School Board Battles: The Christian Right in Local Politics

School Board Battles: The Christian Right in Local Politics

School Board Battles: The Christian Right in Local Politics

School Board Battles: The Christian Right in Local Politics

Synopsis

If there is a "culture war" taking place in the United States, one of the most interesting, if under-the-radar, battlegrounds is in local school board elections. Rarely does the pitch of this battle reach national attention, as it did in Kansas when the state school board -- led by several outspoken conservative Christians -- voted to delete evolution from the state's science curriculum and its standardized tests in August 1999. That action rattled not only the educational and scientific communities, but concerned citizens around the nation as well. While the movement of the Christian Right into national and state politics has been well documented, this is the first book to examine their impact on local school board politics. While the Kansas decision was short-lived, during the past decade in school districts around the country, conservative Christian majorities have voted to place limits on sex education, to restrict library books, to remove references to gays and lesbians in the classroom, and to promote American culture as superior to other cultures. School Board Battles studies the motivation, strategies, and electoral success of Christian Right school board candidates. Based on interviews, and using an extensive national survey of candidates as well as case studies of two school districts in which conservative Christians ran and served on local boards, Melissa M. Deckman gives us a surprisingly complex picture of these candidates. She reveals weaker ties to national Christian Right organizations -- and more similarities between these conservative candidates and their more secular counterparts than might be expected. Deckman examines important questions: Why do conservativeChristians run for school boards? How much influence has the Christian Right actually had on school boards? How do conservative Christians govern? School Board Battles is an in-depth and in-the-trenches look at an important encounter

Excerpt

In a move that sent shockwaves through the nation's scientific community, in August 1999 the Kansas State Board of Education (led by several outspoken conservative Christians) voted to eliminate the subject of evolution from the state's science curriculum and standardized tests. Although individual school districts could elect to continue to teach evolution, the board's critics believed that the practical effect of the decision would be to remove evolution theory from the classroom because teachers generally design their lesson plans to enable students to pass the mandatory state exams. Board supporters, however, praised the move, including one local school board president in Pratt, Kansas, who hoped that the decision would lead to the teaching of creationism in her district: “I don't think it's relegated to Sunday school. If you present material to students with critical thinking, and they come to you with a paper supporting creationism, or arguing against evolutionary theory from a creationist point of view, you should accept that.”

The decision to remove evolution, however, was short lived. The highprofile decision cost two of the conservative Christian board members their seats in primary elections the following year. Moderate members replaced them and rescinded the decision that had received such notoriety. This scenario—in which conservative Christians are elected to school boards, make controversial policy changes, and then are voted out of office—is one that has also taken place . . .

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