The Effects of Faith Based Education

23 April, 2008

My last two posts (Will Expelled Get Expelled and My Expelled Post (yeah, I need to work on my titles)) dealt with the movie Expelled:  No Intelligence Allowed.  In MEP, I argued that  the movie is a perfect example of ‘received wisdom’ education:  questioning and independent research are not allowed.  The second, WEGE, was just a tad of schadenfruede:  not only did the movie suck, but so did viewership.  Last night (while trying to hack out a lung because of my allergies) I got to thinking about received wisdom education and decided that I had (arguably) misnamed the illness:  the illness is actually faith based education.

Faith based education seems much in vogue among certain politico-religious types.  The argument (and I confess to simplifying immensely)  generally goes along these lines:

  1. All of America’s ills are due to lack of religion in public and private lives.
  2. America would instantly return to the idyllic 1950s — a time when women stayed home and cared for the children, and every man (or at least every white man (because the others really don’t matter)) had a good job with benefits — were we all once again religious.
  3. Therefore, America must return to faith-based education to return the only real and true God to His rightful place of majesty in America.

Of course, by insisting that we return faith to America’s education system, the Republican and Christian right refers to prayer.  A teacher led prayer in which students are required to participate was, until the U.S. Supreme Court made the correct decision, a part of daily life for all American children.  Supposedly, the ‘outlawing’ of prayer in school has destroyed America (and before anyone brings it up, children are still allowed to pray in school, school districts cannot mandate organized prayer, nor can teachers lead the children in prayer in a public school (I always wondered what would have happened to a teacher in the 1950s who used a Muslim prayer?)).

Unfortunately, this faith-based education is about more than prayer in school.  It is about creationism (currently disguised as “intellegent design”).  It is about abstinence-only sex education.  It is about text-books which claim that tax-cuts increase tax revenue.  It is about teachers telling students that America’s founding fathers created a Christian Nation. 

So what do creationism, abstinence-only sex education, tax-cuts and a Christian America have in common?  Every blinkin’ one of them is faith based.  Proponents have faith that it will work;  no evidence is necessary;  and no proof is required. 

The Christian America myth (along with the Conservative Founding Fathers myth) is pushed with wild abandon by the religious right and many of the historians educated by Christian colleges.  Despite copious evidence from the actual writings of Jefferson, Adams, Paine and Franklin showing the sincere wish for the world’s first truly secular state, dishonest ‘historians’ cherry-pick phrases (and combine partial phrases) to support their conclusions.  Their ‘scholarship’ rests upon making forming a conclusion, and then selecting the facts to fit.

The conservative tax-cut myth is one of the most pervasive in modern America.  George Herbert Walker Bush had that one right when he called it voodoo economics.  When Reagan forced through the tax cuts of the 1980s, he claimed that revenue would rise immediately.  It actually took around four years for federal revenue to recover.  When George W. Bush used many different reasons (we have a surplus and should give it back to the taxpayers, there’s a recession, we were attacked) to force through tax cuts in 2001.  Part of his claim was, again, that the tax cuts would increase revenue.  The reality?  It again took about four years for revenue to recover.  This nice little fairy tale of free money for all (well, for the rich (and big business)) is faith based.  There is no evidence that massive tax cuts stimulate the economy enough to recoup the reduction in revenue, the additional interest paid on the public debt, and reduced infrastructure investment.

Abstinence-only sex education has been proven by repeated studies to be ineffective.  The right (political and religious) insists that, given enough time and money, it will work.  They have faith that it works.  Faith overrides all proof.  Even the proof that STD and pregnancy rates RISE with abstinence-only sex education does not shake their faith.

The manufactured war over evolution is yet another example of a faith-based situation.  The ‘faithful’ arrived at a conclusion:  God did it (or guided it).  Then they set out to find evidence of God’s hand.  They haven’t.  Then, they decided that, instead of finding proof to support their conclusion, they would just point at the things science doesn’t know, and fill it with God.  And, along the way, they decided that anyone who was a creationist and was denied tenure was a martyr.

For the last seven years, we have had a faith-based government.  Bush had faith that there were weapons of mass destruction.  Bush had faith that Hussein was involved in 9/11.  Bush had faith that FEMA could be run by any idiot.  Bush had faith that  National Parks could do more with less.  Bush had faith that his judgement supersedes U.S. Law and the Constitution.

What America needs is less faith-based education, not more.  What America needs is less faith-based government, not more.  We need teachers, students, politicians and citizens to demand proof.  Proof of the effectiveness of government policies.  Proof of the effectiveness of educational policies.  Proof of the effectiveness of reality-based, not faith-based, policies.



  1. Good post. I really don’t have anything to add. Well, except doesn’t it take as much faith to believe in evolution, atheism, and a secular America, as it does to believe in God? LOL…thought I’d get that out there and beat the fundies:)

  2. Sabrina: I know you’re joking, but . . .

    Evolution is a theory developed to explain observable natural phenomena. The truly amazing thing about the ideas of Darwin et al is that the mountains of facts which have accumulated through genetics, anthropology, palaeontology, etc, have not contradicted the basic theory.

    Atheism is my personal theory based upon observable evidence, what I have read and observed of the natural world, and a healthy application of Okam’s razor: if you can explain it without a god, do so.

    Secular America is grounded in the Constitution of the United States — the rules upon which all laws in America are based. One of the problems the founding father’s were trying to aviod was the chaos created when the head of state (and head of church) decided to change religions. These men were well versed in history – recent and ancient. They knew the evil state religions could commit, and they knew what a religiously-based civil war could do to a nation.

    Sabrina, I just thought I’d get THAT out to do the same.

  3. Billy: We should print your answer on cards and hand them out when people start saying, ” it takes as much faith to believe in…” 🙂

  4. This is a great post. I’m not sure that you and Sabrina have pre-emptively defused all of the typical fundie arguments, but you’ve gotten a good start. They’ll have to dig a little more deeply into their arsenal this time. 🙂

  5. […] 26 April, 2008 A few days ago, Sabrina and I had a quick exchange in the comments under The Effects of Faith Based Education regarding, among other things, ‘belief’ in evolution.  It brought to mind a miserable […]

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