05 April 2008

Special Rights for Christian Young

In a previous piece I commented on the gall displayed by certain Christian parents who have demanded that the University of California relax its standards to admit children who did not qualify for admission due to their ignorance of elements of history and science that their parents had deemed inappropriate for them to learn. A federal court has now handed down its decision on the subject, and matters have gone entirely in favor of the University of California.


The University of California has rather stringent entrance requirements, probably because they have considerably more applicants than positions available. Oversimplifying radically the University of California requires:

(a) Two years of History--one year of US history, and one year of non-US history (world history, Chinese history, or the like). "Courses should be empirically based and promote critical thinking and questioning regarding historical events and perspectives."

(b) Four years of English involving both reading and writing. "Reading assignments must include full-length works."

(c) Three years of mathematics, including Elementary Algebra, Geometry, and Advanced Algebra.

(d) Two years of laboratory science (three years are recommended). The required sciences are Biology, Chemistry, and Physics; however one of these may be omitted. Other courses like say Marine Biology or Earth Sciences may qualify, but "it is emphasized that courses in this second category must cover, with sufficient depth and rigor, the essential material in one of the foundational subjects in order to qualify for "d" certification."

(e) Two years of a language other than English (three years are recommended). Classical languages are acceptable.

(f) One year of Art, which may include dance, drama, music, or visual art.

(g) one year of a college prep elective--essentially advanced courses in one or more of the a-f requirements.

These are known as the a-g requirements, and "are intended to ensure that students coming to the University are conversant with accepted educational and scientific content and methods of inquiry at the level required for UC students and typically expected of educated citizens in the competitive workforce." (PDF source) Students may show that they have in fact completed the requirements in several ways. The easiest is by having taken approved courses in high school. If their high school lacks approved courses students may still be admitted by taking courses in the missing subjects at community college or by passing standardized tests.

The University of California certifies college prep classes in both public and private schools. "For a course to be approved as an a-g course, the school must submit a request with the course curriculum, textbook information, and other supplemental materials to the University for approval." The UC website gives examples of courses that were and were not approved along with the reasons. There was an English course (Publishing on the World Wide Web or something like that) that didn't concentrate enough on writing, for example. A virology class whose data was nothing more than a list of diseases. And so on.

Okay now, the Calvary Chapel Christian School submitted a number of courses for a-g approval, and forty-three of them were accepted. A tiny handful were rejected. One English course (Christianity and Morality in American Literature) used only excerpts rather than entire works (see b above). One biology course used an anti-scientific book from Bob Jones University as its primary text (the preface actually admits to giving science a subordinate place in its presentation). Others apparently used similarly defective volumes as their sole or primary textbooks. According to the University of California those same courses would probably have been approved if the substandard volumes had been used as supplementary texts instead.

Some of the Rejected Courses

Christianity's Influence on America would "evaluate the direct relationship between organized Christianity and the ideas about government, society, and culture that came from it," "investigate the movements and forces that developed in response to Christian beliefs," and "discover in depth the Judeo-Christian beliefs and traditions of America". The course outline runs from "Founding of a Nation: Roots in the Reformation" to "New Millennium: ... Post-modernism". Only two texts are used: United States History for Christian Schools and Pilgrims in Their Own Land: 500 Years of Religion in America, though there is a vague reference to "Various primary materials and topic specific handouts." The course was rejected because its focus was too narrow and "The content of the course outline submitted for approval is not consistent with the empirical historical knowledge generally accepted in the collegiate community." The primary text used in the course was assessed as inadequate in its coverage of major components of United States History (it preferred to attribute "historical events to divine providence rather than [to analyze] human action" for one thing) and didn't encourage "historical thinking skills and analytical thinking" (the quotations are from Professors James Given and Gary Nash respectively).

Christianity and Morality in American Literature is a real mess. The description claims it "is an intensive study in textual criticism aimed at elevating the ability of students to engage literary works at the level of the author's beliefs and to examine and effectively communicate the impact of those beliefs on the work and the writing process." I don't believe the author of this passage has a clue about what textual criticism is; it is certainly the wrong approach to examining either an author's beliefs or the impact of those beliefs on his work. "Students will first survey the various prominent forms of American literature...." "The final project will consist of the examination of a significant piece of fiction from an approved list, and an intensive writing (term paper) identifying those processes and themes which inform it." (The approved list contains only two works by American authors--"Something Wicked This Way comes" by Ray Bradbury, and "A Canticle for Leibowitz" by Walter M. Miller. The rest are by British authors--Jane Austen, Chaucer, Tolkein, Bunyan, C. S. Lewis, Bram Stoker, and one French author, Victor Hugo.) The only text used is American Literature: Classics for Christians, which consists entirely of excerpts, "fails to provide substantial readings and ... insists on specific interpretations." (The quotation is from Professor Samuel Otter.) "Such a combination contradicts the emphasis on analytical and critical thinking required..."

The Special Providence: Christianity & the American Republic description starts out unpropitiously with a bogus James Madison quotation about the ten commandments and goes on to outline the familiar Christian America fantasy. The text for the course is a Bob Jones University Press publication, American Government for Christian Schools, about which Professor Mark Petracca said it contains "many factual and empirical assertions that are not generally accepted among political scientists [or] historians and that are nevertheless not substantiated within the text by evidence." The course was rejected as "not consistent with ... empirical historical knowledge" and for having an inadequate textbook.

The Lawsuit

Rather than make any effort towards actually improving their courses, the Calvary Chapel Christian School, along with the Association of Christian Schools International and a handful of students, sued the University of California, claiming religious discrimination. Specifically they deny that the courses are in any way inadequate, but rather insist that they teach the standard material plus a Christian perspective. The only possible reason for the courses' rejection, they claim, is that very Christian perspective. The facts obviously suggest otherwise.

Let me quote Mike Dunford of The Questionable Authority here:

When it comes to the biology courses, their claim that they are teaching the "standard material" with a religious viewpoint added had better be disputed - because they're not. I've got a copy of the Bob Jones University textbook that's used by some of the Christian schools. Biology for Christian Schools does not, in any way, shape, or form teach "standard" biology with religion added. It teaches religion instead of standard biology, and the University of California is absolutely right to refuse to accept courses taught from this book as biology classes.
From the course description I'd have to say that the same is true of the government course, Special Providence: Christianity and the American Republic; this is not standard material, but rather religion disguised as a history of American government. God knows what they're teaching in the English course, Christianity and Morality in American Literature; the course description is so poorly written as to defy interpretation, and on that ground alone the University of California would have been within its rights in not certifying it.

Christianity's Influence on America is harder to evaluate, but I personally find it hard to disagree with the assessment that it is too narrowly conceived to qualify for UC's a-g standards. The lawsuit contends that much more narrowly conceived classes have made it, but they don't given any example that obviously qualifies. Instead they cite courses in Russian History, or the History of India, as being more narrow and specialized than Christianity's influence on America. There I can't help but wonder what world they're living in. Histories of entire nations--nations I may add that are older and more diverse than the United States--are obviously more general than a history of one religion's influence on a single nation. I can't imagine where they left their brains on that one. They don't give a single parallel example, such as (say) Masonry's Influence on America, or (say) Islam's influence on Indonesia. Instead we get Mexican History. Gack.

The basic point they're pushing is that the University of California is engaging in something they call "content discrimination". I would certainly hope so. That's precisely the point of examining courses and textbooks and so on. The University ought to discriminate between reliable, accurate content that reflects the actual state of knowledge, and unreliable, inaccurate content that doesn't. If they fail in this basic task, then they're not doing their job.

Summary Judgment

Both sides in the case demanded at least partial summary judgment. The Christian school claimed that there are no material facts to be decided, that the UC policy is unconstitutional on its face, and therefore the case should be decided in its favor without going to trial. UC on the other hand insisted that as there were material facts to be decided the case should go to trial, but wanted summary judgment on the issue of the constitutionality of their policy. The result was a clean sweep for UC. The judge ruled that UC's policy was constitutional (summary judgment in favor of UC) but that there were material facts to be decided about the application of the policy in the particular classes (no summary judgment in favor of either side, as UC requested). And there the matter stands.


The story at Inside Higher Ed called forth some amusing reactions, one of them mine. "denise" wrote that she had had "an opportunity to look through a Bob Jones middle school level biology textbook several years ago; and ... one would have a hard time convincing me that the content is not more than adequate. I found it very rigorous and I have no doubt it supercedes what is offered in most public schools." (I think she meant to say that she had no doubt it surpasses what is offered in most public schools.) Despite having no examples of this to offer us, she is quite sure that UC is guilty of religious discrimination. She also is under the impression that UC denied admission to the complaining students; this is far from the case.

"Ben Thare" is "familiar with ACSI and [knows] that the schools that are accredited by ACSI are usually pretty rigorous." He attributes UC's refusal to recognize substandard courses to "hateful narrow-mindedness and intolerance".

"Albatrossity" steers readers to his review of the BJU biology "textbook" (link). It's definitely worth reading. "Here’s just a taste of the 'adequate' contents of this putative science textbook — 'If the conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.'” "denise" insisted that the textbook was too adequate; "Albatrossity" responded: "When students are taught that observations and evidence and data can be IGNORED if they contradict the word of God, they are not being taught science."

And then "Ben" chimed in with the usual accusation that science involves just as much faith that there is no creator as religion does that there is. " All evidence pointing to the existence of a creator must be ignored by science, he says, though without suggesting what possible evidence pointing to a creator might be being ignored.

A little further on "denise" again displays her ignorance of the situation by writing "Would UC find it necessary to evaluate lesson plans and classroom objectives to make sure the instructors of these religious schools aren’t supplementing said textbook with creation supplementals and speakers that purposfully contradict the scientific philosophy of the approved book" The answer of course is no since the UC has no problem with such anti-scientific "supplements" so long as the course material is actually mastered.

And I guess I'll conclude this with a comment from "Beth" that really sums up the situation:

I applaud the judge. If a textbook that tells students “If conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them” doesn’t bother you, I hope for the sake of innocent people that you are not allowed on any jury. Using a textbook that tells students to reject evidence, even when there is lots of it, is anti-educational period, but particularly in a science class. The whole idea of science is that your conclusions must be based on evidence, on scientific facts.

1 comment:

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