Tag Archives: education

The Undiscovered Cost of Inclusion

The mythology of bad teachers empowered by entrenched unions is only one part of a national disaster that has crept up on us over recent decades with the passage of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Meant to provide legal protections for the disabled, the side effects of these laws has been to undercut funding and appropriate learning environments for normal children.

By stating this fact, I am risking a rain of fire from incensed parents of disabled children. These parents have been a primary inciting force of these laws, alongside adults with disabilities, and have ensured federal and state tax dollars will flow into programs that aid the disabled.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 … assures certain protections to certain students with disabilities. §504 states that:

“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . . .”. 29 U.S.C. 794(a).[1]

One result of these laws has been the “mainstreaming” of students with disabilities into American public school classrooms. IDEA mandates that students with disabilities receive a “Free and Appropriate Education in the Least Restrictive Environment.”[2]  Previously, students with disabilities with conditions such as autism, developmental delay, emotional/behavior disturbance, intellectual disability, orthopedic impairment, learning disability, learning disabilities and speech and language impairment may have been placed in special schools where teachers with specialized training could focus directly on their special needs.

Mainstreaming works for many types of disabled students but does not work so well for many others. School districts face lawsuits from distraught parents if their disabled child is perceived not to be treated “equally” with other students. There’s also a cost factor, with estimates upwards to $100,000 per year per student for a special needs environment, according to one article detailing a situation in Georgia.[3] The risk of lawsuits and soaring costs for special needs education causes school districts to place disabled students into classrooms with “normal” children.

A veteran educator dealing with special needs students for over 30 years in a major metropolitan school district cited one example of the outcome of such policies.

“One of the things we tried was to put her in an art class. She sat there the entire hour voicing this loud moaning cry.” He imitated the sound. “I don’t know how anyone expected her to learn anything. She functioned at the intellectual level of a six-month-old infant.”

What this educator could not quantify was the effect of this person’s behavior on the rest of the class over the eight years this student remained in this secondary level school. Did anyone else learn anything in that art class or was this a wasted hour in their day, an hour when they might have learned how to draw perspective, or blend complimentary colors if not for the loud cries steadily emanating from the severely disabled person in their midst?

What’s been lost in our urge to help those with special needs is the primary mandate of our schools—to educate the next generation of scientists, artists, technicians, educators, workers, and leaders for our nation. The commendable stated objective of the ADA, to make it possible for everyone with a disability to live a life of freedom and equality, is deceptively simple and ignores the reality: people with many types of disability will NEVER be able to live a life of freedom and equality.

This is not something many parents of such children are willing to accept. Many of them believe if their child mingles with regular kids and attends the same classes, they will graduate high school and go on to college. It’s a heartbreaking situation.

In our public policy pursuit of this fantasy, we’re continuing to overlook the collateral damage. Consider one experience of an elementary teacher in a private Christian school in a small Midwestern state. At the start of the 2018 school year, a new student was introduced to her class. Neither parents nor administrators introduced the child to the teacher or explained her needs. Instead, the teacher soon discovered that she would be expected to change the child’s diapers, spoon feed her, and deal with increasingly loud, belligerent, and violent behavior. The teacher’s aide, meant to assist in teaching a class of over 30 young squirmy children, was forced to devote her entire schedule to managing the disabled girl.

“Finally, at the end of the semester,” the teacher remarked, “my documented chronology of abuses by this student forced the administration to contact the parents and the student was removed from the school. I feel like I’ve lost an entire semester with the rest of these kids.”

The decision by a private school to accept ID kids is often a financial one—the school needs the tuition money. Private schools are not under the same federal mandate to mainstream kids with disabilities because they don’t rely on public funding. This helps explain the push to channel tax dollars to private schools and may in part have to do with maintaining the freedom to deny admission to severely disabled students.

Not all disabilities lead to chaos in the classroom. Young people with physical disabilities may require specific desk heights and schools free of stairs, but they can still participate in the learning process alongside non-disabled students. It’s the intellectually disabled who pose the greatest challenge in mainstreaming.

Intellectual Disability (ID), formerly known as mental retardation, is an ongoing and perhaps increasing condition in the U.S.[4]  Criteria for ID include an IQ under 70 in addition to deficits in two or more adaptive behaviors that affect everyday, general living although many variables move the determination up or down these markers. Conditions meeting this definition include Down syndrome and fragile X syndrome.

Intellectual disability affects about 2–3% of the general population. Seventy-five to ninety percent of the affected people have mild intellectual disability. Non-syndromic or idiopathic cases account for 30–50% of cases [An idiopathic disease is any disease with an unknown cause or mechanism of apparent spontaneous origin.] About a quarter of cases are caused by a genetic disorder, and about 5% of cases are inherited from a person’s parents. Cases of unknown cause affect about 95 million people as of 2013.[5]

Benefits of mainstreaming for both normal students and disabled students include exposure to diversity. But the majority of benefits are exclusive to the disabled: learning socialization skills, exposure to higher functioning children, and the challenge of competition. This says nothing about any benefit to normal children. As the 30-year veteran put it, “Here we’re spending big chunks of our limited budgets to provide an aide to accompany an ID student all day while spending nothing to assist or promote a kid with 140 IQ.”

The loss to our future society is incalculable.

Of equal concern is the inevitable observation by ID students who compare themselves to the social lives and interactions of normal students. ABC’s ongoing (2015 to present) television program “Born This Way” portrays one aspect of this effect by showcasing high functioning Downs syndrome children who aspire to marriage, stardom, and independent living. Many of the stars of this program are closely assisted by their mothers, leaving a question about what they’ve actually accomplished on their own. At times the program seems exploitative, showcasing anomalous humans for entertainment purposes. Encouraging their expectations for a normal life may ultimately prove cruel.

Before dumping severely disabled children into classrooms with normal students, schools need to ensure that teachers are prepared for the challenge. Many of them are not. Teacher education does not include techniques for changing diapers on physically mature ‘students.’

An estimated 1.8 million of the U.S. population are considered severely disabled, yet many of the disabled youth have parents who struggle to ensure their child’s future is as close to normal as possible. What parent wouldn’t?  Yet as observed by one special educator,

“… research also shows that students with disabilities, whether mild or severe, often have poorer social skills and are less accepted by their non-disabled peers. So we have to ask ourselves—who are we really thinking of when we talk about inclusion? Are we thinking of the student with a mild learning disability who may easily blend in and be accepted by their abled peers, or the student with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair and must be fed by a feeding tube, who just may stick out in a mainstream crowd? Speaking from experience, I’ve seen that the best communication skills, motor skills, and social skills are developed when students work alongside peers who are like themselves—peers who share their struggles, who know what it feels like to make huge gains in small steps.”[6]

It’s time to take a fresh look at the ADA and IDEA legislation and come to a new understanding based not only on what parents of disabled children dream for their child but also what is best for the rest of our children and the nation as a whole. The cost burden to schools is enormous. Specially trained aides are required to accompany disabled children through the day, to feed them, change diapers, and physically contain them. School budgets have not increased commensurate to the added expense of adequate staffing for meeting the needs of disabled children, and yet the nation wonders why classroom teachers are buying school supplies out of their own pockets.

Aside from the tremendous cost to taxpayers,[7] there is no real assessment of the cost to teachers, normal students, or society as a whole for these well-intended policies, but it surely is great. Many teachers are leaving the field with its low pay and unexpected demands. Yes, there are lousy teachers out there just as all levels of competence exist in any profession. This isn’t a problem of unions or incompetence—it’s a problem of well-intentioned public policy failing to take the big picture into consideration.

~~~

[1] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individuals_with_Disabilities_Education_Act#Individualized_Family_Service_Plan_(IFSP) for more details about these laws

[2] https://www.eparent.com/education/mainstreaming-the-education-of-children-with-disabilities-the-teachers-perspective/

[3] https://www.theclassroom.com/the-cost-of-mainstreaming-vs-special-education-classes-12067245.html

[4] Multiple studies show a direct link between pollution and intellectual disabilities. See, for example, http://www.sci-news.com/medicine/link-air-pollution-intellectual-disabilities-06637.html

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual_disability

[6] Smith N. Takepart. Op-Ed: An argument against mainstreaming kids with disabilities. A special education teacher shares why she believes students with special needs thrive in schools solely for kids with disabilities. https://www.scoop.it/t/issues-in-special-education

[7] Approximately fifty percent of the current Medicaid budget pays out to children with disabilities. See https://www.kff.org/medicaid/issue-brief/medicaids-role-for-children-with-special-health-care-needs-a-look-at-eligibility-services-and-spending/

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Change II: Gift to Our Future

What will make things better? Here are some ideas.

Social Support Programs: Address the Root

When a person applies for food stamps, unemployment, Medicaid, or other tax-supported programs, they face a stack of requirements to prove they’re worthy of help. Each application and benefit comes with its own separate process. Part of the problem for such applicants might be a lack of understanding about how to meet application requirements.

What’s needed is an advocate to guide the applicant through the process but also, more importantly, to assess the person’s situation, capabilities, and needs and to assist that person in moving beyond their current status. Education, job training, mental health care, and/or medical treatment are among the needs often experienced by those seeking government assistance, but rather than actually helping people get the help they need, current programs throw out random packages of aid without any comprehensive effort at addressing the root causes.

An advocate for such applicants could assist in the process of seeking help whether gaining access to the full array of needed services, completing the application process properly, or assigning a counselor to help the applicant sort out his/her current life situation (in which case the advocate and counselor become a team). Without expert advocates to steer each applicant through an increasingly complex system, we risk wasting billions on systemic inefficiencies and do nothing to solve the problems that cause these people to need help in the first place.

Of primary importance is assisting recipients in teaching them nutrition including cooking lessons.

Dispose of Outdated Laws

Drug laws

The drug war, like alcohol prohibition before it, frames the use of certain natural drugs as a moral failing. The result has been mass incarceration for private behavior.

All natural drugs should be immediately legalized, regulated like alcohol, and taxed. That includes marijuana, coca leaf, psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, opium, and Ayahuasca, among others. Persons wishing to consume any of these substances should be able to walk into a retail establishment like a liquor store anywhere in the country and buy a product that’s been certified for purity and dosage. Such products should not be controlled by pharmaceutical companies. Individual production of such substances for personal consumption should be allowed without taxation or regulation. Public venues which serve psychoactive drugs should be licensed in the same manner as establishments for consuming alcohol.

Anyone previously convicted or imprisoned for possession, “manufacture,” or sale of these substances should be released from incarceration and their convictions expunged from the record. Unfortunately, due to the massive numbers of persons involved, any compensation for their loss of income or other social costs is not feasible.

Substance abuse, like alcoholism, can become a serious problem for certain people. Currently, only the very rich can afford treatment programs that address the whole person through nutrition, counseling, and exercise, among other things. Tax revenues derived from retail sales should first provide for comprehensive treatment centers in every community where anyone suffering from addiction can be immediately admitted.

Performance testing for job safety should take the place of current drug testing. A brief interface with a computer terminal for tests tailored to immediately show competency to meet job requirements—attention, dexterity, coordination, etc.—should be part of the employee’s beginning of his/her work day.  A test failure, no matter what the cause of impairment—hangover, intoxication, fight with the spouse—could become part of that employee’s record with appropriate consequences for repeated failure.

Intoxicated driving will be prosecuted.

Sex Laws

Prostitution should be legalized, regulated, and taxed as any other business. If a person wants to sell the use of his/her body for sexual gratification, it should be within his or her right to do so. Government licensing should include regular health inspections to ensure public safety. Houses of prostitution could compete with luxurious settings, the most attractive employees, or the most innovative approach – for example, offer an immersive experience in an establishment with fantasy themes (medieval, harem, S&M dungeon, etc.). There should be no restriction on how houses of prostitution or individual practitioners might combine their services with other services such as massage, restaurants, intoxication venues (alcohol and/or drugs), or even mental health counseling.

Facilities/Resources

Eliminating drug and sex laws will result in decreased need for jails and prisons as well as employees of those criminal justice systems. Freed-up resources should be redirected to improving public defender salaries and providing for persons prosecuted for other offenses.

Reining in Greedmasters

CEOs and other top executives should receive pay based on the pay their workers receive. If the company is profitable enough to pay at CEO $27 million a year, workers should be earning far more than $15 or even $20 per hour. Prices for products that serve a lifesaving role for consumers should be regulated by the government just as utilities and other vital public services are regulated.

Healthcare

Medicare for everyone. Eliminate insurance companies unless they are non-profit. Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies must be non-profit. Drugs would be price controlled. Research for new treatments and new drugs would operate under federal grants.

Legal Services

Expand funding for free legal aid so that injured parties have full recourse to legal action.

Everyone is responsible

National service

Everyone reaching age 18 must serve whether Peace Corps, military, domestic infrastructure, civic duties or whatever else would benefit the public at large. No exceptions except for significant disability. Higher education, either college or vocational, can wait until the completion of two years’ public service. Serving in such duties should be in a location away from the family home, should provide food, shelter, and a minimal wage, and should result in free college/vocational training at its conclusion.

Education

All secondary schools should be required to offer a curriculum that includes literature/language, basic math, basic science, state and national history, music, art, and domestic duties including balancing a checkbook, changing a tire, and nutrition/how to cook. Males and females need the same courses. Domestic duty classes would include thorough sex education with a segment where kids have to carry a baby (doll) around 24-7. Dolls used for this teaching experience should be computerized to function as close to human behavior as possible including messy diapers, hunger, and crying. Birth control pills should be freely dispensed at school health clinics with or without parental permission.

Teacher salaries should be competitive with other professions requiring college degrees even in the most impoverished districts.

States which allow religious schools and home schooling should be required to regularly test home schooled and religious school students for the same course requirements as public schools students. Non-public school students who can’t pass the exams cannot receive a diploma. Repeated failure to pass exams would require the student to enter public schools. Public school students who fail to pass exams would be entered into a special unit of the school system and assessed for need of nutrition, mental health, and family problems, among other things, and individually tutored until learning improves.

Vocational training for all trades should be available and affordable as should college.

Homeless Population

An estimated 25-30% of homeless people suffer mental illness. Yet few programs addressing homelessness provide for treatment. Often these individuals end up in local jails because they can’t take care of themselves and there are no longer facilities dedicated to treating them.

“…during the Reagan administration, Federal funding for such institutions was shut down so that our wealthy class could pay less in taxes, and that put many thousands of mentally ill people out on the street corner. We have done nothing since to remedy this. A compassionate nation would care for these unfortunate people, and provide the mental facilities to house them where they could get the help they need that their conditions require.”[1]

Most homeless programs exhaust their resources in simply trying to feed and shelter the homeless. Successful efforts to address homelessness are based on meeting physical needs as well as mental health concerns. Addiction is another illness at the root of many homeless situations. Until systemic remedies are put into place, homelessness will continue to plague us.

Successful programs for the homeless are centered in tiny home villages or converted industrial/commercial properties. As shopping malls have become less viable, some cities and nonprofits have converted these sprawling spaces to homeless housing. Facilities serving the homeless would offer food service, counseling, health care, and job training. Refinement of services for homeless might include separation of persons by root cause of their homelessness; mentally ill might be separated from persons suffering addiction, for example.

Taxes

Poverty levels should be adjusted annually to meet the real costs of housing, food, and transportation in the location of each person. Persons earning above poverty level should pay income taxes on a sliding scale. Income at some level should pay a very high rate, as much as 70% of income.

In addition to legalized ‘sin’ transactions (drugs, sex) that would generate significant tax revenues, churches should be taxed like any other business. Penalties and additional taxes should be assessed against any corporation or individual found to be hiding income in foreign countries. No tax shelters.

MERRY CHRISTMAS and a happy future for all!

~~~

Have ideas or arguments about my list? Submit your own list of solutions to me at denele.campbell@gmail.com and I’ll publish reasonable submissions. Limit 1,500 words, one list per person.

 

[1] https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-most-successful-homeless-program

How to Grow More Ignorance in Arkansas

Arkansas continues to shoot itself in the foot with the recent passage of new regulations governing home schooling. As a new year begins, public hearings on the latest revisions are open only through January 17. After the public comment period, assuming comments fail to arouse concerns at the Arkansas Department of Education (under the leadership of evangelical Christian Johnny Key), the new rules will be submitted to the state Education Board for approval.

Members of the evangelical right have taken an increasingly militant stance about public education. Partly white flight from integration, partly concern over exposure to gay or minority students and the so-called liberal agenda, and partly public school difficulty in maintaining high educational standards in the face of inadequate funding alongside demand for extraordinary services in mainlining students with special needs, reasons abound for conservative parents to seek alternatives.

But by far the greatest reason for parents choosing to homeschool is their determination to teach religion. Evidently church alone isn’t enough to satisfy this need.

According to the surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, 91 percent of homeschooling parents are more concerned about the environment of schools and want to offer a religious (64 percent) and/or moral (77 percent) alternative.

Smaller-scale studies of parental attitudes have found the same thing, from the conservative fathers who try to form a moral cocoon around their children, to African-American families who want to foster a sense of racial pride in their children, to “quiverfull” families trying to have enough children to Christianize the United States by demographic transformation.[1]

Obviously none of these interests coincide with the need for good citizenship in a blended American society.

In Arkansas, where fundamentalist religious teachings flourish under the guidance of such groups as the Family Council (a conservative research, advocacy, and education organization), the self-explanatory Clark County Christian Home School Organization, and the even more self-explanatory Texarkana Organization for the Resolute Christian Homeschoolers, state lawmakers have signed off on the radical Christian agenda.

On the surface, it might seem a worthy effort to give parents more control over the education of their children. After all, parents love their children and want what’s best for them. The problem lies in the parents’ judgment about what is ‘best.’

Is it best for parents to be the sole instructor and judge of their children’s education? Is it best to prioritize religious beliefs over the U. S. Constitution? What if parents don’t care much about history or math or computer skills, but prefer their children only understand the Bible?

What is the responsibility of the state to ensure that it doesn’t end up with a significant number of young adults incapable of holding down a job, getting along with their neighbors, or functioning as a thoughtful voter?

The latest round of regulations, promulgated during the 2017 legislative session, clarifies requirements for homeschoolers moving in or out of the public schools  and in particular their participation in sports and other extracurricular programs. (Never underestimate the importance of football—and, to a lesser extent, other sports—as the state’s second religion.) As the numbers of homeschoolers have grown, so has the burning need to allow an overlap of public school football and homeschoolers.

Most importantly to anyone concerned about the nation’s future and the potential for our very own religious war, the new regulations remove the state entirely from any oversight of homeschoolers.

“[The statute] eliminates all state-mandated testing and reporting of courses taught and grades earned.”[2]

No one will know if home schooled students are learning any of the reasoning skills or basic facts essential to the maintenance and advancement of our society. No one knows or apparently even cares whether the parents are capable of teaching or well-educated themselves. Most of all, no one seems to care that isolated segments of the population are being given free rein to seclude themselves harboring potentially seditious motivations.

Parents wishing to cloak their children in fundamentalist Christian beliefs can blithely ignore scientific evidence of the earth’s geologic age or evolution of species. They can sidestep entirely the subject of human reproduction and its greater context in biology. Thousands may emerge from their ‘education’ with no knowledge of how babies are made or the use of birth control, much less how lifetimes of suffering might be avoided through pre-natal testing.

No one will know if students are learning that government is evil. No one will interfere if children are taught to ignore the political process or the vital responsibilities of citizenship. The state is stepping back, washing their hands, of the original dictates of the nation’s earliest leaders who recognized the importance of education. Will any of these children, or their parents for that matter, comprehend the urgent truth in the statements of our Founding Fathers?

George Washington: “The best means of forming a manly, virtuous, and happy people will be found in the right education of youth. Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion, must fail.”

James Madison:  “Learned institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.”

John Jay: “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic, and as the weak and the wicked are generally in alliance, as much care should be taken to diminish the number of the former as of the latter. Education is the way to do this, and nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means of obtaining a proper degree of it at at cheap and easy rate.”

James Madison: “What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of liberty and learning, each leaning on each on the other for their mutual and surest support?”

Thomas Jefferson: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. …Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

Surely not all homeschooled children will turn out to be close-minded religious zealots incapable of reasoned understanding of complex issues such as immigration, minority rights, or the nuances of gender and sexual orientation. But as the numbers of homeschoolers continue to increase in Arkansas and the state continues to back off any meaningful oversight, the potential for rabidly ignorant and potentially treasonous segments of our population increase exponentially.

[From a 2012 article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette]: The latest count of home-schooled students in Arkansas shows about 400 more students are learning at home compared to the previous year. The Arkansas Education Department said 16,405 students completed the 2011-2012 school year as home-schooled students. That’s compared with 16,003 in the prior year. …State records show that in 1986, 572 students were home-schooled in Arkansas. By 1992, the number was 3,140, and by 2002, 12,497 students were being taught at home. The 16,405 children home-schooled last academic year is equal to 3.5 percent of the state’s 468,000 public school students.[3]

The count in 2017 was 19,000.

~~~

To voice your concerns, view the draft rules at http://bit.ly/2BTClJb or email your thoughts to ADE.RulesComments@arkansas.gov

~~~

Yes, I’ve blogged about similar topics before.

The Poverty of Conservatism

Conscious Evolution

Treason in the Name of God is Still Treason

A Sword Cuts Both Ways

~~~

[1] https://newrepublic.com/article/122987/does-homeschooling-make-children-more-religious

[2] “Home-school rules redo gives parents more rein,” by Cynthia Howell. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Northwest Arkansas edition, December 30, 2017. Page 5

[3] “Number of home-schoolers in state rises again,” Associated Press. Arkansas Democrat Gazette, September 10, 2012.

The Poverty of Conservatism

 

A continuing crisis plagues Arkansas. Like a snake eating its tail, poverty, addiction and mental illness, teen pregnancy, sexual violence against women, and low educational achievement perpetuate themselves as a result of entrenched conservative thinking. Costs for addressing these problems continue to skyrocket while the state’s earning power lingers near the bottom.

Where do we cut the snake?

Arkansas ranks 48th out of 50 states in terms of poverty. In 2015, 19.1% percent of the state’s households—one fifth—have incomes below the federal poverty line of $24,250 for a family of four.[1]  For 2016, the state’s population of 2,887,337 included 550,508 people living in poverty.[2]

In a direct correlation to the poverty rate, the state ranks 39 out of 50 states in how well students are educated.[3] The state slips further down the scale for persons 25 years of age when considering the following factors: Only 84.8% graduate high school. Only 21.1% obtain a bachelor’s degree, a ranking that puts Arkansas at 48th out of 50. And only 7.5% obtain graduate degrees, a rank of 49 out of 50.[4]

We hover near the bottom at 46 in terms of mental illness in a compilation of 15 factors including all ages, availability of treatment, and addiction rates.[5] Between 2010 and 2014, over one third of teens in need of mental health treatment did not receive it while over 53% of adults did not. Only 20% of Arkansas residents with drug dependence and 10% with alcohol dependence received treatment.[6]

The state consistently ranks in the top five for teen pregnancies with up to 80 births per 1000 occurring among teen girls ages 15 to 19. Of these, 60% are white, 27% are black, and 11% are Hispanic. Counties with the highest rates included Sevier, Nevada, Arkansas, St. Francis, Mississippi, Jackson, and Randolph.[7]

According to a 2014 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Children born to teen parents are more likely to enter the child welfare or juvenile justice systems and to become teen parents themselves. Every year, thousands of young Arkansans enter one or both systems. Research shows that, nationwide, the children of teen mothers are twice as likely to be placed in foster care as their peers born to slightly older parents. Sons of teen mothers are 2.2 times more likely to be incarcerated than the sons of mothers aged 20 to 21.[8]

The crisis becomes most apparent in the number of Arkansas children in foster care. From March 2015 to March 2016, the total number of available and in-use beds in foster homes increased from 2,801 to 3,306, but the number of foster children also increased, from 4,178 to 4,791. A 2016 report states that substance abuse by caregivers accounts for over 50% of children in foster care.[9]

Despite such high rates of teen pregnancies, many Arkansas school districts do not provide any sex education. Many others offer abstinence-only education including a virginity pledge (14 districts[10]), a ridiculous non-starter since census records show that over 52% of Arkansas teens are sexually active. Only seven school districts provide comprehensive sex education addressing contraceptives, sexually transmitted infection, abortion, and sexual orientation.

The Centers for Disease Control report that 37.4% to 38.5% of women in Arkansas experience at least one event of sexual violence during their lifetimes. These experiences include rape, sexual coercion, and/or unwanted sexual contact.[11] Among sexually active teens, 18% of females report acts of violence (being hit, slammed into something, or injured with an object or weapon on purpose by someone they were dating) and 16% reported being raped.[12]

Are Arkansas citizens somehow genetically predisposed to suffer these conditions? Is it something in the water? Or might the answer be found in the conservative mindset of a majority of Arkansas citizens?

Arkansas ranks 5th in the number of churches per capita. Seventy percent of adults define themselves as ‘highly religious’ with 65% saying they pray daily and 77% saying they believe in God with absolute certainty.[13] The predominant religion practiced in Arkansas is Southern Baptist, a conservative Protestant sect which believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Predictably, any push for sex education and contraceptives in public schools provokes conservative outrage. By religious thinking, unwanted pregnancies serve as punishment for illicit sex. The burden borne by women in unwanted pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare is God’s retaliation for the sins of Eve. As stated in Southern Baptist doctrine, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”[14] Prevention either through birth control or abortion upends the natural order of things as ordained by God.

The prevailing idea of conservative parents is that talking about sex and especially advocating for birth control of any kind creates a permissive attitude wherein teens are more likely to have sex. Data clearly dispute this belief. But the refusal to accept widely accepted evidence about the effectiveness of sex ed fits perfectly with the greater mindset of religious conservatives: willful ignorance about any and all information that doesn’t square with religious teachings.

Under the belief that addiction or non-marital sexual activity are moral failings, many efforts to address non-marital sex, sexual abuse or substance abuse rely on faith-based programs. Yet as noted by a counselor with twenty years in faith-based addiction treatment, “Often times, Christian programs view the secular approach to recovery as counterproductive to their message and will often discredit and even disregard medical or empirical based advice to addiction recovery.”[15]

While embracing some aspects of modern science and the advances of civilization such as automobiles, cell phones, DVRs, and medical progress, conservatives refuse to acknowledge other key findings of our times. Early religions strictly regulated a woman’s sexual activity out of concern for proving paternity and reducing conflict between competing males, among other things.  None of that matters today. Genetic testing quickly solves questions of paternity. But religion has become so institutionalized its practitioners can’t back up far enough to consider its origins or usefulness.

There’s a blind adherence to the tradition of making babies as the primary goal in life.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that teen pregnancy leads to lack of education which in turn leads to poor employment opportunities, or that a state with a high rate of poorly educated adults won’t attract many employers. It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that poorly educated people with poor job opportunities are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol or suffer other forms of mental illness. Inadequate nutrition also plays a role, another cause and result of mental illness and poverty.

Further, an embattled position in poverty with subpar education leads people directly to unreasoned fear of Other—xenophobia and racism.

We have to start with the head of the snake. If we hold any hope of interrupting this vicious cycle, our state and national educational standards must require sex education. Such requirements must be imposed even in private, religious, and home school settings.

The requirements can’t stop there. All children must be required to learn the basics of science, history, political science, and other fields that serve as major elements in critical thinking about the modern world. While the state cannot dictate whether someone embraces any particular religion, we can dictate that our children are adequately prepared to make an informed choice about what to believe.

We cannot allow reactionary religious beliefs and tribalism to undo what civilization has achieved thus far.

The hue and cry against such reforms in education will be loud and long. State and federal legislators will be hard pressed to maintain a firm stance in the face of entrenched dogmatic beliefs. It will take true leaders to enact reforms in a time when leadership seems missing from public life. That means we must elect educated progressives who will carry the weight. The future of our nation depends on it.

~~~

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_poverty_rate

[2] https://talkpoverty.org/state-year-report/arkansas-2016-report/

[3] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/education  The

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_educational_attainment

[5] http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/ranking-states

[6] https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/2015_Arkansas_BHBarometer.pdf

[7] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach,” Ginny Monk. Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Sunday September 24, 2017. Page 1.

[8] http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/teen-pregnancy-in-arkansas.aspx

[9] “Children in foster care in Arkansas reaches all-tine high.” Brian Fanney. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 22, 2016. Online access October 18, 2017

[10] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach”

[11] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/NISVS-StateReportBook.pdf

[12] https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/facts-and-stats/national-and-state-data-sheets/adolescent-reproductive-health/arkansas/index.html

[13] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/how-religious-is-your-state/?state=arkansas

[14] http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/basicbeliefs.asp

[15] http://www.addictioncampuses.com/resources/addiction-campuses-blog/3-reasons-christian-rehabs-dont-work-according-to-a-pastor/

 

The Homeschool Plague

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Last week the Arkansas Department of Education announced a public comment period on the implementation of new rules regarding home schooled students. The comment period ends June 29. If you haven’t commented already, don’t worry. Your comment won’t make much difference. These rules are mere housekeeping details in the wake of legislation enacted over the last few years which remove any accountability in home schooling.

Previously the state paid for standardized testing to assess student progress at specified points along the educational path, including home schooled students. But the teeth were removed from that effort when the state failed to institute any meaningful follow-up if the student performed badly on those tests. Now even the testing will cease to exist.

Touted as a money saving measure, the legislation actually satisfies a long-sought goal of the religious right. That is, nobody is going to tell my kid we’re descended from monkeys. And so forth.

As recently attested in a Texas court case, “…A lower court ruling allowed for Texas homeschoolers to legally teach their children absolutely zilch if they believe their family is waiting to be raptured.” Texas counts over 300,000 homeschooled students. There, in a nutshell, is the problem with Texas.[1]

An Arkansas family wishing to home school is able to choose their own curricula, accredited or not, pursue the education at whatever pace they wish, and accept whatever outcome suits their personal whim. The Arkansas law still stands that a child between the ages of five and seventeen must be educated, but for homeschooling devotees, this is sidestepped very easily.  Parents must sign a form stating they will homeschool. Period.

Currently in Arkansas, over 18,000 students are homeschooled. Undoubtedly not all 18,000 homeschooled students are failed utterly by the state’s willful abandonment of oversight. Some parents have reasons other than fundamentalist religion to homeschool—a child’s disabilities, perhaps, or the conviction that non-traditional education better serves their parental goals. Many parents may work hard to ensure their homeschooled child gains skills needed to enter college and/or otherwise pursue a successful life. Many homeschooling parents choose standardized tests to measure their children’s progress.

Unfortunately for the future, recent surveys show that the “most important reason” parents give to homeschool is “a desire to provide religious or moral instruction (36%). Typically the religious belief being represented is evangelical Christian.”  In these homeschool situations, modern scientific knowledge—geologic age of the planet, for example—is disregarded. Math and critical thinking are not highly prized. The objective is that the child obtain minimal literacy so he or she can read the Bible.

Or, put another way, the Koran.

Arkansas students in public schools are regularly tested so that if they are failing to learn, their school can provide remediation. No such option exists for homeschooled students. If they are failing to learn, the state doesn’t know or care.

The problem is bigger than homeschooled students. Non-accredited private and parochial schools also escape state oversight. If a school is not receiving tax dollars, it does not have to meet state standards. Whatever they teach and whatever the students may know or not know at the point of ‘graduation’ is beyond the state’s purview.

All this irrational fear of compulsory state education feeds the rising plague of intentional ignorance. It undergirds the success of extremist conservative politics. These folks don’t believe in global warming because they have no comprehension of science. To them, state standards are part of a humanist conspiracy to stamp out religion.

If only.

As far back as Ancient Greece, leaders advocated for compulsory education that started kids learning at age six. By the 16th century, European church leaders enforced compulsory education to ensure that people could read the Scriptures. Colonial governments in early American settlements required education as well, a practice that spread with the growth of the nation. These were largely private, tuition supported efforts. As more immigrants arrived through the 19th century, support grew for tax-supported schools that could provide education for rich and poor alike. The last state to pass compulsory education laws was Mississippi (1919), a circumstance perhaps reflected even today in that state’s continuing struggle to move out of last place in just about everything.

Compulsory education was good while it lasted.

The first challenge arose in 1925 and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that while the state had the right to enforce certain standards, it could not eliminate the right of parents to place their children in parochial or private schools. Generally, however, it was upheld through this and other legal actions that while states may grant exemptions for home schooling, that schooling must meet the standards required of public and state-accredited private schools.

This is no longer the case in Arkansas, one of fifteen states which require only notification of intent to preschool. As long as a parent signs that one form, they are free to home school in any way they desire. There is no follow-up, no checkpoint, no tests. Nobody looks in to see if the parents are teaching anything. There is no safety net.

While one might assume that parents want the best for their children and that any well-intentioned parent understands that education holds the key to a child’s successful future, one might be wrong. Some parents do not care and may select the homeschool route simply to avoid waking up early and getting the kid ready for school. Some parents may embark on homeschooling for vague reasons and fail utterly in selecting and teaching adequate curricula.

Worst of all are parents who intentionally subvert their child’s education in order to satisfy reactionary belief systems based on religious faith. Such parents are deluded with the idea that God is coming soon, or God tells them whatever they need to know, or that the holy scriptures are all the education anyone needs. (Feel free to substitute ‘Allah’ for ‘God’ in the preceding sentence.) The results are staggering: young adults unable to function even in minimum wage jobs, unable to reason through simple logical processes, and incapable of thinking past whatever dogma is imposed on them.

Which is—sadly—the objective.

That the State of Arkansas has disgraced itself by falling to such a low non-standard in its education of young people correlates exactly with the rise of extremist Republican government. It does not bode well for the state’s future. The greater the number of intentionally ignorant citizens, the higher the likelihood of more extremists being elected to public office. It’s difficult to imagine how far the state might fall.

But wait! We may not fall that far. We’re already damn near the bottom.

Surely there is legal remedy for this descent into religious lunacy. I propose that would-be voters be required to have obtained a GED or high school diploma. Literacy tests were ruled unconstitutional when used in southern states as a racial barrier, but if the standard were applied equally to all races, that objection would fail.

Democracy depends on reasoned political discourse and informed voters. It’s in the national interest that elections be conducted fairly. Neither bribes nor brainwashing nor willful ignorance should be allowed to subvert the democratic process.

We all suffer when young people aren’t taught to read, think, and process information in ways that are necessary in most types of employment. We suffer when people don’t understand and respect differences of race, ethnicity, or gender. We suffer when extremist religion dominates all other aspects of life.

We can see what the rule of extremist religion accomplishes for a nation by looking at the Middle East and even at the acts of extremists here at home. Fear is the first reaction in someone confronted with something he or she doesn’t understand. The next reaction after fear is hate. After hate comes violence.

With violence comes the downfall of civilization.

~~~

[1] Texas is one of nine states where parents are required to give no notice to the state as to their intention to homeschool. Arkansas is one of fifteen states where parents must only give notice of their intent. For a map showing all states and homeschool requirements, visit here.

Photo credit: Credit: ID 6706052 © Ron Sumners | Dreamstime.com

Us and Them

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We thought we were the top of the world. The most advanced. The richest. The strongest. The U. S. of A., best of the best. All those things are true in so many ways. Aside from our wealth of natural resources, the nation’s strength and riches are what we, each and collectively, have to offer.

But strengths and riches aren’t all we have to offer. We also perform acts of insane violence that kill young children or innocent churchgoers, of smug self-righteousness that allows a brother to repeatedly molest his sisters, that allows an adopted six year old girl to be ‘rehomed’ and raped by her new ‘father.’

Why do deep veins of ignorance, hate, and fear continue to burn through our national body like a stream of caustic lye?

More urgently, what are we going to do about it?

Cultural Tradition: The Scots, for example

Following centuries of armed conflict between the native Scots and the British, in 1745 the British brutally terminated the last rebellion. Traditional Scottish kilts were outlawed and inherited lands were taken from the ruling class. A century earlier, Britain had moved large numbers of Scots into northern Ireland in an effort to weaken the equally rebellious Irish. (The volatile results of that maneuver continue to simmer today.) This Scots population of northern Ireland became known as the Scotch-Irish.

Aside from the desire for self-rule, the Protestant Scots and Catholic Irish fought the Anglican British over religion.

Between 1717 and 1775, nearly a quarter million Scots and Scotch-Irish migrated to the American colonies. Earlier settlers had already built their towns, farms, and plantations along the eastern seaboard so these newcomers moved west to unsettled land. They fought Native Americans and the wilderness to carve out a life where nobody told them how to worship or what to wear.

quotescots copy (Wikipedia)

These are the people who formed the predominant original working class white populations of the southern states and parts of the Midwest. Already inured by generations of religious conflict in their native lands, the Scots clung fiercely to their religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and desire for independence from government rule. Generally not slave-holders, they nevertheless rallied to the Confederate cause, seeing it as their own because it was against government control, against someone telling them what to do.

The defeat of the South with its quarter-million deaths, injuries that came home with the veterans, and the loss of land, homes and families added to a long memory of defeat and humiliation. It is in this memory that the South will rise again, just as Scotland will once again enjoy independence from its British overlords. This is the vein of anger that holds tight to the Confederate flag, not because it is celebrated as a symbol of white over black, but because it serves as the rallying point for independent men against a conquering army. Rational analysis or details don’t matter. It’s the feeling of injustice that holds sway.

Many American Scots and Scotch-Irish have moved on, accepted the evolution of modern society and its rewards of broader understanding and tolerance. But many have not. For these folks, if you’re not with them, you’re against them.

They are but one example of ancient traditions which continue to guide attitudes and influence behavior in modern America.

Instinctive Fear: Racism

Humans innately tend to associate with others of our own kind. Researchers have given the labels of ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups’ in discussing this behavior. Within an ‘in-group,’ individuals are assured of mutual support in everything from caring for an injury to defending against attack. We can count on our in-group guys.

At the most primal level, an instant response rises when confronted with someone who doesn’t fit the model of our ‘in-group’. This was an important survival instinct among early humans who relied on visual cues while the stranger remained at a distance. A fight-or-flight reflex rises from the old brain upon encountering a person clearly not of our in-group and we respond accordingly.

What we hope for and strive for in an advanced multicultural, multi-racial society is an immediate secondary and reasoned response that supersedes the instantaneous first reaction to a stranger. We look again and think about whether there’s a real risk. Just because that person doesn’t fit our in-group criteria doesn’t mean he’s a threat.

A fear-based response underlies behavior like freshman Senator Tom Cotton’s advocacy for a new war against Islam. Extremist Christianity such as embraced by Cotton focuses on differences as a way to define and protect group identity. Kill the out-group! A more loving and confident mindset seeks grounds of commonality. A more realistic stance for responsible elected leaders involves negotiation and understanding to lower barriers between groups.

But the more stressed the person or occasion, the more likely the primal reflex remains in force. Cotton may suffer residual PTSD from his two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tests have shown that people are more likely to identify an ambiguous object in a stranger’s hand as a weapon if the stranger is from an out-group. Most importantly, people who regularly operate from a position of feeling threatened are more likely to react instinctively. Everyone but me and my known friends are ‘other.’ (Click here for more.)

Within our most stressed populations, acts of violence are committed by persons of a self-identified group against those seen as outsiders. The outsider is a target for the anger, frustration, and hatred of the in-group member who wants desperately to prove himself to the rest of his group. This behavior can be found in gang warfare, where fabric color designates group identity. It can be found in acts of violence in the Middle East, where a disagreement in 632 about the rightful heir to Mohammad’s leadership resulted in Sunni and Shia still killing each other 1383 years later.

Such acts on behalf of the in-group are carried out as a moral imperative.

The Charleston shooter clearly stated his moral imperative in murdering nine innocent people. They were African-American. “They” were raping “his people, taking over his country.” He did it for his group, whites. His reality, his moral imperative.

Jesus: Not What I Meant. Not What I Meant At All

Murder on behalf of racial purity is little different from those who murder on behalf of their religion. Each Islamic sect claims to be the true follower of Allah. By definition, all others are not ‘of God.’ All others deserve to die. Similarly, many Christian denominations in the U. S. believe all but their kind will burn in the fires of hell.

Faith traditions are, by their very nature, a useful measuring stick by which people may define their most important in-group. More than any other group, religion and its rules ensure a mutual understanding of appropriate behavior, ethics, traditions, and hierarchy. Ideally, religion could serve as the bridge between disparate groups and unite us in spiritual brotherhood.

Sadly, religion has more often than not become yet another means of categorizing a person as out of ‘our’ group. Thus Ronnie Floyd, current head of the Southern Baptist Convention, second largest religious denomination in the U.S. after Catholics, has proclaimed his intention to defy the highest court in the land if it rules in favor of same-sex marriage. He stated that “God, not the Supreme Court” holds final authority over marriage, as if the licensing of marriage were not a legal function of the government.

The issue of gay marriage is but one conflict between primal instinct and the tolerance and acceptance evolving as a world culture. “Raising consciousness is a persuasive enterprise,” Michael Walzer writes in his new book The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions, “but it quickly turns into a cultural war between the liberators and what we can call the traditionalists.” This conflict gives rise to fundamentalism and religious ultra-orthodoxy in unexpected places around the world, including the United States.

The more threatened an individual may feel, the more likely he will invest in behavior that he believes will strengthen his in-group. Floyd speaks for all Southern Baptists in voicing fear of a social change perceived as a threat to their religion. This unreasoned primal reaction ignores the reality of the situation: gay marriage has no effect on traditional marriage—unless, as the quip goes, one of the partners in a traditional marriage is gay.

Ideally, religion serves as a pathway not only to seeing the entire human family as the in-group but also to higher self-esteem, respect for others, and a general sense of well-being, all of which help move an individual toward a less fearful stance in life. But this is where religion often plays its most destructive role. Extremist teachings emphasize differences and negatives. Only a few will be chosen. Homosexuals are not like us. Demons can control our lives. We have no personal power. Everything derives from an angry and punishing God.

Differences in economic status are also seen as a reflection of God’s will. The Protestant work ethic involves the relationship between religion, work, and capital. In order to demonstrate our Godliness, we are expected to work hard. With sufficient effort, our labors produce wealth, a sign that we have pleased God. This is why the wealthy are seen as uniquely imbued by God’s grace. For the religious extremist, the wealthy are almost worthy of worship in their own right.

If you’re poor, it’s because you’re unworthy of God’s blessings.

This is why worshipers gravitate to big fancy churches. God likes it there.

Our natural inclination is to accept authority from those we deem more worthy than ourselves. This is why corporate interests have been able to shape American lives around materialism and consumption, a development staunchly supported by religious extremists in spite of Biblical teachings that specifically condemn wealth. (More here)

Adoration of the rich and powerful is why marginalized populations resent any effort by government to assist the poor. It defies God’s will to give  assistance, especially since the funding for such assistance derives from those who have worked hard and gained God’s favor. This holds particularly true in prejudices against African-Americans or Hispanics, who are often caught in a vicious cycle of economic disadvantage and notable markers of an out-group (different skin color, speech patterns, social traditions).

Likewise, yielding authority to self-anointed leaders of religion occurs as a form of obeisance to the leader of the in-group. Recently the Arkansas Times quoted employees of a preschool operated by Arkansas legislator Justin Harris, whose failed strict parenting of two adopted girls resulted in rehoming and the subsequent rape of a six year old: “This was way out of control,” said the worker quoted throughout this piece. “You know how you have an ‘aha moment’? I said the other day to [a co-worker], ‘Why didn’t any of us make a hotline call?’ She said, ‘I don’t know’ … I think because Justin is so religious, we sort of accepted it.”

Did the Charleston murderer understand instinctively that his act would call into question the entire concept of group trust? Should the church members now carry guns, mistrust all newcomers? There can be little doubt that his act, in his tiny mind, served a goal of his self-identified in-group which was/is to destroy the ‘other.’ In that, he now sees himself as a victorious hero.

Similarly, the murder of Christians or other non-Sunni sects by ISIS serves the purpose of their in-group. As one cleric has stated, “We’re ridding the world of polytheism and spreading monotheism across the planet.” (Cite)

The Failure of Education

Our nation’s citizenry can’t operate on a level playing field if they are not educated equally as children. Breaking through destructive cultural, economic, and religious barriers seems an obvious avenue toward eliminating or at least defusing in-group fears and prejudices. And it is.

Which is why members of extremist in-groups violently resist efforts like school integration and uniform curriculum standards.

One might assume that any parent wants his/her child to love learning the lessons of history, the ways of numbers, the use of language in communication and reasoning, the amazing details of biology. We have, as a nation, understood that a thriving economy and successful democracy depend on the fruits of education, which is why we dedicate significant tax dollars to support our public schools. It is why we have set standards for teacher education and defined specific educational goals, why we have forced integration and provided school lunches. We need every child to develop to his/her fullest potential.

For some, the nation’s success or even the child’s well-being hardly register on the radar when held up against the perceived value of in-group traditions.

The more embattled parents feel in protecting their religious beliefs, for example, the more likely they will fight efforts to extend their children’s acceptance of broader cultural norms.

The increase in homeschooling is a product of this mindset. Homeschooling gained its first significant boost after forced integration. With the cultural changes of the 1960s and the rise of the religious right in the 1980s, it continued to pick up steam. From 2003 to 2007, the percentage of students whose parents resorted to homeschooling in order to provide religious or moral instruction increased from 72 percent to 83 percent. (Other reasons given for homeschooling included concerns about the school environment such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure and dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available at other schools.)

Germany, among others, has outlawed homeschooling for this very reason. But in the United States, Supreme Court decisions have found that parents have a right to homeschool their children or send them to private schools based on the definition of ‘liberty’ in the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The only saving grace of these court decisions was the finding that the extent and content of private or home schooling must meet standards set by the government. (See more here.)

Because of the ‘liberty’ protected in the high court’s rulings, not all homeschooling is equal. Each state has its own set of rules about what is or isn’t required for homeschooling. While homeschooling can produce thoughtful, well-rounded children ready to pursue life as a functional American citizen, many such efforts fail utterly to meet that goal. The end result is a significant population of undereducated adults. Currently about 3.5% of young people, or around two million, are homeschooled. A majority of this segment of our nation’s people poses a real and present danger to the future of the American way of life.

Which is just what their parents intended.

Critical skills such as the scientific method of investigation and logical reasoning processes are often left out of extremist curriculum, partly because the parents have never understood such things and therefore have no appreciation for the benefits they offer. For these reactionary parents, already threatened by their perception that valued cultural traditions are being eroded, the goal is not to provide an excellent education by academic standards which mesh with the rest of the nation and world but rather to insulate their children from those very things and thus preserve the norms of their in-group.

There seems no easy resolution. The most recent effort has been the development of Common Core Standards, a widely vilified move to bring clarity and commonality to the nation’s education systems including homeschool curricula. The result of a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare children for college and the workforce.

These standards focus only on language arts and mathematics, unfortunately leaving aside a more ambitious (and contentious) goal of setting standards for such important subjects as history, social studies, or the sciences. The government’s method of enforcing these bare-bones standards is to withhold federal education funds from states which do not adopt the standards. Eight states have so far refused to adopt them, but the situation remains in flux.

Inevitably, American children fall through the cracks all the time. The Charleston assassin had advanced only as far as ninth grade, a fact which underscores his likely inability to reason clearly or appreciate the broad scope of the world around him. (As noted in a previous blog post, persons with low intelligence are more likely to nurture racial prejudices and view the world from a perspective of threat.)

At their most progressive moments, federal and state governments attempt to break into the cycle of poverty, ignorance, and entrenched in-group thinking. Whether the methods actually help is another question. For example, in an effort to reach children in at-risk populations, the U. S. Department of Education hands out vouchers through its Child Care Development Fund which parents can use anywhere including religious schools.

Such programs target children with at least one of the following characteristics: Family with gross income not exceeding 200% of federal poverty level; Has a demonstrable developmental delay as identified through screening; Parents without a high school diploma or GED; Eligible for services under IDEA[1]; Low birth weight (below 5 pounds, 9 ounces); Income eligible for Title I programs; Parent is under 18 years of age at child’s birth; Limited English Proficiency; Immediate family member has a history of substance abuse/addiction; Parent has history of abuse or neglect; Or is a victim of abuse or neglect.[2]

Noble goals. But by inadvertently encouraging the expansion of religious instruction, such programs may do more harm than good. In Arkansas, this avenue of government aid for children in need has become heavily trafficked by people on a religious mission.

Rep. Justin Harris’s preschool, Growing God’s Kingdom, receives nearly a million tax dollars a year through such programs. Despite theoretical restrictions that religion cannot be part of the academic day, these schools teach religion in the hours before and after the academic day, taking advantage of the extra time children are in their care while parents remain at work. Further, the state’s only method of monitoring these schools for violations is through random inspections.

That’s effective. “Stop praying, the state is here.” Numerous current and former employees of Harris report that children who misbehave during the academic day are taken to the office where they are prayed over in order to cast out the demons causing their misbehavior.

The message inculcated in these young minds is that God is in charge and prayer is the answer.

Rational thought? Personal responsibility? It’s all up to God. Join God’s group and everything will be fine. Such early indoctrination easily leads to a continuation of the conditions that led to their qualification for such programs in the first place. Pregnant at 16? God’s will. Pray. Victim of domestic abuse? Women are to submit to their husband. Pray. Addicted to meth? I’m a sinner. Pray.

At the height of Mr. Harris’ public shaming over the rehoming and subsequent rape of his adopted six year old girl, his school’s signboard proclaimed his membership in his self-identified in-group: “God Himself will fight for you.” To date, Mr. Harris has not acknowledged that he did anything wrong.

In states with the highest populations of at-risk children, legislators in charge of determining everything from curriculum to school funding are increasingly drawn from the ranks of religious extremists. Unable or unwilling to see beyond the walls of their in-group, such legislators circle the wagons against ‘outsiders’ who attempt to set new standards or otherwise interfere with group identity. In Arkansas, the only entity legally empowered to remove Justin Harris from his elected office were his like-minded legislative colleagues. Despite evidence that he illegally used his elected position to gain adoption rights to the two girls he subsequently gave away, there was no investigation. He remains in office and his school remains in operation.

Nowhere in such arguments do we hear that professional educators should be in charge of deciding the best methods of education. (This makes about as much sense as allowing politicians to decide best accounting methods for CPAs or best construction methods for engineers.) A consensus among professional educators is that homeschooling often involves inadequate standards of academic quality and comprehensiveness, lack of socialization with peers of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, the potential for development of religious or social extremism/individualism, and potential for development of parallel societies that do not fit into standards of citizenship and community.

Specifically because parents fear of loss of in-group values, professional educators do not control the purse strings or the programs. Children continue to be victims of their parents’ fears and prejudices, prey to the ebb and flow of political opinion. We continue, as a nation, to suffer the consequences.

What are the solutions?

I don’t pretend to have presented all points relevant to this complicated state of affairs. Nor are my proposed solutions an exhaustive or foolproof list.

But given the failure rate to date, I think it’s safe to say that religion does not and cannot serve as the unifying force for humanity.

What we need is for each person to develop so fully that his/her self-esteem and intellectual skill set outweighs the primal need for narrow in-group identification.

We need to invest in strategies which reduce perceived threats and increase opportunities to break down barriers between groups.

We need broader educational standards so that children in private and home schools have to pass tests for subjects including state, national, and world history; basics of scientific method and the facts of biology, geology, and other sciences; social studies—how government works, the role of voters. Parents need to be held accountable if 17-year-old homeschooled kids can’t pass key tests.

We must stand firm against attempts to teach Creationism as an alternative to science. We must eliminate tax funding which in any way supports religious instruction at any grade level.

We must find ways, both institutionally and personally, to facilitate in-group/out-group encounter sessions and counseling alongside cultural education at all grade levels.

We must end the war on drugs. Legalize and tax all of it. Get over the idea that government can dictate what people ingest to alter their consciousness or that altered consciousness is in itself a crime. Demilitarize our police forces and deliver our communities from the tyranny of criminal gangs. Use tax dollars currently wasted on bigger prisons along with new revenues produced from legal drug sales to initiate pro-active programs in support of early childhood health and education, family intervention in cases of abuse and neglect, substance abuse treatment, and free/low cost mental/physical health care in every community.

We must require a significant period of public service from young people. Such service would broaden the scope away from a family or church or racial in-groups and instead build ownership in the in-group of our nation.

Don’t agree with the actions of our current elected leaders? Don’t support the policies of our nation? The instrument of change lies in our hands. An informed, self-confident electorate can be—should be—the strength of America.

We can feel a bit of relief in the amazing power of television and the Internet to instill greater understanding of different lifestyles, different races, and unfamiliar cultures. Social media such as Facebook allows us to engage in constructive dialogue with members of out-groups without the immediate threat of physical violence. These are opportunities we must use carefully in order not to trigger an even more visceral in-group identification among the ‘other.’

Many of these things are already being done.

Finally, there’s this:

“…The data…demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical ‘cultures of life’ that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developed democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted. Contradicting these conclusions requires demonstrating a positive link between theism and societal conditions in the first world with a similarly large body of data – a doubtful possibility in view of the observable trends.”[3]

[1] http://idea.ed.gov/

[2] http://www.arkansased.org/public/userfiles/rules/Current/ade_257_Arkansas_Better_Chance_October_2012.pdf

[3] “National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies,” Gregory S. Paul. Journal of Religion & Society Volume 7 (2005) http://moses.creighton.edu/jrs/2005/2005-11.pdf Accessed June 19, 2015