Do Faith-Based Schools Adequately Prepare Students for College?

In my grand tradition of being out of the loop, I missed what seems to be an interesting controversy between Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murrieta, California, and the University of California system. The school was told that its biology, physics, and three humanties courses would not be counted for admission to colleges in the system. According to Charles C. Haynes writing for the First Amendment Center,

UC claims that these courses can’t be counted because they don’t meet the university’s academic standards. ACSI [the Association of Christian Schools International, who is partnering with Calvary Chapel in a lawsuit] argues that the courses and textbooks in question adequately cover the required subject matter — and were only rejected by UC because of their Christian viewpoint.

Probably the most questionable text selection for the school is the biology textbook, published by Bob Jones University Press. I have not seen the textbook, so I cannot describe its stance on the thorny issue of creationism vs. evolution, but one would expect that at an evangelical school, the text would present creationism as accepted doctrine and perhaps dismiss evolution entirely. I should note that Mike Weiss, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, stated that the rejected book was published by A Beka Books, not Bob Jones UP, but the school’s web site states that the BJUP book is used in their biology classes.

The physics text was also cited as problematic because of biblical verses preceding each chapter. This confuses me, because according to Calvary Chapel’s web site, they use Prentice Hall’s Conceptual Physics for their physics class. Prentice Hall’s many textbook series are often used in public schools; I would be extremely surprised if there were Bible verses in this textbook, though I admit I haven’t examined it. I think perhaps there has been some confusion in the coverage of this issue — I believe it might be the physical science text that is in question, also published by Bob Jones UP. I used the “Look inside this book” feature to examine the physical science text, and I can see why UC would have a problem with the stance taken in the first chapter about the veracity of evolution vs. creationism. There is a difference between the physics and physical science. However, it may be that the school wanted to adopt a new physics text instead of continuing with Prentice Hall.

I do wonder about UC’s rejection of the history class on the basis that it is “too narrow.” According to Haynes,

Especially troubling to me are the rejections of literature and history courses taught from a Christian perspective. For example, UC claims that “Christianity’s Influence on American History” was disallowed because the focus was “too narrow/too specialized.” Yet courses from other schools that sound just as narrow or specialized (e.g., “Race, Class and Gender in Modern America”) have won approval.

What I want to know and haven’t been able to discover is whether this class would replace a comprehensive U.S. History class. Even if that is so, it might not be “too narrow” in scope. I think discussion of American history under this lens might still be comprehensive and perhaps even unify the study of history thematically. What isn’t clear is whether or not classes approved by UC, such as “Race, Class and Gender in Modern America” are history electives. If this class is the American history class for some other school rather than a comprehensive class, then UC’s ruling doesn’t seem fair.

UC also rejected “Special Providence: Christianity and the American Republic” and “Christianity and Morality in American Literature.” None of the three humanities classes is currently being taught “because of the dispute,” according to Mike Weiss. Weiss notes that the literature class would have included writings from many major writers, including Nathaniel Hawthorne and J.R.R. Tolkien. Why Tolkien would be taught in an American literature class, I’ll leave you to puzzle about. I couldn’t figure out how to look at A Beka’s literature series from its web site, so I cannot attest to whether or not, as UC decided, it “is not appropriate.”

I am not sure how I feel about this issue. I do feel Americans have the right to choose to educate their children within a certain faith. I suppose it is also within the public universities’ rights to reject certain courses which do not meet their standards — and I believe that all applicants should be required to meet those high standards. Despite UC’s arguments to the contrary, it will be difficult for Calvary Chapel’s students to get into UC schools because these courses are rejected. If these courses are what is offered by their school and required for graduation from that school, but not accepted by UC’s regents, who decide which classes students should be required to take for entrance, then the students will have trouble getting in, even if they try to be admitted “by exception” or through high standardized test scores. I can’t imagine that courses like biology and American literature would not be required by UC, and taking a class that fails to meet their requirements would mean that students would be considered to lack those credits, thus be unable to go to UC system schools.

I teach at a Jewish school, and I would venture to guess that most of our students’ Judaics courses are accepted as elective credits, if they are accepted at all, by the colleges they apply to. However, students also study a rigorous academic curriculum, including math ranging from algebra to AP Calculus, science ranging from biology to AP Physics and AP Biology, English ranging from standard 9th grade English to AP Language and and AP Literature, and history, ranging from humanties (world history) to AP European History and AP U.S. History. They also are required to take four years of Hebrew and may choose to take Spanish. I do not think that we necessarily teach the academic courses solely from a Jewish perspective, but we do discuss those topics within the context of that perspective.

I suppose the case has already been heard, but I don’t know what the verdict was. Let me know if you do, and I’ll post an update.

Here are some related posts/articles to read covering a variety of viewpoints:

You might also want to try some of the other many articles that came up in this search.

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13 thoughts on “Do Faith-Based Schools Adequately Prepare Students for College?

  1. Thanks for posting these links. I'm behind on my current events and wasn't aware of this either. I taught seventh-grade science this year using the Bob Jones "Life Science" textbook and found the anti-evolution stuff a little over-the-top. While I suppose it included what the standard Science 7 curriculum is supposed to include, I found the textbook overly simplified for my seventh graders, and wished the writers had spent less space on what I would go so far as to call "creationism propoganda" and more on … well, science. It seemed that the book took every excuse to bring its renouncement of evolution into the picture … even when it didn't really fit with the subject matter being covered. I found some concepts rather odd for a science class, such as an entire page on how to differente between "species" and "biblical kind."

    I also used the Bob Jones Writing and Grammar textbook for my ninth graders. I thought it was very poor as a textbook (not enough exercises, poorly written example sentences, not enough explanation, etc.) and recommended that the school adopt a new textbook next year. As with the science textbook, I felt like the authors spent too much time "being biblical" and not enough time on the subject matter at hand, in this case writing and grammar.

    With both textbooks, I had to do a lot of extra work on my own, such as writing and printing supplementary material, etc.

    I can understand why people would have a problem with these textbooks. I had a problem with them–but my biggest problem was with their overall quality, rather than with their "bible-thumping" nature.

  2. I do wish that evangelical schools (the only religious schools with which I'm really familiar, since I'm an evangelical) would focus on teaching subjects and thinking skills rather than religious indoctrination. Well, I actually wish ALL schools would teach rather than indoctrinate, religious or otherwise, but the evangelical schools seem particularly prone to reactionary stances when it comes to schooling. They adopt creationist propaganda in order to "counterbalance" evolution, when in fact the Christian thing to do would be to examine evolution on its own terms — on scientific terms — and think about what evolution says and what it does not or cannot say; and then think about that in terms of the Bible and what IT says and does not say about it. Evangelical schools, colleges included, always seem to act as if they are afraid of something, even though evangelicals believe in God's sovereignty over all creation (or at least that's what the creeds say).

    There seems to me to be nothing wrong with looking at a subject from a Christian point of view, but when the Christian viewpoint becomes a mold into which we fit a subject, things tend to get a little out of whack.

  3. By the way, this wouldn't be the first time that a Christian school had problems because of its curriculum. On the higher ed level, there was a huge battle a couple of years ago when Patrick Henry College (http://www.phc.edu/) was denied accreditation by the regional board because it requires (!) students to subscribe to a literal, seven-day creationist worldview. PHC eventually got their accreditation, but still…

  4. Thanks so much for your input, Waterfall. Not having seen the books, I couldn't comment much. You have helped illuminate some of UC's reasons for having problems with the books. And Robert, your perspective as an evangelical Christian was valuable.

  5. Actually, come to think of it, why does a grammar text need to be Christian? I can understand why, if you want to teach your children to embrace creationism over evolution, you might want Christian science books, but how exactly are grammar exercises in, say, Warriner's threatening to Christian theology?

  6. No clue about the grammar texts. The BJU textbook's exercise sentences tended to be Christian-based in subject matter. For example, you might be asked to identify the verbs in a series of sentences about Paul's ministry, or find the prepositional phrases in a paragraph about why secular colleges are bad and Christian colleges are good. (That last one was a riot. Even the students thought it was silly.)

    Each grammar chapter also had a writing focus for a specific mode: description, formal letter, etc. One of the modes was "writing a devotional." Also, in the teacher's handbook, there were various suggestions for how you could work exercises into a Bible study or devotional exercise, or provide the relevant Bible verses for the subject matter covered in the sentence exercises.

    I don't think anyone thinks Warriner's threatens Christian theology (though who knows–I could be wrong!). My principal was actually in favor of switching to Warriner's next year, if the money was available. Which leads to the real issue: money. A lot of evangelical Christian schools (mine included) are very small and run on a shoestring. BJU materials are very inexpensive, so the schools end up ordering them–even when they would prefer something more challenging and thorough. But, I guess you get what you pay for.

    OK, I've rambled enough!

  7. That's a good point, about money. I think we run on a deficit every year, but somehow, money is always found for professional development and texts that we need. I do appreciate you sharing what you know about the texts.

  8. Interesting thread. Focusing on the textbooks avoids the more intriguing problem, however. Which is that the UC system is basically dictating what high school students in CA are offered. They dole out approval to courses they believe are rigorous and academic, based on the course descriptions provided by the high school. An example I'm very familiar with: journalism. The UC a few years ago began to deny approval to courses they saw as being too "production-oriented," meaning that class time is actually used in the production of a newspaper or magazine or yearbook. If the journalism teacher is truthful and accurate about the time spent on production — including inputting stories on the computer, cropping photos, designing pages, etc. — then the course is not approved. If the course description includes lots of reading and writing and theory of mass communication, then the course is approved.

    So what happens? Two things: a kid who loves journalism has to choose between an elective the UC approves and the journalism class s/he loves, and journalism teachers are prodded to describe their classes less than accurately to maintain approval.

    And an indirect result is that there are fewer student newspapers published in CA high schools than previously. More than 30 fewer, in fact, in the last five years.

    The textbook problem is one aspect of the UC system's hold over high school content in CA.

  9. I recall being forced to read "The Hobbit" as a 9th grader in my California public school. The public schools in Washington state include it as part of their curriculum as well. I agree, Tolkein ain't 'zactly literature, but it's not just the crazy evangelicals including it in their reading lists.

  10. E., that wasn't exactly what I meant. Tolkien is a British writer, and I don't think British writers should be studied in American Lit. It's not that I don't think it is "Lit-ra-chure." I taught The Hobbit to 9th graders once.

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