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Humans and Fire Breathing Dinosaurs? Romney Education Plan Would Fund Bizarre K-12 School Curriculum

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"...is it possible that a fire-breathing animal really existed? Today some scientists are saying yes. They have found large chambers in certain dinosaur skulls... The large skull chambers could have contained special chemical-producing glands. When the animal forced the chemicals out of its mouth or nose, these substances may have combined and produced fire and smoke... Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on earth at the same time and may have even lived side by side within the past few thousand years."

This quote from the Bob Jones University Press biology textbook Life Science 3rd. Edition (2007). Used widely in Christian schools that would receive dramatically increased funding under Mitt Romney's education plan, BJU's biology, history, English, and religion textbooks have been rejected by the University of California for course credit.

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has declared, "Here we are in the most prosperous nation, but millions of kids are getting a third-world education." As ABC reports, Romney's proposed K-12 education plan for America would redirect $26 billion in federal funding for low income and special needs students, that currently goes to public schools, to pay for students to attend private schools; some of those would be religious schools that use Bob Jones University Press curriculum -- which speculates that humans may have lived with fire-breathing dinosaurs and teaches that Romney's own Mormon Church is a "cult".

(The two images, below, are from page 237 of Bob Jones University Press 11th grade textbook "United States History For Christian Schools", 3rd Edition, 2001, currently for sale from BJU press but rejected by the University of California for course credit.)

According to former U.S. Undersecretary of Education Diane Ravitch, a fierce critic of "school choice" and voucher schemes, Romney's scheme amounts to a broad-based attack on public education, and as researcher Rachel Tabachnick describes, "Right-wing think-tanks have determined that school vouchers are key to eradicating public education" -- but could privatization improve K-12 education nonetheless ?

If Florida is any indication, possibly a third of schools funded under Romney's plan would be Christian private schools that use politically slanted, factually dubious, and bigoted fundamentalist curriculum, from publishers whose textbooks have been rejected by the University of California for failing to meet standards for high school college prep credit courses.

The textbooks

(image, right: A Beka Books text "Science: Order & Reality", 2nd Edition (2006) mocks "godless evolutionist" who "came out of the ooze and slime".)

These textbooks label the Mormon Church a "cult", denigrate a wide range of faiths, including Catholicism, reject the theory of evolution, and teach Young Earth creationism -- even suggesting that only a few thousand years ago humans may have lived alongside fire breathing dinosaurs.

The texts are typically anti-gay and have been criticized by leading academics for ignoring and disparaging the roles that African-Americans, women, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, working-class Americans, and religious minorities have played in American history.

In the economic realm, as researcher Rachel Tabachnick describes, the texts "teach a radical laissez-faire capitalism. Government safety nets, regulation, minimum wage, and progressive taxes are described as contrary to the Bible."

One of the textbooks, United States History For Christian Schools, has qualified praise for some of the Ku Klux Klan's activities and blandly states that the organization "resorted to violence and intimidation" without mentioning the Klan's extensive pattern of savage lynchings (see footnote); another text, from A Beka Books, suggests that, prior to their conversion to Christianity, Africans brought to America to be slaves were not yet spiritually ready for freedom.

(image, right: A Beka Book textbook "United States History: Heritage of Freedom", 2nd Edition (1996) superseded in 2009 by a 3rd Edition but still used in some Christian schools, identifies Mormonism as a "cult" (see attached video) and also suggests that without Christianity, African slaves were not yet ready for freedom)

On the A Beka Books website, the popular fundamentalist textbook publisher is quite candid about the politically slanted nature of its texts:

"Our A Beka Book texts reject the Marxist/Hegelian conflict theory of history... 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... "

(for a more detailed treatment of the Bob Jones and A Beka curriculum, see Rachel Tabachnick's Vouchers/Tax Credits Funding Creationism, Revisionist History, Hostility Toward Other Religions. Also see my recent story, Nessie a Plesiosaur? Louisiana To Fund Schools Using Odd, Bigoted Fundamentalist Textbooks.)

Spreading public funding for private religious schools

(image, right: A Beka Book text "Old World History & Geography", 3rd Edition (1999) claims that only ten percent of Africans are literate [in 1999 the African literacy rate was roughly 57 percent] and blames "communists")

Under various state-level corporate tax credit and voucher schemes, over 200,000 students in thirteen U.S. states (most recently, Louisiana was added to the list) and the District of Columbia currently receive public funding to attend private schools; a substantial portion of those are Protestant Christian schools which use textbooks from the leading fundamentalist school curriculum publishers A Beka Book and Bob Jones University Press.

A 2003 survey by the Palm Beach Post found that among private schools receiving state funding under Florida's corporate tax credit program, 75 percent of survey respondents were religious schools and 43 percent of those schools used A Beka Book or Bob Jones University Press textbooks.

Based on that survey, this would indicate that almost 1/3 of all the private schools funded by Florida's tax credit program in 2003 were schools which used A Beka Book or Bob Jones University Press textbooks. Florida's program allows corporations to funnel taxes they would have paid to the state instead to scholarship funds that help students attend private schools.

(for a 34 minute documentary on the push for vouchers in one state, Pennsylvania, by Christian schools using Bob Jones and A Beka texts, and by nonprofits tied to the DeVos family, see: "School Choice: Taxpayer-Funded Creationism, Bigotry, and Bias"

Unsuitable for course credit

A Beka and Bob Jones University Press textbooks were at the center of a 2008 California Federal District Court case which ruled (link to PDF of 2008 ruing by U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero) that the University of California did not have to accept, for credit, high school college prep courses taught from A Beka and Bob Jones biology, history, English and religion textbooks.

One of the textbooks at the center of the case was the Bob Jones University Press text United States History For Christian Schools, 3rd Edition (2001). Providing an expert opinion against the worthiness of the text for course credit, noted American historian Gary Nash stated in his written testimony (PDF of testimony) that the Bob Jones text,

"is not appropriate as a core book for meeting the "a" requirement under the University of California's a-g guidelines. The book's content and pedagogy is not consistent with the inclusive coverage and open-ended inquiry of United States history that is generally accepted by the history profession; and it systematically downplays the acquisition of historical analysis and critical thinking skills."

[image, right: United States History For Christian Schools, 2nd Edition (2001) attacks Roman Catholic Church]

Bearing into the textbook's preference for covering white male Protestant historical figures, Nash states that the book,

"... largely ignores, and in some cases disparages, the roles that certain groups in our society have made in our four-century history, particularly: a) African Americans; b) women; c) Asian Americans; d) laboring people; e) Hispanic Americans; and f) religious minorities. This ignores much of the scholarship of the last two generations of historians... "

(image, right: Bob Jones University Press text "Life Science", 3rd Edition (2007) states that humans lived with dinosaurs and speculates that some of those dinosaurs may have breathed fire.)

Weighing in on the suitability of Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book biology textbooks for University of California course credit, Former Stanford University President Professor Donald Kennedy, then serving as Chairman of the Advisory Committee to the National Academy of Science's Center on Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology Education stated in his written testimony for the case (PDF of testimony),

"In my opinion, the A Beka and BJU textbooks are not appropriate for use as the principal text in a college preparatory biology course intended to satisfy the University of California's "d" laboratory science requirement, for three fundamental reasons. First, these texts do not properly distinguish between what is science and what is not; by relying on explanations based on divine interpretation that are not supported by empirical evidence, but without clearly distinguishing those from science, the textbooks are likely to confuse students about the nature of science. Second, the textbooks fail to provide students with an adequate presentation of the theory of evolution and the evidence supporting it, which failure will result in collateral damage to students' understanding of the rest of biology and many other disciplines. Third, the textbooks do not present critical thinking on the part of students; instead, the books are likely to intercept and deaden students' natural sense of curiosity about how natural systems work... "

Humans and fire-breathing dinosaurs

BJU's Life Science, 3rd. Edition, Bob Jones University Press' current life science biology textbook, teaches Young Earth creationism and states, on page 138,

"Bible-believing Christians cannot accept any evolutionary interpretation. Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on earth at the same time and may have even lived side by side within the past few thousand years.

On pages 137 and 138, the BJU text suggests that some of those dinosaurs that lived alongside humans "within the past few thousand years" might have have been able to breath fire -- fire breathing dragons, more or less. The text claims that some scientists back that view, too:

"is it possible that a fire-breathing animal really existed? Today some scientists are saying yes. They have found large chambers in certain dinosaur skulls. These chambers do not exist in the skulls of living organisms, and scientists are not sure of their function...

The large skull chambers could have contained special chemical-producing glands. When the animal forced the chemicals out of its mouth or nose, these substances may have combined and produced fire and smoke. This chemical reaction may have been similar to the Bombardier Beetle's reaction. This beetle can produce chemicals that cause an explosion when released."

More dubious claims

As shown in the following video, among the dubious, factually incorrect, politically tendentious, and racially and culturally insensitive claims in A Beka Book and Bob Jones University Press textbooks are the following:

  • "the [Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross... In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians."[see footnote]

  • "God used the 'Trail of Tears' to bring many Indians to Christ."

  • It "cannot be shown scientifically that that man-made pollutants will one day drastically reduce the depth of the atmosphere's ozone layer."

  • "God has provided certain 'checks and balances' in creation to prevent many of the global upsets that have been predicted by environmentalists."

  • the Great Depression was exaggerated by propagandists, including John Steinbeck, to advance a socialist agenda.

  • "Unions have always been plagued by socialists and anarchists who use laborers to destroy the free-enterprise system that hardworking Americans have created."

  • Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential win was due to an imaginary economic crisis created by the media.

  • "The greatest struggle of all time, the Battle of Armageddon, will occur in the Middle East when Christ returns to set up his kingdom on earth."

footnote: The depiction, in the Bob Jones University Press textbook United States History For Christian Schools, 3rd Edition (2001) of the Ku Klux Klan is noteworthy for a number of reasons. The text presents violence by the Klan as a mainly Northern phenomenon and does not use the word "lynching". But the bulk of lynchings by the Klan occurred in the U.S. South. For decades, the Ku Klux Klan functioned as America's premier terrorist organization and has been credited with the murder (by lynching) of at least five thousand United States citizens.

The textual presentation of the Klan begins,

"The rapid social changes of the 1920s caused some Americans to react with violence. Fear of immigrants and blacks led in 1915 to the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, patterned after the organization founded during Reconstruction. Promoting "100% Americanism" and limited to native-born White Protestants, the Klan resembled a fraternal order complete with ritual and ceremony. Through skillful promotion the Klan expanded nationally from the South through the early 1920s, becoming a strong social and political force in many of the northern cities where immigrant and black populations were rising... Feeding on bigotry and racism, the Klan's organizers resorted to intimidation and violence to keep blacks, Catholics, and Jews "in their place".

Paradoxically, the Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters, and immoral movies. In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians." -- United States History for Christian Schools, 3rd Edition (2001) Bob Jones University Press, chapter 20

As additional context, until the year 2000 Bob Jones University maintained a ban on interracial dating.

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