This Thursday, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will meet to discuss the “criteria for school participation in the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Programs (sic),” more commonly known as the Louisiana voucher program. At this point, it should be abundantly clear to anyone paying attention that Louisiana’s school voucher program, a program that had been touted a few months ago by The Wall Street Journal as Governor Bobby Jindal’s “moon shot,” is already an epic failure, a grand and almost comical embarrassment, and one of the best examples of government incompetence and dereliction in modern Louisiana history, which is saying a lot. It is also a program that Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has looked to as a model for the entire country, a claim that seems to be based more on Romney’s support of Governor Jindal as a campaign surrogate than anything else.
I am not being unnecessarily hyperbolic or flippant: The Louisiana voucher program has, from its very beginning, been controversial; the real problem, however, is that its implementation has been plagued and defined by executive and institutional failures. It’s been embarrassing and disheartening, and as I will later explain, it’s even worse than you may think.
Conservative policymakers believe that taxpayer-funded school vouchers may be a panacea, a sure-fire way for Louisiana to finally provide public school kids with the opportunity to attend good schools. This, of course, is a complete lie: Vouchers disinvest from public education, better ensuring that the failure of public education becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
But even more importantly, private schools in Louisiana– the parallel education system that Governor Bobby Jindal and Superintendent John White seek to prop up– are actually among the worst-performing schools in the entire country. To be sure, there are a very small handful of great private schools in Louisiana, none of which ever even considered applying for voucher slots.
The incontroverible truth is that private schools in Louisiana are, on the whole, significantly worse than public schools, and Governor Bobby Jindal and Superintendent John White, along with the support of the majority of the Louisiana legislature, have decided, as a matter of policy, to strip public funding away from struggling public schools and give taxpayer money to unaccountable, underperforming, and fly-by-night private schools. Stated another way, their policy, as public servants, is to take money away from publicly-owned assets and institutions, and provide those resources to failing and unaccountable religious institutions.
The Louisiana voucher program isn’t concerned with saving education; it’s primarily focused on using public funds to build and promote radical fundamentalist churches.
I’ve previously written about what many of these voucher schools teach. A few months ago, my friend Zack Kopplin uncovered a treasure trove, twenty voucher schools that each boasted and advertised their promotion of New Earth Creationism as legitimate science. In only a couple of days, Zack discovered that nearly 17% of the schools participating in the Louisiana voucher program were self-identified creationists, taxpayer-funded schools who promote the stupid, absurd, and offensive beliefs that science is illegitimate, the universe is only 6,000 years old, dinosaurs were assigned a dorm on Noah’s Ark, and evolution is a liberal conspiracy.
And I’ll give credit where credit is due: Yesterday, Zack uncovered something crazy about these schools, something even he, at first, couldn’t initially believe; it’s that unexpectedly crazy.
Both Zack and I have written about the curricula and the educational standards of private schools that qualified for voucher funding: Schools that teach the Loch Ness Monster is a living dinosaur in Scotland whose existence disproves the theory of evolution, schools that suggest the Ku Klux Klan promoted morality, and schools that reject certain types of “math” as unfaithful, among many other incredible things.
We were not exaggerating. This is not a joke, and these schools are not isolated.
As it turns out, numerous voucher schools use this curriculum. All together, they represent a sizable minority, if not a majority, of schools qualified for voucher funding. Again, this is crazier than we’d anticipated, and thankfully, it’s all in writing.
Behold, the philosophy behind their history curriculum:
Ever since H. G. Wells published his Outline of History in 1920, the theme of world history texts has been man’s supposed progress from savagery toward socialism, from tribal religions toward one-world government. American history is usually presented as a series of conflicts—rich vs. poor, black vs. white, North vs. South, labor vs. management, male vs. female, etc.
A Beka Book history texts reject the Marxist/Hegelian conflict theory of history in favor of a truthful portrayal of peoples, lands, religions, ideals, heroes, triumphs, and setbacks. The result is positive, uplifting history texts that give students an historical perspective and instill within them an intelligent pride for their own country and a desire to help it back to its traditional values.
We present government as ordained by God for the maintenance of law and order, not as a cure-all for humanity’s problems. We present free-enterprise economics without apology and point out the dangers of Communism, socialism, and liberalism to the well-being of people across the globe. In short, A Beka Book offers a traditional, conservative approach to the study of what man has done with the time he has been given.
H.G. Wells, the man who wrote The Time Machine, is responsible for perverting history. History, apparently, has nothing to do with conflict; it’s all about how God ordained American government.
Here’s how these schools teach science:
While secular science textbooks present modern science as the opposite of faith, the A Beka Book science texts teach that modern science is the product of Western man’s return to the Scriptures after the Protestant Reformation, leading to his desire to understand and subdue the earth, which he saw as the orderly, law-abiding creation of the God of the Bible.
The A Beka Book Science and Health Program presents the universe as the direct creation of God and refutes the man-made idea of evolution. Further, the books present God as the Great Designer and Lawgiver, without Whom the evident design and laws of nature would be inexplicable. They give a solid foundation in all areas of science—a foundation firmly anchored to Scriptural truth. Teachability is assured through accurate, interesting writing, carefully planned demonstrations that can be performed with a minimum of equipment, chapter terms and questions, full-color illustrations, consideration of the interests and comprehension skills of students at each grade level, and detailed Curriculum/Lesson Plans.
Let’s all be clear: This is Bobby Jindal’s education system; this is what Bobby Jindal values and seeks to promote. And it’s pathetic. It’s completely fair to blame Governor Jindal for this fiasco; he is responsible for propping up and funding this nonsense. This is his “moon shot.”
If, like me, you’ve followed Bobby Jindal’s career, it’s difficult to not feel painfully embarrassed for him, and it’s perhaps even more difficult to ignore the awkward shame he has carried about his own definitively American story. During the last thirty years, Bobby Jindal has continually disavowed his own ethnic, cultural, and religious identity.
As Jindal’s own biography reveals, he’s never seemed comfortable with his ethnicity or his heritage. He changed his name, on his own, when he was a child, anglicizing it, renaming himself after the little boy on the “Brady Bunch.” He refused to be known by his given name, Piyush, and insisted instead on being called “Bobby.” When his critics refer to him as “Piyush,” his legal name, they are sometimes accused of being racist, and to be honest, I get it; sometimes, the critics of Jindal do sound racist.
But I also think it’s bizarre: Jindal renamed himself; that is unusual. (For what it’s worth, in my opinion, “Pi” is a much better and much cooler nickname than “Bobby”). As a teenager, Jindal also converted from Hinduism to Catholicism, and his conversion was not a quiet, contemplative, personal experience: Jindal was loud, obnoxious, and purposely public about it. Among other things, he bragged about participating in a comically absurd “exorcism,” not only to his friends but also to the readers of a major worldwide Catholic journal.
Jindal’s exorcism essay continues to be one of the weirdest things published by a major American political leader (it may be THE single weirdest thing), and not surprisingly, Jindal’s never spoken a single word on the subject. I’ll take his reticence at face value: He’s embarrassed; it’s embarrassing.
When he ran for Governor in 2007, the Louisiana Democratic Party was pummeled after it ran commercials criticizing Jindal on religion; the ads essentially accused Jindal of being a hardline, anti-abortion Catholic, and they may have been the dumbest political attacks ads in Louisiana history. The Louisiana Democratic Party sat on this enormously weird, nationally significant story about Bobby Jindal participating in an unsanctioned exorcism, a story that Jindal actually decided to tell himself, a story that, upon closer inspection, revealed itself to be self-incriminating, demonstrating that Jindal and his peers were guilty of at least one count of false imprisonment. Instead of criticizing Jindal for his disingenuousness, radicalism, and his own written statements, the Louisiana Democratic Party somehow managed to avoid the exorcism narrative altogether and come across as vehemently anti-Catholic. (Thankfully, the party is now under new leadership and management). Forgive my extended digression, but I’ve never believed in Bobby Jindal’s exorcism story. It’s manifestly false. I’ve taken more than my fair share of college writing workshops: Jindal’s a liar. His story is a lie, an obvious, enormous, flat-out, disqualifying, self-aggrandizing lie. Give me a break: Bobby Jindal never participated in an exorcism; he was at Brown for crying out loud. Seriously. At this point, you’d think that at least one of the dozen plus people that Jindal claimed witnessed this exorcism would have already come forward to confirm this insanity. The truth is, as tough as it may be for some to stomach, Jindal’s been trying so hard for his entire life to present himself as a true believer; the Louisiana Democratic Party didn’t need to run ads about Jindal’s Catholicism. They only did that because they were terrified to run anything about his exorcism story.
I’ll make it easy: Bobby Jindal lied about participating in an exorcism, and the moment a real journalist asks Governor Jindal to be honest about this, we’ll be better. (Pro-tip: Ask 1. Who is Susan and what is she doing today? 2. Did any ordained Catholic priest supervise your so-called exorcism? 3. WHY? Seriously, why? It’s so weird and unusual. And frankly, no one believes you exorcised a girl who had a crush on you at Brown or that you cured her of skin cancer. 4. No question. Just a reminder: You won’t be able to ignore this forever, Governor Jindal).
Regardless, let’s not be mistaken here: Bobby Jindal is a self-identified religious wingnut, and as Governor of Louisiana, he’s promoted and endorsed a series of radical, fundamentalist policies; his plan for school vouchers has nothing to do with education and almost everything to do with funding far-right churches. To be sure, I am remain unsure about whether Jindal’s religiosity is authentic or whether he’s merely an exploitative, self-hating political hack.
Considering Governor Jindal still can’t figure out what church he belongs and considering he continues to spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on Sunday morning helicopter tours of rural North Louisiana churches, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt: I’ll assume that he is and always been an opportunistic fraud, because the alternative is even worse.