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Sachs Lecturer Takes On the Christian Right

In his final presentation, David C. Berliner, this academic year's Julius and Rosa Sachs Lecturer, said the biggest problem with the Christian Right is that "they eschew compromise because they are so sure they are right."Berliner is Dean of the College of Education at Arizona State University and is a Visiting Professor at TC. He explained that his animosity is directed at fundamentalism, not any particular denomination. In the United States, however, the fundamentalist group that has the most visibility is the Christian Right, he said.

"In general," Berliner continued, "the Christian Right argues that federal controls have been used to deny students the ‘right' to pray in schools; to restrict unfairly the teaching of ‘scientific creationism'; to encourage the appearance of ‘dirty,' ‘anti-family,' ‘pro-homosexual,' and ‘anti-American' books in school curricula; and to enforce ‘cultural relativity' in courses on values and sex education."

One Christian Right advocate, Robert Thoburn of the Fairfax (Virginia) Christian School, said: "We believe public schools are immoral."According to Berliner, Thoburn urges members of the Christian Right to run for local school boards, saying that "Our goal is not to make the schools better…The goal is to hamper them, so they cannot grow… Our goal as God-fearing, uncompromised… Christians is to shut down the public school, not in some revolutionary way, but step by step, school by school, district by district."

Their strategy for dismantling public education is to get themselves elected to school boards, where they systematically handicap the system by voting against tax increases, plans to reduce class size and raises for teachers, he said.

Robert Simonds, head of the Citizens for Excellence in Education (CEE), has written a guide for the future board members: How to Elect Christians to Public Office. Berliner said that in the guide: "Simonds advised his Christian candidates to be up-beat and avoid saying things that could sound ‘kooky' and cause a backlash."

Berliner said that the CEE takes credit for the election of 7,153 school board members in 1993 and claims that by 1995 some 1,700 committees to promote the election of Christians had been established within school districts.

"The goal of many Christian school board members and their constituents is to hamper the public schools so completely that another 2 or 4 or 6 percent of the parents of public school children will feel compelled to withdraw their children and enroll them in private or religious schools," Berliner said. They want to increase the enrollment in private schools to build public demand for vouchers, he said.

Public school officials should take their efforts seriously and should be respectful of their concerns, "some of which are shared by all of us," he said. "But," he added, "we must also be extraordinarily vigilant to prevent them from gaining control of the public's common schools."

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