Milwaukee Is What the Religious Right Wants Our School System to Be

This is a bad thing, by the way. One of the tells that education ‘reform’ is about everything other than student learning is that most reformers are absolutely silent on the issue of creationism and other religious intrusions into the classroom. For those who don’t follow education closely (that is, you’re a normal person), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has had a voucher system for a very long time. In this system, students can use public money to attend a private school, which can include a religion-affiliated school, such as a Catholic school. As you might imagine, this doesn’t really lead to increases in student performance on tests, which isn’t especially surprising, given research in the area (once you adjust for socioeconomic status, the national NAEP data don’t show any advantage for private schools).

Ruth Conniff describes one Milwaukee charter school (boldface mine):

“Academy of Excellence” is spelled out in snap-on plastic letters above a phone number on a temporary-looking sign on West North Avenue….

Pastor George Claudio of the StraightWay Vineyard Christian Fellowship greets us inside.

He has been serving as principal here since September, although he has no background in education, he explains.

“I’m not a trained principal, so my approach has been more of a business and leadership approach,” he says. “I don’t know much about academics, so I’m on a crash course, relying on the teachers in the building.

“Everybody here is way below the poverty level,” he adds, as we peer into a classroom where four-year-old kindergarteners are lying down for a nap on the dirty indoor/outdoor carpeting. A teacher snaps out the lights.

Despite the dirty carpet and peeling walls, and a first-floor bathroom with no toilet paper, no paper towels, and heavy scribbling in the stalls and over the sink, Pastor Claudio is proud of how much better things look here since school started in September, after a major cleanup. Last fall, he tells us, the lights didn’t work….

We use the Bob Jones University curriculum,” he says….

We have two-thirds of our kids who would probably benefit from special ed,” Pastor Claudio tells us. But there is no special education program here. Instead, the pastor makes an effort to connect kids with tutors: “college kids, people who are interested in education. They sit down for individual instruction with them. Plus we have people from all the churches—I’m connected with so many churches.”

“Welcome to Middle School Science,” says a sign on an upstairs classroom door. Eleven eighth-grade boys are sitting in the science class. Another poster at eye level on the door says: “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth—Genesis 1:1”

The teacher, Mr. Mosconi, walks over and closes the door as we look in.

On the same hallway there is another large poster that says: “God can see your heart and he knows that it is wicked.”

Fundamentalism religious indoctrination? Check. Inadequate facilities? Yep! Not using professionals to assist those who need special help? You betcha! The only thing missing is some Randian Prosperity Gospel. Wait, what’s that you say? Let’s go to another voucher school:

Founded in 2002 by millionaire home-builder and former Republican Congressman Mark Neumann, the HOPE Prima school is the oldest of five HOPE Christian schools he runs in Milwaukee. Neumann’s business, Educational Enterprises, Inc., also runs charter schools in Phoenix and St. Louis….

Bulletin boards advertise scholarship awards from colleges to the graduates of HOPE High School: “Bethany Lutheran College with a $20,000 academic grant!!!”

And then there is this: All over the walls in the hallway are big, green million-dollar bills.

A child’s face peers out from the center of one million-dollar bill, announcing that he is a member of the “Millionaires Club,” having taken a computerized test to show he knows one million words.

“Can you be the next millionaire?” a poster over another kid’s face asks. “Winner, winner millionaire!!”

And there’s the low end Prosperity Gospel too:

The last stop on our tour is Carter’s Christian Academy, in a building that could pass for a corner store…

Third-grade teacher Annette Davis, a former guidance counselor in the Milwaukee Public Schools, has been teaching a lesson that involves a poster of a Van Gogh painting, a list of biblical principles, and some financial information labeled “Resource: Money Kit.”

Remember–this is funded by public tax dollars–and it does no better than the public schools (not surprisingly). What originally started out as a way to provide a lifeline for some students to attend ‘Saint X’ schools has turned into something very, very different:

In Milwaukee, eighth graders are attending what purports to be a public school to study science and learn creationism.

Third graders are absorbing a strange home brew of art, finance, and bible passages.

Immigrant children straight from refugee camps in Myanmar are landing in a school that looks like a refugee center, to be immersed in English and a harsh religious ideology that teaches them that their hearts are wicked.

All of this is supported by the public with tax dollars.

It looks like the end of society.

Amen selah to that.

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10 Responses to Milwaukee Is What the Religious Right Wants Our School System to Be

  1. janothar says:

    “taken a computerized test to show he knows one million words”

    Am I the only one bothered by a school making this claim, when there are not, in fact, a million words in English? A very large vocabulary for a native English speaker is on the order of tens of thousands of words.

    I know that there are bigger issues here, but this is a small, pedantic piece of charter school insanity.

    • Jon says:

      I was going to make this objection, but it turns out that at least one study puts the count at just over a million. So if the kids know every word, or nearly so, they could arguably do it.

      I wouldn’t hold my breath on getting one to use zygohistomorphism or polykinded in a sentence, though.

  2. Sideshow Bill says:

    I volunteer at a MPS middle school with science education, and work to keep kids in school. It’s amazing the number of students that come back to the school after the 3rd Friday of the semester (Counting day for voucher payments.) Of course the money doesn’t come back with them.

  3. John Edwards says:

    This is our future, if you and your atheist buddies make it with your campaign to alienate the Left Christians and split the anti-fundie coalition. There are quite a few more of us than there are of you, and you need us more than we need you. Just remember that the next time you get frustrated with the christers and feel an urge to go wilding on your allies. We are vastly patient, but not infinitely patient.

    • H.H. says:

      No, you’re just all martyrs.

    • Mick says:

      Atheists have their faults, but a “school” using Bob Jones University curriculum in a run down hovel without bathrooms aint the fault of Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers or any other atheist. Get a grip!

    • Oh? WE’RE splitting the one’s splitting this hypothetical “anti-fundie coalition” by pointing out that your magical cosmic tyrant doesn’t exist? I suppose we atheists are supposed to just shut up and let the superstitious fools do the talking?

      We are NOT your allies. We never were. We never will be. Your perpetuation of deities, spirits, devils, and life-after-death makes you just as bad the Bible-humper’s, and we don’t care that your version of the ethereal space dictator is “nicer” than the Christian Right’s. It is still just as mythical. It still isn’t real. Humanity doesn’t need to believe supernatural beings handing down moral dictates from the heavens to promote altruism, equality, or peace. We can figure out right and wrong on our own without resorting to magic, which is all theism really is.

      (BTW, how can you call yourself “Left” when you worship an unelected and unaccountable being who allegedly rules the universe without question? Sounds very undemocratic. Who voted for Yahweh, and when is his term of office up?)

    • Bruce Gorton says:

      There are quite a few more of us than there are of you, and you need us more than we need you.

      No we don’t.

      While you Christian lefties were talking about how the unions were a bunch of communists, atheists like Joe Hill were fighting for workers’ rights.

      While you Christian lefties were telling black people to calm down and not antagonize the KKK, we atheists weren’t just marching with the civil rights movement, but figures like A Philip Randolph were leading it.

      And religiosity is still a predictor for racism.

      You Christian lefties are still debating female clergy, we atheists had Madelyn Murray O’Hair as the leader of the largest organised atheist group in the US decades ago.

      While you Christian lefties were pissing your pants over people advertising gay marriages in magazines like Sojourners, you didn’t want to be all political, well we atheists were and still are fighting for equality.

      And we are winning. Our non-racist, non-sexist, non-homophobic values are winning, they are winning so damn hard you need to pretend they were all your idea all along.

      When we look at your wish for more religion and more nicey nice towards your religion, you know what I think?

      I think it hasn’t even been a decade since religious governance in the US screwed the world economy into a recession which it still hasn’t recovered from. Look to God for the answers, watch the bank repo your house for a mortgage you didn’t even sign.

      Meanwhile the defenders of God and country on TV blame the fact that black people could get loans.

      And you know the Hobby Lobby decision? That wasn’t the religious right, that was based on a law written by the religious left.

      But hey don’t let that stop you whining about aggressive secularists and how secularism doesn’t solve everything, like your answers have a track record of anything even vaguely workable.

      We win without you.

      And that success of ours I will grant you isn’t based on atheists being more popular or well liked, but simply the fact that for all of your disaster site pageantry we’re the ones who actually give a damn about this world and the people in it.

      You go to disasters under the banner of your church, making a big show of your religious faith. Well we’re there too – only we don’t view somebody’s house getting knocked down as a opportunity to win converts, we’re just there to help so we don’t make such a big deal of our metaphysical views.

      We have to be pushed to show any iconography at all – the little we do show is because there is inevitably some lying snotty little prick like Joe Klein coming along asking “Where are all the atheists?”

      And after the disaster is done, we’re the ones who come up with the engineering standards, the new environmental laws, the push for more to be done about climate change – and you join us at that point.

      But not before, when we listened to scientists and pushed for the exact same damn things so that the disaster wouldn’t happen in the first place. No, then you’re oh so quiet and oh so unpolitical.

      Don’t pretend like we need you. Reality asserts itself whether your ideology likes it or not, and the fact is we’re right and all you’re little foot stamping ever achieves is your own toes landing in a nest of thorns.

  4. Ichthyic says:

    “There are quite a few more of us than there are of you, and you need us more than we need you. ”

    lol. right. that fundie xian education going to take you a long way is it? yup, American Science based on a 6000 year old earth, meaning you have to toss physics, chemistry, geology… yeah, that’s gonna pay off I’m sure.

    or are you all planning to be serfs in the new US feudalist state?

    you’re right. you clearly don’t need a good education.

    please say hello to your new feudal lords for me?

  5. Ichthyic says:

    I swear, xians in the US might as well just say they believe in My Little Pony. After all, there are a LOT of people who really really like that show.

    You know why xians are fucking despised?

    because they make constant threats, just like you did, while claiming to be “on your side”.

    yup, it’s not exactly easy to respect someone who stoops to extortion without even noticing it.

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