Religious fundamentalism threatens American public education (and a lot more)

Betsy DeVos is gone now, but for North Carolina,“Devosism,” is not. Throughout her tenure as education secretary, DeVos sought to convince Congress to allocate $5 billion in tax credits to fund scholarships to private, religious, and homeschools. These “scholarships”—vouchers—were a central theme of her time in office and, now, Rebecca Klein notes, numerous state legislatures are continuing to push this agenda into 2021. The Network for Public Education flagged efforts in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and New Hampshire to dramatically expand voucher programs. In North Carolina, the legislature moved during its first week back in session this year to expand vouchers.

Because vouchers siphon money away from cash-starved public schools, it is often assumed that this is a public school problem. In North Carolina, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) has led the fight, along with a parents group that filed suit against the state’s voucher program, arguing it was unconstitutional.

This battle, however, is about substantially more than “choice” or even privatization, and concerns everyone in the academy—every historian, scientist, anthropologist, political scientist, theater professor, and the rest—because Betsy DeVos is the proud standard-bearer of the Christian Dominionists, part of a once-fringe set of religious extremists now at the heart of the effort to reshape American public education. DeVos and other Dominionists see the school system as the ultimate symbol of communal liberalism and want it replaced with private schools that will usher in a new kingdom of God.

Betsy DeVos

These vouchers, therefore, threaten more than colleges of education or the public schools they ostensibly serve. The curricula of many of these schools threaten American ideals of multiculturalism, democracy, and science. A study conducted by North Carolina’s League of Women Voters examined what was being taught in these voucher-funded “schools” in the state and discovered that “76.7% of voucher funding is going to schools with a literal biblical worldview that affects all areas of the curriculum…[and] educators have concluded that this biblical worldview curriculum does not prepare these students for 21st century colleges or careers.”

Indeed, the curricula seem designed to prepare students for life in the thirteenth century. Read more