Monday, October 18, 2010

The veto power of public universities

Here's a story that has some chilling implications (hat tip: Cheeky Pink Girl):

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal Tuesday from Christian schools that want the University of California to grant college-prep credit for courses with religious viewpoints - using textbooks, UC says, that replace science with the Bible.

The justices, without comment, denied a hearing to the Association of Christian Schools International, which accused the university of violating freedom of speech and religion with its policy on the classes applicants take in high school.

UC requires certain high school courses for admission and says it reviews their content to make sure they cover subjects that incoming students need. University officials said some of the Christian schools' classes in biology, history, English and religion didn't pass the test - a conclusion that the schools blamed on discrimination.

The association's 800 high schools in California teach "standard course content" and "add a religious viewpoint in each subject ... as an integral part of their reason for existence," the group's lawyers said in their Supreme Court appeal.

But a federal judge said experts testifying for the university refuted those claims in reviewing textbooks.

Biology texts, one professor concluded, teach students to reject any scientific evidence that contradicted the Bible. A history text declared the Bible to be the "unerring source for analysis" of past events, in the view of another expert, and gave short shrift to women, non-Christians and some ethnic groups.

Another UC evaluator said an English literature course did not require students to read novels or plays, but instead presented an anthology, "Classics for Christians," that "insists on specific interpretations" of excerpted works.

Why should this bother anybody aside from fundamentalist Christians? Essentially, the United States Supreme Court agreed that a public university holds veto power over the curricula of private high schools--and that should worry Catholics, even if we don't believe that the Bible trumps science, or that students shouldn't read entire classics.

What, for instance, would stop a public high school from refusing to accept science credits from Catholic schools which teach in their biology programs that abortion destroys human life? Or to insist that students study a certain amount of gay and lesbian fiction in their literature classes, for these credits to be accepted? Or to use history materials which teach that the Catholic Church is the enemy of indigenous peoples throughout history? Nothing that I can see would prevent any of this from happening.

If public universities can refuse to accept high school courses solely because these courses contain religious content, then it should be obvious that public high schools do not really want religious students to attend. Perhaps the best thing we believers could do would be to start taking them at their word.


Magister Christianus said...

Erin, you are absolutely right that this should be a matter of concern for all Christians. There is nothing to prevent the horror scenario you describe and everything to suggest that it is on the horizon. If a student is truly ill prepared for whatever school he attends, it will become readily apparent. To state at the outset that the student is doomed to failure, which is what is happening, completely overlooks what the student may be able to do but will never have the chance to show.

Several years ago I had a student enroll in my Latin class whose guidance advisor had told him he would not be successful. He had various special needs and despite being a sophomore, read and performed mathematics at the elementary level. This young man stayed with me through three years of Latin and joined us on a trip to Italy. Was he a Classics scholar? No. He was about a C student who dipped occasionally to D and may have had a brief flirtation with B. Nonetheless, this advisor was wrong.

Let the students whose curriculum a school scorns enroll. If they are truly incapable, they will show it soon enough. But do not write them off before they have even had the chance to start.

As for the Christian doctrine aspect of all this, you see clearly what we will be facing. As we rush headlong into ever more nationalized curricula and testing, the various anti-Christian cultural agendas will force a ban on the acceptance of any kind of Christian education.

I am not Chicken Little here, but it would be foolish not to prepare ourselves for the battles that are coming for the lives and souls of our children.

Red Cardigan said...

Well said, Magister. Thank you for such an eloquent and insightful comment.

L. said...

The real question here is whether students who insist that their religious points of view are the only correct ones (to the point where they are unwilling to read gay fiction on principle, for example, or study any material on evolution) really belong at secular universities. It would seem to me that Christian schools would better meet their needs.

We had our kids in Catholic school for years even though I reject some Catholic teachings, and my partner is about as anti-Catholic as anyone can be -- and we didn't expect the school to accomodate our different beliefs in any way. If you want to be at a school, it's up to YOU to accomodate the school -- not the other way around.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

With all due respect, you have it backwards. IF these schools taught standard biology in full, and also taught, all this was created by God, the schools would have a valid point.

However, short of reading the transcripts of trial testimony, it seems clear that the schools in question are simply not providing a base for the more advanced biology classes students will encounter at the college level. They are teaching something entirely different.

The schools have a free speech right to teach what they wish. If what they teach does not prepare a student for college, that might give the students, and their parents, pause about sending the students to such religious schools. Or, if the beliefs motivating the curriculum are so sincere and profound, why do these students want entry to such an erroneous college curriculum anyway?

This reminds me of the biology professor who said he would not write a recommendation for any student who denied evolutionary biology. Some busy body legal firm wanted to sue him. Sorry, a recommendation is a personal RECOMMENDATION, not a constitutional right. If he doesn't want to recommend someone, that is his personal opinion.

I'm not sure why Roman Catholics need to be unduly concerned. The Magisterium, last I checked, does not deny evolutionary biology, and Galileo received a posthumous apology early in the reign of John Paul II. I don't think Catholic schools are going to have much to worry about.