Thursday, March 2, 2023
It's Thursday, March 2nd, 2023.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
New College Set on a New Course: The New York Times Calls It a Higher Education Apocalypse — Is It?
We often discuss on The Briefing the fact that there are certain dimensions of the culture that particularly indicate the clash of worldviews. One of those inevitably is education because as you get about the process of education, you have to make some very clear decisions, who's going to teach, what's going to be taught, who will be the student and what is to be the intended outcome of the entire educational process?
Now, it is interesting that if you consider two different contexts of education, number one, the public school system in the United States of America, and you look at the large university system throughout most of American history, those two vastly influential sectors of education in the United States, they operated for most of the 20th century, or at least the early and middle part of the 20th century on the basis of a vast cultural consensus. And that consensus was reflected in the fact that there weren't that many controversies over how to teach math or who was going to teach math or what math actually represented.
But as you're looking at the public schools now, and as you're looking at higher education, you recognize that almost everything is controversial. It's controversial from the beginning of the class day until the end. It's controversial about what is taught, who is taught, how it is taught. And that's because of a more basic breakup in the society, a breakup in which you now have at least two rival visions of what education is to be. And that's true at the elementary school and kindergarten level, it's certainly true at the level of higher education.
But all of that is controversial, and if you want to look right now at ground zero in that controversy, one of the most interesting places to look is the State of Florida, which happens to my home state and I myself am a product of the schools in Florida, 1st grade through the 12th grade. And I was educated at a time, which in the beginning of my own personal experience was based in a cultural consensus. But by the time I graduated from high school in the late 1970s, that consensus was not only breaking apart, it had broken apart.
But the reason Florida is in the headlines now is because of a series of controversies having to do largely with education, and at the center of those controversies is the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis. And so all across the nation, headline after headline, you have people who are either pleased, that's a minority in the press or outraged and displeased, that's the vast majority of the press. And they are responding to the fact that in the State of Florida, there is now an organized pushback against the academic dominant culture, against the powers that be and going all the way from preschool and K through 12 to higher education.
A couple of flashpoints are worthy of our attention. One of them is a college called New College. It's in Sarasota, Florida. And it goes back into the 20th century when it was established as a private institution that already in the context of the last half of the 20th century was intended to be based upon a progressivist innovative understanding of higher education. Students were to create their own degree programs, to have their own educational plan. They were not to be so concerned about grades. This was a part of the educational radicalism of the 1960s that actually came into institutional form in the United States in the 1970s.
And I myself was firsthand a witness to this when as a 13-year old I was put in a public school, which was a school without walls because walls create classrooms and that divides people. And we also called the persons who were doing the teaching, teachers, but at least on paper, they were not so much teachers as they were facilitators.
And this goes back to the radical educational theories of the '70s and the '60s when it was said that teaching needed to be made less authoritative and the center of authority needed to shift to the student. You can imagine how well that turned out. And this came with the old radical adage, "We don't need a sage on the stage. All we need is a guide on the side."
Well, Governor DeSantis has taken several steps legislatively and by executive action to try to bring some correction at all levels of education in the State of Florida. You have bills that have restricted how far schools can go in advocating such things as the sexual and gender revolution. You have the bill that the media calls the Don't Say Gay bill, which by the way, they're not going to tell you also had a good deal of Democratic support in the State of Florida. After all, legislators have to go back and tell people how they voted on such a measure. It was basically a common sense measure.
And right now, as presented in the Florida legislature with the governor's support, there is a bill that would further define what can be taught in the public schools, particularly when it comes to American history. And of course just about everyone in the United States aware of such headlines knows that in recent weeks, the State of Florida and in particular Governor DeSantis has run headlong into controversy with the college board and an AP course in African American history. And you had the governor and others in the state who said that the curriculum was unacceptable.
And as we're just going to see, this is not just a political issue, it's a vast worldview issue because Christians understand there is nothing more controversial for good reason than what children are going to be taught or for that matter, what students are going to be taught regardless of their age.
When it comes to New College, Governor DeSantis actually began to hire to appoint trustees who would bring about change. Those trustees have actually done that. There's been a change in presidents at New College, which by the way is no longer a private college, but is now a part of the higher education public system in the State of Florida.
And frankly, the governor and other political leaders in Florida have made very clear they have a different intention for that school than the intention it was following. And by the way, predictably, it wasn't doing too well with enrollment either.
But as you're looking at all of this, you recognize big issues are at stake and you have the protests against the governor's action. You have the supporters of New college and its very liberal direction in the past. You have advocates for a far more conservative direction.
But the point is this, an institution is going to go one way or another. And over the course of the last, say half century and more, higher education has gone almost uniformly to the left, and that has had an incredible amount of impact upon our country.
But it's also important in a story like this to look at the pushback. And so Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times recently ran an article and the headline includes something that is theological. I don't know that she knows that, but it is. So what did she write? Well, the headline says, "DeSantis' Apocalyptic Attack on Higher Education."
Well, apocalypse is actually the name of the last book of the Bible, the apocalypse, and we call it the Book of Revelation. It is about God's cataclysmic judgment and the end of all history and the incoming and inauguration in fullness of the Kingdom of Christ. The Book of Revelation as apocalyptic literature is just about as clear as it can be about the fact that there is an impending catastrophe for planet Earth.
And now you have Michelle Goldberg, a very liberal columnist, and by that I mean even by comparison with other New York Times columnists, Michelle Goldberg looks at the changes being made in Florida and cries out, apocalypse now. But in using this apocalyptic language, Goldberg is clear that someone else had used that language before. She cites Jeremy Young, identified as senior manager of free expression in education at PEN America, who described current legislation supported by the governor and legislators in Florida as, "Almost an apocalyptic bill for higher education."
Now, I just want to step back for a moment and say, when you have a columnist in the New York Times declaring apocalypse now when it comes to higher education, Christians ought to at least take a closer look for a number of reasons. Number one, we care deeply about higher education in the United States. We had better, because a part of our responsibility is to understand how influential big academia is in our entire culture. As that academia is bent, so will the culture, or at least most of the leaders of the culture also be bent.
Footnote here, when you look at how societies work, they all operate to a considerable extent on the basis of elites. And those elites tend to be the leading edge of more progressivist change. And so you even look at someone like Governor DeSantis and you say, "Well, here is someone who is standing up against the elites." But at least for a matter of record, it ought to be pointed out that Governor DeSantis himself did his undergraduate work and received his degree from Yale University before attending the Harvard Law School.
So we're talking about someone who is himself a product of that higher educational system. But the reason why I think he is so passionate about addressing those issues is because he realizes how toxic this kind of elite education can be. And that leads to footnote two.
Footnote two is, just recognize that every little community college in the United States wants to be a Yale, it wants to be a Harvard. It is far more concerned with what someone at Harvard thinks about what students should be taught and how a university or college should be organized than with the people in its own community, that is the school's own community. That's just the way it works.
But I wanted to draw attention to this because Christians just need to be reminded that what happens in education at every level really does matter, and it matters so much that the people who have nearly universal control over education now, they are crying loudly, they are protesting vehemently. They're using words like apocalyptic that right now are applied to controversies centered on one college in the State of Florida.
Now of course, there are big changes coming also at the university level in Florida, but the point is any change at all is now if it is in a conservative direction and one that actually better reflects the citizens of the state, it's described not as a regressive step, not as something that ought to be opposed, but as nothing less than apocalypse. And let's just remember what that means, the end of the world.
Some editor at the New York Times thought that that was the word that just needed to be inserted in this headline. But we do also have the controversy that has to do with the AP course on African American history. And in particular, remember that's advanced placement, that is a process whereby high school students in the main can take certain courses and then test out and receive college credit even as they are high school students.
The DeSantis administration had said that the current shape of the curriculum was too influenced by liberal and progressivist ideologies, and it would be unacceptable in terms of the Florida system. And there was a pushback, but the AP system and the college board that administers came out just a matter of almost days later and said that they were revising the course.
But it turns out the revisions they were making, even the college board has insisted were not a response to the specific complaints from the State of Florida, but through a process that they had undergone themselves. Whether that's true or false, I don't know. I'll simply say that Governor DeSantis and the college board, you might say, together made certain that America is talking about this.
But here's where we also see the divide in the United States that comes down to even a divide in the culture that can be measured state by state. Sometimes it can be measured governor by governor. So in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis. In Illinois, just to take one example, Governor J. B. Pritzker. You're talking about two very influential governors. You're talking about two very different worldviews, two different political parties as a matter of fact.
But in the State of Florida, the DeSantis administration said, "We have big problems with the first edition of the AP class that had to do with African American history." But just representing the clash of worldviews, Governor Pritzker in Illinois, according to the Wall Street Journal, has urged the college board to take no changes, "saying that his state expects history lessons that cover the role played by Black queer Americans."
So one of the things that the DeSantis administration had complained about was the fact that there was an entire section on Black queer studies, which according to the original AP curriculum, "explores the concept of the queer of color critique grounded in Black feminism and intersectionality as a Black studies lens that shifts sexuality studies towards racial analysis."
So the point I want to make is this, you have one governor saying that's unacceptable, and you have another governor say that taking it out is unacceptable. So you're talking about two different states and two different governors, but you're really talking about two different understandings of reality filtered down into two different and contested understandings of the purpose and the desirable shape of higher education and of public education and of all K through 12 education in the United States. And when it comes to this AP course, of course you're talking about high schoolers.
A Sign of the Confusion of Our Times: LA Prosecutor Suspended For ‘Misgendering’ and ‘Deadnaming’ Defendant
But next I want to shift to another interesting story in the culture these days, and this is centered in Los Angeles, California. And at the center of this story is Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón. He is currently in his first term in office and of course a very controversial figure.
We have talked on The Briefing about the fact that the clash of worldviews is seen right now in a clash of district attorneys across the United States. And you have several persons on both coasts, but they tend to be overly populated on the West Coast who are progressivist by their own ideological identification. And basically they are elected in many cases because they are refusing upfront to prosecute many crimes.
And so this is an interesting situation, but the headline here really presents the nexus of so many of the issues that ought to have our concern. This is sort of a splendid picture you might say, to use an old expression, of where we now stand. The headline is this, and this was in yesterday's print edition of the Los Angeles Times, Prosecutor Suspended for Misgendering Tubbs.
Now, Tubbs is a convicted criminal, and as James Queally reports in this article, "The outspoken prosecutor at the center of one of the most controversial cases of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón's first term in office has been suspended for remarks he made about the gender identity of a defendant."
Now, I think this probably has your attention because just as you think of that first sentence, that lead sentence, it does raise an interesting question. Let's say that for a moment, you try to buy into the transgender ideology. Okay, if indeed the suspect or someone who's now a convicted criminal is convicted of a crime when that person was identified by the previous gender, are we really saying that is the same person? Now, of course, any sane society says that is the same person, the insanity is saying that they've actually changed their gender.
But if you are going to try to follow that delusion, you're going to find yourself in a whole lot of trouble. And here you have a very liberal district attorney in Los Angeles who is actually now tripping all over himself on all sides of this issue because well, let's just state the matter clearly, even in talking about it, it's hard to keep all this straight.
At the center of this particular controversy is not so much the criminal, it is the prosecutor because Deputy District Attorney Shea Sanna, "who has long criticized the office's handling of the Hannah Tubbs case was suspended for five days without pay last week because he repeatedly referred to Tubbs," that is the defendant now the convicted criminal, "by male pronouns even as this is a transgender person."
The prosecutor referred to this person by male pronouns, "in meetings and during court hearings in early 2002." And this same prosecutor was also accused of "dead naming Tubbs." That is referring to the name the person had as according to birth sex rather than the chosen or the gender identity of the present.
And you can understand the confusion, dead naming is now a new sin according to our secular society, "meaning he referred to the defendant by her legal name rather than the name correlating to her preferred gender identity," correlating is a very interesting verb to use there, "though Tubbs was listed by her legal name in some court documents."
Now this case gets more interesting than you might even anticipate because George Gascón is the boss here. He is the district attorney, and he was the one who made the decision that this particular defendant would not be tried as an adult because the crime took place when the defendant was a teenager.
And yet even as the defendant was tried as a juvenile and found guilty, and of course then with a very limited sentence, the defendant in jail bragged about the crime and used language that was deeply offensive to the citizens of Los Angeles about the victim in the crime. And so this liberal district attorney had to admit that trying this person as a juvenile rather than an adult might not have been the best choice.
But just to state the matter clearly, the reality was very apparent. It's a little late to decide that was a bad idea as the Times says, "The DA later apologized for the way the case played out after leaked jail calls showed," this is the convicted criminal now, "referring to the child victim," I'm not going to say what was said, "and led Gascón to publicly question the validity of Tubbs' gender identity claims."
Okay, now wait just a minute. Now you have the liberal district attorney trying to cover for his own misdeeds by questioning the gender identity, but he suspends one of his associates actually involved in the case for doing the very same thing. And I'm not going to go into any detail here, don't worry, but I'll simply say that at least some of the crimes at stake here, were evidently committed by a male body, whether or not the person identifies as male or not.
This is just immoral, it's cultural nonsense. This is a revolt against creation. It's a revolt against law and order in any civilized society. But now you have the issue being the prosecutor who supposedly had misgendered the person again, a crime, a sin in our secular, very confused society that wouldn't even make sense. Just try explaining that to someone in a previous generation.
So misgendering is one of these new secular sins and dead naming is another, but that just raises another logical question. Again, how do you refer to someone who identified by one gender in performing the crime and another when being tried for it? How exactly, even if you try to buy into this ideology, do you keep that straight?
Well, my point is this, just think about the biblical worldview. One of the tests of a worldview is its ability to apply itself consistently, to be found as a consistent body of truth, a consistent cloth of moral judgment, a consistent approach to reality.
And this just points out that Christians never have to apologize for getting reality wrong here. And it's not because Christians have any superior intellect, it's because we recognize that embedded in creation and revealed even in biology, as well as revealed clearly in God's word, is the fact that God is the creator of man and of woman, of all human beings made in his image.
But in the very first chapter of Scripture, it makes clear that male and female are (a), not an accident and (b), not interchangeable. And one further proof of that after (a) and (b) is (c), and that is that it takes the male and the female, no misgendering or dead naming here, in order to produce (c), a baby as in be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth.
Now Hiring, Rat Czar: New York City Has a Rat Problem — And a Bigger Ethical Dilemma of How to Terminate Them ‘Humanely’
But next, just in terms of things we often discuss on The Briefing and things we don't often discuss, we don't often discuss rats, but there's a very big reason we need to discuss rats on The Briefing today.
The headline on the front page of the Science Times' section of the New York Times on Tuesday. Here's the headline, "The War on Rats." It's followed up with the question, "Is it Ethical?" The subhead in the article, "Some exterminators and researchers are grappling with the contradictions of treating rodents humanely."
Okay, let's just stop for a moment, stop for a moment before we look at the article. Let's look at the language. What does it mean when we say that they're grappling with the contradictions of treating rodents humanely?
Now, that's a category error. It's a language error. I don't think the New York Times does that casually. They're going to say, "No, that's just a common usage these days." But let's just say that treating rodents humanely, just in terms of the actual words that are used there means treating rodents as if they are human, which I guarantee you is not a good idea.
But as you think about that, you recognize that when we talk about The Humane Society, we're not talking about animals, at least in the origins of that name, it wasn't making the claim that animals are humans, it was saying that humans bear a certain kind of moral responsibility, even in our response to animals.
And by the way, that emerged from a certain affirmation of the Christian worldview about our role as those assigned dominion and stewardship over the rest of creation. Of course, like so many institutions and organizations, long gone, very, very progressive, very, very secular.
But now you're looking at a very, very pressing problem, especially if you are in New York. And the debate here, as Oliver Whang reports, it's a massive article in the New York Times with all kinds of photographs and all the rest, the big problem is that New York has a big problem with rats, a bigger and bigger problem.
And here's where we also understand that rats have been a big problem for humanity for a matter of centuries and centuries. As you look at the history of Europe during the Middle Ages and even into the modern age, rats were often the agent of bringing illness and plague and disease and sometimes leading to the deaths of millions of people.
Hiding away in ships and in granaries and in bushels of grain, they were transported across the ocean and thus bringing some of the very same problems. But nonetheless, efforts to suppress and reduce the population of rats now runs into moral confusion.
Now, let me just state there should be no moral confusion in a sane society. The existence of an unlimited number of rodents in a civilization of human beings eventually means the deaths of many of those human beings, no doubt about it, just as vectors of infection and also as competitors for food. And you have rodents that basically consume a great deal of food and destroy a lot of food.
Now, the problem of rats in New York City is now so out of hand that New York's new mayor, Eric Adams, has set a personal goal of trying to do something about limiting the rat population in New York City. As the Times says, "Eric Adams, the mayor of New York City, that ignominious ratropolis, has also been playing on this morbid fascination with the mid-size rodent. Since the beginning of his term, Mayor Adams has been vocal about his fear and hatred of rats and about his drive to kill them. In November, his office posted a job listing for a rat czar. Whoever took the job, the listing noted, needed to be somewhat bloodthirsty."
Now that's in a job description from the mayor's office in New York City. The article went on to say, "Devised to serve as a lighthearted rallying point amid other more charged policies, the anti rat agenda has been covered extensively by news media outlets. Mayor Adams said, 'We're making it clear that rats do not run this city.'" Except, at least at this point, an argument can be made that's exactly what they are doing.
But it's only at this point the article gets really interesting and the big worldview issues come out. The article tells us, "Reasons for controlling the urban rat population are abundant. The animals can spread diseases to humans, destroy property and damage native ecosystems" and here's the twist, "but rats are also cognitively advanced social animals and questions about how to effectively control them can raise tricky ethical questions.... Glue traps will leave rats starving for days before dying. Poison leads to a slow painful death and can endanger other wildlife. Standard wooden snap traps often catch limbs or tails of the rats who will gnaw off appendages in desperation. Live catch traps are tricky to execute. And when many rats are stuck in the same place together without food, they can eat each other."
So this article is largely about people in the extermination business, but also scientists and others, including those who study rat cognition and intelligence. And what we have here is a debate about how to do something about a problem, about which something must be done.
But in our morally confused society, it's really clear that number one, even as the word humanely was used there in the subhead, we do understand that human beings should gain no delight in destroying anything that God has made. But at the same time, we understand that there's a good reason why you kill a venomous snake on your lawn. There's a good reason why, or at least you protect your family from it.
When you're looking at rats, you are looking at the fact that these vermin actually present a clear and present danger, and deciding that the rats will live is effectively deciding that some human beings will die. And the category error of our modern society is in confusing the word humane in this sense in such a way that you have on this article the open questioning as to whether it's actually right to kill these rats.
Now, by the way, there are some who suggested maybe we just need to deport them, but at the same time, people from the countryside around New York City said, "No, we don't want your rats. Keep your rats for yourself or deal with your own problem." But then in the same article, there's also an understanding that there are big questions at stake, I love this one, what makes a rat a rat?
Well, here again, my point is this, these are inescapable questions when you're looking at the competition between rats and human beings in New York City. But we have here a category confusion, which is actually deadly, but also very revealing. And there is no excuse for treating any part of God's creation disrespectfully. But on the other hand, there is a very good reason that we need to limit rat populations near human populations, or else we're going to put at risk every single member of that human population.
It's just another sign of what happens in a secular society. It is not so much just that other organisms and other species get raised up, it is at the same time human beings get lowered down. One person quoted in the article actually said this, "For me, rats are not the enemy, people are the enemy." Well, that just about says it all. You talk about a clash of worldviews.
One word of common sense came from Erin Ryan, who works for the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That's in Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. And having considered this for a very long time, Erin Ryan spoke common sense. She said, "What I've learned in my research is that humane means something different to everybody, but there's always a time and a place for lethal control when it comes to rodents."
So it's just interesting from a Christian perspective to look at an article like this and understand that morality is all around us, and even in a morally confused age, the moral issues still appear, some of them quite puzzling, including the headline, "The War On Rats: Is it Ethical?" Well, you can debate it all you want, but at the end of the day, here's a simple lesson for human civilization.
There is a war, and humans had better win it.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'm speaking to you today before a live audience in Santa Clarita, California, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.