Monday, March 27, 2023
It's Monday, March 27th, 2023.
I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Parents Over Politics or Politics Over Parents?: The Fight for the Future of Public Education in America
Particularly when you're looking at Congress, you have to ask some big questions when you see a political controversy. Is this over actual policy? Is there actually something here? Is this show politics? Because increasingly that's the case and it becomes more likely to be the case when you have a quite near evenly divided House of Representatives or Senate, and in both cases we're really there. And as you're looking at this, you recognize sometimes the Republicans control the House and the Democrats in nominal control of the Senate, they're going to bring forth legislation that doesn't have any chance of passing both Houses, but they're doing so in order to make a point. And then you need to ask the question, is it a legitimate point?
And I just want to say that something that took place last week is about a very legitimate point, and the action in this case took place in the House of Representatives and the legislation that passed by a narrow margin with the Republican majority there in the House, was called by its proponents, the Parents Bill of Rights Act, and that would be the Parents Bill of Rights Act of 2023. As the New York Times noted and they're right in this, "It has no chance of passing the Democratic controlled Senate or being signed by President Biden, whose advisors," well, let's just say they made it very clear the President would veto the legislation if it passed the House and the Senate, "but the Senate's Democratic majority leader, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, made very clear it's never going to get to the floor of the Senate."
So why are we talking about it? Why is this controversy legitimate and what's the issue at stake here? Well, the issue at stake has to do with the future and the vision of America's public education system. And it is virtually impossible to exaggerate the consequence of the direction of that system, because you're talking about the educational system that right now educates and has captive, in some sense, for hours every single week, indeed hours, every single day, a large proportion, the largest proportion of America's school-aged children.
So the future of that educational system, that has a great deal to do with the future of the country, the future of the educational policy, and the actual way that the policy is enacted state by state, system by system, it's going to have everything to do with the education for children now and in the future. And the education of children, it is inclined toward the future. Who controls that education, in one sense, almost assuredly controls the future, that should be bracing realization for America's Christian parents.
So we have one piece of legislation and it passed 213 to 208 in the House just days ago. The Republicans, who sponsored it, called the Parents Bill of Rights Act, the Democrats in opposing it, called it the Politics Over Parents Act. Now wait just a minute, the Democrats, they tried to dismiss this and oppose this bill as what they called politics over parents. But the legislation, by any measure, gave more authority to parents. To state the matter clearly, the Democrats don't want parents to have that authority, neither do the professionals in the main who run the nation's public schools, and certainly the teachers unions. And in most states there is a massive public education system and the last thing they actually want is for parents to show up, or in many cases, for parents even to know much.
The way the national press deals with such an issue tells us something in itself. Annie Karni reporting for the New York Times tells us, "A divided House on Friday approved legislation that would mandate the school's make library catalogs and curriculums public and that they obtain parental consent before honoring a student's request to change their gender identifying pronouns," then the explanation comes, "part of a Republican effort to ring political advantage from a raging debate over contentious social issues."
Now I said the press angle on this is important because I just read to you the lead paragraph and that last statement that what's going on here is a Republican effort "to ring political advantage from a raging debate over contentious social issues." Well, in terms of that aim for political advantage, is it right or wrong? Well, you're dealing with politicians, you're dealing with politics, so guess what? It's a political game. Anyone who's shocked by that, well they are not being honest if they say that they're shocked.
The bigger issue here is that something real is underneath this and that something real points to the fact that a good many conservatives and in particular, a good many Republicans are actually trying to catch up with the American public on this. They're trying to catch up with American parents who have been way ahead of the politicians in registering so much concern about the public schools.
And the biggest issue here is that in the main, now there are some exceptions, there's some wonderful Christians who of course are teachers and administrators. There's some wonderful Christians in the school boards and in the school systems. But the fact is that the general edifice, the larger project of American public education has, note this very carefully, from the beginning of the federalized emphasis on public education, it has been a deliberate attempt to try to limit the influence of parents throughout the entire project, and that is easily documentable.
One of the most important theorists behind all of this was the American pragmatist philosopher, John Dewey, also a founder of the American Humanist Movement. John Dewey, who after all founded what became the Teacher's College of Columbia University, John Dewey went so far as to say that one of the main purposes of the public schools, you might think was education, by the way, was rather the assimilation of children from different ethnic and religious backgrounds into one homogenous unit. And guess what? That homogenous unit was going to be homogeneously secular. That was a part of the project from the beginning, we're talking about the early decades of the 20th century. Well you say, certainly there were public schools before then, and the answer would be yes, there were, but they were more genuinely public schools. They were schools under the control, operated by, the hiring done by, the curriculum approved by local school boards with virtually zero federal involvement. That means zero.
And when it came to state boards of education or education commissions, they were pretty much representative of their state. The federalization of the process and the direct involvement of our federal government eventually seen by the time of the 1970s in the development of a Department of Education. When you have a federal department, you're already in big, big trouble. And the federal government doesn't leave anything alone, which is why public schools in Birmingham, they're more like public schools in Portland, Oregon than you might think. Not entirely, local boards still matter, but when it comes to federal mandates, a federal mandate applies in Birmingham or Andalusia, as much as in Portland or in Berkeley.
There are a couple of issues here that really are important, and it's important to say that opposition to this bill is very revelatory in itself. So for example, one of the provisions would make the library collections and the curriculum public, and that would mean that the public could read the curriculum and know what books were in the library, and that means that parents could complain.
And that points to the other big issue, we've discussed this before. One of the main issues when you look at higher education in the United States, public education, K through 12 in the United States is that increasingly it has been professionalized. And by professionalized, it's not just stating that there are new professional standards that developed in the 20th century and thus you had the profession making judgements about the code of ethics of the profession, it became internally controlled. That's true for pediatricians by the way, as well as for school administrators.
But the point is this, once teaching and education became a profession, the profession by definition walls itself off and says, "The rest of you don't have any right at all to scrutinize what we're doing because after all, we are the professionals. Who are you? You're merely parents. You need to stay out." As a matter of fact, the professionalism also extends to the fact that there's a secret knowledge that is possessed only by those who are accredited by the profession.
And thus, what do parents, after all, know about the education of their children? Why would they be considered experts? They need to defer to the experts. And this is extended by logic also to elected local school boards. Who do they think they are anyway? So on the one hand you might say the curriculum and the content of education's very much a part of this empowering parents, according to the Republican sponsors of the bill, to know what's being taught to children and have a right to have a say about what's talked to children.
But beyond that, the Democrats also complained mostly about the LGBTQ issues because if you are talking about the rights of parents, you would think that given one of the frontline controversies of this day, it should be at least acknowledged that parents should not be, let's just say, kept in the dark about one of their children actually claiming to transition when it comes to gender or declare a non-binary gender identity or actually to claim a transgender identity, even to the use of pronouns, preferred pronouns as they are darkly called in the public schools.
Now, you might say that a parent's rights means anything. If parents have any rights at all, certainly they would've a right to know that. But as we discuss on The Briefing, looking at front page controversies in the national media, there is no acknowledgement writ large across the educational establishment that it would be wrong to keep parents in the dark. There are actually those who think that it is absolutely right, even mandatory to keep parents in the dark. The bill that the Democrats overwhelmingly opposed, and I'm reading from the New York Times, just to make this fair, this is a liberal report or at least a report in a liberal newspaper on this bill, "The bill would require schools to alert parents if a student wanted to change his or her pronouns or wanted to change the bathroom or locker room that he or she used at school. If a school failed to obtain parental consent for such changes, it could lose federal funding."
Speaking on behalf of the Democrats on this issue was Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, again, a Democrat of New York, who argued that the effect of the bill would be to require, these are her words, "to require schools to out trans, non-binary and LGBTQ youth, even if it would put said youths in harm's way." She went on to say, said the Times, that "for so many children of abuse, school is their only safe place to be." Now just understand something that's going on here that's absolutely massive, I haven't noticed it in such straightforward form in the reporting thus far, but there's something absolutely massive here we need to note, the assumption here is that the school would be a safe place when the home is assumed to be a less safe place.
Now, that's something we really need to pay attention to because this means that the schools that have personnel that are after all professionals, they are likely to be safer places for America's children and teenagers than homes, which after all have those non-professional parents. You put all this together and it's an astounding thing and it also points to the great divide in the United States.
This article points out that this parents’ rights movement has been a huge political winner in states such as Virginia, think of the election of Glenn Youngkin as the Governor of Virginia, it played there in a very big way. And the papers, at least honest to say, that the issue was made clear, not just by now Governor Glenn Youngkin, but by his opponent, the former governor, Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe, during a campaign said this, "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach."
This is a straightforward statement. And by the way, I think former Governor McAuliffe almost surely thought that was a non-controversial statement, because in his world, it is. If there is any orthodoxy in the Democratic Party, it is that teachers should teach and that professionals should run the schools and the rest of us should stay out.
But every once in a while, politics actually leads to an astoundingly honest statement, made usually by accident, which is probably in the end, what this was. It almost assuredly cost Terry McAuliffe the gubernatorial election, when the state was expected to go blue, instead it went red. And what was the deciding factor? The deciding factor was education and parents’ rights. Who was the defining vote? Parents, even suburban parents that had been voting for the Democratic candidate in recent cycles, they rather overwhelmingly went for the Republican. What was the issue? Schools.
Thus what did the Democratic Party learn? Evidently nothing. And the reason is simple, they are so politically controlled by the teachers unions and the educational establishment that they've got nowhere to go on this issue. So as we're thinking about the future of America, the rights of families, the rights and authority of parents in the home, when you're thinking about something that basic, when it comes down to the education of America's children and teenagers in the public schools and for that matter, you can extend that to higher education, especially in the public sphere.
There's hardly a more important issue and that's why this battle is even hotter than might first appear. There's no way this is the last round in this story, so we'll be following with you together.
President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau Hold Summit: Interesting Worldview and Histories on Display
I want to talk about a couple of other issues, one has to do with the President of the United States going to Canada.
It was a much delayed visit, there are a lot of political commonalities between the American President, the Democrat, Joe Biden, and the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a liberal Prime Minister, very much cut out of liberal cloth, the son of another iconic former Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. When it comes to the Trudeau family, well that family has trended left for a very, very long time.
But the point is that there's a natural commonality, if you're looking at a diplomatic necessity, the relationship between the United States and Canada has to be right up there on the list. Not because Canada's a problem, but precisely because in general terms, it's not. The peaceful border between the United States and Canada, two massive land masses and two very advanced economies, that peaceful border has been one of the great achievements of human history.
And by the way, when was the last time that border was really contentious? That would be the year 1812, the war named the war of 1812. And you can do the math, no matter what school you went to that's 211 years ago. Now that's not to say that over the course of the last 200 plus years there haven't been strains or political issues, even controversies and disputes between the United States and Canada. It is to say that you're looking at a multi thousand-mile shared border that has been absolutely peaceful.
As a matter of fact, the only thing that's really upset that border in recent years has been the COVID pandemic, and that is what kept President Biden from going to Canada earlier in his term. It would almost make sense for Canada to be the first place for an American President to go, particularly when you have two birds of a feather when it comes to many issues when you're looking at President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau.
But there's something else to look at here, because even as you look at that border and you look at its peacefulness and you look at the commonalities between the United States and Canada, you also have to realize there's a fundamental difference, and sometimes Americans don't pause to consider some of the differences that add up to that fundamental difference.
Now, first of all, the fundamental differences, that's Canada and this is the United States of America. How exactly did that happen? Why did the American Revolution not include what we now call Canada? Well, the American Revolution was a war for independence, fought against the British Empire, and of course eventually the British crown, but Canada remained loyal and loyalist to the British crown, and for that matter, became also a refuge for American British royalists who wanted to get out of the contentious colonies because they did not want to be anything other than citizens of the British Empire.
Now, this also points to some underlying cultural differences. For one thing, Canada's still a part of the Commonwealth, that is to say the British Commonwealth, the United States, which looks to Britain as perhaps our closest allies, certainly across the Atlantic, has fundamentally great relations with the United Kingdom, with Great Britain. That's by the way, one of those anomalies of world history, how did a nation born in revolt against a crown end up being, within just a matter of less than 150 years, the closest ally of that same country? Very interesting question, we'll take that up in another edition of The Briefing.
The point is right now Canada and Canada religiously is also different. Now like the United States, it has a distributed population, but the population's not distributed as in the United States. There are cities and rural areas to be sure, most of the rural areas, the further you go north and the further you go west in Canada.
But this is a big qualification, the majority of the population of Canada lives within a fairly close proximity to the American border. You look at Canada, massive, massive land mass extending into the north, but the population begins to thin out about 200 miles north of the US Canadian border. You go south traveling from Canada to the United States, it's a very different thing. You're going to find a lot of big cities and a lot of population, and as you know, the population growth as you drive west and as you drive south.
But the other big issue I want to point to is that Canada in the main is a far more liberal culture in moral and cultural terms than the United States, and there's a reason for that. Now, Canada's not uniformly liberal, like in the United States, the rural areas are more conservative and like in the United States, the Western territories actually are far more conservative, or as in the United States, at least far more libertarian.
But there's something else that Americans often don't think about, the United States in our religious history, we were shaped by several huge developments including two massive waves of revival and then arguably a third coming in the last quarter of the 20th century. And so you had a first great awakening in the 18th century, and then you had another great awakening in the 19th century, massive revivals that reshaped not only the religious landscape in the United States, but actually reshaped the culture.
And then at the end of the 20th century, there were all kinds of developments that led to what might in retrospect be known as something like a third great awakening, but that third great awakening, if it was one, didn't have the same massive effect on the culture. If anything, it might have been a last gasp, in one sense, of that kind of mass movement in American history, given the secularizing of modern culture.
But why are we talking about that? We're talking about it because Canada never had one great awakening. I was in a meeting of theologians and church historians a few years ago when it was a Canadian theologian and a Canadian historian that made the point that Americans keep reading American religious history onto Canada, and that means the same waves of revival, the same kind of denominational development, the same kind of cultural trends.
Now, they're not entirely dissimilar, but the point is they're not exactly the same. And the point I want to make is this, what's the future? Is it more Canadian, more secular, more liberal, or is it American, at least at this point, a little less secular, a little less liberal than Canada? I'll answer the question I just asked, time will tell, of course, but there are signs that Canada is something like the United States a few decades ahead, and if that's so, and if America follows the same trajectory, albeit a bit delayed, then we are looking at a very secular America going forward.
If you go back to say, the midpoint of the 20th century, church going in Canada was roughly the same as, and in some provinces, even greater than the average in the United States. You fast-forward 25 years and something has changed fundamentally. You go forward just a few more years, it's a far more secular culture in Canada. And then you look at the United States now, and there are trends indicating that though delayed, some of the same developments are happening here. It's going to be very interesting to watch.
But for America's Evangelical Christians, this isn't just a matter of academic interest, it's a matter of deep theological and evangelistic interest.
Natural Disaster and Human Fragility in a Fallen World: Praying for Those Rebuilding and Grieving After Recent Catastrophic Tornado
Finally, we just need to consider the fact that sometimes it is an event that has nothing to do with politics, it has nothing to do with cultural change, it has everything to do with the natural world around us.
Sometimes those events take place and also just rearrange the civilization, rearrange the culture, sometimes locally, sometimes on a more widespread basis. Just wonder about that when you think of the massively devastating and deadly tornadoes that swept across the American mid-south, particularly in Mississippi and Alabama, leading to a very significant death toll. When it comes to the devastation of this series of tornadoes, as many as something just perhaps less than 30, may turn out to be more than 30 in the entire sequence of these storms.
But the point is this, you're looking at some communities that are utterly devastated. It's not just that they experience damage, they are, as has happened elsewhere in similar kinds of storms, just absolutely devastated, not one building on its foundation, nothing that basically can just be put back together, an entire community that's going to have to be rebuilt more or less from scratch.
Our hearts go out to those in Mississippi and in Alabama, and especially those in the area of the delta where such devastation has hit in Mississippi. And even as we know there are those who are on the ground ministering, and there are those who will be seeking to help rebuild those communities, it is a reminder to us of the fragility of human civilization and human culture.
It's also a reminder, and Christians need to think about this, that even as we say all politics is local, that principle of subsidiary says that you have to start locally. The fact is that when you're looking at a certain scale of devastation and damage, there's not enough locally to fix the problem. It takes a far more concerted effort. And by the way, that's in the New Testament, even as the Apostle Paul took offerings back to the Jerusalem Church from the other churches.
But it's also true in moral terms that the true test is perhaps not how a civilization builds itself, but the measure should be how it rebuilds itself. There are those who will be turning to that challenge very, very quickly, but right now, the most important issue is taking care of people and mourning those who have been lost.
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.
Today I'm in Washington D.C., and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.