10 insane lessons religious schools are teaching American kids

How private voucher programs are using tax dollars to teach ideology

Published March 24, 2014 12:51PM (EDT)

  (<a href='http://www.istockphoto.com/user_view.php?id=2023381'>plherrera</a> via <a href='http://www.istockphoto.com/'>iStock</a>)
(plherrera via iStock)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetSchool voucher programs are being debated everywhere you turn — in courtrooms, in state governments, and even in popular culture. Just  Thursday, Republicans in Florida tried and failed to expand their state’s voucher program. On  Friday, Arizona’s Supreme Court ruled that using state funds to pay for children’s education at religious and private schools was constitutional. And perhaps most importantly, “True Detective,” which was already one of the best shows ever to be on TV, became the best show ever to go after vouchers when a villain explained his desire to use the school voucher system to achieve his nefarious ends:

The whole idea was to provide an alternative to the kind of secular globalized education that our public schools were promoting. When we get the school voucher program instituted we’ll reintroduce the idea. People should have a choice in education, like anything else.

So why are vouchers so justifiably vilified? Where to start! As I have written  previously, school voucher programs, which allow parents to use public dollars to pay for private education, are not only ineffective but they fail to address the rampant inequality that plagues our nation’s schools and  weaken the public school system as a whole. Despite these facts, voucher schools are  on the rise — and many of them are religious schools using public money to teach a distorted version of reality, which I had thought only existed 50 years ago or in over the top parodies of the right wing.

Where do these religious voucher schools get their so-called “facts”? One place is Christian publisher  A Beka Book. Founded in 1972 by Arlin and Rebekah (aka, “Beka”) Horton, A Beka churns out a significant number of the textbooks used by such schools. Forty-three percent of the religious voucher schools that responded to a 2003 Palm Beach Post survey based their curricula on texts published by either A Beka Books or  Bob Jones University Publishing. A Beka Book estimates that around 9,000 schools utilize their books.

And just what does A Beka Book — which in 1998 paid a $44.5 million fine to the IRS for masquerading as a non-profit while reaping hundreds of millions of dollars in profits — teach students about, say, the creation of the world, or modern American history?

In an article I wrote for AlterNet late last month, I highlighted the “  7 Most Absurd Things America's Kids Are Learning Thanks to the Conservative Gutting of Public Education.” But these 7 examples didn’t even begin to do justice to the way textbooks published by  A Beka Book empower religious schools engaged in voucher programs to distort the truth in order to further an extremist political agenda. And I would be remiss if I failed to include additional disinformation campaigns being launched in schools around the nation.

So here are 10 further examples of totally dishonest lessons brought to you by "school choice" (aka, your tax dollars). This time I focus on five of the scariest history lessons kids are learning thanks to the popular A Beka Book title,  America: Land I Love In Christian Perspective, plus five of the publisher’s most notable profiles of historical figures, taken from a variety of its books.

1. The Great Depression: Made Up to Spread Socialism

In a section titled "More Rumors," America: Land I Love In Christian Perspective takes on the origins of the Great Depression. The book explains that,

"Some people wanted to create an imaginary crisis in order to move the country toward socialism. They spread rumors of bank mortgage foreclosures and mass evictions from farms, homes and apartments. But local banks did all in their power to keep their present tenants. The number of people out of work in the 1930s averaged about 15 percent of the work force; thus 85 percent continued to work. Most had to take a pay cut, but prices also declined during the Depression, enabling people to buy more for their money."

See! The Great Depression was really a great hoax!

In the “Propaganda” section, under the subhead “Exaggerated Fiction,” students learn that,

"In 1939, John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath. This novel described the plight of the Okies, farm families from Western Oklahoma who went to California in search of jobs. Most families who went west did not experience the hardships that Steinbeck presented in his novel. Steinbeck openly supported labor violence and strikes instigated by socialist groups to keep the Okies from earning a living as migrant farm laborer in California.... Socialist photographers and artists produced misleading pictures of the... mountaineers of Appalachia. These mountaineers did not have the modern conveniences of homes in the town or cities but they did not consider themselves to be poor. The Depression actually had little effect on their lives.”

So, the Great Depression was a figment of the liberal, socialist, artistic imagination... a figment that happens to be supported by indisputable empirical evidence of a severe economic crisis.

2. Nazis: Brought to you by Karl Marx and Charles Darwin

The book also teaches students that "as a socialist, Hitler believed that the government should own the nation's industries and take responsibility for its people." Through socialism, the book tells us, Hitler became “the absolute dictator of Germany. By embracing socialism, the German people lost their freedoms to a tyrant."

Not to mention the role evolution played in selling the Germans on the whole Holocaust thing: "Hitler combined Marxist socialist thought with Darwin's theory of evolution. Because many Germans believed the notion of evolution, they accepted Hitler's ideas."

So in short, we have Charles and Karl to thank for the massacre of 9 million people.

3. The Post-WWII Era: A Time of Crusades and Constant Praying

According to the book’s authors, preceding the 1960s, the “moral values of biblical Christianity provided a just standard of law, order, and mutual respect, which in turn increased material prosperity…. School days often began with prayer and Bible reading, and parent-teacher meetings and civil organizations usually opened with prayer."

Furthermore, "families were strong during the 1950s. Most couples considered divorce a tragedy and made every effort to stay together and work through their difficulties.... in the larger cities, crime was primarily restricted to back alleys. People considered the occult, illegal drugs, pornography, homosexuality, and other immorality to be disgraceful sins."

It is during this exciting time in our national history that so-called “crusades” (as in, military campaigns launched by the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, and apparently, by evangelicals in the middle of the 20th century) are carried out. As a result, evangelist Billy Graham becomes the world’s biggest superstar ever: "Evangelists conducted crusades through the nation....Graham received national news coverage, which led to large televised crusades, making him one of the best known and respected persons in America and the world."

In other words, Billy Graham was the Kim Kardashian of the 1950s. But with a smaller butt.

4. The '60s and '70s: Everything Goes to S***, Mainly Because the State Stops Killing Born People and Starts Killing Pre-Born Babies and... Freud.

We also learn from America: Land I Love In Christian Perspective that when the death penalty was suspended in 1972, “crime began to increase across the nation. In 1973, just one year later, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of abortion, the killing of babies before birth."

Coincidence? More likely God’s plan: "A lesson taught continually throughout history is that, as prosperity and new found enjoyments increase, people ‘forget’ God. As morals lessen, culture will definitely take a turn for the worst [sic]."

Which it did, according to A Beka, with an “increase in white-collar crime [and] the legalization of gambling….” But the worst part? “Many psychologists,” the authors note, began advocating “the teachings of Sigmund Freud.”

Just like it says in the scriptures: the suspension of capital punishment will be followed by the legalization of abortion, and then the return of Freud.

5. Freedom of Speech: Gateway to Porn

Though freedom of speech may sound good, it is in fact a dangerousgateway freedom. As the authors of America: Land I Love point out: "Pornographic films and books were legalized under the guise of 'freedom of speech’.”

I’m sure if PornHub had existed in the 18th century, the Founding Fathers would have nixed that whole freedom of speech thing.

A Beka Book also offers a great who’s who of American History throughout its catalogue.

1. Clarence Thomas: Greatest Example of Black American Achievement Yet

The History of Our United States, Teacher Edition instructs us that,

"By the 1990s, black Americans had made many significant political and economic gains. One great example of Black-American achievement was the appointment of Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court by President George Bush in 1992. Thomas was born to poor sharecroppers in the hills of Georgia. Through his own hard work and God-given ability, he earned a law degree and achieved several important government positions."

I’m sure if the authors had more room they would have included a note on Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice and a champion of civil rights. But since they only had room for one example of “Black-American Achievement,” A Beka decided to go with the black Supreme Court justice whose success stems from (where else?) bootstrapping and god.

2. Ronald Reagan: Finally! A Non-Loser Patriot for President 

America: Land I Love In Christian Perspective teaches, with extreme objectivity, that, "President Carter had failed both in foreign and domestic affairs, and the nation was ready for a change."

Luckily, Ronald Reagan was there to assume the presidency, to deliver the nation "a return to peace through strength" and "a patriotic revival.” And best of all: “He expressed a special concern for the problem of abortion."


3. The Clintons: Draft-Dodging, Economic-Crisis-Creating, Joint Presidents

A Beka Book teaches students that “The Liberal Media,” Bill Clinton, Ross Perot and the... economy joined forces in the 90s to create the myth of an economic crisis:

“President Bush sought reelection in 1992 on a platform of traditional values, free enterprise, patriotism and a strong military defense. He also promised to lower taxes if re-elected. Democratic candidate William Clinton... and independent candidate Ross Perot, a billionaire from Texas, campaigned on an imaginary economic crisis. In reality, the economy was strong and healthy, but the liberal media helped Clinton and Perot create a ‘climate of economic crisis,’ warning the American people that only a major change in leadership could save the nation from economic disaster."

(Sounds a lot like that fake Great Depression.)

As for the Clintons themselves: “Bill Clinton had dodged military service and participated in anti-war demonstration in Great Britain. His wife Hillary was an outspoken advocate of feminism and abortion rights.” As if that’s not enough, Hillary was also one uppity woman: "Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had campaigned with her husband, declared that she intended to share the responsibilities of the presidency with him. She promised to be as influential as Eleanor Roosevelt, who helped bring about FDR's New Deal.”

As far as the folks at A Beka are concerned, the Clintons’ victory sounded the death-knell of everything that was good: “With the election of Bill Clinton, the children of the rebellious 60s came to political power, and their values began to influence the lives of many Americans."

We still haven’t recovered.

4. George W. Bush: Awesome President Invades Iraq and Saves Mid-Born Babies

A Beka has much love for President George W. Bush and his efforts to keep America safe from harm. According to America: Land I Love, after launching a bombing campaign in Afghanistan and failing to capture Osama Bin Laden,

"the Bush administration turned to another nation known to have harbored and supported Islamic terrorists—Iraq. Governed by dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq had been under suspicion since it was discovered in the early 1880s to be stockpiling weapons of mass destruction....By March 2003, the White House, convinced that Saddam Hussein was still hiding weapons of mass destruction, launched Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Notably, the book omits the fact that no WMD were ever found in Iraq. But, again, there were more important things to include—like a “pro-life victory” section, which states:

“Of particular concern to pro-life Americans was the barbaric abortion method known as partial birth abortion, in which the abortionist kills the baby as it is being delivered. In November 2003, pro-life groups rejoiced as President Bush signed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban of 2003.”

In other words, Bush was as thorough at wiping out non-existent WMD as he was at wiping out non-existent abortion practices.

5. Barack Obama: Great for the Homosexuals

Finally, America: Land I Love pinpoints 2008 as a particularly bad year for American tradition, though it’s unclear precisely why. It’s probably because Barack Obama, a Marxist-Nazi-Muslim-atheist-homosexuality-approving Kenyan, was elected president:

“In 2008, the American culture stressed tolerance for people who choose to live an alternative lifestyle, a ‘lifestyle’ the Bible calls sin.”

Speaking of sin, I wonder what Jesus would have to say about taking funds intended for public use and using them for private purposes. I guess A Beka Book forgot to ask itself: What Would Jesus Do?

By Katie Halper

Katie Halper is a writer, filmmaker, comedian and host of the Katie Halper show, a weekly WBAI radio show and podcast. She writes for The Nation, Rolling Stone, Vice, The Guardian, and has appeared on MSNBC, HuffPost Live, RT, Sirius Radio. https://www.facebook.com/thekatiehalpershow https://www.instagram.com/kthalps/ https://twitter.com/kthalps http://katiehalper.com/

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Alternet Education Religion Religious Right Voucher Schools