Down the Slippery Slope

letter-447577_1280

An astute Catholic reader, noting the recent discussion of religion in the schools here, alerted me to another case now going on in California. The University of California, which is that state’s public university system, has decided that students using Christian texs in biology, physics and even humanities do not meet the minimum admissions standards to UC, and therefore said that students in the Calvary Chapel schools taking those courses would not be eligible for admission.

The university claims, according to their counsel in the case, that it “is simply establishing what is and is not its entrance requirements. It’s really a case of the university’s ability to set its own admission standards.”

I don’t buy it. It is already well-established that children emerging from private Christian schools are better equipped for college than graduates of the public system. Students matriculate to UC from schools literally all over the world, any of which may be “deficient” in one or more areas.

The English course would have included reading material from many major authors, from Hawthorne to Tolkien. The syllabus called it, “an intensive study in textual criticism aimed at elevating the ability of students to engage literary works.”

The primary text, published by A Beka Press, of Pensacola, Fla. — whose biology text also was rejected — was to have been “American Literature: Classics for Christians.”

In turning down the English course, Sue Wilbur, the director of UC undergraduate admissions, checked two categories as “inadequate” on a standard form: “Lacking necessary course information,” and “Insufficient academic/theoritical [sic] content.” She added a note that said: “Unfortunately, this course, while it has an interesting reading list, does not offer a nonbiased approach to the subject matter.” And she also commented that “the textbook is not appropriate.” During the interview, Patti said the textbook was an anthology and that UC demands some full texts be read.

But Bird scoffed at the explanation in his soft Southern accent as a “post-hoc rationalization. Unless I can’t read, there’s no objection to its being an anthology.”

If you can’t use anthologies, the prep school I attended did not adequately prepare me for UC either — never mind the percentage of my classmates who scattered all over the Ivy League after graduating. She made very clear what her objection was: a Christian anthology is not a nonbiased approach to the subject matter. A secular approach is nonbiased, but a Christian approach is biased.

Bias is in the eye of the beholder, and I wonder what objective criteria would make a Christian approach to texts by American (Christian) writers less worthy than a secular one. Our correspondent asked:

I’ve been interested in hearing Orthodox Jewish comment on this case. I would think that the case has implications for Jewish schools, or am I mistaken in this regard?

I don’t think she’s mistaken at all. There are few cases yet, because the Orthodox community has not prioritized the production of anthologies palatable to our tastes — but that is changing. I’m sure someone in the comments can remind me of the name and/or URL of the Jewish anthology published recently. I would not be at all surprised to find that rejected by UC as well.

Not satisfied with the exclusion of any mention of G-d or religion from the public schools, the public university — in California, at least — is trying to get religion out of the religious schools also.

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15 Responses

  1. Rivka W. says:

    DovBear, unless policies have changed drastically in the UC system since I graduated (and I have every reason to believe they have not — see http://www.admissions.ucla.edu/Prospect/Adm_fr/fracadrq.htm), when they talk about credits they are not talking about college credits which can be applied toward a student’s UC degree. Rather, they are talking about high school credits the student is required to have completed to be eligible to apply to a UC school.

  2. DovBear says:

    Rabbi Menken would have you believe that “the public university —in California, at least— is trying to get religion out of the religious schools also [sic]” but that’s nonesense. Students are free to continue attending Christian schools, and the private Christian schools are free to continue educating their students as they see fit. And students from the bible schools who qualify are still admitted to the University of California. The issue here isn’t admission, but course credit. (The college created a course, and asked UC to credit it. The college reviewed the material, and said, sorry, no, this stinks. The kid can still get into UC. He just can’t get credit for biblical math, or whatever.)

    If the University of California believes that the courses at these schools are inadequate that is a question of academic standards, best left to be answered by the College itself. No university – state universities included – is required at provide credit for courses that don’t meet standards, even arbitrary standards. Rather then running to court hoping for a friendly judge who will lower the bar, the bible schools should go back to the drawing board and make their courses more rigorous. As any opponent of affirmative action will tell you, there is no protected right to receive college credit. The Bible schools can do as the like, but they must live with the consequences of those choices

    If someone must be sued in this sorry case, let the parents sue the Bible School for providing a sub-standard education, one that includes courses that are ineligible for credit at some universities.

  3. Seth Gordon says:

    Without reading the books for the courses being challenged and comparing them to textbooks for courses that UC has accepted, it’s hard for me to judge who’s right in this case. (I see you can get a used copy for $6.00 plus shipping on Amazon, if anyone wants to do more research…)

    The first question that comes to my mind is: when a student is given a homework or a test in this “Classics for Christians” course, are they graded on their ability to analyze the text, or on their ability to describe Christian doctrine?

    The second question that comes to my mind is: do students try to determine from these readings how Hawthorne, Tolkien, and other authors differ in their views of Christianity, or are they portrayed as all exemplifying the sort of Christianity that the school wants its students to subscribe to?

  4. Bob Miller says:

    By having such a policy, doesn’t UC signal that religious students in general will have a negative experience there if they manage to get admitted? Is that the sort of institution that we as religious Jews want our children to attend? And if legal action forces UC to change this particular policy, does that make UC “kosher” in general? Attendance at any university with a pervasive anti-religious bias (especially an anti-Jewish bias) is problematical, whether or not the bias affects admissions specifically.

  5. Rivka W. says:

    It is also worth noting that this action is despite the fact that the school in question is accredited by WASC and WACAC (among others).

  6. Rivka W. says:

    “I’m sure someone in the comments can remind me of the name and/or URL of the Jewish anthology published recently.”

    Happy to. ;) I believe you are talking about the books from ArtScroll’s TextWord Press (http://www.textword.com/). The 12th grade textbook is new this year.

    Erin, there is a huge difference between what the rules are (and should be) as relates to transferable credits, and as relates to UC’s minimum admission requirements. Especially keeping in mind not only the fact that the UC system is tax-supported, but that their admission requirements are supposed to to follow California’s Master Plan for Education — and not create additional exclusionary restrictions.

    I happen to dislike the (IMO, overly censored) textbooks many religious high schools have started using. But to claim that using them should make the students attending those schools ineligible is appalling.

  7. Erin says:

    UC is notorious of not accepting other schools curriculum , for example if you go to a Cali community college and plan to transfer to UC. You will have to make sure that UC will accept your classes. Most community colleges have a note in their catalog if the class in accepted in UC.

    Just to make it clear, they will accept other colleges classes as elective but not necessarily as required classes.

  8. Yaakov Menken says:

    Alexander,

    A public school does not have the same liberties that a private school does. Certainly, it cannot apply arbitrary ‘standards’ to exclude those who attend a religious school.

    You’ve fallen into their bias, whether inadvertently or deliberately. You said “let them go to Bob Jones,” failing to note that Bob Jones gets no public support from taxation like UC does. A public institution cannot demonstrate bias for or against religion, while private schools obviously can.

    Then you called them “students from bad schools” — by government standards, they are going to an above-average school. Your have determined that they are attending a “bad school,” but know only one thing: that the school is religious.

    Well, you know two things: one, it is religious, and two, UC said their courses were invalid. But as demonstrated by the determination letter from Ms. Wilbur, she decided, based merely upon the fact that the English course offered a Christian perspective, that it was inferior. Not because of any actual deficiency in course content, but because she said the course as taught reflected a religously “biased” perspective.

    So we’re back to the fact that you only know one thing: it’s a religious school, and religious courses. On that determination alone she called the English course invalid, and on the basis of that invalid determination you call it a “bad school.”

    [I’ve invited him to comment again if he provides a new argument, but in the absence of any alternative, impartial criterion by which to call the school “bad”, I decided to halt the “did not”/”did to” dialogue to which the interchange with Alex was descending.]

  9. Alexander says:

    If schools are entitled to set their own standards, this means they are entitled to be wrong.

    A school should not be required to provide credit for a course that doesn’t fit its own standards, and the decision about the contents of those standards belongs to the school, and no one else. If Christian Literature doesn’t fit the schools requirements, that’s just too bad. It isn’t like Cavalry students don’t have other choices. Let them go to Bob Jones, for example. Students from bad schools have no protected right to attend good colleges.

    And though you adduce an interest here for Yeshivas, it is simply not in the best interest of _students_ anywhere if below standard courses are recognized by bodies of higher education. That’s simply affirmative action by another name. How quickly you embrace liberal arguments when it suits you.

  10. Yaakov Menken says:

    Alexander,

    All parochial schools share a variety of common interests. Your assertion that I’m “defending Christianity” fails to address the three concluding paragraphs of my posting.

    Concerning your second comment, ’tis no molehill. Patti is the lawyer, providing his post-facto spin on the rejections. Statistically, it should be no surprise that the worst-performing schools provide courses that do not prepare graduates for UC — but that fails to speak to the Calvary schools, whose students are above average on standardized tests. Sue Wilbur’s explanation of her rejection of the English course in question speaks for itself, and is indefensible.

  11. Alexander says:

    You’re making a mountain out of a molehill: “The textbooks and courses weren’t rejected on a religious faith objection. The university rejects 15 to 20 percent of all courses submitted the first time around. (The courses) [not the books, the COURSES] simply didn’t meet the university’s academic standards.”

  12. Alexander says:

    Why are you defending Christianity? That seems out of place and out of character for a Jewish blog… unless the word “cross” in the title is meant to disguise something.

  13. ori says:

    If you can’t use anthologies, the prep school I attended did not adequately
    prepare me for UC either

    If it taught you to think, rather than accept the ruling orthodoxy of academia,
    then your prep school definitely did not adequately prepare you for UC – at least
    the UC that Sue Wilbur wants.

  14. JewishAtheist says:

    I bet you’ll be surprised to hear that I agree with you. (I’m assuming the facts are as laid out in the article.) In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ACLU defended Cavalry. (Contrary to common misconception, they often defend religious people and institutions whose rights are being infringed. For example, in 2002, they teamed up with Jerry Falwell to get a judge to strike down a “provision of the Virginia Constitution that bans religious organizations from incorporating.”)

  1. January 17, 2006

    Little Short of Amazing…

    My correspondent, who pointed out the case going on in California that I wrote about yesterday, sent a new email today:

    Rabbi Menken, re: Calvary Chapel suit and your C-C post on it, I wish I had seen this USA Today article when I had emailed you Su…