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homeschooling and educational neglect

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TRC doesn’t have strong opinions of homeschooling. It is up to families to decide how they want to pursue education, and when (or if) I have children, I want to be able to make those decisions with my wife and not with the government. I know many very intelligent, socially adept individuals who were homeschooled.

That said, ensuring that children receive a primary education is not optional. Education is a right for all children, and in the US, primary education is compulsory. Homeschooling is of course a viable and valid option for a child’s education. As long as children are receiving an education.

With those quick thoughts, I recommend Barely Literate? How Christian Fundamentalist Homeschooling Hurts Kids, by Kristen Rawls at Alternet. I’m less interested in the Christian Fundamendalist part than I am in the difficulty of evaluating and understanding homeschooling. The piece is mostly anecdotal, and according to the author, that’s because there’s really no other way to discuss homeschooling.

Given the scarcity of numbers on this issue, the best one can hope for at this point is anecdotal information about the problem. But because homeschooling is such a highly politicized issue, it is often difficult to get a clear sense of what is happening from homeschooling parents themselves. And because many parents see themselves as advocates of homeschooling, they are not always very eager to discuss potential gaps in homeschooling education. 

If you home school your children, you obviously believe in the practice, and are unlikely to admit if you are failing. So how can we know how well parents are doing? This  problem has nothing to do with Christian fundamentalism. But it is the real problem presented here, in my opinion.

Of course, there are problems to be mentioned in the Christian Fundamentalist homeschooling movement. As one former homeschooling parent described it, “We were convinced that it would be better for our kids not to have an education than to be educated to become humanists or atheists and to reject God.” That’s hard to hear. Not because I want every to become humanists and atheists, but because parents don’t  have a right to sacrifice their child’s education on behalf of religion.

And  stories like this are deeply troubling. But hopefully the minority:

Their parents never taught the three other children about sex, and Diegel Martin remembers giving her 21-year-old sister “the talk” the week before she got married. She also had to intervene to ensure that her younger brothers learned about sex.
As for herself, when she completed her schooling, she says her parents did not allow her to obtain her GED as proof of high school graduation. Their reason? “The girls weren’t allowed to get a GED because we were told we wouldn’t need it. It would open up opportunities that were forbidden to us. We would work in the family business until we got married, and then become homemakers.”



Written by Christopher ZF

March 16, 2012 at 12:17

Is our country losing its mind?

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A major media outlet finds it necessary to write this sentence:

Obama is a Christian, but hasn’t been able to persuade many Republicans that he is, despite going to church and praising Jesus Christ publicly.

Help me understand how this is possible? We have a Christian president, who displayed during the 2008 election that he was very much at home talking about Jesus Christ and his personal faith. But our country chooses not to believe him. Why?

I’m told that it’s not racism, and I don’t want it to be racism. I don’t want it to be xenophobia, or religious intolerance, or any such nonsense. But 18% of Republicans is a lot of people. Those kind of numbers are not easily cast aside as some kind of fringe nonsense. That’s millions of people disregarding reality to support a fantasy based on…what?

And yes, Rick Santorum, it is your responsibility to correct your supporters who are telling lies.

Written by Christopher ZF

January 23, 2012 at 16:56

The dangers of being an evangelical Climate Scientist

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I recommend reading this interview with Kate Hayhoe, the scientist that Newt Gingrich had asked to write a chapter on climate change for his new book, which was then cancelled when Gingrich started getting fire from conservatives on acknowledging climate change.

It’s very sad, and very telling. More than anything, it shows TRC that many of the “serious people” in the Republican Party do know climate change is real, they are just unwilling to publicly say it because Rush Limbaugh and the other goons are willing to light the fire and take you down. Hopefully Limbaugh, Gingrich, and the other rabble-rousers realize the costs of their actions for individuals like Hayhoe.

An excerpt:

There’s a ton of pressure on politicians like Newt Gingrich, but Newt probably knows what’s what in terms of climate change…And he’s throwing it overboard, out of what can be fairly characterized as political necessity. What do you make of that calculation? What do you expect from politicians?

A. We all have standards we would like people to live up to. Having lived through what I’ve lived through, I’m certainly much more sympathetic to people. I understand a bit more than I used to how being relentlessly and rigorously attacked can make you ask yourself, is this worthwhile?
What I’ve gotten is nothing compared to what Phil Jones or Mike Mann has gotten…What they’ve gotten is nothing compared to what political candidates get. And what I’ve gotten is certainly enough to make me say, look, what I’m doing doesn’t help me in my academic career. It attracts all sorts of unpleasant attention, some of which, frankly, makes me feel unsafe. When you get emails mentioning your kids and guillotines in the same sentence, it makes you want to pull the blanket over your head and keep your mouth shut for about 10 years… The level of attack you get if you stick your head out is so great at this point that everybody should have the right to decide if it’s worth the price for them or not.

Q. Have you seen climate scientists who have said, screw it, I’m just going to do my research in my lab?

A. Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, look at how many climate scientists there are, and look at how many you see talking about this issue.
Scientists are traditionally not outreach-minded people. They tend to be more introverted. They’re really good at writing papers; they’re not very good at looking people in the eye and talking in simple language. We need help from people who know how to do this. We need help in terms of learning how to communicate outside our ivory tower and how to respond appropriately to the kinds of attacks we’re going to receive.

Q. I’ve been hearing for years about stirrings of climate concern among the religious, particularly evangelicals. I did a whole package of stories on it. What’s your sense of how climate change is received inside the evangelical community?

A. Environmental issues and climate change carry a lot of baggage in evangelical circles. If you can dissociate the issue from Al Gore, if you can dissociate the issue from the Democratic Party, if you can dissociate it from hugging trees, from pro-choice, from evolution vs. creation, if you can strip away all of those ties and only talk about the issue of taking care of the planet God gave us and loving our neighbor as ourself, then there is hardly anyone who will not accept that message. It’s not about theology, it’s about baggage.

Written by Christopher ZF

January 18, 2012 at 10:34

Jesus Candidate doesn’t want to help the Blah People

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Oh Rick Santorum. I don’t want to continue blogging about you, but so badly I do. So two great notes on Rick Santorum.

  1. Rick Santorum was recently quoted during a campaign stop as saying: “I don’t want to make the lives of black people better by giving them other people’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn their money and provide for themselves and their families.”  That upset some in the black community, because it essentially equates black life with life on welfare. Very nice.But now Rick Santorum has looked at the evidence, and upon further review, he has determined that is not what he said at all! According to Santorum: ““I’ve looked at that quote, in fact I looked at the video…In fact, I’m pretty confident I didn’t say black. What I think — I started to say a word and then sort of changed and it sort of — blah — mumbled it and sort of changed my thought.”So, you said “black”, which would make sense in a sentence, or you said  “blah” which is much better. And to be fair, it doesn’t sound like “black” in the video. I heard Bligh, which of course would make sense if Santorum isn’t too eager to help Lt. Bligh, famously stern commander of the Bounty, whose actions led to a mutiny of historical fame.
  2. Even better (and by better I mean much, much worse) than Mr. Blah is “Mr. Santorum: Jesus Candidate.” Presumably of course, he meant himself, rather than, I don’t know, the Joseph Smith Candidate? (Hint: That means Mitt Romney, Reminder: Mitt Romney is a Mormon, Reminder 2: Real Christians consider Mormonism cultish). Anyway. At a Q&A in New Hampshire, Santorum was told: ““We don’t need a Jesus candidate, we need an economic candidate.” Of course, that must be true, because our nation is in an economic crisis, and since the United States is not and can never be a Christian Nation, having a “Jesus Candidate” is not terribly appropriate role for the Chief Executive. Mr. Santorum of course disputes my interpretation of this, and responded: “My answer to that was we always need a Jesus candidate.We need someone who believes in something more than themselves and not just the economy. When we say, ‘God bless America,’ do we mean it or do we just say it?”This is a very peculiar response, and one that makes my spine twinge. We emphatically do NOT need a Jesus Candidate for President. Religious Candidates are fine, and in fact are probably quite necessary. Everyone should believe in something more than themselves, as trite and meaningless as such a statement is. But a Jesus Candidate is a terrible idea, runs in clear opposition to the founding of this nation (BOOM, take that originalists), and should be openly rejected even by Christians.

Written by Christopher ZF

January 6, 2012 at 11:21

Best Things of 2011: Tim Tebow Time

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We’ve had fun with Mr. Tebow at TRC. He’s a fun public figure to engage with, because, well, he’s so public, so evangelical, so mediocre at his job, and so beloved. From the moment he was drafted higher than anyone expected, to the moment he starred in the Focus on the Family television ad at the Super Bowl, Tebow had blood boiling.

And it hasn’t stopped now that he is a starting QB and winning (most of) his games. If TRC thinks so little of Tim Tebow the footballer and evangelical spouter of Christian cliches during post-game interviews, then why is this man among our Best Things of 2011? Good question.

Because Tim Tebow, all by his lonesome, just by being extra-smiley and kind and overly enthusiastic in his heaven pointing and highly-public prayer oriented, causes (some) people to have serious conversations about the role of religion in popular society, to discuss the standards of journalism, to argue over culpability of religious beliefs, to question the motives of the uber-evangelical cultural forces in the United States. Regardless of where one comes out on any of these discussions, there is value in our country in just digging in to a lot of the murky American Life that seems every day second nature.

So, Tim Tebow is among our best things of the year. To illustrate, Tim Tebow managed in the last 24 hours to have this written in an article called Tebow’s Religion: Fair Game: 

Tim Tebow became “compelling” because he became a character in the great national dumbshow that is our culture war. And we should be very clear about one thing — he wasn’t dragooned into this. Nobody drafted him. He walked into this role with his eyes open. Before he ever took a snap in the NFL, he appeared in an anti-choice television ad with his mother that was sponsored by Focus on the Family, an influential anti-choice, anti-gay-rights organization founded by the Rev. James Dobson. He knew what he was doing. 

AND this, in an article called Tebow Sacks Socialism:

Everyone wants a piece of 24-year-old Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Most people settle for a high-five or an autograph. Others ask him to surrender his values, like the young women who beg him for fan photos and then start stripping off their shirts—sending Tebow darting away.
Tebow has All-American character. He espouses capitalistic values that are foundational to America: Competitiveness, ownership, responsibility, hard work, optimism, faith and persistence.

That’s quite an accomplishment for 24-year old kid who is paid millions of dollars to be a professional ball-thrower.

A final example of why Tim Tebow deserves a spot in TRC’s Best Things list. In an email exchange I was involved in that began as a conversation about Tebow, I somehow eventually wrote the following, which sums up my feelings about just how dynamic a cultural place the whole damn Tebow Affair has taken:

I am interested in the idea that Christians in the US believe we are not a Christian Nation (using this loosely, of course, not in some Theocratic sense, but as a stop holder), while people outside of religion (like me) think that we are so very buried in the puritan experiment that to claim that America is not Christian is totally incorrect.
Tebow actually has an interesting role in that debate, which takes me by surprise. But if there is any place we don’t want to get into such a conversation, it is probably pro Football. And yet, here we are. Thanks a lot Tebow. 

Written by Christopher ZF

December 20, 2011 at 12:17

Cleansing the White House with Newt Gingrich

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Here’s something worth sharing. It get’s to the differences that exists among Christians (one could say between left and right, but I’ll leave such distinctions to those in the pews). It’s from Andrew Sullivan.

There’s been some internal debate among evangelicals over whether to forgive Newt his past – and the consensus seems to be yes. Note why:

On the same e-mail chain, which CNN obtained from a conservative activist, prominent Atlanta preacher Richard Lee said the nation’s evangelicals needed to support Gingrich. Lee called Gingrich “the only forceful Christian candidate who can at this point be elected and cleanse the White House next November.”

Don’t you love that word “cleanse”? The current president is a devoted family man, devoid of any personal scandal, and a committed Christian, as his speeches and books testify to. And this must be “cleansed”? The reason is that Obama represents a more liberal and live-and-let-live version of Christianity, and believes in the separation of church and state. That’s what needs to be cleansed (assuming we are not talking bald-faced racism here).


Our language matters, and it should be used carefully. So, to those who want to win the Presidency by “cleansing” the White House, you might want to think twice about how you put that.

This comes back the Rick Perry advert, too, in which President Obama is  warring against the Christians who are actually Christians, not “christian” like the President.

Written by Christopher ZF

December 12, 2011 at 11:41

Getting the Tebow Thing totally wrong.

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I don’t want to write about Tim Tebow, because everyone is writing about Tim Tebow. But sometimes, there’s a reason everyone is doing something. It is just unavoidable.

This morning, I read an opinion piece in today’s Wall Street Journal called Tim Tebow: God’s Quarterback. It was written by Patton Dodd, who I have never heard of, but whose bio says he is “is the managing editor of the website Patheos and a former senior editor at Beliefnet. ”

In his article, Mr. Dodd claims that the fever over Tim Tebow, especially on the part of his critics, comes from the fact that we think Tebow must be a hypocrite. That no one can be that nice, that good, that kind-hearted, that sincere, etc. Asks Dodd:

In the case of Mr. Tebow, what seems to fuel many of his fans—and to drive many of his critics crazy—is not so much his evangelical faith itself but the equanimity and generosity that his faith inspires in him. Can he really mean it when he says that football isn’t that important to him, that he cares more about transcendent things?
…(a long list of the good things Tebow has done)…
What we are far less sure how to do is to take seriously a public figure’s seemingly admirable character and professions of higher purpose. We don’t know how to trust goodness.
And who can blame us? We don’t want to be fooled again.

 As one of the people that finds the Tebow Thing absolutely fascinating, tremendously infuriating, but inescapably attractive, I have to point out to Mr. Dodd: You are absolutely wrong. There are many, many reasons people like me find the Tebow Thing insane. But I don’t know anyone that thinks that Tim Tebow is not genuinely sincere, or is a hypocrite.

Tim Tebow’s actual belief and sincerity are not the point. They are, in fact, the LEAST interesting element of the whole Tebow Phenomenon. What really drives us mad? Evangelicals who write op-eds in national newspapers called “Tim Tebow: God’s Quarterback.” That’s why we are going crazy. Tim Tebow provides the most public, high-profile opportunity for proselytizing that has come along in a long time. And no one is missing the opportunity.

What drives us crazy is that national evangelical leaders like you, (and many others) take this opportunity to write about how we (Tebow doubters) cannot recognize what is good and are cynical about seeing people with good intentions. That Tebow should inspire us, like he has so many, that we are missing the point, that athlete after athlete is saved from the wreckage by their personal lord and savior. That with Tebow, there was no redemption, he was already there. That, as you say, I don’t know how to trust goodness.

These criticisms may be true. I don’t know. I tend to think that I have a good eye towards people who are making the world better, even if I don’t agree with their personal beliefs. Living well and loving others is the point, and if Tim Tebow does that through a wildly obnoxious public evangelical presence, that’s fine. I don’t share his belief, but that’s neither here nor there regarding whether he is living well.

It’s time for the Tebow Lovers to publicly recognize that the reason the Tebow Thing drives us bonkers is not Tim Tebow, it is you, and Mr. Dodd, and every other Tebow peddler in the media.

(and, maybe just a little, Tim Tebow).

**UPDATE: Now this is good coverage of Tim Tebow. And it’s even from the Wall Street Journal.

Written by Christopher ZF

December 12, 2011 at 10:23