Today, I am launching a new format for this blog.

You will not see five or seven posts. Or more.

You will receive only one post today, unless there is breaking news of great importance.

Instead of filling up your computer, I offer you one article that I hope you will read and digest and react to.

I am going to ask you to forward this article to your friends and colleagues, to anyone you know who cares about the future of this country.

Katherine Stewart just published a very important article that appears in The American Prospect called “The Proselytizers and the Privatizers.”

The subtitle is: “How religious sectarian school voucher extremists made useful idiots of the charter movement.”

She is also is the author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.

It is one of the most significant articles I have read in weeks about the current situation in American education.

It documents in detail how we have all been snookered by the religious right, who are now gobbling up taxpayers’ dollars to spread their doctrine.

It begins like this:

At the Heritage Academy, a publicly funded charter school network in Arizona, according to a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, high school students are required to learn that the Anglo-Saxon population of the United States is descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel. They are asked to memorize a list of 28 “Principles” of “sound government,” among which are that “to protect man’s rights, God has revealed certain Principles of divine law” (the ninth Principle) and that “the husband and wife each have their specific rights appropriate to their role in life” (the 26th Principle). To complete the course, students are further required to teach these principles to at least five individuals outside of school and family.

Over in Detroit, the Marvin L. Winans Academy of Performing Arts charter school—also taxpayer-funded—is a subsidiary of the Perfecting Church, a religious organization headed by Marvin L. Winans himself. Until recently, the board of WAPA consisted almost entirely of clergy, “prophets,” or prominent members of the Perfecting Church, and it appears that the views of the board are expressed directly in the practices of the school; students are required to recite a “WAPA Creed” that invokes “a super-intelligent God.”

In Texas, Allen Beck, the founder of Advantage Academy, a four-campus charter school funded by taxpayers, has said he established the schools in order to bring “the Bible, prayer, and patriotism back into the public school system, legally.”

And the American Heritage Academy, a two-campus charter school also located in Arizona, describes itself as a “unique educational experience with old-fashioned principles that have worked for hundreds of years.” The school boasts a list of “Principles of Liberty” that include “The role of religion is foundational,” “To protect rights God revealed certain divine laws,” and “Free market and minimal government best support prosperity.”

You might think that these egregious examples of church-school fusion are anomalies in the emerging charter school universe. But they are not. The charter school movement has provided shelter for religious and ideological activists who have specific theological and political goals for public education. Many of them are opposed to the very idea of public schools in the first place.

The Barney Charter Initiative’s former mission statement, which has since been taken down, declared that its goal was to “redeem” American public education and “recover our public schools from the tide of a hundred years of progressivism.” Here, a kindergarten class waits for recess at the Barney-supported Mason Classical Academy in Naples, Florida

To be clear, the charter movement in the United States is large, fragmented, and complex, and includes many individuals and groups that sincerely wish to promote and improve public education. Many charter advocates respect the separation of church and school. But a wing of the charter movement that is ideologically or religiously opposed to “government schools” was present at the charter movement’s creation, and has grown to comprise a sizable segment of the charter universe. With the election of Donald Trump and the appointment of Betsy DeVos as education secretary, it is presently empowered as never before.

In the decades before her appointment, DeVos was one of the primary architects of a First Amendment anomaly—the public funding of religious academies. In the months since she took the helm at the Department of Education, that still seems her first priority. Her meetings with educators have been populated with leaders and teachers from private, religious, and charter schools, as well as homeschooling advocates. Trump’s first budget allots $1.4 billion to bolster the school choice movement—enough funding to enable DeVos to ramp up her campaign for taxpayer-supported sectarian schools.

WHILE CHARTER SCHOOLS are supposed to be nonsectarian, many are run by operators with a distinctly religious or partisan political agenda. In order to understand the impact of this particular segment of the charter movement, one must begin with the history of the pro-voucher movement.

Vouchers first came to prominence as a way to funnel state money to racially segregated religious academies. In the aftermath of the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, white Americans in the South organized massive resistance against federal orders to desegregate schools. While some districts shut down public schools altogether, others promoted “segregation academies” for white students, often with religious programming, to be subsidized with tuition grants and voucher schemes. Today, vouchers remain popular with supporters of religious schools, many of whom see public education as inherently secular and corrupt.

Vouchers are also favored among disciples of the free-market advocate Milton Friedman, who see them as a step on the road to getting government out of the education business altogether. Speaking to an audience at a convention of the American Legislative Exchange Council in 2006, Friedman said, “The ideal would be to have parents control and pay for their school’s education, just as they pay for their food, their clothing, and their housing.” Acknowledging that indigent parents might be unable to afford their children’s education in the same way that they might suffer food or housing insecurity, Friedman added, “Those should be handled as charity problems, not educational problems.”

Up in western Michigan, the combination of religious conservatism and economic libertarianism in the voucher movement found a natural home.
Up in western Michigan, the combination of religious conservatism and economic libertarianism in the voucher movement found a natural home. A century and a half ago, members of the Christian Reformed Church, a strict sect of Dutch Calvinists, settled the area around Holland, Michigan, where the conservative nature of the religion is still felt. Until several years ago, it was forbidden to serve alcohol at restaurants on Sundays. The area has also produced more than its share of ultra-conservative billionaires, among them Richard DeVos Sr., the co-founder of Amway; Jay Van Andel, his business partner; and Edgar Prince, an auto-parts magnate. In 1979, Prince’s daughter Betsy married Richard’s son, Dick Jr., making her Holland’s version of a crown princess.

Since the 1970s, Richard DeVos and his wife and children, including Dick and Betsy, have been major funders of the leading national groups on the religious right. Amway co-founder Van Andel, meanwhile, endowed and served as a trustee of Hillsdale College, which the religious right likes to cast as “the conservative Harvard.” In 1983, Betsy’s father, Edgar Prince, substantially contributed to the creation of the Family Research Council. The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation is a key backer to groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal juggernaut of the religious right; and right-wing ministries and policy groups such as Focus on the Family.

The initiatives that Betsy DeVos and her husband have funded are not of the “social gospel” variety. Through their foundation, they donate money to the Foundation for Traditional Values, a nonprofit with a mission “to restore and affirm the Judeo-Christian values upon which America was established.” Shortly after its inception, the FTV distributed a book, America’s Providential History, which asserted, “A civil government built on Biblical principles provides the road on which the wheel of economic progress can turn with great efficiency.” A chapter titled “Principles of Christian Economics” posed the question “Why Are Some Nations in Poverty?” It goes on to explain that “[t]he primary reason that nations are in poverty is lack of spiritual growth. … Today, India has widespread problems, yet these are not due to a lack of food, but are a result of people’s spiritual beliefs. The majority of Indians are Hindus.”

In the mid-1990s, the FTV founded the Student Statesmanship Institute, which describes itself as “Michigan’s premier Biblical Worldview & Leadership Training for High School Students.” Betsy DeVos was listed on the SSI advisory board as recently as 2015, and has been featured as an active SSI program participant nearly as far back as the program had a functional website. SSI functions as a pipeline for Christian teens, many of whom are homeschooled or attend religious schools, seeking to engage in far-right politics. According to the SSI website, SSI “Legislative Experiences” instruct students in topics such as “Laying a Biblical Foundation, Ambassadors for Christ, Christian Citizenship, Worldviews in Action, Science and the Bible, and Debate and Communication.”

James Muffett, who heads FTV and is also the founder and head of SSI, appears from time to time on the Christian homeschooling circuit, where public schools—or “government schools” as they are frequently called—are routinely maligned. He spoke at one homeschooling convention where attendees were invited to watch the anti–public education film IndoctriNation. The film casts public schools as “a masterful design that sought to replace God’s recipe for training up the next generation with a humanistic, man-centered program that fragmented the family and undermined the influence of the Church and its Great Commission.”

If you want to better understand why the pious elite of Holland, Michigan, think of public education the way they do, a good place to start might be the 2003 report from the Synod, or general assembly, of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. The church warns that “government schools” have “become aggressively and increasingly secular in the last forty years,” and claims they are engaged in “a deliberate program of de-Christianization” that is at odds with Christian morality. “Not only does there exist a climate of hostility toward the Christian faith,” the report continues, “the legitimate and laudable educational goal of multi-culturalism is often used as a cover to introduce pagan and New Age spiritualities such as the deification of mother earth (Gaia) to promote social causes such as environmentalism.” The report goes on to decry efforts, by “powerful lobbying groups” to resist “alternatives to public education such as charter schools and vouchers.”