"Supreme Court: Enemy of Freedom?": Constitutional Law in Christian School Textbooks

Article excerpt

"Supreme Court: Enemy of Freedom?"1 Constitutional Law in Christian School Textbooks

Abstract

Conservative Protestant (Christian) schools are a fast growing segment of the American educational system. Although true public vouchers for sectarian schooling currently exist only in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and most recently Florida, the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the Milwaukee voucher program in Jackson v. Benson2 and the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari may lead to further programs aimed at fostering the privatization of American education.3 These programs, which enhance the ability of students to attend sectarian schools at reduced or no cost, are likely to result in increased numbers of students attending such schools, the creation of additional sectarian schools, or both.

I. Introduction

Discussions of vouchers, precollegiate tuition tax relief, or private scholarship programs, whether carried on by scholars or other commentators, have focused almost exclusively on issues related to the constitutionality of these programs, their efficacy in terms of student achievement, their effect on public education, their potential to stratify or resegregate American education, or some combination of these issues.4 What has been conspicuously absent from the current debate about vouchers and other programs encouraging privatization is any discussion of the curriculum of nonpublic schools. With the exception of a full-length study sponsored by the anti-voucher advocacy organization, Americans for Religious Liberty, in 1993, a 1987 article discussing history materials published and/or distributed by School of Tomorrow, and a series of articles by the author, the issue of what students are taught has not been part of the public and scholarly discussions of privatization.5 Although some of the amicus curiae briefs filed in Jackson raised the issue in relation to the inadequacy of the provision of the Milwaukee law allowing students to opt-out of religious instruction, the authors of the briefs did not look beyond the mission statements of some of the sectarian schools participating in the program. While the curriculum in parochial schools is similar in many respects to that of public schools and, indeed, parochial schools use the same textbooks as public schools, the school curricula of evangelical and fundamentalist Christian schools differ substantially from that used in parochial schools, other sectarian schools, and public pre-collegiate institutions. During the 1980s, three authors examined the culture of Christian schools, including their curricula; however, their discussions of the curricula of these schools are either scattered, or brief, or both, and their consideration of this subject was not tied to the voucher movement of the 1990s.6

A relatively easy way to learn what children are taught is to examine the textbooks they use. Curriculum and instruction scholars have long lamented that school curriculum is, to a large extent, textbook-driven.7 Textbook dependency is even more pronounced in Christian schools, with their emphasis on structure and discouragement of curricular innovation. Indeed, disagreement with and distaste for instructional innovation and a return to the "basics" are part the raison d'etre of the Christian school movement and the involvement of the Christian right in school voucher programs and privatization efforts generally.

Although it is difficult to obtain sales figures from either secular or religious publishers, many Christian schools purchase textbooks and curricular materials from three publishers, A Beka Books, School of Tomorrow (Accelerated Christian Education), and Bob Jones University Press.8 A Beka appears to be the largest publisher of materials used in conservative Christian schools. When contacted, a spokesperson for A Beka Books stated that approximately 9000 schools purchase textbooks from the company. …