosexuality is legalized, joined together to secede from the United States. Their plan is to create a united movement to migrate to South Carolina in order to overwhelm local and state government with their own particular agenda, district by district. Hundreds of families have moved to the state and say that if they don't get their way, their plan is to secede from the country. Whether or not it would be beneficial to have these people leave the country is up for debate, but it is reality nonetheless.

Just as TV sends us into a soothing state of semi-consciousness, so too does religion। Churches, priests, rabbis, popes, nuns, teachers, Christians, fundamentalists, terrorists, world leaders, anchormen and women, actors, magazines, newspapers, movies, music, and the guy standing on the corner of a street on a box with a wooden sign on him handing out flyers are all modes of media expressing a particularly influenced way of thinking, but when those modes infringe upon the sanctity of education, it becomes a problem that is imperative to deal with.

(1) September 21 edition of the online publication operated by the Family Research Council, "Culture Facts"

(2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2gqdv2PGPw&feature=related

(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeschooling

(4) The Manufactured Crisis (1995) David Berliner and Bruce Biddle New York: Basic Books

(5) Better Late Than Early, Raymond S. Moore, Dorothy N. Moore, Seventh Printing, 1993

(6) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDrtTtRzwo0

(7) Coulters, Ann Godless: The Church of Liberalism

(8) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xKDKq_PPbk&feature=related

(9) http://www.nheri.org/content/view/199/

(10) http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=45102

The Death of National Civility

           In recognizing the contradiction within the official ideology of frontier expansionism- between the faith in a “final purpose” of the frontier's progression; and a regression to the individual's early stage of development and the society he emerges from- and how it relates to the understanding and stability of the 19th century faith in Imperial Progress, we must first look at how the American identity was created to shape it.. Through the occupation of “free land,” its recession, and the inevitable march forward to new free land, an individualistic atmosphere bred the sense of opportunity and drive needed to create the capitalistic mindset that justified imperialist action.

            As the West moved forward, it found that it had to copy the East's evolution of civilization- a “return to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line [which helped] furnish the forces dominating American character.” (Turner 38) Migration west led to a continual rebirth of civilization, meeting savagery head-on in an attempt to ensure its dominance over inanimate nature. Trade relations with Indians sprouted more and more Army posts, serving as a hub for new settlers wanting protection and security, while providing an initial jumping off point for new exploration in unknown territory. Discoveries of salt provided the necessary freedom from long journeys back to the East, helping to develop the independence of the western people. An abundance of animal life attracted hunters and traders; fresh grasses attracted the rancher; and fertile soil attracted farmers. Pioneering settlements were sold to land purchasers and settlers as cheap lands ensured a steady migration. This produced three essential effects in determining the identity of the western population: a blended “American” nationality from a mix of immigrant races, a decreased dependence on European powers through new American merchants, and a new legislation based on the influence of the emerging economy of the west. Free land created the necessary opportunities for this competent economy by securing its political power through ideas of  individual success. Thus, the “growth of nationalism and the evolution of American political institutions were dependent on the advance of the frontier.” (Turner 52) As the frontier became the catalyst for individualism, an anti-social antipathy to government control was spawned. Democratic notions of labor were thought to reduce the possibility of corruption, maintaining a “pure” relationship to the land: [The Westerner] has this advantage, that when he returns home he takes off his  coat and takes hold of the plow. This gives him bone and muscle, sir, and preserves his republican principles pure and uncontaminated.” (Turner 57)

            But this brought about dangers as well as success. The same individualism that spurred the American economy brought about a sense of selfishness, which “rendered possible the spoils system and all the manifest evils that follow from the lack of a highly developed civic spirit.” (Turner 58) This  led to the disintegration of ethical conduct concerning certain practices. Lax business relations, inflated paper currency, and wild-cat banking were all connected to the ideas of self-promotion that individualism promoted. Subsequently, education and religion were imported from the East and churches and universities sprang up all over the west, effectively disciplining the mind and arming the conscience along with the heart. The resulting mentality was thus characteristic of the western frontier:

  That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom—  these are traits of the frontier. (Turner 61)

            This provided the American ideology with the unquenchable thirst for opportunity and success needed to promote and justify imperialistic mentality. Individuality gave way to notions of  superiority and the inevitable display of force that accompanied it.   

            Civilization's war on barbarism was extracted from the frontier and used to influence national and international relations. In “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court,” Mark Twain identifies this ideology as inherent in America's mentality and writes his book as a warning against self-righteous ideas of “progress:” “Hank self-destructs not in spite of but because of his utopianism, because the knowledge that he brings to the Middle Ages is inescapably a form of power that follows laws operating independently and mostly outside the awareness of their subjects.” (Sewell 141)

            The Utopian idea of progress central to Twain's story thus becomes nothing more than another form of literary imperialism. “I wouldn't have traded it for twentieth. Look at the opportunities here for a man of knowledge, brains, pluck and enterprise to sail in and grow up with the country.” (Twain 41) Just as Morgan's sense of discovery of a world devoid of civilization leads him to desires of possession and domination, we can see a similar logic take hold of American ideals surrounding economic and political affairs, namely the territorial conquest and domination of other, less civilized peoples.

            Though Hank may be subtle about his desires for global domination, the United States certainly is not. Just as Twain's character jumps at the opportunity to acquire wealth, territory, and sovereignty through the guise of the blessings of civilization, so too does America.  “Morgan's exploits often allude simultaneously to the histories of U.S. Manifest Destiny and European colonialism, thereby linking U.S. Policies...with the imperial practices of the European powers.” (Rowe 127) Through a close understanding of  the relationship between the frontier's mythical gift of progress and the similar values  inherent within Morgan's own ideology, we can see that the West is nothing more than another version of the colonial and imperialist endeavors of the European powers. Civilization is used as a tool to be justified by divine right in order to assert the formal policies of U.S prosperity. “Unlimited power is the ideal thing when it is in safe hands. The despotism of heaven is the one absolutely perfect government. An earthly despotism would be the absolutely perfect earthly government, if the conditions were the same, namely, the despot the perfectest individual of the human race, and his lease of life perpetual.” (Twain 51) Hank Morgan and the American nation take on the role of a father figure, leading the ignorant “children” to higher forms of cultural existence through the adoption of their values.

            An example of this is free trade. While the concept of awakening workers to the rights over their own labor to negotiate their own wages may sound beneficial, a hidden subtlety is manipulated by capitalist powers.. Due to a lack of organization among working classes; and the  ruthlessly oppressive spirit of the people who set their wages, an imperialist scramble for exploitable labor in various colonies ensues: “That is, the very economic principle that...Twain imagined might liberate the industrial worker from the exploitation of capital and eventually free the colonial subject from imperial domination in many cases turned out to be the basis for a new imperialism.” (Rowe 131)

            The Berlin Conference is indicative of this, allowing European powers to meet and divide up  commercial jurisdiction in Africa. We can see that by this time, imperialism has mutated into interests of established dominance in a foreign nation's trade and markets, rather than in simply controlling its physical territories. Thus, we see this “free trade imperialism” as “beginning in greed, developing by the desire for commercial advantage, and concluding with the theft of land and murder.” (Rowe 132) Twain writes his novel at precisely the same time as the Berlin Conference, representing through his characters how capitalism, new technology, and zeal for imperial expansion works together to produce human suffering and indescribable misery, while reproducing slavery in new ways.


 “They were freemen, but they could not leave the estates of their lord or bishop without his permission; they could not prepare their own bread, but must have their corn ground and their bread baked at his mill and his bakery, and pay roundly for the same; they could not sell a piece of their own property without paying a handsome percentage of the proceeds, nor buy a piece of somebody else's without remembering him in cash for the privilege...” (Twain 65)

            Even if the people of the occupied countries do not want the presence of this civilization, they are dismissed or ignored, exemplifying the control and genuine power they must submit to. In this way do we understand capitalism, feudalism, and imperialism to be commonly related to one another due in part to the economic exploitation of the general public. Whether it is American slavery, the powerless “freemen”of the 6th century, the African people, or our betrayal of the Filipino revolution that we are talking about, we realize that these groups are interchangeable in their forced subjection to imperial rule: the emergence of age-old forms of “domination with the progressive claims of nineteenth-century capitalism.” (Rowe 139)

            It is apparent to us then, the contradiction of frontier expansionism and how we come to understand its influence on 19th century imperial progress. Through the continual regression to an early stage of development dictated by new lines of settlement, America established its independence and character. Civilization breathed ideologies of superiority into political life, paving the way for new ideas of imperialism to establish itself in notions of free trade. These ideas have not since left the American ideology as new documents like “The Project for the New American Century” (http://newamericancentury.org/statementofprinciples.htm) use language like “United States' global responsibilities,” and “necessary military strength” to prepare the world for our “leadership,” and are signed by virtually everyone in our Executive Administration. We must then reevaluate, reassess, and reeducate our moral sense of duty if we are to preserve the democratic principles that promote the freedom from oppression.