Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Review: Does God Belong in Public Schools? by Kent Greenawalt

Does God Belong in Public Schools? by Kent Greenawalt (Princeton University Press, Paperback, 9780691130651, 261pp.)

Professor Greenawalt's book examines different common claims made by parents, students and school employees that public schools have violated the Free Exercise clause by interfering with their practice of religion.

The book's only mention of such a claim by a Muslim is a school teacher who wore hijab in violation of the district's clothing policy. [I discussed this case at my other blog.]

For some reason, I always thought that public schools had to accommodate religious requests provided they did not disrupt operations. I don't remember reading the term "accommodation" at all, and it does not appear in the index.

If you are concerned that religious claims are reducing the quality of public schools, you should read this book because it will help you understand why teaching evolution and science-based sex education is warranted.

I would also recommend this book to people who operate private schools. When discussing possible options to resolve objections to actions of public schools, one of the most common reasons for public schools to continue doing what they are doing is the lack of a good alternative. If the purpose of your private school is to "shield" children from general society, you'll find that your school's students, parents and employees are very likely to disagree with specific policies and you're back to choosing between "watering down" religion and marginalization of part of your school community.

I took some notes as I was reading. These notes are quoted passages I found interesting. They are reproduced below.


P. 18
More remarkable than the court's decision over bus transportation [in Everson v Board of Education, 1947] was its unanimous adoption of this highly separationist account of nonestablishment. All the justices relied heavily on the views of Jefferson and Madison and the movement toward nonestablishment in Virginia. This approach was dubious from a historical point of view, given that the amendment actually protected existing state establishments from federal interference. Those inclined to political interpretations of Supreme Court doctrine have noted that in the mid-twentieth century the overriding issue about establishment was public aid to Roman Catholic parochial schools and that the great majority of Protestants united with Jews and the secularists in opposing it.

P 29
Some may say that once schools figure out what they should do in light of legitimate purposes and restraints on teaching religion, they should disregard unintended effects. This may be one defensible strategy for a government that is supposed to remain neutral about religious truth; but it is unduly harsh as a general approach.

[Author than presents an analogy about optimal road route A which demolishes 6 catholic churches & route B which demolishes a mix.]

P 33
Given all the social regulations on behalf of children's welfare that may conflict with parental judgments, any absolute priority for parental judgement is not a political tenet of modern liberal democracies. The special authority of parents is now mainly conceived as conducing to the welfare of children, as the broader society assesses that welfare.

p. 83
In sum, despite the intuitive plausibility of the thesis that disregard of religion in standard education will tend to downgrade its importance in students' lives, we cannot easily generalize about the comparative effects of schools disregarding religion and schools teaching "objectively" about religion. I do not think any of the doubts I have sketched totally eliminate the intuitive force of the critique of religion-free education, taken causally, but they should encourage social scientists to gather empirical evidence about causes and effects.

p. 97
Various evolutionary theorists from Darwin forward have made an argument from imperfection that when we look at animals as they now are, we cannot imagine that this is how a divine creator, acting directly with each kind of animal, would have created them. Thus, debate over the scientific theory of evolution can draw us into theological and philosophical arguments about what a divine creator would do in creating individual kinds of animals directly. These arguments, not subject to scientific confirmation, are unavoidable, so long as our interest is in what is true overall; but they raise perplexities when we get to the subject matter of science courses and the teaching of religion. Thus far, I have implicitly assumed a central characteristic of modern science, that it is methodologically naturalist -- approaching scientific problems on the assumption that physical events have natural causes and can be explained according to uniform laws that need not refer to anything supernatural. ... A scientist committed to methodological naturalism need not deny that science may prove unable to explain some physical phenomena.

p. 110

... it is not reasonably part of science to be certain that a scientific explanation is conceivable for every physical event that occurs in the universe.

p. 117

If a subject matter, according to standards within the discipline, would undoubtedly be taught but for religious views, and it is not taught primarily because of religious views, it amounts to a kind of teaching of religion.

p. 127

For history and literature, at least, a choice to exclude religion altogether as a subject of study does not flow naturally from modern conceptions of the discipline, as it does in math and natural science. Religious convictions and practices have mattered for historical events and ideas; and religious texts are part of our literary heritage. Choices to exclude or omit religion as a topic must be self-conscious; choices to include religious subjects generate questions about just how to teach tem as aspects of a broader historical or literary inquiry.

p. 130

A text writer or teacher who tries to go into [religious perspectives] deeply risks presenting an understanding of history that many people within the traditions he is explaining actually reject. And few high school teachers may be able to present a nuanced account of the range of possibilities.

p. 132

[Author discusses differences between teaching at university level and high school level.]

p. 146

For morality, no such settled criteria [of what must be taught as good morality] exists [as it does for natural science]. In that context, religious opposition should not be treated worse than other, nonreligious opposition to moral positions.

pp. 158-9

[The author explains his opposition to the district court's ruling against a Muslim substitute teacher's request to wear a hijab in United States v. Board of Education.]