The Scandal of Secular Indoctrination (RJS)

The Scandal of Secular Indoctrination (RJS) November 14, 2013

The November/December Books and Culture, always worth reading, has an article by Perry Glanzer (whose title I’ve borrowed), reflecting on a book Does God Make a Difference? Taking Religion Seriously in Our Schools and Universities by Warren Nord.  This book is worth some consideration and conversation.

Warren Nord (1946-2010) was the founding director of the interdisciplinary Program in the Humanities and Human Values at UNC–Chapel Hill a position he held for 25 years.  With a Ph.D. in philosophy his area of interest was in religion, morality, and education. According to his autobiography Nord was raised in a rural conservative Christian home in Minnesota, but lost much of his religious faith “because of the continuing secular thrust of my education and my inability to deal with the problem of evil.” Eventually he returned to faith with what he called “a sufficiently liberal theology” as part of a liberal (both politically and theologically) American Baptist congregation.

Nord is not looking to indoctrinate students in any religious tradition with the questions he raises in Does God Make a Difference?, or with the suggestions he makes. Rather he wants to acknowledge the role that religion plays in human society. Nord considers the lack of even acknowledgment of religion in secular education scandalous.

How deep is the lack? Glanzer gives an example in his piece (p. 6) B&C describing the absence of religion in K-12 educational standards and textbooks.

He [Nord] hardly found a smidgen of religion. In history texts, religion disappears after the 18th century. … For instance they credited Martin Luther King’s views on nonviolence to Thoreau and Gandhi and said nothing about his Christian theology or the fact that he was an ordained minister in the Baptist tradition.

Religion, and the impact religion has on the decisions people make is largely absent. A discussion of King without a mention of his religion and the impact it had on his thinking is scandalous. It wasn’t always this way of course. Article 3 of the Northwest Ordinance, passed by the Second Continental Congress in 1787 and signed by Washington in 1789 begins:

Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

It was self-evident to the founding fathers that religion (although for many of them, an appropriately liberal religion) was a normal, even necessary part of life. Today this article of the Ordinance is something of an embarrassment to many academics and not for the remainder of the article (which should cause us some embarrassment when we consider the ideals of the founders and the rather poor follow through by the country). Rather, religion is thought to have no useful place alongside morality and knowledge in good government or happiness.  In the introduction to his book Nord puts it like this:

American education proceeds on the assumption that God is either dead or irrelevant. Irrelevant Gods are not unknown: the ancient Epicureans believed that the gods kept to themselves in their heaven and took no interest in us mere mortals. Historically, this has not been the typical take on God, however. The more common view has been that if God exists there are implications.  …

And yet the conventional wisdom of educators is that students can learn everything they need to know about any subject in the curriculum (other than history and historical literature) without learning anything about religion. We systematically and uncritically teach students to make sense of the world in exclusively secular categories. Consequently, the great majority of students earn their high school diplomas and their undergraduate degrees without ever contending with a live religious idea.

I will argue that with regard to religion American education is superficial, illiberal, and unconstitutional. These are not insignificant claims. Indeed this should be recognized for what it is, a scandal.

There are many reasons for taking religion seriously in public schools and universities. A liberal education requires it. Because religion continues to be such an influential force for good and for evil one simply can’t be an educated person without understanding a fair amount about it. Even more important, because we disagree so deeply about the merits of various religious and secular ways of making sense of the world and our lives, students must be introduced to the religious as well as the secular alternatives if they are to think critically. It is not justifiable for public schools and universities to institutionalize secular interpretations of the various subjects of the curriculum and in so doing marginalize or discredit religion uncritically. This is profoundly illiberal and suggests an extraordinary degree of either hubris or thoughtlessness; indeed, as we shall see, it borders on secular indoctrination.

There is a cluster of moral and civic reasons for taking religion seriously. It is an important task of education to locate students in the world morally and address important moral controversies (including the nature of morality itself). No doubt the relationship of morality and religion is deeply controversial but religion must be part of the conversation; if it is not, it is, once again illiberal. … Students must understand religion in order to be thoughtful voters. Justice requires that schools and universities take religion seriously. Political liberty is incompatible with secular indoctrination. And both the civility and respect for people’s rights that are necessary in a democracy require that students learn about one another’s religions as well as religious liberty. (pp. 4-5)

I am going to look at some more of Nord’s book in the future, but want to put this idea up for discussion.

Do you think Nord makes a good point? Is there a scandal?

What role should religion play in secular public education? Is it different at the 9-12 and undergraduate levels?

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  • This, IMO, gives substantial energy to: the ID/evolution debate, debates about sex education (both b/c vs. abstinence and homosexuality), the homeschooling movement, and even the Tea Party. There is no question that there is a scandal. Arguing against God or leaving God out (even of MLK Jr.’s work!) of any subject isn’t considered religious speech, but any pushback is, and our educational institutions prohibit and/or frown on religious speech. Having teachers be state-actors who have been increasingly under every kind of constitutional limitation that private parties don’t have has slowly and surely transformed public schools into institutions of secular indoctrination as well as increasing inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

    To better deal with this issue, as well as problems of innovation and inequality (perhaps the biggest problem in troubled schools), we should transform our currently socialist public school system into universal annual scholarships, state by state. And I don’t use the term “socialist” merely as a smear, but I use it accurately. Our public schools are owned and operated by the state. Obamacare isn’t close to owning and operating a single insurer or hospital, by comparison. But in public education, every policy and every decision is weighed down with all of the red tape that accompanies state actors. We would eliminate so much overhead and waste (not to mention teacher and admin frustration) if we would transform that system into a generous scholarship for each child, usable at any school with proper accreditation. This would allow the state to get out of the business of owning and operating schools and into the business of subsidizing/underwriting every child’s education and merely maintaining accreditation standards for scholarships. And then it wouldn’t matter if the schools also taught any religion or none; it would be up to the school and the parents who were picking the school, and that’s who should decide how much and what kind of role religion should play in students’ education in any event.

  • Phil Miller

    I’ve got to say that looking back at my experience in public schools and a large public university, this description seems rather spurious to me. Sure, in the classroom we didn’t spend time talking about religion, per se, but even in college, it seemed to me that the university kind of went out of its way to accommodate students of different faiths. When I was in elementary school we had a weekly program that was referred to as “Religious Release” (a very unfortunate name…), and we would walk down to a nearby fire hall and have what was essentially a Bible lesson similar to what you’d hear in a Sunday School class. Parents had to sign a release form for their kids to attend, but I only remember a very small handful of kids not participating.

    I still am of the belief that it’s much more socially acceptable to be a Christian in the US than an atheist. That’s not to say a secular philosophy isn’t a driving force, but I don’t know that that’s an automatically bad thing. What if the US became a majority Muslim country? Would people still want religion to be taught in the public schools?

  • Phil,

    I tend to think it’s more socially acceptable to be one who doesn’t talk about one’s own religion at all, whether with Christian or atheist leanings. In most settings, the subject of God has (again, pro or con) become taboo, as has, it seems to me, any conviction on the subject. “Don’t ask; Don’t tell” seems to be what the norm has become regarding religion, and a hesitant agnosticism is the default respectable position, though this can vary widely on the specific group. Academia, I would argue, the default respectable position is an assumed atheism. Increasingly the larger trend, it seems to me, in society as a whole, is that religious talk is private talk for private spaces. And FWIW, I’d rather have scholarships for all students for all accredited schools, even with some Muslim ones, than have all religion pushed to the margins. Islam doesn’t tend to outpace Christianity when neither is imposed by governmental force. I’m fine with Jesus’ chances in a free society.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I think noting that their is a “scandal of secular indoctrination” to be complete hogwash. The author ignores the huge elephant in the room which is that we are a heterogeneous society with people of MANY different faiths. By opening the floodgates to discussing modern religion, how much times is devoted to Christianity? Judaism? Hinduism? Islam? Paganism? And through what lens? How religious conservatives and liberals portray the role of religion in the context of the September 11th attacks/2nd Gulf War, or the Cold War, are vastly different.

    You think parents will strive for some equitable middle ground, or that achieving one is even possible?? If so there are bridges in Brooklyn on sale.

  • RJS4DQ

    I think you are missing the point Andrew.

  • “Nord is not looking to indoctrinate students in any religious tradition with the questions he raises in Does God Make a Difference?, or with the suggestions he makes. Rather he wants to acknowledge the role that religion plays in human society. Nord considers the lack of even acknowledgment of religion in secular education scandalous.”

    Yep! And it is clear that the absence of communication is ITSELF the communication of absence. Atheists like to point out to psychological explanations for faith, but they fail to realize that their own conviction of the unlikelihood of God’s existing may be conditioned by lots of non-rational processes.

    And they should truly have many grounds for doubting the truth of their materialist worldview .


  • Samuel Burr

    I think public education is very important. The pendulum always swings wildly until it finds its equilibrium. So much of our society is reactive to an extreme that makes it hard to find this equilibrium. I wouldn’t not want to return to an idealized past that never existed. Public education needs to continually improve. I grew up in the public educational system in the segregated South. Even when segregation was made illegal, many parents found creative/destructive ways to avoid allowing their children to be educated with others who weren’t like them. I value the promise that public education holds to bring a more diverse community together. It is a promise that has a long ways to go. I am afraid that too much of the push toward private alternatives will prove to forget about the children who would be potentially left behind. I know of at least one educational leader who has been very critical of public education in the past and has reversed course and is now concentrating her efforts on improving public education. Perhaps the direction you suggest is the way to go, but I am interested on how this system could address directly and centrally (not as a peripheral issue) other children too.

  • “Other children” or those from poorer backgrounds and areas are one of the main reasons I think we need the shift I’m speaking of. Right now we can get data on the average dollars-per-student spent on education, but the amounts actually spent on each student varies. One of the unfortunate truths, the last time I looked at the data for Florida, my state, is that schools in poorer neighborhoods and communities are often getting fewer dollars per student. My understanding is that this is due to school funds being provided chiefly by local property taxes. Since our economy is no longer nearly as local as it once was, I think we need more uniformity of expenditures per student at the state level rather than the county or neighborhood level. That way, the poorest children would benefit greatly if a largely equal (state-wide) scholarship was given to each child in the state. At least theoretically, dollars would go farther in areas with lower property values.

    I, too, want to improve public education, and I have no illusions about some idealized past. Quite the contrary, what I’m proposing has never been done, to my knowledge, but I think it would better serve students and educators and parents in today’s economy and society who are being frustrated with the inevitable and increasing difficulties placed on schools because the employees are state actors. As just one example, even issues of when and how a child’s locker can be searched for drugs or weapons has not only legal, but constitutional implications because the one doing the “search” is an employee of the state as opposed to a private party in contract with the minor’s family. That’s just one example among hundreds of complications caused by having the state as educator rather than universal scholarship provider. Worse, each such complication translates, at a minimum, into dollars spent on red-tape rather than education.

  • Rory Tyer

    I agree with RJS – the author can in no way be said to be ignorant of the wide variety of faiths that exist in our society. His point is that the correct response to this is not silence or acting as if those faiths don’t exist or don’t have formative consequences on history and current events, as many textbooks would seem to imply by their silence on the issue. Also, the mere presence of many faiths doesn’t mean that all faiths have had or currently have equal impact on aspects of culture etc. Nobody would deny that there are many Baha’is in the US, but they haven’t had the formative influence on key events that (various forms of) Christianity has had, and to ignore or relativize this is very poor history (or perhaps, as Nord suggests, indoctrination).

  • Andrew Dowling

    Religiosity more than ever is extremely fluid and transitional. What was 80% Christian 8 years ago can be 45% Islamic tomorrow. Also, if we are discussing world history one has to deal with the major world religions.

    As the author concedes that religion is discussed prior to around the 18th century (thus students of middle school age learn know some basics about the major world religions), I’m nor sure how one would teach how religion has directly played a role in major historical events in the U.S, if we are talking U.S. history. . . the religious convictions of just the Presidents alone, for example, are often so nuanced and complex that it’s the type of study for specialized college courses and not anything that would be taught K-12.

    As for MLK, I always remember schoolbooks noting that he was a minister. IWhy would your basic 10th grade history course take a foray into his theological discourses? . . history courses don’t go that in-depth into any historical figure’s personal reasons for action . . the importance is teaching the action and the socio-economic environment surrounding that action. Does anyone ever note Alexander the Great’s or Napoleon’s theology or do indepth forays into their personal convictions in a K-12 history class? They’re interesting subjects for undergrad, but I fail to see any pragmatic implementation of what this author is talking about in the context of K-12 education.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Just FYI, I didn’t down-vote you!

  • Andrew Dowling

    You’re not really addressing the subject. Social Studies teachers in the U.S. don’t teach atheism . . they teach what happened and submit non-religious reasons why. Do you think teachers should put aside their “materialist biases” and start putting forth the miraculous as valid rationalizations for historical events?

  • This is a false dichotomy. If religion were important to an historical person, history ought to report this. Failure to do so is a distortion of history—1984 stuff!

    Whether miracles happened is only part of the story; we also want to know what people believed, because this helps us understand why they made the choices they did. History which explores only what some set of scholars think happened and not what people believed and the reasons they had for acting is a very poor kind of history.

  • Phil Miller

    If religion were important to an historical person, history ought to report this.

    I think I’m with Andrew here. I have a hard time believing this isn’t happening. I know I’m not really that young anymore, but it hasn’t been that long relatively speaking since I was in high school. I took two AP history classes, and it seemed that religion and people’s religious beliefs was always part of the discussion. I actually don’t know how anyone could teach European or American history without getting into it.

  • What was 80% Christian 8 years ago can be 45% Islamic tomorrow.

    What evidence are you basing this claim off of? I’m honestly just curious.

    . . history courses don’t go that in-depth into any historical figure’s personal reasons for action . .

    This would seem to be a gross error to me. For:

    the importance is teaching the action and the socio-economic environment surrounding that action.

    This is essentially a denial that a person’s inner life is a crucial element in how he/she decides to impact the world. If there is anything which religion has something to say about, it’s one’s inner life. Here’s a fun critique of behaviorism.

    Humans are not merely the result of their genes and their circumstances: ideas are very important and how people think about ideas is very important.

  • K-12 education is supposed to give children tools for critical thinking, no? If that’s the case, then we don’t need to teach them to understand all religion through all times. Enough compelling, relevant, representative cases will do. To not give children any tools for understanding religion does a great disservice to them. This may be the reason that so many people I come across on the internet seem to have small-minded conceptions of religion. It is really sad, because everyone participates in many of the elements of what is commonly called ‘religion’, even if they don’t e.g. have supernatural beliefs.

  • I find it curious that [some] secularists simultaneously claim that religion is the cause of most of our problems, and don’t want to teach anything about it. This is awfully suspicious. As evidence of my first claim, the following is from John Loftus’ The Outsider Test for Faith:

    Religious diversity stands in the way of achieving a moral and political global consensus. (162)

    There are two interesting things to note about such claims. First, they may be true. Loftus doesn’t clearly demonstrate the above (he doesn’t cite evidence for the counterfactual: “If there weren’t so much religious diversity, there would be more moral and political global consensus.”), but it is a common claim. Second, a reason they may be true is one that secularists may not want us to know about. Many religions question tenets such as consumerism and individualism. I know that Christianity has severely negative things to say about virtually all advertising. My intuition indicates that there are other reasons as well.

  • Did you miss this bit in the blog entry?

    For instance they credited Martin Luther King’s views on nonviolence to Thoreau and Gandhi and said nothing about his Christian theology or the fact that he was an ordained minister in the Baptist tradition.

  • Phil Miller

    No, I saw it… I just have a hard time believing it’s representative of what happens most often.

  • What evidence are you going off of? Your own K-12 education experience is likely invalid, as it probably happened too long ago. I’m pretty sure the trends being observed are ones that are fairly new, at least in their seeming completeness.

  • Phil Miller

    Well, yeah, I’m going off my K-12 experience is anecdotal at best. But I was at a campus minister at a secular university until just a few years ago. I don’t see religion as being as verboten a topic in American society as he’s made it out to be. He’s the one making the claim, not me.

  • So the completely quote is actually:

    He [Nord] hardly found a smidgen of religion. In history texts, religion disappears after the 18th century. … For instance they credited Martin Luther King’s views on nonviolence to Thoreau and Gandhi and said nothing about his Christian theology or the fact that he was an ordained minister in the Baptist tradition.

    It certainly sounds like Nord has done some sort of sampling that is better than your (and my) very anecdotal sampling. This 1986 NYT article seems to corroborate Nord’s claim, as does this 1987 Philadelphia Inquirer article.

    One of my friends used to be on a textbook review committee for California; one of his stories included vetoing a textbook which included the Trail of Tears but excluded the Bataan Death March. There is more futzing with exactly what history is reported than you might think. I don’t have the data on exactly how much, but you seem to be insisting on a rosier picture than seems warranted.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Talk to any history teacher and ask if they have time to explore a protagonist’s “inner life” into a quarter syllabus in which they’re supposed to fit 6 centuries into 8 weeks. It’s completely not feasible. And all that said, it’s not like if a student raises their hand and discusses the inner workings of a historical person, be they religious or otherwise, the teachers (well, most of them) would just ignore their comment and move on. Most of those types of discussions occur a part from the syllabus in class discussion (if there is time), which is where it makes sense.

    If you want to argue students should receive greater study in history in which they could explore more topics, you won’t get an argument from me. But I’m talking about what exists.

  • Andrew Dowling

    As Phil notes, this is not completely glossed over, and where religious motivations are most clearly behind historic events (pre 19th century) the author concedes religion is discussed.

  • Are you of the opinion that Christianity didn’t play a very large part for MLK Jr.?

  • I’ve talked to a LAUSD public middle school history teacher who does find the time. His kids liked him so much two years ago that they requested he be their teacher the next year. Perhaps students would understand history better if it were taught as occupied by real humans, instead of just sociological, economic, and political forces?

    In my discussion with skeptics online, I repeatedly find that they deny that humans can have as rich an inner life as e.g. Christianity claims. People with rich inner lives can think for themselves, which is anathema to those like BF Skinner would would prefer to shape society into his image of perfection. Whether or not this difference in treatment of ‘inner life’ permeates education these days is something I don’t know conclusively. I do not that, for example, the Veritas Forum was started because students at Harvard—of all places—wanted to enrich this part of university life.

    You mention time constraints; I don’t know about you, but I find that I can learn much more quickly if the topic is engaging. May I propose that getting into the inner lives of an historical figure here and there might make topics more engaging to students?

  • Andrew Dowling

    Considering your typical high school U.S. history course spends a day or two on the entire civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, I don’t think it would make sense to spend much time discussing King’s religious beliefs when there is so much other ground to cover. Ditto with Gandhi’s Hindi beliefs if the topic of is British Imperialism post WW I.

  • Jean

    I haven’t studied MLK Jr., but I understand that his “I’ve got a dream” speech either quotes or alludes to passages from Isaiah, and that his Christian theology influenced his social justice agenda (this might be too understated). Therefore, if textbooks have deleted his Christian influences or theology from his historical contributions, that is truly a scandal and obscene. I’m shocked to learn of this.

  • Jean

    Phil – If you took AP classes — you’re young. 🙂

  • What you say is fascinating when I juxtapose it to those who say that religion is a major cause of why the world is so screwed up today. Such people, I think, would be less likely to say such things if they had a proper idea of the influences of religion throughout the ages. I’m very uncomfortable with the excuse that “there’s not enough time”. Note that Warren Nord is arguing for more total time spent teaching religious stuff.

  • RJS4DQ

    The quote in the post came from Glanzer’s Books and Culture piece. Now that I am home with Nord’s book I looked up the reference.

    Nord p. 45

    For example, in addressing civil rights the texts say little about the black church and religion. They typically attribute Martin Luther King Jr.’s views on nonviolence to his study of Thoreau and Gandhi, and say nothing of his grounding in Christian theology. Indeed, two texts don’t mention that he was a minister or make any reference to his religious beliefs; one of them identifies him as Dr. King five times, but never as Rev. King.

    This isn’t quite as bad as Glanzer’s quote leads one to believe but still opens a valid question. Is it important to acknowledge the influences on a person’s views – religious or not?

  • rising4air

    Nice photo of Berkeley…and yes, there is a role for religion. FWIW, I’ve noticed over the years that student affairs officers (and the like) have increasingly realized that undergraduates are spiritual people, and encouraging the students to have some kind of participation in their faith tradition assists in the persistence of the students to graduation. What takes place, conversely, in the classroom tends to minimize or keep silent about the student’s faith tradition. As to whether that reduction or silence constitutes indoctrination remains an open question.

  • The answer depends on whether we think it is important to have an accurate model as to why people do things. Phil Miller has pointed out that there is a time issue in history classes, so maybe we have to increase time allotment in order to include such acknowledgments. I think doing so would be valuable.

  • RJS4DQ

    The photo came from Wikipedia – but it is a nice one.

    The questions I would like to discuss are (1) is religion omitted from education, even when it is an important? (2) Is this secular indoctrination? and (3) Is this a scandal?

    I read a piece recently by a scholar (sociology or something like that) who “discovered” the importance of the church and even of theology (not just a power and social structure) in a black community and was somewhat perplexed that her education had assumed that religion was some unimportant orthogonal factor.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Who is to judge what is the “proper” idea of the influence of religion? That’s my main point . . it’s so nuanced and complex you can’t say “X led to Z” when looking at religion as a potential causal factor. I highly doubt the same people wanting to credit Christianity for civil rights would want to delve into the former’s long history with anti-Jewish sentiment and propaganda (you don’t learn about the Nazis quoting Luther in high school). I think if you really wanted to emphasize religion in a modern history course, you’d actually be strengthening secular sentiments among the students and not the other way around as you and others appear to be assuming.

  • Contrary to your model of me, I think the antisemitic sentiments which influenced Hitler should most definitely be explained. Students ought to understand that ideas have consequences.

    You’re right about influences on people being mighty complex. But this just means that we ought to teach our models of such influences as a model, and not as ‘fact’. Studying history is a great way to understand that e.g. people’s stated reasons don’t always match up with their actions.

  • Susan_G1

    I don’t think there is a scandal, even if presented only with what Nord states in this post, at least in K-8. There exists in this country a separation of Church and State, and public school falls under “state.” I believe religious education is the job of the parent – we are given many examples in Scripture. I see no problem with the system he presents.

    In 9-12, it would be good to have a two semester World Religions class, with the emphasis on ‘World’. That means Eastern religions, including Zoroastrianism, as well. I envision this as a cultural differences class helping kids to understand the difference between ‘country’, ‘nation’, and ‘tribe’, and why there is fighting along religious/political lines. Something to help them understand our history, world wars, genocides, civil wars, terrorism and such.

    (The following looks like a humble brag but it’s not. My position is that it’s your kid, not the state’s kid.) I homeschooled my kids. We started in first grade with Egypt, then Zoroastrianism. If I had known better myself, we would have read Gilgamesh before Judaism, the Greeks/Roman mythology, Christianity, Islam (more briefly that we should have, in retrospect), Hinduism and Buddhism. By then, they were old enough to have Siddhartha read to them. We studied Norse mythology. We studied Communism, reading Animal Farm and A Day in the Life of Ivan D. All this was within a cultural reference. But all along, in separate studies, was Christianity. And all of this was before 8th grade. They knew MLK Jr and his religion (he *was* greatly influenced by Gandhi, his civil rights movement arguably reflecting Gandhi – in form at least – more than Christianity) but they also knew Marx, Trotsky, Lenin, and Stalin. It doesn’t take a lot of time to do these things at home. Watch good movies, read good books together. Talk. Ask questions. Listen. Have reference materials around.

    Did my kids struggle with their faith in college? Yes; they rejected their faith during college. They are back “in the fold” now, though appropriately (before I was) liberal.

    Religious teaching is the job of the parent; secular education is the job of the state.

    I think this is about civil rights, one of them being freedom of religion, taught at home, unless you want your child taught zoroastrianism, hinduism, islam, etc., all as valid religions, as well.

  • rising4air

    Re: Religion omitted from education. Sure, but, regrettably, the value of some topic may not be the best indicator of a curricular decision.

    Re: Secular Indoctrination. My short version: Except in a small minority of academics and radicals, even fewer people have the wherewithal and power to execute an intention program of persuasion. I’d suggest that the reduction of and silence on religion in most university courses doesn’t make for indoctrination.

    Re: scandal. Yes! Like you and most of the readers: this kind of obvious omission about lived experience (i.e., religion) is further evidence of the allergy the academy has toward ineffable experience. But, I don’t perceive it as evidence toward indoctrination.

    Re: the report of the scholar. It rings of being true.

  • ortcutt

    When conservatives complain about the lack of religious history in history class, what they are complaining about is the lack of conservative religion history. If there is appropriate coverage of Transcendentalism, New England Unitarianism, Quakerism, and Robert Ingersoll’s fame, then I am all for it. My worry though is that if religious history is taught, it’s going to be nothing but conservative movements, with liberal movements written out of history.

  • Nemo

    “We systematically and uncritically teach students to make sense of the world in exclusively secular categories.”
    If one wishes to understand the processes at work in an atom, there is no need to introduce supernatural ideas into the matter. And while teaching about the effects of religion on people can help make sense of politics and sociology, these are ultimately human derived factors. To understand why one country goes to war with another, you need only look at what the humans in those countries are saying. You don’t need wonder which deity woke up on the wrong side of the bed that day.
    So, yes people should learn what different religious world views believe, and they should absolutely understand how those world views end up influencing human actions and affairs.

  • RustbeltRick

    If his thesis was simply that history textbooks are awful, I might buy his argument. I’ve seen some truly miserable textbooks, and if there are texts that downplay King or Ghandi’s religion, I wouldn’t be surprised; textbooks are designed to be survey/overview material, summarizing people and events in a couple of paragraphs, and often doing a pitiful job of it.

    But “education” is a much larger project. A text may ignore King’s religion, but that doesn’t mean the individual instructor does so.

    The handwringing over public education seems to be done by people who seem to have not stepped inside a public classroom in decades. On my secular campus, religion is discussed all the time, and religious students are not silenced at all. The idea that secularists are running around telling religious kids to shut up all the time is a straw man of the worst kind.

  • It seems likely to me that if historically and culturally important references to religion are being excluded from textbooks, it is because of a fear that the reference might be construed as some sort of endorsement of religion. Given how difficult we apparently find it to discuss religion objectively, and without descending into culture wars, such fears aren’t entirely unreasonable. Still, surely we ought to be capable of providing children with an education which includes references to religion, when appropriate, without having to proselytize them. It seems ridiculous to believe that any mention of religion someone amounts to “religious education.”
    This impoverishment of society that has followed our attempts to scrub education clean of anything that might be construed as “religious” is addressed in the atheist Alain du Botton’s book Religion for Atheists.

  • Sven2547

    This, IMO, gives substantial energy to: the ID/evolution debate…

    How so?

    If you are referring to the scientific debate, that was mostly-resolved a century ago and completely-resolved decades ago. Whether or not Christianity is emphasized in public schooling won’t change the facts.

    If you are referring to the political debate, which is the only actual “ID/evolution debate” actually occurring anymore, then it might make an impact if you can indoctrinate impressionable children into thinking that religious faith supersedes scientific fact.