Treadgold, “The University We Need”

9781594039898_FC-310x460Among the topics we discussed at last year’s Tradition Project meeting in New York was the current state of the American university. On one view, the university exists, in large part, to preserve and transmit a culture’s intellectual tradition–the best of what has been thought and written over centuries. Most American universities today, it’s fair to say, do not have that view of themselves. They think of themselves as the conquerors of tradition rather than its preservers. And this is not because American universities endorse the Enlightenment’s emphasis on rationality, at least not outside the hard sciences. Rather, it is because American universities have become Romantic. They dedicate themselves, more and more, to promoting an ideal of personal authenticity that views tradition as an existential enemy. (This is one reason why so few conservatives get jobs in universities today, by the way). Where this will end, no one knows. But how long will parents be willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year for their kids to find themselves? The kids could do that for a lot less money elsewhere.

A new book from Encounter Press, The University We Need: Reforming American Higher Education, offers some thoughts on the present state of American academics. The author is Warren Treadgold (St. Louis University). Seems worth a look. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

Though many people know that American universities now offer an inadequate and incoherent education from a leftist viewpoint that excludes moderate and conservative ideas, few people understand how much this matters, how it happened, how bad it is, or what can be done about it. In The University We Need, Professor Warren Treadgold shows the crucial role of universities in American culture and politics, the causes of their decline in administrative bloat and inept academic hiring, the effects of the decline on teaching and research, and some possible ways of reversing the decline. He explains that one suggested reform, the abolition of tenure, would further increase the power of administrators, further decrease the quality of professors, and make universities even more doctrinaire and intolerant. Instead he proposes federal legislation to monitor the quality and honesty of professors and to limit spending on administration to no more than 20% of university budgets (Harvard now spends 40%). Finally, he offers a specific proposal for the founding of a new leading university that could seriously challenge the dominance of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, and Berkeley and attract conservative and moderate faculty and students now isolated in universities and colleges that are either leftist or mediocre. While agreeing with conservative critics that universities are in severe crisis, Treadgold believes that the universities’ problems largely transcend ideology and have grown worse partly because disputants on both sides of the academic debate have misunderstood the methods and goals of higher education.

Melnick, “The Transformation of Title IX”

9780815732228Yesterday, I posted about the threat the growth of the administrative state poses for traditional religious believers. One under-appreciated aspect of this threat is title IX, which prohibits educational institutions that receive federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of sex. Of course, most educational institutions affiliated with traditional religious groups have no problem with a ban on sex discrimination, understood in traditional terms. As administrators expand the coverage of title IX –to cover transgender students, for example–those institutions can quickly find themselves on the wrong side of the law. And, because the large majority of such institutions cannot do without federal financial assistance, the pressure on them to change, or at least downplay, their religious convictions is great.

A new book from the Brookings Institution by Boston College political scientist Shep Melnick addresses the importance of title IX in our current culture wars. The book is The Transformation of Title IX: Regulating Gender Equality in Education. Here’s the description from the Brookings website:

One civil rights-era law has reshaped American society—and contributed to the country’s ongoing culture wars

Few laws have had such far-reaching impact as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Intended to give girls and women greater access to sports programs and other courses of study in schools and colleges, the law has since been used by judges and agencies to expand a wide range of antidiscrimination policies—most recently the Obama administration’s 2016 mandates on sexual harassment and transgender rights.

In this comprehensive review of how Title IX has been implemented, Boston College political science professor R. Shep Melnick analyzes how interpretations of “equal educational opportunity” have changed over the years. In terms accessible to non-lawyers, Melnick examines how Title IX has become a central part of legal and political campaigns to correct gender stereotypes, not only in academic settings but in society at large. Title IX thus has become a major factor in America’s culture wars—and almost certainly will remain so for years to come.

“Religion, Education and Human Rights” (Sjöborg & Ziebertz, eds.)

In May, Springer will release “Religion, Education and Human Rights: Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives,” edited by Anders Sjöborg (Uppsala University) and Hans-Georg Ziebertz (University of Würzburg).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book examines the interconnectedness between religion, education, and human rights from an international perspective using an interdisciplinary approach. It deals 9783319540689with compulsory or secondary school education in different contexts, as well as higher education, and has as its common theme the multiplicity of secularisms in different national contexts. Presenting rich cases, the contributions include empirical and theoretical perspectives on how international trends of migration and cultural diversity, as well as judicialization of social and political processes, and rapid religious and social changes come into play as societies find their way in an increasingly diverse context. The book contains chapters that present case studies on how confessional or non-confessional Religious Education (RE) at schools in different societal contexts is related to the concept of universal human rights. It presents cases studies that display an intriguing array of problems that point to the role of religion in the public sphere and show that historical contexts play important and different roles. Other contributions deal with higher education, where one questions how human rights as a concept and as discourse is taught and examines whether withdrawing from certain clinical training when in university education to become a medical doctor or a midwife on the grounds of conscientious objections can be claimed as a human right. From a judicial point of view one chapter discerns the construction of the concept of religion in the Swedish Education Act, in relation to the Swedish constitution as well European legislation. Finally, an empirical study comparing data from young people in six different countries in three continents investigates factors that explain attitudes towards human rights.

Conversations: Ashley Berner

berner2015_3_pyramidAshley Berner (left) is an assistant professor and Deputy Director of the Institute for Education Policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, and a past guest blogger here at the Law and Religion Forum. Last month, Palgrave Macmillan released her new book, Pluralism and American Education: No One Way to School, in which she advocates a new approach to education in America. It’s a great book, readable and thoughtful. She agreed to answer a few questions about the book, and about her approach, “educational pluralism,” as part of our Conversations series. Our interview covers topics like the costs of state-sponsored uniformity in education, the proper place of religious schools in a pluralist system, and why Ashley thinks of her approach as a middle way. Thanks, Ashley!

L&R Forum: You argue that American education took a wrong turn in the 19th Century, when it moved from a pluralist model to one of state-sponsored uniformity. What’s the history? Why is it particularly relevant for people who study law and religion in America?

Berner: Until the end of the 19th century, school systems in the United States funded a variety of schools – from Jewish and Congregationalist to Catholic and Presbyterian. This was the norm amongst democratic nations, and continues to be. The Netherlands currently funds 36 different types of schools on equal footing; the UK, most Canadian provinces, Sweden, and Singapore (to name a few) support diverse schools as a matter of principle.

In our country, the vast number of 19th century Catholic immigrants threatened the majority Protestant culture and sparked nativist activism at elite and grassroots levels. The Ku Klux Klan and post-Civil War Republicans shared a common resistance to Catholic education. Nativists influenced both Congressional and also legislative agenda. Perhaps the most concrete consequence was the creation of so-called Blaine amendments, named for the U.S. Speaker of the House who tried, and failed, to pass an amendment to the federal constitution that barred funding to religious schools. Thirty-six states passed their own constitutional amendments to this effect. Depending upon how they are constructed, the Blaine amendments seriously impede educational pluralism today. A Blaine amendment case is up before the Court this term; it will be interesting to see what the Court decides.

L&R Forum: You argue for “educational pluralism,” which you say is a “middle path” between state-sponsored uniformity and a libertarian, privatized model. Could you explain what you mean? How would educational pluralism work in practice?

Berner: Educational pluralism asks us to de-couple funding schools and operating schools. Thus in the Netherlands, only 30% of students attend state-funded, state-operated schools, while the rest attend schools that are funded and regulated by the state but Continue reading

Berner, “Pluralism and American Public Education”

Ashley Berner, the Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and a past guest blogger here at the Law and Religion Forum, has just written an important and readable book on educational pluralism, Pluralism and American Public Education: No One Way to School (Palgrave Macmillan). I highly recommend it for anyone interested in public education in America, including the place of religious and other non-state schools.

I’ll be doing an interview with Ashley later this month. For now, here’s Palgrave Macmillan’s description of the book:

51qs7fvxql-_sx328_bo1204203200_This book argues that the structure of public education is a key factor in the failure of America’s public education system to fulfill the intellectual, civic, and moral aims for which it was created. The book challenges the philosophical basis for the traditional common school model and defends the educational pluralism that most liberal democracies enjoy. Berner provides a unique theoretical pathway that is neither libertarian nor state-focused and a pragmatic pathway that avoids the winner-takes-all approach of many contemporary debates about education. For the first time in nearly one hundred fifty years, changing the underlying structure of America’s public education system is both plausible and possible, and this book attempts to set out why and how.

 

Burke & Segall, “Christian Privilege in U.S. Education”

In December, Routledge will release Christian Privilege in U.S. Education: Legacies and Current Issues by Kevin J. Burke (University of Georgia) and Avner Segall (Michigan State University). The publisher’s description follows:

christian-privlegeUsing critical curriculum theory as its lens, this book explores the relationship between religion—specifically, Christianity and the Judeo-Christian ethos underlying it—and secular public education in the United States. Despite various 20th-century court decisions separating religion and education, the authors challenge that religion is in fact absent from public education, suggesting instead that it is in fact very much embedded in current public educational practices and discourses and in a variety of assumptions and perspectives underlying understandings of teaching, learning, and teacher preparation. The book reframes the discussion about religion and schooling, arguing that it remains in the language and metaphors of education, in the practices and routines of schooling, in conceptions of the “’child” and the “teacher” (and what happens between them in the spaces we call “learning,” the “classroom,” and “curriculum”) as well as in assumptions about the role of schools emanating from such conceptions and in the current movement toward accountability, standardization, and testing. Christian Privilege in U.S. Education examines not whether Christianity has a place in public education but, rather, the very ways in it is pervasive in a legally secular system of education even when religion is not a topic taught in school.

Mayrl, “Secular Conversions”

In August, Cambridge University Press released “Secular Conversions: Political Institutions and Religious Education in the United States and Australia, 1800–2000,” by Damon Mayrl (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid).  The publisher’s description follows: 

Why does secularization proceed differently in otherwise similar countries? Secular Conversions demonstrates that the institutional structure of the state is a key factor41wktwmgj0l-_sx329_bo1204203200_ shaping the course of secularization. Drawing upon detailed historical analysis of religious education policy in the United States and Australia, Damon Mayrl details how administrative structures, legal procedures, and electoral systems have shaped political opportunities and even helped create constituencies for secular policies. In so doing, he also shows how a decentralized, readily accessible American state acts as an engine for religious conflict, encouraging religious differences to spill into law and politics at every turn. This book provides a vivid picture of how political conflicts interacted with the state over the long span of American and Australian history to shape religion’s role in public life. Ultimately, it reveals that taken-for-granted political structures have powerfully shaped the fate of religion in modern societies.

Fischer, “Schools and the politics of religion and diversity in the Republic of Ireland”

In September, the Manchester University Press will release “Schools and the Politics of Religion and Diversity in the Republic of Ireland: Separate but Equal?” by Karin Fischer (University of Orléans).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book focuses on the historical and current place of religion in the Irish education system from the perspective of children’s rights and citizenship. It offers a critical 9780719091964analysis of the political, cultural and social forces that have shaped the system, looking at how the denominational model has been adapted to increased religious and cultural diversity in Irish society and showing that recent changes have failed to address persistent discrimination and the absence of respect for freedom of conscience. It relates current debates on the denominational system and the role of the State in education to competing narratives of national identity that reflect nationalist-communitarian or republican political outlooks.

This book will be essential reading for students and researchers in the fields of education policy and Church/State relations in Ireland and will also engage non-academic audiences with an interest or involvement in Irish education.

Wertheimer, “Faith Ed”

In August, Beacon Press will release “Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance,” by Linda K. Wertheimer. The publisher’s description follows:

A suburban Boston school unwittingly started a firestorm of controversy over a sixth-grade field trip. The class was visiting a mosque to learn about world religions when a handful of boys, unnoticed by their teachers, joined the line of worshippers and acted out the motions of the Muslim call to prayer. A video of the prayer went viral with the title “Wellesley, Massachusetts Public School Students Learn to Pray to Allah.” Charges flew that the school exposed the children to Muslims who intended to convert American schoolchildren. Wellesley school officials defended the course, but also acknowledged the delicate dance teachers must perform when dealing with religion in the classroom.

Courts long ago banned public school teachers from preaching of any kind. But the question remains: How much should schools teach about the world’s religions? Answering that question in recent decades has pitted schools against their communities.

Veteran education journalist Linda K. Wertheimer spent months with that class, and traveled to other communities around the nation, listening to voices on all sides of the controversy, including those of clergy, teachers, children, and parents who are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, or atheist. In Lumberton, Texas, nearly a hundred people filled a school-board meeting to protest a teacher’s dress-up exercise that allowed freshman girls to try on a burka as part of a lesson on Islam. In Wichita, Kansas, a Messianic Jewish family’s opposition to a bulletin-board display about Islam in an elementary school led to such upheaval that the school had to hire extra security. Across the country, parents have requested that their children be excused from lessons on Hinduism and Judaism out of fear they will shy away from their own faiths.

But in Modesto, a city in the heart of California’s Bible Belt, teachers have avoided problems since 2000, when the school system began requiring all high school freshmen to take a world religions course. Students receive comprehensive lessons on the three major world religions, as well as on Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and often Shintoism, Taoism, and Confucianism. One Pentecostal Christian girl, terrified by “idols,” including a six-inch gold Buddha, learned to be comfortable with other students’ beliefs.

Wertheimer’s fascinating investigation, which includes a return to her rural Ohio school, which once ran weekly Christian Bible classes, reveals a public education system struggling to find the right path forward and offers a promising roadmap for raising a new generation of religiously literate Americans.

“Writing Religion” (Ramey, ed.)

In August, the University of Alabama Press will release “Writing Religion: The Case for the Critical Study of Religion,” edited by Steven W. Ramey (University of Alabama). The publisher’s description follows:

In 2002, the University of Alabama’s Department of Religious Studies established the annual Aronov Lecture Series to showcase the works of nationally recognized scholars of religion capable of reflecting on issues of wide relevance to scholars from across the humanities and social sciences. Writing Religion: The Case for the Critical Study of Religions is an edited collection of essays that highlights critical contributions from the first ten Aronov lecturers.

Section one of the volume, “Writing Discourses,” features essays by Jonathan Z. Smith, Bruce Lincoln, and Ann Pellegrini that illustrate how critical study enables the analysis of discourses in society and history. Section two, “Riting Social Formations,” includes pieces by Arjun Appadurai, Judith Plaskow, and Nathan Katz that reference both the power of rites to construct society and the act of riting as a form of disciplining that both prescribes and proscribes. The writings of Tomoko Masuzawa, Amy-Jill Levine, Aaron W. Hughes, and Martin S. Jaffee appear in section three, “Righting the Discipline.” They emphasize the correction of movements within the academic study of religion.

Steven W. Ramey frames the collection with a thoughtful introduction that explores the genesis, development, and diversity of critical analysis in the study of religion. An afterword by Russell McCutcheon reflects on the critical study of religion at the University of Alabama and rounds out this superb collection.

The mission of the Department of Religious Studies is to “avoid every tendency toward confusing the study of religion with the practice of religion.” Instruction about—rather than in—religion is foundational to the department’s larger goal of producing knowledge of the world and its many practices and systems of beliefs. Infused with this spirit, these fascinating essays, which read like good conversations with learned friends, offer significant examples of each scholar’s work. Writing Religion will be of value to graduate students, advanced undergraduates, and scholars interested in the study of religion from a critical perspective.

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