Last month, science won the day in the battle over textbooks, and Texas adopted texts that teach evolution. But schools don’t necessarily have to adhere to this list of textbooks. They can choose, as Responsive Ed does, to use alternative textbooks, which may teach creationism.
Policymakers must understand that on a fundamental level teaching creationism is still unconstitutional. The Texas Legislature could take action to regulate these charter schools. The state Senate Education Committee is currently investigating another charter program due to its ties to the Pelican Educational Foundation, which has been under FBI investigation for alleged financial improprieties and alleged sexual misconduct. Sen. Dan Patrick, chair of the Texas Senate Education Committee and a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, told the Austin American-Statesman that “legislative scrutiny is necessary to ensure quality in Texas charter schools.”
It’s high time for Patrick to give some legislative scrutiny to Responsive Ed. But in reality, he is a big fan of the program, which he “lauded in particular” at the Responsive Ed Charter Conference. It’s no wonder; he’s also a creationist. In a recent debate, Patrick said that he would help pass a law to allow creationism to be taught in public schools because, "We need to stand for what this nation was founded upon, which is the word of God.”
Patrick, who has not responded to requests for comment on Responsive Ed, is not the only leading Republican in Texas ready to toss out evolution or the separation of church and state. In fact, every Republican in the race for lieutenant governor in Texas, the incumbent included, is putting a religious agenda ahead of public education. David Dewhurst, the current lieutenant governor, said he “happens ‘to believe in creationism.’”
Greg Abbott, the current attorney general and front-runner in the Texas governor’s race, seems to be of a similar mindset. One piece of his campaign literature shows a gun and a Bible and includes the phrase, “Two things that every American should know how to use … Neither of which are taught in schools.” Abbott’s campaign hasn’t responded to questions about Responsive Ed or creationism in schools.
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Science isn’t the only target of the religious right. The movement also undermines the study of history. I received a set of Responsive Ed U.S. history “Knowledge Units” through my public records request and discovered problems there, too.
In the section on the causes of World War I, the study materials suggest that “anti-Christian bias” coming out of the Enlightenment helped create the foundations for the war. The workbook states, “[T]he abandoning of religious standards of conduct and the breakdown in respect for governmental authority would lead to one of two options: either anarchy or dictatorship would prevail in the absence of a monarch.” Responsive Ed also asserts that a person’s values are based on solely his or her religious beliefs.
A section on World War II suggests that Japan’s military aggression was led by the samurai. They write, “Following World War I, Japan attempted to solve its economic and social problems by military means. The Samurai, a group promoting a military approach to create a vast Japanese empire in Asia, wanted to expand Japan’s influence along the Chinese mainland including many Pacific Islands.”
I asked one of my former professors about this. Rich Smith, an East Asia scholar at Rice University, said, “There were no samurai in Japan after WWI; the samurai class was effectively abolished in 1876, after the Meiji Restoration in 1868.”
Responsive Ed continues to demonstrate its religious and cultural biases in a section on the Philippines, describing the population as made up of “Catholics, Moslems (Muslims), and pagans in various stages of civilization.”
When discussing stem cells, it claims President George W. Bush banned stem-cell research because it was done “primarily with the cells from aborted babies.” The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine debunks this on its website: “A common misconception is that the cells can come from aborted fetuses, which is in fact not possible.”
About LGBTQ rights, Responsive Ed says, “Laws against the homosexual lifestyle had been repealed in many states, but some states continued to ban the behavior.” The homosexual lifestyle?
About President Franklin Roosevelt, it teaches, “The New Deal had not helped the economy. However, it ushered in a new era of dependency on the Federal government.”
Perhaps the workbook’s best line comes when it explains that President Jimmy Carter pardoned Vietnam War draft dodgers out of “a misguided sense of compassion.”
One of Responsive Ed’s schools, Founders Classical Academy in Lewisville, Texas, where Responsive Ed is based, uses a curriculum far worse even than the Responsive Ed Knowledge Units. The school teaches American history from A Patriot’s History of the United States. The patriots book is “required reading,” according to Glenn Beck, and it opens with an interview between Rush Limbaugh and the author. It is a book that, as Dave Weigel says, “will make you stupider.”
This book teaches the superiority of the West, which in the 1400s and 1500s was apparently “quantum leaps” ahead of “native peoples,” including Ming Dynasty China, one of the most prosperous Chinese dynasties. It explains that the West was superior to “native populations” in battles because “Aztec chiefs and Moor sultans alike were completely vulnerable to massed firepower, yet without the legal framework of republicanism and civic virtue like Europe’s to replace its leadership cadre, a native army could be decapitated at its head by one volley.”
Instead of being taught that 16th-century Spain had a monarchy, students at Founders Classical Academy are incorrectly learning that it had a form of republican government that was superior to anything that “native peoples” had created.
On the feminist movement, Founders Classical Academy students are taught that feminism “created an entirely new class of females who lacked male financial support and who had to turn to the state as a surrogate husband.”
A Patriot’s History of the United States also addresses the “pinnacle” of the “western way of war” as demonstrated by the Iraq War and questions the legitimacy of Secretary of State John Kerry’s “suspect at best” Purple Hearts and Bronze Star.
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Some of Responsive Ed’s lessons appear harmless at first, but their origin is troubling. Students also learn about “discernment,” which is defined as “understanding the deeper reasons why things happen.” In other sections, students learn other moral lessons such as “values” and “deference.”
These lessons were lifted directly from a company called Character First Education, which was founded by an Oklahoma businessman named Tom Hill. He is a follower of Bill Gothard, a minister who runs the Institute in Basic Life Principles, a Christian organization that teaches its members to incorporate biblical principles into daily life. IBLP is considered a cult by some of its former followers. Gothard developed character qualities associated with a list of “49 General Commands of Christ” that Hill adopted for his character curriculum. Hill then removed Gothard’s references to God and Bible verses and started marketing the curriculum to public schools and other public institutions.
The values taught by Responsive Ed can often be found word for word on Gothard’s website. The Responsive Ed unit on genetics includes “Thoroughness: Knowing what factors will diminish the effectiveness of my work or words if neglected.” The only difference is that Gothard’s website also adds “Proverbs 18:15” after the quote.
Many of Gothard’s teachings revolve around obedience to men, especially that of the wife and the children. Gothard has upset even other conservative Christians. In an interview for an article published by Religion Dispatches, Don Veinot, a conservative Christian and founder of the Midwest Christian Outreach, accused Gothard of “creating a culture of fear.” Gothard has been accused of emotional and sexual abuse by some of his former followers, “happening as far back as the mid- to late-1970’s and as recently as this year.”
Responsive Ed and Character First may have removed the references to God and Bible verses from the curriculum that is being used in public schools, but it is clear that the line between church and state is still being blurred. And nothing that Gothard has created should be allowed near children.
Responsive Ed has plenty of connections to other fundamentalist right-wing organizations as well. Its website’s “Helpful Information” section directs parents to Focus on the Family under the heading of “Family Support.” Under “Values” it steers students to the Traditional Values Coalition, whose website includes a header that says, “Say NO to Obama. Stop Sharia in America.”
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In late October, I visited iSchool High, a Responsive Ed public charter in Houston, and asked the campus director, Michael Laird, about reports that the school was teaching creationism.
A few days before my visit, writing for Salon, Jonny Scaramanga, an activist who reports on Christian education, had exposed a section of iSchool’s curriculum that blamed Hitler’s atrocities on the theory of evolution. Scaramanga had been sent the curriculum by Joshua Bass, the parent of a former iSchool student. Bass rightly viewed this curriculum as an attempt to sneak religion into the classroom and teach creationism.
“Oh, you’re media,” Laird said, sounding strained as he scribbled a phone number on a pink sticky note for me. “You’ll have to talk to the main office.”