Schools are being attacked by America’s religious right | Wender Mind Kids

Schools are being attacked by America's religious right

“Public education has become public enemy number one,” says actor Kirk Cameron in a promotion for The Homeschool Awakening, his documentary due out in June. The documentary, funded by Trinity Broadcasting Network and Cameron’s own Camfam Studios, argues that parents should homeschool their children after the pandemic. However, as Cameron’s quote suggests, this latest project in conservative evangelical education is another salvo in the ongoing evangelical war on public schools.

This latest project in conservative evangelical education is another salvo in the ongoing evangelical war on public schools.

It should come as no surprise that evangelicals, fundamentalists, and other religious conservatives have campaigned against public education since the US Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The prospect of integrated schools led to the creation of many “segregation academies,” private schools aimed at keeping African-American children and unwanted immigrant groups apart from white children. But there was another, more insidious way to sidestep integration: homeschooling.

One of the main purveyors of homeschooling was a fundamentalist, Rousas Rushdoony, whose work, which began establishing Christian day schools in the 1960s, grew into the homeschooling movement. He saw homeschooling as a way to keep the government from raising Christian children and prepare them to take their place in a theocratic government. Julie Ingersoll, author of Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, says Rushdoony “was one of the intellectual godfathers of the religious right, but he’s often treated like a mad uncle.”

Crazy or not, homeschooling materials inspired by Rushdoony’s theology are now being sold to homeschooling parents in America, and many of these materials reached parents during the pandemic. Cameron’s documentary promoting homeschooling is no aberration; it is part of a larger project to dismantle the public education system in the United States.

This dismantling has taken shape over the years in a variety of ways: in segregation academies, in school vouchers, in attempts to dismantle the US Department of Education, and even with former President Donald Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos to head that department. Now that her time in government is up, DeVos speaks at homeschooling conventions to promote homeschooling and decry critical race theory and other “detractions from education.”

Cameron’s documentary furthers the long-term goal of America’s religious conservatives to dismantle the public school system by promoting homeschooling, an idea that’s gained popularity during the pandemic among parents wanting to make sure their children stay academically up to date and avoid the coronavirus wanted to. According to a fall 2020 US Census Bureau report, 11.1 percent of parents said their children were homeschooled, compared with 5.4 percent in the spring.

Some of this increase can be attributed to Black parents and other diverse groups who now see homeschooling as an attractive alternative. However, some parents have expressed frustration with conservative Christian homeschooling materials that are driving the current market. And other professional educators have issued strong warnings against homeschooling, including issues related to lack of supervision and the increased potential for child abuse.

Cameron’s homeschooling documentary comes at a time of controversial debates about critical race theory, LGBTQ issues, transgender children and Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law. Like the documentary itself, these new laws aim to weaken already weakened public school systems, which are struggling with limited funding, staffing and violence problems. Attempts by religious conservatives to ban certain issues deemed dangerous or inappropriate are not new, but they are now coming in multiple waves across the country.

Because of these debates and parents’ desire to play a big part in their children’s educational lives, homeschooling may now have greater appeal. It can also arise from pandemic concerns, but parents unfamiliar with existing homeschooling networks run the risk of being drawn into conservative Christian networks and theocratic teaching. Cameron says people who choose to homeschool are experiencing an awakening, but the public needs to face the reality that public schools could disappear if people with their extreme beliefs prevail.