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 Sunday. I’ve been following this case for months, because I’ve been trying to convince myself that it isn’t sheer antipathy toward religious content that is driving the UC administrators to nix courses. And yet, that’s the conclusion I’m left with when I read this question posed by a UC spokeswoman: “What we’re looking for is this: Is the course academic in nature, or is it there to promote a specific religious lifestyle?”

Or“? . . . as in these two objectives are mutually exclusive? The spokeswoman’s question speaks volumes of the low regard UC administrators have for the place of religion.

This article also finally pulls in the larger issue of the impact the outcome of this case will have for non-Evangelical religious schools. If you’re interested in the topic, I do recommend that you look at the article.

What amazes me is that one of my favorite and certainly most persistent critics, DovBear, managed to discover the above article all on his own, and nonetheless takes it for granted that the courses were deemed “inadequate” by an impartial standard, and offers that Calvary is providing a “sub-standard education.” But then again, he also writes that “the issue here isn’t admission, but course credit” — and both articles say that admission itself is the issue at hand. Yesterday’s article from the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out that the Calvary students perform above average on standardized tests. Isn’t “above average” the opposite of “sub-standard?”

The USA Today article, even more than that of yesterday, provides compelling evidence that there is no neutral standard by which the Calvary classes were deemed lacking. Instead what we get is a UC spokeswoman’s statement which singles out a religious perspective for rejection. As per the plaintiffs’ argument, “the university accepts courses from other schools taught from a particular viewpoint, such as feminist, African-American or countercultural” — and then rejects a course intended to “promote a specific religious lifestyle.”

No one is saying that the UC cannot set admissions standards. But those standards cannot be biased against religion, any more than they can reject feminism or African-American culture. The above is obvious evidence of anti-religious bias.

For those who wonder why we should be concerned about a case involving Christians and a secular college, there is a famous statement of Chazal, Ayzeh hu Chacham? Mi sheRo’eh es HaNolad — Who is wise? He who sees what will transpire.

I am no wise man. But there’s a lot of room for average folk between wisdom and foolishness — and I would call it foolish not to wonder how this might affect Jewish high schools in the very near future. As Charles Haynes, senior scholar on religious liberty issues at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va, said, “what about Muslim schools? Are they next? They teach within a Koranic framework. That doesn’t mean those kids aren’t well-educated.”

Parents who home school their children also should be watching the case, says John Green, senior fellow in religion and politics at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C. “Home schoolers, including people on the left, do it because they feel that their values are not being taught.”

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14 comments to Little Short of Amazing

  • Erin

    If you look at the UC web site for accredited courses:

    https://admissions.ucop.edu/doorways/list/

    and try some Jewish Schools such as Bais Yaakov School For Girls, Valley Torah High School, New Community Jewish High School. You can see that they accept courses with religious view. No religious class in accepted for Calvary Chapel.

    I can confer that either they dislike Christians more than they dislike Orthodox Jews. Or maybe they are going for the easy targets first.

  • Charles B. Hall, PhD

    I went to the A Beka web site to see if I could learn anything about the textbooks in question. Here are some of the things I found:

    Grade 10 World History and Cultures. “Humanism is the age-old attempt of man to exalt himself in place or above God.” A lot of Christians would object to that; see for instance the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on the subject at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07538b.htm. This may reflect anti-Catholic bias on the part of the publishers.

    Grade 12 American Government. “It is clear from the other acts and writings of the Founding Fathers, particularly Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, that the First Amendment’s “establishment clause” must be interpreted narrowly rather than broadly….Since 1947, the Supreme Court has misinterpreted the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The justices have declared that there exists a “wall of separation” between church and state which may not be breached except at great peril to our nation. This amounts to an absolute prohibition of religious practice in public life, notably in education. This is why some students have been denied the right to pray or read a Bible in public school classrooms.”

    Jefferson would be surprised, as “wall of separation” was *his* term and he did not think of it in narrow terms (although it is also true that initially the Establishment Clause did not apply to states). See http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpost.html. And it is flat out untrue to say that there is no religious practice in public life; many student religious groups meet on public school property. And I guarantee you that a lot of students pray, especially before exams! However, the Supreme Court was 100% correct in saying that a public school should not be the one leading the prayers; Jefferson and Madison would certainly agree. It is clear that the publisher has engaged in some editorializing.

    On the other hand, I found these examples:

    Grade 11 Heritage of Freedom had an admiring portrayal of George Washington which AFAIK is actually pretty accurate — he really was a great military leader, great President, and overall a very revered figure. He was also a great friend to Jews.

    Grade 12 Economics Work and Prosperity. “The satisfaction of human wants always requires effort. Everything must be worked for.” They have clearly chosen a “conservative perspective” that they claim to promote rather than a religious one!

    So I would not automatically attribute the actions of the University of California to religious bias; there are some legitimate reasons to object to at least some of what I saw. And these days the courts give huge leeway to the actions of government officials, so I doubt the plaintiffs will succeed here.

    I also looked at http://www.textword.com. Their books are all in one subject; my English teacher grandfather or my humanities major turned family physician wife would have been far getter qualified to judge them. But they seem to made a reasonable selection for an anthology. They don’t use homosexuality to exclude Whitman (how could anybody!) nor anti-Semitism to exclude Lindbergh (we really all ought to appreciate how popular his views were). And there are probably things far worse than for a teenager to get so excited about Chaucer or Shakespeare or even Lawrence as to discover their racy writings on his/her own!

  • ralphie

    Intelligent people can’t approve of religion! What would their friends think?

  • Alexander

    But then again, he also writes that “the issue here isn’t admission, but course credit”

    Actually, it’s a semantic twist, and everyone’s throwing around the word “credit” and understanding it differently. Christian Cavalry is a college-prep school. When UC denies “credit” it means that students from there haven’t met the basic requirements for HS graduation, and thus, admission to college. This isn’t an issue of getting three “credits” for Principles of Biology I or II.

    That said, I still think that the University should be able to set its own admission standards

    offers that Calvary is providing a “sub-standard education

    If the course make the students ineligible for admission to certain colleges, doesn’t that meet the definition of substandard? You’ve very quick to see bias, but C. Hall’s research is better. The books Cavelry offered as the primary textbooks for those courses are horrid. In my opinion, they don’t teach: They indoctrinate. But then the only opinion that matters is the opinion of UC. No one has a protected right to attend college, and schools have an obligation to set and mantain standards. All the business about a slippery slope is crying wolf. UC isn’t at war with religion. As the UC’s attorney says,

    “The university is not telling these schools what they can and can’t teach,” [US Counsel Christopher] Patti said. “What the university is doing 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. The university has no quarrel with Christian schools.”

  • Yaakov Menken

    Charles, I think you set up something of a straw man. It is obvious that the wall of separation delineated by Jefferson (in his letter to the Danbury Baptists) is not that employed in the late 20th Century.

    Religious groups can meet on public school property specifically because they are private groups. This hardly rebuts the assertion of an “absolute prohibition of religious practice in public life.” It is true, people cannot pray privately in class without harrassment, and a teacher in NJ not long ago refused to permit a child to read his essay on the person he admired most, because that person was JC.

    But the point is that UC is being inconsistent. None of the above even approaches the alternative readings of history (which many of us would call inaccurate) offered by activists among the feminists and minority communities. But this school alone was rejected not because of a level standard, but because promotion of a religious lifestyle was uniquely regarded as mutually exclusive with academic studies.

    Alex, I’m amazed once again — but now because you actually agree with me over DovBear. Yes, the only “credits” we’re discussing here are those necessary to complete high school — the UC would actually refuse to admit students who took these courses.

    Your definition of “sub-standard” leads to circular reasoning. Of course if you define the term based upon the UC determination, then yes, it is sub-UC-standard. But that is not what DovBear argued — he claimed that the UC determination was because the education was sub-standard (and thus parents had the right to sue the school for offering a sub-standard education), and that is something very different.

  • sarah elias

    To Erin: The textbooks used in the courses at the Jewish schools that were accepted by UC are more than likely to be the standard textbooks used in the public schools. I didn’t see any classes with religious views that were accepted. What happens if those schools begin using something like those Artscroll textbooks?

  • Seth Gordon

    UC has the right to require that their students to take, before being admitted, a certain number of high-school classes in math, English, social studies, etc. They also need to set some standards for the content of those required classes, so that the people who teach UC freshmen have some idea what knowledge and skills their students will have coming into the classroom. You can learn things about society by playing Dungeons and Dragons, but a school can’t have kids playing D&D for a semester and then label that class “social studies”. On the other hand, a class that incorporated everything that UC expected from a social-studies class and had D&D games would be legitimate.

    UC is under no obligation to accept a student just because he or she has an SAT score above a certain level, or because a certain proportion of other students from the same high school have been admitted in the past. Furthermore, while a Christian school obviously has an interest in making sure its students understand Christian doctrine, UC, as a non-sectarian school, cannot let knowledge of that doctrine substitute for other academic requirements.

    If I understand the news reports correctly, UC is claiming that some of the classes at Calvary do not meet their standards and therefore a student who has taken those classes, without taking classes that meet UC’s standards, does not qualify for admission to UC. Calvary is either claiming that their classes do meet UC’s standards or that UC applies its standards inconsistently (it’s not clear to me which), and therefore they are suffering discrimination on the basis of religion.

    I haven’t read the textbooks or syllabi for the courses under dispute, and I haven’t read the textbooks or syllabi from feminist- or African-American-oriented classes which, according to the plaintiffs, are acceptable to UC. I found a page with briefs from the plaintiffs, but not the corresponding briefs from the defendants. So I don’t see any grounds for believing one side over the other.

    I don’t see why, given such a paucity of information, Rabbi Menken asserts with such fervor that the plaintiffs are in the right. When he studies Gemara, and reads about a dispute between Elisha ben Avuya and another rabbi, does Rabbi Menken leap to his feet and say “Elisha ben Avuya is a heretic, so he must be wrong”, or does he try to appreciate the logical arguments brought by both sides?

  • DovBear

    Strictly speaking, the issue is not “course credit” or “admissions.” To matriculate at UC a student needs a HS degree, which. in California, is defined as having satisfactorally completed certain High School courses. UC looked at Calvary’s courses and said they were “inadequate,” not because they were “christian” but because they failed to meet a nuetral standard. In fact, as your first article told us, 20 percent of the courses UC is asked to review fail to meet this nuetral standard. No one but UC has the right to set this standard. This is a judgement call that entirely belongs to the University, and if it was a feminist or minority cirrculum being rejected I am certain that you would fully support the college’s perogative to establish its own admission requirements.(as would I.)

    “It’s not that we’re trying to prevent students from getting exposure to the ideas in these textbooks,” said Christopher Patti, UC legal counsel. “It’s just that they don’t adequately teach the subject matter, in the view of the faculty.”

    The burden is on you (and Calvary) to show that this man is lying, to show that UC acted in less than good faith and that their objections to the Cavalry courses are not academic in nature. In your two posts on this subject, you have failed to do that. Instead we get the familiar alarmist nonsense, and more of what your colleague Sara Schmidt called “avak paranoia.”

  • Yaakov Menken

    Seth, and DB,

    We have no need for further research. Patti, as legal counsel, is attempting to reconstruct the arguments to make up for the statements of the UC administration itself, now that the UC is facing a lawsuit. Thank you to Seth for linking to the plaintiff’s documents, because they flatly contradict Patti:

    The UC representatives indicated that there was no problem with the material facts in the BJU [Bob Jones University] physics textbook — that if the Scripture verses that begin each chapter were removed the textbook would likely be approved for the science lab requirement.

    Now unless Calvary is simply lying about this, here we have a textbook that UC admitted is adequate to teach the subject matter, and was rejected because it also exposes students to religious ideas. Patti is trying to spin the case, but the administrators made the necessary statements to invite the lawsuit.

    What, exactly, would you accept as evidence of bias?

    That they say that they consider religion an unacceptable influence (as compared to, say, women’s or minority studies)? Too late: “this course… does not offer a nonbiased approach to the subject matter.” [Note that this statement, as well, indicates that the content was adequate to teach the subject matter; only the religious influence is unacceptable.]

    That they said they view religion as an obstruction to academics? Too late: “Is the course academic in nature, or is it there to promote a specific religious lifestyle?”

    That they prohibited religious content even if all relevant standards were met? Too late, they did that with the BJU physics textbook.

    DB, as Jonathan Rosenblum and I both pointed out, Mrs. Schmidt only said that HaAretz in Hebrew was more nuanced, which had no bearing on the evidence of bias in the English-language paper. “Lured to the high-tech sweatshop” is a biased title, and Mrs. Schmidt was mistaken when she claimed that it’s “avak paranoia” to say as much. Here as well, the UC’s position is biased against religion, and you are mistaken when you say it is “alarmist” or “avak paranoia” to take that lesson from the UC’s own statements (rather than counsel’s spin while defending them in a lawsuit).

  • Seth Gordon

    What, exactly, would you accept as evidence of bias?

    If the allegations in the complaint are proven at trial, I would accept that as evidence of bias. But I don’t know UC’s response to the allegations.

    Let me turn the question around: what kind of history or literature course do you think UC could justifiably reject, even if some of their directors and spokespeople seem personally prejudiced against conservative Christians?

  • Erin

    UC does not evaluate individual curriculums of out of state and international students. They use HS GPA and SAT/CAT/TOEFL scores. They should use the same criteria for all California residents.

    I do not know of any university evaluating high school curriculum. This is a state role and in any case Cali has an exit exam.

    So UC should use the same tools used by other university and not meddle in individual schools curriculum.

  • DovBear

    What, exactly, would you accept as evidence of bias?

    Like Seth Gordon, I’d accept the courts ruling, and I would also agree there was bias if the same cirriculum was offered by another non-Christian school but accepted by UC.

    I suppose it’s just not difficult for me to see how a Christian curriculum might fall short of a College’s demands.

  • Rivka W.

    “What happens if those schools begin using something like those Artscroll textbooks?” Bais Yaakov already does, and has since they became available. Then again, the English classes quite likely have not been reevaluated by UC since BY switched textbooks. (Additionally, they also use at least one novel per year, which addresses one of UC’s objections.)

    “On the other hand, a class that incorporated everything that UC expected from a social-studies class and had D&D games would be legitimate.” Agreed. And yet, that seems to be precisely what is NOT happening in this case.

    “UC does not evaluate individual curriculums of out of state and international students. They use HS GPA and SAT/CAT/TOEFL scores. They should use the same criteria for all California residents.” While your statement is only partly true (UC does expect out of state schools to meet certain requirements (such as accreditation), it is irrelevant regardless. California’s constitution defines the UC system’s responsibilities to California residents. And they are simply not the same as to other potential students. (Not surprisingly, neither is the tuition.)

    “in any case Cali has an exit exam.” Which is brand new, and only required of public school graduates. (http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/hs/index.asp)

    That UC has a right (even a responsibility) to set standards for incoming students is clear in the California Master Plan for Higher Education. (http://www.ucop.edu/acadinit/mastplan/mpaccess.htm) That those standards must not be unfair or biased should be obvious . . . but perhaps is not.

  • Charles B. Hall

    The federal government is now getting into the business of evaluating high school curricula: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/22/education/22grants.html