Fundamentalist Fear of Secular Knowledge

My high school senior class had twenty-three graduates. Attending college was the exception, not the norm. Our principal, Mr. Wallace called me into the office the day after I had been sick and absent from school for a day or two. He told me he had submitted my name for a scholarship to David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I don't know that I had seriously considered college. Lipscomb had a program of partial scholarships (one-third of tuition) available to students in small rural schools in Tennessee, offered to valedictorians, class presidents, and students involved in extra- curricular activities. Lipscomb's recruiter, Bob Mason, had visited the school while I was absent and Mr. Wallace had the filed the paperwork. Most of you know the rest of the story of my intermittent academia-one year at Lipscomb (1954-55), fifteen random hours at the University of Tennessee in Nashville (1970s), a degree from Middle Tennessee State (1957-1960) (1985-88), and additional courses at Lipscomb in philosophy and education (1998-2010).

There is a quote from The South Side of Boston: "Almost everybody in the Church of Christ who goes to college goes to David Lipscomb. People send their children to David Lipscomb because if they go to school somewhere else they might learn something they are not supposed to know." "City Preachers, Country Churches, p. 49."

Religious fundamentalism maintained a presence in public education through most of the twentieth century, primarily in rural school districts. I came to college, steeped in fundamental Christianity. At Lipscomb, most of the classroom instructors were also preachers, regardless of the subject they taught. Even in 1998, my class in Ethical Theory at Lipscomb was taught by a Church of Christ preacher.

I have recently been reading information related to the proliferation of the voucher program under Governor Bobby Jindal in Louisiana schools, and listening to Governor Haslam's vision for a voucher program in Tennessee. Public schools in upper-income school districts perform well; school districts in low-income rural or inner-city school districts do not perform well overall. There are exceptional students, of course. The theory behind vouchers is to allow parents to receive public funds to transfer students from failing schools to private schools. This has several problems-Louisiana's "notoriously terrible public schools" have not been improved by the voucher program. Secondly, the amount of the voucher and the requirement of entrance exams have not provided access to better private schools. The 119 participating schools are almost entirely faith-based or church schools, mostly Christian.

All of us who are involved in public schools–board members, administrators, teachers, librarians, and parents have some concerns with vouchers. This concept is very different from parents who choose private schools, religious schools, or choose to home-school who do so at their own expense without the benefit of public funding.

The debate on the separation of church and state has historically focused on public education. Many landmark state and federal court cases involved religious instruction and compelled religious speech in public schools. The courts have ruled that public education classroom instruction is secular. Science, history, mathematics, English grammar, language, civics, technology, and all courses are secular.

I saw a cartoon on Facebook that was a classroom scene with the teacher in front of the class having written two math formulas on the chalkboard. She had written 1+1=2 and also written 1+1=3, which she had offered as an alternative theory. The caption was, "if we taught math like we teach science."
I grew up in a religious environment in which evolution was false, and the Genesis account of the Creation was true. Even as late as the 1970s and '80s, I was careful in my Sunday school teaching to not challenge the fundamentalist church members, and to retain academic credence in my message to class members with no feeling of scientific contradiction with the biblical phrasing of God's handiwork.

The intent of parental choice in schools is to provide a better academic opportunity for students. As I understand the proposed legislation for Tennessee, the high-performing school districts could opt out of any voucher program. Voucher programs are different from charter or magnet schools, which function under the jurisdiction of the public school districts. I don't know to what standards the religious schools in Louisiana or Tennessee are held.

In Williamson County schools, textbooks are chosen by academic specialists and classroom teachers from several state approved series in each field of study. The combative textbook adoption wars in Texas you all know about. Public school textbooks have become political crucibles in our culture wars. There is a competition between religious conservative parents and religious or secular liberal parents for the minds and souls of our children. The education of children is a parental right of parents to choose a secular public education, or a religious or private education for their own children.

This seems relatively obvious. In some of the schools in Louisiana established to accept public vouchers, some of the textbooks are from Bob Jones University and from A Beka Books, and adopted as books with a "Christian worldview perspective. " The misconception is not that these books are Christian, but they are Christian as espoused by conservative ideology, as opposed to liberal Christian ideology, which translates into conflicting attitudes toward science, history, government, literature, economics, and the full spectrum of worldviews.

From Economics: Work and Prosperity in a Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1999 on the subject of globalization, "But instead of this world unification ushering in an age of prosperity and peace, as most globalists believe it will, it instead will be a time of unimaginable human suffering as recorded in God's Word. The Anti-Christ will tightly regulate who may buy and sell."

I am seeing this bi-lateral fear in so many aspects of our lives. Our newspapers, television, internet, and daily conversations are replete with stories of supporting or boycotting businesses because of political religious statements; the conflict between the Girl Scouts and American Heritage Girls group; the display of religious icons on military bases; in discussions of the Bill of Rights; and in holding our candidates for public office to affirmations of faith.

I think there is a serious fear of a secular worldview of science and history among fundamentalists, and a serious counter fear of the fundamentalist religious worldview within the community of liberal Christians and non-believers. I am grateful for my time in a fundamentalist Church of Christ University and my degree in University Studies from a state university. More importantly, my last eight semester hours at Lipscomb in philosophy and education were intellectually secular as the departmental catalog of course offerings indicated and at no time did I feel any religious intimidation, and I didn't learn anything that diminished my faith or my Christian values. Fear is a great impediment to learning and rational dialogue.

Bill Peach is a retired business owner who writes on faith and politics. He is the author of Politics, Preaching & Philosophy and lives in historic Franklin, TN.