Too many Bible verses in those texts?

bibleHere is a story from last weekend that I have been thinking about most of the week. The story is not new, but there has been a major development.

This is complicated stuff and, it seems to me, reporter Marla Jo Fisher has most of the major voices featured in her report for The Orange County Register.

Here is the opening of the story:

How much Christianity is too much for the University of California?

That’s a question being asked these days, in a federal lawsuit that has pitted Christian schools against admissions officials at UC who decide which high school courses are eligible to be college prerequisites.

The issue revolves around decisions by the University of California to reject three Christian-themed courses at a high school in Murrieta and several textbooks by two well-known Christian textbook publishers. The move came in the wake of a 2002 decision by the UC to look more closely at school accreditation and quality issues.

“These textbooks had already been used by many, many schools,” said Robert Tyler, attorney for plaintiff Calvary Chapel Christian Schools of Murrieta, along with the Association of Christian Schools International and five students. “It’s a fundamental shift. They were acceptable in the years past.”

Now, here is the key question and, at this point, there does not seem to be a clear answer. But this is the angle that the newspaper must pursue to nail this story down — before it heads into higher and higher courts.

In the past, Christian schools have been judged harshly on the basis of what they do not have their students read and the viewpoints to which their students are not exposed. In other words, they fail to cover basic territory that state universities expect students to have covered before admission.

But Fisher does a fine job of pointing out that this may not be the case this time around. There is evidence, this time, that the students are being punished for the Christian concepts and readings that are being included in the classes, not for a failure to cover basic territory.

What we have here is new territory — maybe. That is what the newspaper has to find out. For example, we have yet another vague use of the “creationism” term. We do not know what the schools are teaching in science classes, whether it’s seven-day creationism, a concept of gradual change over time that denies that creation is random and unguided or some other mix of theories. We do not know if the students are reading a wide variety of materials about evolutionary theory, or not. “Creationism” is too vague a word. We need facts.

The goal, in a fine Christian school, is to actually hold debates that you may not be able to hold on a secular campus, to read more points of view — not less. Note this passage in the story:

Included in the lawsuit and among the courses proposed by Calvary Chapel school in Murrieta and rejected by UC: Christianity’s Influence in American History, Special Providence: Christianity and the American Republic and Christianity and Morality in American Literature.

“Unfortunately, this course, while it has an interesting reading list, does not offer a non-biased approach to the subject matter,” the rejection letter for the literature class read.

Lawyers for the Christian schools argue that these proposals should not have been rejected when other schools have approved courses such as Western Civilization: The Jewish Experience, and Intro to Buddhism.

Were the reading lists for the classes too weak? Some said that was not the problem. Were the students graduating from the controversial schools academically weak and unprepared? Apparently not.

Stay tuned.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Having attended a Lutheran high school and college, I may not be the most qualified. But the high school taught what the state of Wisconsin mandated and one didn’t graduate without those core courses. I guess the religion classes we took were above and beyond what “normal” high school students had.

  • Calee Lee

    My husband attended a different Calvary Campus for high school. While I imagine that the school administrators do a good job of preparing their students for Christian High Schools, I know that they are not recieving the information required to engage on a UC campus.
    Just because the books want to have a Christian perspective, that doesn’t mean they can leave out significant portions of American history (the article mentioned the labor movement, womens rights etc)

    My sister in-law was attending the same school and seemed a year or so behind what I remember from my high school schedule.

    I think the reporter would benefit from asking why these schools are looking to only show their perspective and then expect kids to compete on a diverse campus.

  • sharon d.

    This has been an issue in the homeschooling world, not only because of the number of evangelical and fundamentalist homeschoolers, but because the A Beka and BJU science texts are a big chunk of the market, with non-Christian-oriented science resources in scarce supply (resources prepared for public schools are classroom-oriented, very expensive new or used, and generally of terrible quality anyhow).

    Because of their ubiquity, I’ve had the chance to see lots of the A Beka and BJU materials, and it’s definitely not just a “Christian worldview” that makes them objectionable. The literalist creationist view affects not just the treatment of biology and how life began, but geology and astronomy (because the time available for things to have happened is greatly shortened). It’s not science “plus” religion, or science from the Christian POV, but something other than science. Not that schools shouldn’t be allowed to teach it, but nobody should force a university that understands “science” in a radically different way to accept these courses.

    The history of science in the texts is simply false, presenting science as beginning with the Reformation (once people were allowed to think for themselves). The explicit claim that Catholicism is hostile to science while Biblical Protestantism is nurturing of it is as obnoxious and false as secular claims that all Christianity is hostile to science. (There are Catholic texts popular among homeschoolers that are just as notoriously bad, notably the execrable “Christ the King, Lord of History”; but nobody’s insisting that UC schools accept that sort of propaganda as “history.”)

    If the “facts” as represented in the history and lit. courses are of similar quality, I can’t imagine courses based on the texts being acceptable in a normal university. From what I’ve seen of the BJU history texts, their history is as skewed as their science: simplified radically here, played up (when it fits the “Christian” worldview) there, and generally massaged in a way that Christians (rightly) object to when done for secular purposes.

    The articles would have done better to give longer excerpts, or even links (especially the CT article, which provides other links) to whole chapters. See, for example, this chapter of a BJU Life Science text, the entirety of which is devoted to explaining why students should distrust scientists and the scientific method:

  • Raider51

    I went through a mix of public (aka government) and Roman Catholic schools in the 60′s and 70′s and there was much that was left out. I never heard of the Great Awakening(s) until I got to college – Augustine was just a name who was mentioned in RC school, without any explanation, and I could go on and on.

    In fact, religion in the public schools was pretty much limited to (1) Columbus thought the world was round, despite those ignorant religious people who thought it was flat, (2) Galileo though the earth revolved around the sun, despite what those ignorant religious people said, and (3) the Pilgrims were ignorant religious people who fled other ignorant religious people in England, and then killed the Indians due to their ignorant religious beliefs.

    I have a hard time with government agencies trying to force religious schools to toe the line when they are so deficient themselves.

    Okay, now that I’ve got my rant out of the way, I’d also like to commend Marla Jo Fisher for this story — it’s too bad some of the UC people making these decisions did not comment — only the UC attorney did.

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