An article posted on Politico today adds new evidence of the damage being done to K-12 education under the guise of "school choice," and how much many of us are paying to place some of our own core values under attack: about $1 billion across 14 states with school voucher programs.
As millions of television viewers are marveling at the latest scientific discoveries on shows like the Fox series "Cosmos" featuring astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, Politico reports that an increasing pile of tax dollars are being devoted to "hundreds of religious schools that teach Earth is less than 10,000 years old, Adam and Eve strolled the garden with dinosaurs, and much of modern biology, geology and cosmology is a web of lies."
That conclusion is based on a review of "hundreds of pages of course outlines, textbooks and websites." That review revealed that not only are these taxpayer-funded courses teaching a Biblical literalism about the origin of the universe that is not supported by basic science, "course materials nurture disdain of the secular world, distrust of momentous discoveries and hostility toward mainstream scientists."
The Education Opportunity Network's Jeff Bryant, whose work is featured on OurFuture.org, called attention to this in February in an article for Salon. His examples include North Carolina schools that use a "Christ-centered" curriculum that asserts that "dinosaurs and humans co-existed on Earth; slave-masters generally treated their slaves well; in some areas, the KKK fought the decline in morality by using the sign of the cross; and gay people have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists."
Today on Salon, Katie Halper of AlterNet follows up with "10 insane lessons religious schools are teaching American kids." Much of the list is derived from "America: Land I Love In Christian Perspective," a history textbook published by A Beka, one of the leading publishers of textbooks and teacher guides for religious schools and homeschoolers. That book characterizes the Great Depression as "an imaginary crisis" created "in order to move the country toward socialism." It says that "crime began to increase across the nation" in the 1970s as a result of the Supreme Court striking down the death penalty and praises the Reagan administration for sparking "a patriotic revival."
The A Beka program is used by schools such as Washington D.C.'s Calvary Christian Academy, a school run by the politically potent Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church that has a predominately African-American congregation. According to the A Beka website, the history curriculum rejects "the Marxist/Hegelian conflict theory of history in favor of ... positive, uplifting history texts"; its mathematics are "not burdened with modern theories such as set theory," which happens to be heavily used in statistics and computer science; and its science texts "teach that modern science is the product of Western man's return to the Scriptures after the Protestant Reformation" and refute "the man-made idea of evolution."
While the proponents of school choice argue that public schools are not properly equipping children for success in the real world and need to be held accountable, they often reject accountability for private schools that use textbooks that not only are overtly sectarian, but pass off highly controversial assertions – or outright falsehoods – as indisputable fact. All too frequently, low-income children and people of color are used as pawns in this push for what amounts to little more than the right to use taxpayer dollars for right-wing indoctrination.
Bryant warns that legislation being proposed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) would open the federal funding floodgates to these kinds of school curricula, allowing $24 billion – or 41 percent of current federal spending on education – to be siphoned off into school vouchers. That won't pass today's divided Congress, but it points to what could happen if Republicans once again got control of both houses of Congress and the White House.
There has been a tendency for some progressives to stay on the sidelines or even acquiesce to the school choice movement. There is political currency to be seen as "tough" on public schools – and, particularly, public school teachers – just as there used to be cheap political currency to be had on being "tough on crime" in the 1970s and 1980s. But we have paid dearly for the "tough on crime" posturing: We needlessly spent billions on jailing people, particularly people of color, that should have been spent on the schools and community institutions that could have prevented people from slipping into a life of crime in the first place.
Now we are on the road to spending billions of dollars to miseducate our children. Progressives need to get wise about what's underneath the surface of this "school choice" movement – and take action before it does more damage to our children and our society.