Keeping out the Christians: Evangelical High Schools Meet Public Universities

Article excerpt

Jordan Trivison is a very active participant in Shannon Jonker's 12th-grade English class. On one recent morning Jordan recapped in detail several chapters of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which the students had been assigned to read the previous night. When the other seniors at Calvary Chapel high school in Murietta, California, joined in the discussion, the class moved quickly from the question of whether the monster in the novel can be blamed for his behavior--since he was abandoned shortly after his formation, and no one taught him right from wrong--to the more complex issue of "whether the monster has a soul." Jordan struggled with this issue, noting that, on the one hand, the monster was created by man, and not God, but, on the other hand, he was capable of love and compassion.

The discussion, encompassing as it did such explicitly religious ideas, might not have taken place in a typical high-school classroom, but Jordan is for all intents and purposes a typical high-school student. He has California blond hair, sports a well-worn Eagles T-shirt, is active in student government and his church, and says that he rarely gets to bed before midnight because of homework. Looking to the future, he hopes to attend the nearby University of California at Riverside (to be close to his family and save money), where he plans to major in business and political science. Eventually, he wants to become a stockbroker and then run for Congress. As much as Jordan likes the evangelical atmosphere at Calvary, he doesn't think a Christian college campus would challenge him in the same way as UC, for example. "I want to be in a setting where I can stand up for what I believe in and not back down," he says. "If I want to be a politician someday, I'll have to start somewhere."

Jordan is already getting a sense of just how hard he will have to fight to reach his goals. His high school is now engaged in a battle over whether students who attend Christian high schools will be given the same opportunity as their public school counterparts to attend California's state universities.

A year and a half ago, Calvary approached the University of California's Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools with the curricula of some new courses it wanted to offer. The board must ensure that the classes given in California's high schools are sufficiently rigorous to be counted in UC admissions decisions. Calvary submitted three courses for approval in the areas of history/social science and English/literature. It also made inquiries about curricula it wanted to offer in the natural sciences and religion/ethics, in an effort to clarify the board's policies. In the end, the three courses were officially rejected, and the remainder would have been if they had been submitted.

The decision was a slap in the face to Calvary, which prided itself on educating kids in religious and secular knowledge, but the school didn't turn the other cheek. It sued. And because the University of California action was perceived by many religious educators as a possible precedent for action elsewhere, Calvary was joined in its suit by the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), an umbrella group for four thousand Christian education institutions.

Rejection on Grounds of Religion

The science classes from Calvary were rejected by the UC with a simple form letter, one apparently sent to all schools that proposed to use Christian high-school science textbooks published by the two biggest Christian publishers, A Beka Book and Bob Jones University. "The content of the course outlines submitted for approval is not consistent with the viewpoints and knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community," said the letter. "As such, students who take these courses may not be well prepared for success if/when they enter science courses/programs at UC." UC's general counsel, Chris Patti, notes that these texts have many "scientific errors," and the "biggest one is [the way they describe] evolution. …