Mary Wilke, retired Concord Educator, analyses what New Hampshire tax money would actually be paying for if SB 193 passed.
Leave aside for a moment the constitutionality of using state money for religious education. The immediate question for legislators is whether their constituents would find it acceptable to fund the curriculum offered by New Hampshire’s sectarian schools.
If the current version of Senate Bill 193 becomes law, many children will use vouchers to attend religious schools, and taxpayers will pay for the teaching of religious and political ideology that may violate their own beliefs. For instance, a number of New Hampshire religious schools use the Abeka curriculum, from Pensacola Christian College, widely used by Christian schools and home-schoolers.
Abeka presents history, science and economics through a fundamentalist, Christian lens and also promotes a conservative political philosophy that Abeka declares to be “the Christian’s proper response to America’s glorious heritage.” These beliefs, though sincerely held by some, are not universally accepted by New Hampshire taxpayers.
How many vouchers are likely to be used for teaching the Abeka curriculum? New Hampshire’s experience with Education Tax Credit scholarships is instructive. In 2016, 85 percent of the students who used ETC scholarships for private school tuition attended religious schools, and at least one-third were in schools using the Abeka program. It’s likely that a number of ETC-funded home-schoolers use Abeka materials as well.
Here is a sampling of religious and political teachings found in Abeka texts. The fifth-grade science book declares, “On the fourth day of creation, God caused the sun, ‘the greater light to rule the day,’ to shine upon the earth.” And, “God, the good Creator, has placed around His earth a protective wrapper called the atmosphere.”
Seventh-grade history students learn that, “Genesis … is the most reliable source for what we need to know about the beginning of world history.” They’re told that because Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “now the husband would rule his wife.” An entire unit called “The Middle Ages and the Distortion of Christianity” decries the Catholic Church’s “distorted” interpretation of the Bible, with statements such as, “The Roman church encouraged prayer, but the wrong kind of prayer, addressed to the wrong people. It preached the need for salvation, but the wrong way to obtain it.” Evolution is described as one of “a number of foolish errors (that) arose from the failure of scientists and other men to keep their thinking in line with God’s Word.”
According to a 12th grade Abeka economics text, “Global environmentalists have said and written enough to leave no doubt that their goal is to destroy the prosperous economies of the world’s richest nations.” International cooperation is called “globalism,” and participation in a trade agreement is said to lead inevitably to a country being “governed by sprawling, inefficient bureaucracies which have little insight into local and national needs.”
In today’s complex and rapidly changing world, students need to learn how to sort through competing points of view, weigh evidence, and arrive at reasoned conclusions. Rather than fostering these crucial critical thinking skills, Abeka presents students with political opinions framed as the only legitimate views of a Christian believer. So, for example, economic analysis is reduced to: “Even economists sympathetic to extensive state interference have recognized that rent control, next to bombing, is the surest way to destroy a city.” The history text leaves no room for debate when it offers statements such as: “President Reagan won reelection in 1984 by the greatest margin in American history (49 states), demonstrating that a majority of Americans were tired of the Liberalism and the secular humanism that were destroying the nation’s moral and spiritual foundations,” and “The Clinton administration succeeded in raising taxes and promoting abortion, homosexuality, gun control and more government programs.”
These views are recognizable from the polemics current in our political debate, but sectarian schools that use Abeka and similar curricula are teaching them as irrefutable conclusions. While some New Hampshire taxpayers may agree with the religious beliefs and political convictions set forth in the Abeka texts, I think that most would oppose using state and local tax revenues to promote them.
Supporters make the case that “not all students learn the same way” and SB 193 would give to low-income parents a choice that others already have. But it turns out that the bill does nothing to ensure successful outcomes for students, low-income or otherwise. In many cases, it would function in practice as a government subsidy for teaching a narrow set of religious and political views as a substitute for real learning. We deserve more from publicly funded education.
(Mary Wilke, a retired educator, lives in Concord.)