Keep God in the Classroom? Common Core and the American Christian

This latest post written by Jarred McKinney for the course Religion and Politics in a Global Context Fall 2014. Please take the time to read this post on Common Core in the American education system. Jarred is a very fine critical thinker and plans to spend next year traveling to 11 countries.

   

Jarred McKinney at King University
Jarred McKinney at King University

Jarred McKinney is from suburbia, Alabama. He grew up with sports as the love of his life, and much to his own surprise, academics took over. When he is not reading or sitting around thinking of absurdities he likes to be outside either hiking, cycling, or running. Faith is central in his life, and he attempts to follow the example of Christ in all things.

 The phrase “Separation of Church and State” appears nowhere in the Constitution. In fact, this idea comes from Thomas Jefferson. In reference to the first amendment, Jefferson wrote in a private letter that it is “a wall of separation between church and state.” If there is a wall, Jon Meacham says that it’s a short one.

Briefly, let us go back to the humble beginnings of the United States. The colonists fled to North America in efforts to escape religious persecution. Unquestionably, Christianity thus played a huge part in the everyday lives of many of the colonists. Many clergy members also participated in the politics of the day, arguing that the American colonists had moral grounds to fight the British. These claims were fueled by British impositions such as the Intolerable Acts.

During the Revolutionary War the colonies were governed by the Continental Congress, later to become the Confederation Congress. The Confederation Congress openly encouraged religious activity. There were national days of fasting, prayer, and thanksgiving and chaplains were appointed to minister to Congress and the army. Public land was even granted with the intention of converting the Native Americans to Christianity.

It seems that founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and James Madison had different ideas for the direction of religion in the new nation. In the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Jefferson penned

[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever…nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

This belief has certainly panned out over the unfolding of our nation’s history—such as in the 1962 court ruling in Engel v. Vitale that banned sanctioned prayer in public schools. This is a ruling that has been criticized ever since, but defenders of the ruling believe that government sanctioned institutions have no business espousing religious behavior in any form or fashion.

Public schools are state funded, and the church should not have its hand in what is and what is not taught in classrooms.

Christians who cry “persecution” in the streets is not an appropriate reaction either. The removal of God from the classrooms in regards to curriculum is not a bad thing. The purpose of education is to teach students the nature of the world we live in, not to indoctrinate them into a religious belief. Common Core is said to encourage more critical thinking skills than that of the current system. If students are taught theories and nudged toward big ideas then they naturally gravitate toward forming their own ideology.

Other Christians present Common Core as some sort of liberal indoctrination. These argue that Common Core has a liberal agenda and is trying to manipulate children into wholly submitting to the government. Note this controversial sentence used in a Texas student’s workbook: “The commands of the government must be obeyed by all.” This particular statement definitely caused uproar and led one to wonder if this sort of ideological teaching was being used elsewhere.

But the Common Core is not intrinsically bad. Education reform is desperately needed in America. Common Core is a  viable alternative to improve our system of education.

If this is true then why should we remain in the same system that clearly is not working?

Sure, maybe there are underlying motives behind the Common Core Standards but nothing as drastic as indoctrination. The major emphasis of Common Core is to bridge the gap between high school education and college or vocation. Common Core exists to educate students better and prepare them for life and making a living.

Moreover, Christian thought has not been taught in public school for decades nor has there been sanctioned prayer. The forcing of this particular religion into school systems is exactly what Christians should not do. Why should prayer have to be a public display after all? Just because a teacher or faculty member cannot lead an open prayer does not mean that he or she ceases to be a Christian. Christianity is so much more than being able to openly pray in schools. And most importantly, if we did have state sanctioned religion in schools, then what sect of Christianity will rule the day? Southern Baptists? Roman Catholic? Presbyterian? Seventh Day Adventist?

We can never forget that the first amendment gives us the freedom of religion AND the freedom from religion–that particular religion or religious sect that would infringe upon and dispossess another religious worldview.

How pathetic is the idea that if we do not teach God, then God will not be present? As Christians we believe that God is the divine creation and inspiration behind the present world. Implementing more rigorous standards will challenge students in the classroom and could instill an insatiable quest for knowledge—knowledge of God’s world. This knowledge could perhaps point them in the direction of the Divine, but perhaps not as well. But the intellectual pursuit of the Creator of this world will be compelling, not coercive and thereby restrictive according to one particular sect of Christianity.

Our education system does not exist to bring people to Christ. It is their job to educate our children.

Many Conservative Christians are outspoken against Common Core but there are also Christians like Mike Huckabee who support it, at least until he decided to change his mind.

If public schools are government funded, then why the fuss over the implementation of Common Core from conservative Christians? Does the fear come from the association with President Barack Obama? Haley Edwards of Time magazine seems to think so:

“For years, Republicans have demanded the implementation of the rigorous standards called for in President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, and complained that, without standards that allow for comparisons between states, a second grader in Missouri will not have the same skill sets as second graders in Kansas or Maine.”

But the issue at hand is bigger than political party affiliation. Christians are to be advocates of social justice. In an education system that does no favors to the poor, Common Core can be seen as pointing towards the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m getting ahead of myself it seems though.

Common Core is not the implementation of a specific curriculum; the teacher is not controlled to what he or she must teach in the classroom. It simply proposes a skill that students must master, not an imposition of how they are to learn the said skill.

Independent of the way one believes things should be taught, each year the United States is falling further down the list in regards to education. For example, the ACT results from 2013 were shocking. Of the students who took the assessment, only 26 percent met the college readiness benchmark, that being a 21 out of a possible 36. Worse than that, only 11 percent of low-income students met this mark.

The implementation of Common Core would raise the standard and expectations of education in America, inspiring and aiding those who need to education most—the poorer students. Just consider this statistic:

“By 4th grade, nearly 80 percent of low-income students are reading below grade level. By college, nearly 80 percent of these students will need remedial coursework in order to be ready for college. Yet, the majority of these students will graduate from high school (perhaps as many as 79 percent—the statistic from just a few years ago.)”

From this, the argument could be presented and many parents do, “Why should my child’s education take a hit to help a poorer, more disadvantaged student?”

From a Christian point of view there is much wrong with this question. As Christians, are we not called to care for the poor? The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Also, if the new standards challenge the poorer, lower-level students, why would they not also challenge the higher performing students?

Common Core certainly does not have all of the answers, but it is a much needed education reform. It could be a first step in improving our education system.

We are called to love the least of these, not contribute to the systematic oppression that hinders poorer students.

Of course, much more needs to occur outside of the classroom in regards to education. Common Core seems to have stirred some parents to life. Maybe this system will cause parents to have a vested interest in what a student is learning, and in turn, perhaps this will be a catalyst toward a more holistic approach to education.

In the end though, education is not limited to the classroom, and the classroom cannot limit God.

Christian Identity Extremists: Righteous, Radical, or just Wrong?

This latest post written by Kyle Huffman for the course Religion and Politics in a Global Context Fall 2014. Please take the time to read this post on Christian Extremism in America. Kyle is an excellent critical thinker, a great student, and a fine human being.

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Kyle Huffman, King University

Kyle is 22 years old and a senior at King University.
Kyle Is from Charleston, WV.
He is majoring in Youth Ministry with minors in Bible and Religion and Leadership.
Kyle participates as a leader in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes program at King.
His interests are music, hunting, fishing, and football.

What comes to mind when one hears the word “terrorism”? Is it strictly under the umbrella of Islam? Do the violent images only come from the region of the Middle East? Of course not. But many Americans have the wrong notion that Muslims have the corner on violent extremism and terrorism.

But this viewpoint is naive.

Is it possible to conceive the idea that there are terrorists and militant extremists in other religions, even Christianity? In fact, there are several different types of  extremists and fundamentalists within Christianity and within the borders of the United States. It becomes important, as a student of religion to dive into this topic and try to gain a better understanding of good ole homegrown, American Christian terrorism.

Before we begin to study this phenomenon, we must look at the difference between religious extremists and moderates in any religion. Extremism, opposed to being moderate, is exists outside of mainstream public opinion. Extremism can appear in religion, politics, and economics, and it can appear anywhere around the globe. We are looking at more religious and political extremism, and one example of this would be terrorism.

Extremists generally seek radical change and often use militant tactics to achieve their goals. This is what can give birth to terrorists and their violent actions. Simply put, terrorism is “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” Not all extremism, though, exists in the form of terrorism.

Economist Ronald Wintrobe offers several points that he believes some extremists have in common, and this will help us define an extremist:

1. Extremists are against any compromise with other side.

2. Extremists are entirely sure of their position.

3. They advocate and sometimes use violence to achieve their ends.

4. Usually they are nationalistic.

5. They are intolerant or dissent of any other group.

6. And they demonize the other side.

In other words, in nearly all circumstances, extremists are not prepared to change, no matter the reasoning or circumstances.

Moderates, on the other hand, are much more balanced and accepting of differing views and opinions.

Moderates generally do not participate in violence as a means to reach their political or religious goals. They tend to make an effort to see both sides of an issue, usually due to the lack of an agenda. With that being said, they normally do not challenge the mainstream ideas of society with much intensity. Moderates can be found in the middle of most political issues and offer a medium or “norm” for society. In terms of religion, moderates are known for questioning and rational reasoning–even centuries-old doctrines and ideas.

As we look into learning more about Christian extremism, we have to ask: what are the fundamental beliefs and actions of these groups?  Christian extremists primarily operate out of the Christian Scriptures, the Bible, and in particular, the Old Testament. They tend to take single passages or verses to prop up their actions. Many believe that what they do reflects directly what God commands. They think that a great deal of world’s problems are a result of God punishing the world for violating their belief system.   Almost every Christian fundamentalist group’s credo can be summed up in this: they believe they are right, others are not, and those who are wrong need to change, and if they don’t change, the “sinners” must be eliminated.

A good example of this is the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. According to their own website, godhatesfags.com, this group operates from their literalist interpretation of Leviticus 20:23: “Do not live according to the customs of the people I am driving out before you. It is because they do these shameful things that I detest them.” The adherents of Westboro Baptists utilize this Scripture and other verses like it as a means of justification to be hateful towards homosexuals.

The Westboro Baptists are not a violent group, but they operate out of hatred, ignorance, and shame. This group is known for picketing military funerals, an action that has been brought to the Supreme Court and other levels of the judicial system several different times all in the name of freedom of expression. These groups continue to protest and stir up controversy in the homosexual community and American Islamic community by holding signs that say “God hates fags” and by publicly burning the Quran. In 1995, the Westboro Baptist Church building was bombed by an IED clearly demonstrating some disapproval from the public of this group’s actions.

Another strong force within Christian extremism is known as the Christian Identity. The main creed of this Christian extremist group is the push for a racially interpreted Scripture and society. In other words, these individuals are white supremacists and they back up their hatred of others with their interpretation of Scripture. Many of these people believe that British whites are the direct descendents of the nation of Israel.   This movement, which rose in popularity in the 1980’s, have had ties to acts of violence such as a number of murders in the early 1990’s.

Like extremists from around the world, they are willing to use violence in the name of God to accomplish their goals.

But are Christian identity groups in America showing violence, one might ask? Most of these groups are not actively and consistently performing violent acts although many are prepared to do so. Many are very militant, having capabilities, weapons, and bases ready for mobilization and action. However, there have been several smaller instances of violence including several acts of assault, one account of murder, and a few accounts of terrorist threats by a Pennsylvania based white supremacy group known as the Keystone State Skinheads.   This group is constantly looked on by the government because of their former acts of violence and their militaristic facilities that seemed primed for action.

In the past, there have been instances of violence in the United States, primarily by members of Ku Klux Klan white supremacy group. The logo of this group was to “reestablish protestant Christian values in America by any means possible.” Especially after the Civil War, this group became very violent with lynchings, murders, beatings, arson, and much, much more. The long and hateful history of the KKK is infused with violence and murder.

The public opinion of this group might not be exactly what you think. Obviously, these groups tend to have a negative public opinion due to the nature of their activities and history. Even though much of the United States would consider itself to be Christian (83%- ABC News July 2014), most would likely disagree with a large percentage of what these groups are doing.

However, most Americans are uninformed about the various militant extremist groups that currently exist in the United States. Of the more outspoken or public groups, the Westboro Baptists have developed quite an infamous public opinion. While this group has a generally nonviolent creed, they continue to encourage and endorse hatred.

The first step in dealing with Christian Identity groups is to become educated that they exist and are prevalent in the United States.

Is Islam the only religion that harbors terrorists and militant extremists? Not at all. Every religion has its fundamentalists–even Christianity. And it is incumbent upon us to know this fact and know what separates the militants from the moderates. Lives depend on this difference in interpretation.

Religion in a Vacuum: How Central Asian Islam was Radicalized

This latest post written by Christopher Buttner for the course Religion and Politics in a Global Context Fall 2014. Please take the time to read this post. Chris is an excellent student and has a very promising future.

Chris Buttner is currently a Junior at King University where he majors in Security and Intelligence Studies.  He hopes to continue his studies into graduate school and then transition into a career with the intelligence community where he plans to become an intelligence analyst.

 

Christopher Buttner
Christopher Buttner

Central Asia’s historical narrative is one of political turbulence and volatility. The region’s rich history has been formed, in part, because of several geological factors that make Central Asia a unique landscape to attempt to rule. Being landlocked in the center of the Eurasian continent set the region up to be the crossroads of civilizations. Trade routes that would take caravans through Central Asia made the region attractive to civilizations from the East and West alike, presenting an economic prize to whoever could hold on to the territory. The extreme topography and harsh deserts that exist in this region keep Central Asia sparsely populated with its inhabitants clinging to the lush mountain valleys. All of these features are fit neatly between two rivers that separate the region from the rest of the world, offering a final warning to any potential conquerors who may be too shortsighted to not recognize that they too would see many similar attempts at this land if they were to be successful.

Indeed, these factors have made Central Asia a region that has been traditionally “ripe for conquest but difficult to rule”. (Rashid 17) These traditions of trade and conquest exposed the Central Asian people to a myriad of cultures, creating a unique melting pot dynamic. A significant characteristic of this melting pot of cultures has been its religious tolerance, which accepted Islam that came with Arab people around the year 650. (Rashid 21) The region would go on to become a beacon of Islamic intellectualism and produce several widely recognized religious leaders and monuments of religious importance. Bukhara, between the ninth and sixteenth centuries, was the largest theological center for Islam. Takht-I Sulaiman, “throne of Solomon”, has long been a sight of pilgrimage for Muslims in the region for its historical status and association with the ancient prophet from which its name is derived. (Crews 252) Islam, since its introduction to the region, has been a significant part of Central Asian identity. It is only recently, since the Russian overtaking of the region, that Central Asian Islam has become marginalized in the global context.

Russian attempts at colonizing Central Asia, as part of the Great Game between Russia and Great Britain, were successful in a limited sense and also the first steps towards a collapse of Central Asian Islam. The Russians sought to civilize the Central Asian people who they considered to be backwards. An Orthodox-Christian state, Russia feared that a failure to civilize the Central Asians “would bring the seeds of pan-Islamic fanaticism to fruition and compromise the security of the region.” (Thrasher 13) These efforts to destroy the Central Asian identity and force them to force them to accept their subordinate nature would create tensions that would build up to the Basmachi revolts. These largely Islamic revolts would occur alongside the Bolshevik revolution.

The Bolshevik revolution would divide the people of Central Asia about which side to support. While the Russians had been oppressing the Central Asian people, they had no interest in becoming Soviet either. One notable supporter of the Bolsheviks were the Jadids, who believed that they could obtain more freedom from the Bolsheviks. (Rashid 31) These supporters of the Bolsheviks would prove to be wrong and would go on to be wiped out in the massacres of 1937. (Rashid 31) The Soviet Union would prove to be militantly anti-religion. The Soviet Union would denounce religion as the “opium of toiling masses, distracting them from the social struggle against the exploiting parasites”. (Ersahin 9) Islam in Central Asia would be harshly cracked down upon by the Soviet Union. That which remained would become politicized and used as a tool by the Soviets. (Ersahin 20) This oppression of Central Asian Islam would create a void in the Central Asian identity. This essential characteristic of the identity would be missing until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Once the fall of the Soviet Union occurred, the creation of five new states in the region marked the beginning of a new chapter for the region. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were all given a choice between their old identities and communism. To the surprise of many, the transition from communism to an autonomous identity lasted well into the independence period. (Cooley 19) The patrimonial system of governance adopted by the Central Asian regimes set these states up to be characteristically oppressive and power-hungry. (Cooley 16) This system of governance is a relic of Central Asia’s Soviet history. Ironic that it has left these regimes in such a weak state that they are forced to resort to quasi-colony behavior just to survive. The regimes of Central Asia have been particularly oppressive of their people in an attempt to maintain their control of the power structures in the region. In Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Central Asian states have always ranked towards the bottom with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan being particularly horrible.

The oppressive nature of the last 150 years for the region of Central Asia has perverted its cultural identity and, with it, its ideas of Islam. Islam in Central Asia was once a proud theological culture that preached religious toleration and acceptance of other cultures. It is now represented by a militant interpretation of the Quran and propped up by terrorist organizations such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. It is difficult to fault the general population for this shift in ideology. Extreme issues call for extreme solutions. There is a reason Hizb ut-Tahrir is not a major player among those who seek a caliphate. There is no basis for believing that these oppressive regimes will suddenly begin to listen and accept the ideology they have worked so hard to quell over the years through peaceful means. This does not condone the methods through which terrorist organizations operate. It only attempts to understand the thought processes that drive people to these murderous organizations.

With only the Kyrgyz Republic being a bastion of hope for legitimate change in the region, progress in this conflict should not be expected. Barring another revolution in the region, oppressive regimes will remain in power in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan and continue to push people to seek a solution through any means possible. Ideology can only be defeated by a better ideology. As long as the reality presented by state officials is worth suffering to get out of, people will flock to these terrorist organizations, whether they adopt the perverted ideology or not. It is also worthy to note that two of the region’s neighbors to the south are some of the most active states in the world when it comes terrorist activity. In 2013, Afghanistan and Pakistan ranked second and third respectively in the world in terms of terrorist activity according to Vision of Humanity’s Terrorism Index. Central Asia is a known transit region for opiates grown in Afghanistan. (Cooley 158) It logical to believe that if drug traffickers can enter and exit through Central Asian state borders easily then so too can terrorists. If the problem is not domestic, it could become foreign.

Of course, terrorism is only a symptom of the perversion. That being said, it is a good measuring tool considering that terrorist organization are only able to operate effectively on a large scale with the support of the public. The fact that these organizations are able to thrive is an indicator of the broader issue. Central Asian Islam has been radicalized.

Works Cited

Cooley, Alexander. Great Games, Local Rules: The New Great Power Contest in Central Asia.

New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.

Crews, Robert D. For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009. Print.

Ersahin, Seyfettin. “The Official Interpretation of Islam Under the Soviet Regime: A Base for Understanding Central Asian Islam.” Hamdard Islamicus 28.4 (2005): 7-20. ATLA Religion Database. Web. 6 Dec. 2014.

Rashid, Ahmed. Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.

Thrasher, Matthew J., “How to Make a Colony: Reform and Resistance in Russian Turkestan, 1865-1917” (2010). Honors Projects