It hardly needs saying that evangelicals despise public education. It’s been a long-simmering hostility that is breaking out into open warfare. Think of Betsy DeVos and her campaign to privatize schools to snatch away public funding instead for religious schools. Christianists are dumbing down education, from intimidating school boards (including violent threats) and pitting their Christian values against “Marxist indoctrination” and “transgender grooming”, to proposing bills allowing parents to sue the school or individual teachers for “contradicting a student’s religious beliefs” – whatever that could possibly mean.
Already, culture warriors have cleared (ideologically sanitized) classroom libraries of books they’re unhappy with (and probably have never read). One woman told a school board that her pastor, rather than librarians, should decide which books should be allowed on public school shelves. It’s either poisoning young minds or strangling student learning, depending on how you look at it. Schools have culled anything from classroom libraries that wasn’t part of the approved curriculum, leaving empty shelves. One Florida district instructs teachers to place “under construction” signs where their classroom libraries would be and to make them “cute.”
It’s not just a war against books, but more importantly, teachers. Teachers “work 20% less. They have school– they have the summers off”, says one Fox News host. That’s the mentality that forces them, on average, to make 20% less than other professionals. It also smacks of someone who has never taught.
A teacher has precious little personal time, from arriving early to set up the classroom and lesson, to staying long after dismissal to meet with struggling students and make parent follow-up calls. A teacher usually gets a free period – which often is consumed by grading, Xeroxing, or dashing to the plentiful departmental meetings. Weekends involve grading, particularly in essay-oriented writing courses. Or, consumed in completing on-line seminars mandated by the board. Or going over newly- white-washed lesson plans. And summers are taken up with continuing education to maintain their certifications. This off-the-clock work is essential to the job – you know, the one where they work 20% less.
And how many professions expect their employees to furnish their own supplies and equipment? “We buy everything”, a teacher preparing her classroom for the first day complained. “How much of my own money am I expected to spend?” Having taught at high school level, I can vouch for her frustration. Everything from organizing tubs to poster materials for class projects to an electric pencil sharpener had to come out of my pocket.
This, on top of the fact teachers owe an average $58,700 because of their low salaries and high interest rates. Maybe that’s why America is suffering an acute teacher shortage. But Florida Gov. DeSantis has an idea, and “God is solving the teacher shortage”, proclaims a religious right site. He dismisses the traditional path of education as producing teachers who are simply “a cog in the indoctrination machine“. De Santis plans to fill vacancies with military veterans and law enforcement retirees – no experience or education degree necessary. “I love this,” says an OAN reporter. “Get rid of all these communist groomers who are responsible for indoctrinating our children. Replace them with men and women who actually respect and honor our nation.” So much for those who went deep into hock, schlepping their way to become qualified, certified, well-educated teachers.
Whether starving teachers and schools to death, or in lobotomizing students’ education, Christianists will find a way to kill off public education. Either way, our country will be much the poorer for it. Maybe Rudi Giuliani is correct: the U.S. is “too dumb to be a democracy.” If evangelicals succeed in their approach, America will be an Idiocracy – a society governed and populated by idiots. If it’s any consolation, they will all be Christian idiots.