Whose Values Will be Taught in the Public Schools:
From The Values Vacuum to LiberaI Values
George W. Cooper, Jr.
Recently a request crossed my desk seeking professionals to volunteer as resource persons to help in the training of public school teachers in order that they might teach in such areas as abortion prevention and responsible sexual behavior. Since I am opposed to the values vacuum, I volunteered.
Last summer the official publication of the American Federation of Teachers called American Educator carried three unusual articles "Education for Democracy A Statement of Principles" written by the AFT and two other groups, "Democracy's Untold Story" by Paul Gagnon, and "Censoring the Sources" by Barbara Cohen. The Gagnon article is a review of the five most frequently used world history textbooks in the public schools, and he concludes that, for the most part, these books "leave the story of democracy largely untold....lts origins, adventures, needs, and significance are nowhere systematically presented." Cohen wrote that "censorship in this country is widespread." She tells of her fight with a book publisher "to keep in the religious references."
From these events and more, it has become apparent to me that the secular educational establishment has begun to recognize the need for teaching moral and political values in the public schools. For this I am thankful. I hope that all educators will become more active in promoting such ideas as respect for human life, patriotism, and valuing the family.
It has been argued that it is impossible for public education to be "scrupulously neutral" and that it is undesirable for public education to ignore the part religion has had to play in American life. So far, this sounds promising. However, Christians should view this trend with caution. We wonder, "Whose values will be taught?"
At first glance, those of us who would like to have good old-fashioned morals taught in the public schools will be pleased to see two more recent articles in the Fall, 1987 issue of the American Educator, published by the AFT The first article is called, "The Values Vacuum: A Provocative Explanation for Parental Discontent" by Harriet Tyson-Bernstein and the second is "Democracy's Jewish and Christian Roots: What World History Textbooks Don't Tell You" by Paul Gagnon. Although Tyson-Bernstein and Gagnon are to be applauded for their efforts, I am afraid their material falls far short of what the religious fundamentalists and political/moral conservatives of this country are seeking - the very sort of people their approach is meant to placate.
Gagnon is right to complain of one public school textbook which devotes two pages to Mohammed and just one sentence to the teachings of Jesus. I agree with him when he writes: "Textbooks should hardly eviscerate themselves just to avoid displeasing readers who cannot tell the difference between religious instruction and the history of ideas."
Unfortunately, Gagnon himself "eviscerates" Christianity in his article and in his suggestions for improvement. For example, he writes: "Absent from all these accounts is the fundamental Judaeo-Christian notion of human nature as a complicated mixture of worthy and unworthy elements, active impulses toward both good and evil. Also missing is the notion that God holds the individual responsible for the exercise of free will in moral choice....Absent from these texts, too, is the idea of individual creation of each soul in the spiritual image of God, which to believers is the compelling reason to accept the equality and dignity of every person on earth. Some of the texts touch upon the principle of equality but without reference to the religious source of its power." Gagnon continues to describe the Judeo-Christian ethic which ought to be taught as including "fortitude, self-restraint, self-examination, self-respect, and devotion to truth and reason."
From a fundamentalist point of view, to identify the essence of Christianity with its ethical teachings is to totally miss the point. Gagnon's view is watered-down Christianity. This is liberal Christianity. This is still ignoring what the fundamentalists believe. Absent from the Gagnon article is any reference to essential Christian concepts such as heaven, hell, eternal life, salvation, atonement, Savior, virgin birth, or sin. Do you think you can appease fundamentalist Christians by ignoring what is really essential about Christianity? If Tyson-Bernstein is correct in her article that it is permissible to teach about Christianity in the public schools as long as you don't indoctrinate into the Christian religion, then the written view of Gagnon is eviscerated Christianity. As our writers say, if it is permissible to teach about the full uncensored views of Karl Marx in the public schools, then it is likewise permissible to teach about the doctrines of Christianity.
What is most essential about Christianity is the teaching that one must have faith in Jesus as Savior from personal sins. According to Gagnon, students are interested in the question, "What will save me?" The answer, according to the fundamentalists, is not good works or the right practice of ethics. To teach nothing in the public schools but that Christianity teaches certain ethics is to truly eviscerate Christianity. The "social gospel" of liberal religion does not save, according to the "true believer." Gagnon writes of "those who have absorbed its (Western religion's) moral imperatives without wholly retaining the faith." One suspects he might be talking about himself, in this regard.
Gagnon does not mention the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are essential to the Christian religion. Without these you have an emasculated religion. Without the concept of the Trinity, you have a non-Christian cult. One example is the Unitarian religion. Charles Darwin, by the way, came from a family of Unitarians. Is it all right to teach his religion in the public schools? If public school teachers and textbooks are going to attempt to teach about Christianity as distinct from the other non-Christian religions, they must include the Trinity.
Gagnon writes, "The main stream of Western religion has not been otherworldly." I challenge the truthfulness of this statement and would like to see his statistical evidence. I believe the Pilgrims and Puritans came to America, not because of fortitude, self-restraint, or an honesty ethic, but because for them heaven and hell were realities and they wanted to worship Jesus in freedom. Today this freedom includes not having public school teachers undermine the faith of our children.
In the article by Tyson-Bernstein we read: "The fundamentalist agenda is a hodgepodge of bizarre, naive, prudish, intolerant, unconstitutional - and reasonable - complaints." Fundamentalists can be thankful to her for the reasonable complaints (i.e. the values vacuum) which she is sympathetic toward. However, she herself seems to exhibit bizarre, naive, and intolerant ideas about fundamentalism. Tyson-Bernstein is writing from a liberal point of view and does not seem to understand or appreciate the more conservative view of science or religion. She writes, "School prayer and ´creation science', are flatly unconstitutional." The first part is misleading: the second is not true.
It is not unconstitutional, nor against the low, to pray in public schools. What has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court was a specific situation which occurred in one particular state where the administrators of the public school were composing a written prayer and requiring its reading in the classroom. Those who didn't want to listen to the school sponsored prayer were allowed to leave the room. That practice was ruled unconstitutional. Nevertheless, individual prayer in the public school is allowed - be that person a student or the teacher. How could it be otherwise? The communists could not stop Rev. Richard Wurmbrand from praying in his Romanian prison cell, and no one can stop school prayer in America.
Tyson-Bernstein writes that "creation science" is "flatly unconstitutional." If creation-science must be put in quotes, it should be quoted accurately, with the hyphen. The Bible-Science Association of Minneopolis also uses the hyphen. Creationists feel it is important. Creation-science is not "flatly unconstitutional", as Tyson-Bernstein declares. I believe this is simply wishful thinking on her part. She has confused fantasy with reality. Fundamentalists want to get this kind of distortion of the truth out of the public schools. Teachers, of all people, should not be misrepresenting the truth in the classroom. Judge William Overton, an evolutionist, declared the Arkansas creation/evolution balanced treatment low, as worded, unconstitutional. He most emphatically did not declare creation-science unconstitutional! More recently, seven Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court declared a similar Louisiana low unconstitutional. They did not declare creation-science per se unconstitutional: In fact they upheld the right of public school teachers to teach scientific theories about origins other than evolution. Creation is the only alternative.
In a section of her article called, "The Denatured Curriculum," Tyson-Bernstein laments the fact that "avoidance of religion is so extreme that textbook publishers even shun photographs of American towns that show church spires." She objects to books which teach only Maslow's theory of five basic needs. "There is not even a suggestion that other psychological viewpoints exist."
Tyson-Bernstein is right to admit to and object to the biased "world view" of the public schools, but she is wrong to argue that that world view is not "secular humanism." Perhaps she does not realize that the foundational doctrine of atheistic humanism is evolution. To teach evolution in the public schools is to teach humanism. If you disagree with me on that then you will also have E to disagree that teaching creation is teaching the Christian religion! The Supreme Court has stated that humanism is a religion. The humanists themselves have called their system of beliefs a religion. Their chief tenet is evolution. Is it right to teach just humanism and evolution in the public school science classes and include not even a suggestion that other viewpoints exist?
Unfortunately, in the next section, "The Crucible of Biology," she denatures Christianity by supporting the anti-creationist theologian Langdon Gilkey's claim that "for most Americans ... there has been ... an intellectual reconciliation between modern theology and modern science." This is not true. It is naive to teach that the majority of Christians are evolutionists. Random scientific national polls of Americans reveal that more Americans believe in a recent fiat special creation than in theistic evolution. At least 80% of Americans want both creation and evolution taught in the public schools. There is public data to support both of these statements. To tolerate liberal Christianity with its belief in evolutionism without tolerating fundamentalists and their creationism is to be intolerant.
Tyson-Bernstein writes, "No teaching solution would satisfy the minority (sic) of Americans who prefer a literal interpretation of the Bible." This is not true. The conservative majority would be satisfied if the liberal minority did not have the monopoly, using the public schools to indoctrinate only in their point of view, while showing intolerance, naivety, and ignoring the majority view. Fundamentalists will be happy with the whole truth and nothing but the truth!
Certainly, fundamentalists will not be happy with her solution: "The schools might have allocated an hour or two to tell students that there were (sic) mythic, religious, poetic, and metaphorical explanations for the origin of life and realms of knowing outside of science. Had they done so, ´creation science' might never have attracted the support it did."
Creation-scientists believe that creation is at least as scientific as evolution; that the evidence for creation based on nature is overwhelming; and that the evaluation of that evidence deserves equal time with evolution. Certainly "an hour or two" is inadequate, although public schools now, generally, have no time for creation. Does Tyson-Bernstein really believe that facts about the rapid decay of the earth's magnetic field, fossil birds older than archacopteryx, the Piltdown hoax, deleterious mutations, entropy vs. self-organization, the geologic column, carbon-14 dating, human footprints in the same strata as dinosaur tracks, the complexity of DNA, etc., etc. belong in classes on myths, religion, or poetry? This is the sort of thing creation-scientists want included in the science class, and that's where those subjects properly belong. Since Tyson-Bernstein does not mention any of that kind of evidence, I presume she is naive about it; or, if not naive, she is unwilling to tolerate it and wants it censored from the public schools.
Does it make sense to prohibit balanced treatment of creation/ evolution in the public schools when the most recent issue of the American Federation of Teachers newsletter called "On Campus" dated Dec. 1987/Jan. 1988 contains both an article for creation by Dr. Henry Morris and one opposed by Dr. Michael Zimmerman. Teachers' Union President Albert Shanker might have twisted the truth by saying that the High Court "has rescued the nation's public school students from those trying to impose their beliefs on others," but the editor of the newsletter appears to believe in balanced treatment for teachers. Now, what about for students?