When school was moved outside

Outdoor class

Are your kids going back to school? Perhaps your school district might consider conducting classes outside. Here is Daniela Blei at Smithsonian.com:

Today, as parents struggle with school closures and the prospect of many months of distance learning, some are asking why school can’t be held outside, where transmission risk of Covid-19 is lower. There are currently no large-scale plans in the U.S. to move classrooms into the open, but it’s not for lack of precedent. In the early 20th century, when tuberculosis killed one in seven people in Europe and in the United States, outdoor schools proliferated, first in Germany and then around the world. Physicians and public health officials worried that overcrowded cities and cramped apartments were unnatural and unhealthy, given the lack of fresh air and sunlight, and that children—cooped up indoors for much of the day—were especially vulnerable to the ravages of tuberculosis. The solution was to move school outdoors, where children would “learn to love fresh air,” according to Knopf. There, “the tuberculous child” would not “be a danger to his comrades.”

Read the entire piece here.

A George Whitefield statue is coming down at the University of Pennsylvania

Whitefield

George Whitefield was arguably the most popular man in colonial America. His preaching was the catalyst for the colonial-wide evangelical revival that historians call the “First Great Awakening.”

Recently, the University of Pennsylvania decided to remove a Whitefield statue on campus because the evangelist promoted and defended slavery in eighteenth-century Georgia.

Here is a taste of Zoey Weisman’s piece at The Daily Pennsylvanian:

Penn President Amy Gutmann, Provost Wendell Pritchett, and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli wrote in the University-wide email that, after considering Whitefield’s support for and advancement of slavery in the American colonies, they have decided to take down the statue that stands in front of the Morris and Bodine sections of Ware College House.

“Honoring him with a statue on our campus is inconsistent with our University’s core values, which guide us in becoming an ever more welcoming community that celebrates inclusion and diversity,” the email read. 

Although the email vowed the statue would be removed from campus, it contained no mention of when it would be removed or whether it would be replaced with another figure.

The bronze statue of Whitefield was created by R. Tait Mckenzie in 1919. Whitefield, a prominent evangelical preacher in the mid-18th century who successfully campaigned for slavery’s legislation in the Georgia colony — where the practice had been previously outlawed — owned 50 enslaved persons himself. 

Penn’s announcement to remove the Whitefield statue comes shortly after other Ivy League institutions have made efforts to reconcile their ties with slavery and racism. Last Saturday, Princeton University announced that it will remove the name of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson from its School of Public and International Affairs and a residential college due to his record of supporting racist practices and segregation as president.

Whitefield’s connection to the University comes from his church meeting house located on 4th and Arch streets in Philadelphia, the email read, which Penn founder Benjamin Franklin purchased for the Academy of Philadelphia that eventually became the University of Pennsylvania. The email made no mention the lifelong friendship between Whitefield and Franklin, or Whitefield’s ownership of enslaved persons. 

Since the announcement, the University has removed a 2013 Penn Today article called ‘For the Record: George Whitefield’ that described Franklin’s relationship with Whitefield, but failed to mention any of the preacher’s ties to slavery. The article was still accessible earlier this week.

Read the rest here.

You can also read the official University of Pennsylvania statement. It makes an effort to separate Whitefield from the university’s founding in 1740: “Whitefield’s connection to Penn stems from a church meeting house he owned at 4th and Arch streets in Philadelphia  which was purchased by Ben Franklin to house the Academy of Philadelphia, a predecessor to the University of Pennsylvania. Given that Whitefield prominently advocated for slavery, there is absolutely no justification for having a statue honoring him at Penn.” (I believe a Wyndham Hotel now sits on the spot where the Whitefield meeting house was located, or at least that is what I tell students and K-12 teachers when I give them tours of colonial Philadelphia).

The Penn statement makes it sound as if Franklin answered a classified ad for a vacant building that just happened to be owned by Whitefield. It ignores the fact that Whitefield and Franklin were close friends, worked together on projects of moral improvement, and even thought about establishing a colony in Ohio. (The history of the Whitefield statue published on the website of the University of Pennsylvania archives is more nuanced about the relationship between the two men).

I am not writing to defend Whitefield or to criticize Penn’s decision to remove the statue.  They can do whatever they want with it. Whitefield will continue to be an important and flawed figure in American history and Penn’s decision will not “erase” history. News of the removal, as historian Peter Choi points out, might also awaken contemporary evangelicals to the fact that one of their heroes helped to contribute to America’s history of systemic racism.

Indeed, Whitefield’s relationship to slavery was morally problematic. Baylor University historian Thomas Kidd, a somewhat sympathetic biographer of Whitefield, refuses to give the “Grand Itinerant” as pass on slavery. Here is a taste of a piece he published in 2015 at The Christian Century:

Here is a man who was the most tireless gospel preacher of his era, and who seemed to care a great deal about orphans and African American converts. But he also became one of colonial America’s staunchest advocates for slavery’s expansion. Are we permitted to admire such a man, in spite of his glaring blind spots? (The question is hardly limited to Whitefield: we might ask the same about slaveowning historical figures from George Washington to Stonewall Jackson.)

I do admire Whitefield because of his passionate commitment to the gospel, but his relationship to slavery represents the greatest ethical problem in his career. It represents an enduring story of many Christians’ devotion to God but frequent inability (or unwillingness) to perceive and act against social injustice. Instead of condemning Whitefield as irredeemable, I would suggest that we let his faults—which we can see more clearly with 300 years of hindsight—caution us instead. Even the most sincere Christians risk being shaped more by fallen society than by the gospel. 

Read the rest here.

As Kidd notes, many important people in colonial and revolutionary America owned slaves. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson come immediately to mind. It is also worth noting that the university’s decision to remove the Whitefield statue from campus seems to break with some prominent American historians who have weighed-in on our current monument debate.

For example, Harvard’s Annette Gordon-Reed, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of Thomas Jefferson and his relationship with his slave Sally Hemmings, has argued that Jefferson statues and monuments should remain in place because the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third United States president made major contributions to American life that went beyond his commitment to the institution of slavery.

Award-winning historian of abolitionism Manisha Sinha recently told NPR:

I think it is important not to go from one extreme to the other. And while it is true that many of the Virginian Founding Fathers – Washington, Jefferson, Madison – all owned slaves, we put up their statues not to commemorate their slave holding but for different reasons. So these statues, I think, need to be contextualized historically. We shouldn’t shy from the fact that many of these men were slave owners, but we should also be able to judge each case individually. The Confederate statues have no redeeming qualities to them, but other statues certainly do.

I don’t know what Gordon-Reed or Sinha would say about the Whitefield statue. (Sinha discusses Whitefield in her book The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition). But it is fair to ask whether Whitefield, like Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, also made contributions to American life that extend beyond his defense and promotion of slavery.

I am not in the camp of historians who believe that Whitefield had something to do with the American Revolution, but I do think there are many Americans–past and present–who would say that the evangelical message he preached had a spiritual and moral influence on their lives. Christians continue to read Whitefield’s sermons for their devotional value. The evangelical movement he helped to found, though not without its flaws, has been a source of meaning and purpose for many Americans. And the evangelical theology he championed, promoted, and popularized also influenced many future abolitionists.

As Jessica Parr has argued in her book Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivialism, and the Making of a Religious Icon, Whitefield’s legacy is a complicated one:

To slaves owners and slaves alike, Whitefield also represented the duality of Christianity in the lives of slaves. For those who opposed slavery, his preaching about equality in the eyes of God inspired antislavery sentiments. Black abolitionists invoked his preaching. White abolitionists invoked his early criticisms of slavery. And although many a southern planter doubted his sincerity, Whitefield was also a model of proslavery paternalistic slaves’ well-being (spiritually and otherwise) but who saw no contradiction between slave owning and his faith.

What if we thought about the University of Pennsylvania’s Whitefield monument in the same way American historians have been thinking about Confederate monuments? Most American historians today argue that Confederate monuments should be removed because they were erected during the Jim Crow era as a celebration of the Lost Cause. In 1931, African-American intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois wrote,

The most terrible thing about War, I am convinced, is its monuments,–the awful things we are compelled to build in order to remember the victims. In the South, particularly, human ingenuity has been put to it to explain on its war monument, the Confederacy. Of course, the plain truth of the matter would be an inscription something like this: “Sacred to the memory of those who fought to Perpetuate Human Slavery.” But that reads with increasing difficulty as time goes on. It does, however, seem to be overdoing the matter to read on a North Carolina Confederate monument: “Died Fighting for Liberty!”

Most of these monuments were erected between 1900 and 1920 for the purpose of advancing the cause of white supremacy. Read historian W. Fitzhugh Brundage here. Read the American Historical Association here.

They were also erected to celebrate Confederate military officers like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. These men were traders to their country.

So why was the Whitefield statue was erected? It was unveiled on the Penn campus in June 1919. Here is how the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the event:

Fri, Jun 13, 1919 – Page 6 · The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

A quick search at Newspapers.com reveals that the erection of the monument drew attention throughout the country and beyond. Reports of the event–some more extensive than others–appeared in newspapers in Victoria, BC; Corsicana, TX; Paducha, KY; Annapolis, MD; Harrisburg, PA; Pittston, PA; Wilmington, DE; Tampa Bay, FL; Lexington, NC; Pittsburgh, PA; Chanute, KS; Atlanta, GA; Winfield, KS; Casper, WY; Nashville, TN; Salisbury, NC;  Wausau, WI; Lawrence, KS; and Winston-Salem, NC. An article in the Harrisburg Telegraph discussed Whitefield’s visit to south central Pennsylvania and his relationship to John Harris, the founder of the city.

Rev. Wallace MacMullen’s speech on the occasion was published in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle on June 16, 1919. It focused on Whitefield’s evangelical convictions, his relationship with John and Charles Wesley, his powerful preaching in the British transatlantic world, his printed sermons, his family life, and his commitment to education.

As might be expected at such an event, there was no mention of Whitefield’s flaws or his promotion of slavery in Georgia. Unlike the Confederate monuments, the Whitefield statue was not erected in 1919 to celebrate slavery, white supremacy, or racism. It was erected because Whitefield had a connection to the University of Pennsylvania, was a friend of Ben Franklin, had made significant contributions to the religious life of America, and was an advocate of learning.

Of course the Penn administration may view statues differently than historians such as Gordon-Reed or Sinha or Yale historian David Blight. Perhaps they believe that any statue of a slaveholder has no place on their campus. If that is the case, then the removal of Whitefield is consistent with the university’s beliefs.

I am thus assuming, based on the way they handled the Whitefield statue, that Amy Gutmann (President), Wendell Pritchett (Provost), and Craig Carnaroli (Executive Vice President) would also argue for the removal of statues commemorating Washington, Jefferson, James Madison, John Jay, Patrick Henry, or John Hancock. They were all slaveholders and many of them were complicit in the preservation of slavery between 1776 and 1789. Of course the university would have no reason to have a statue to any of these figures on campus, but let’s remember that Quaker William Penn also owned slaves. This might get a little closer to home. (For the record, there is no statue of Penn on the University of Pennsylvania campus).

And let’s not forget that Ben Franklin was also a slavemaster. As David Waldstreicher writes in his book Runaway America:

Franklin’s antislavery credentials have been greatly exaggerated…His debt to slavery, and his early persistent engagement with controversies surrounding slaves, have been largely ignored. He profited from the domestic and international slave trade, complained about the ease with which slaves and servants ran off to the British army during the colonial wars of the 1740s and 1750s, and staunchly defended slaveholding rebels during the Revolution. He owned a series of slaves between about 1735 and 1781 and never systemically divested himself of them…He declined to bring the matter of slavery to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when asked to do so by the abolition society that he served as president. There are enough smoking guns, to be sure, to condemn Franklin as a hypocrite, Jefferson-style, if one wishes to do so.

While Franklin relied upon slaves and servants for his success, he also, later in life, became an abolitionist. If the Penn administration ever has to justify the three Franklin statues that currently stand on the campus, I am sure they will appeal to this anti-slavery work. They would probably argue that Poor Richard was a complex person. They might even say that his role in the preservation of American slavery should not be the only thing that defines him and his legacy. Whitefield, however, does not seem to get the benefit of such complex and nuanced thinking.

A Return to Fall Commencements

 

Matthew Dennis of the University of Oregon reminds us that 18th-century commencements took place in the Fall. Here is a taste of his Washington Post piece “Why colleges should hold commencement in the fall–like they used to.”

 

…during much of the colonial period, graduation ceremonies typically occurred in September. By the mid-18th century, commencement had become fully established as a public event to demonstrate the individual achievements of graduates, introduce them formally to the community and make the case publicly for higher education as a producer of knowledge and expertise in the public interest. Fall rites served dual purposes, marking the beginning of the academic year for continuing students and faculty and commencing the public careers of graduates. These colonial precedents might offer an option for refashioning college commencements to provide an opportunity to celebrate graduates and the role of higher education, in this year when the world of higher education has been turned upside down…

Commencements became a required and regular part of higher education in 1764 when the College of New Jersey (Princeton) president, Samuel Finley, wrote the “Process of Public Commencement,” which served as a template for future ceremonies, with specific details about processions, orations, disputations, odes and songs, all of which soon took shape at America’s nine colleges.

Their purpose was explicitly to commence — the academic calendar and the graduates’ public lives — and to do so festively, ceremoniously, publicly. Medieval graduation rites had been held in private, as discrete rites of passage largely into clerical life. The new colonial colleges were also initially private elite (all male) institutions, mostly designed to train scholars for the ministry.

But they had increasingly turned toward secular purposes and claimed an important place in the public sphere. Elaborate public commencements signaled this turn, highlighting the new intellectual and technical skills and contributions of faculty and students, in arts and letters, science and medicine, commerce, law and government. The ceremonies themselves helped cement connections between the colleges, wealthy benefactors and the public, as well as between graduates and prospective employers. And graduation could also mark graduates’ transition into married life, with many a betrothal between the male scholars and the sisters of their classmates.

Read the entire piece here.

Teaching John Henry Newman’s “What is a University?”

IRELAND-DUBLIN-Custom-Building

University College, Dublin

Yesterday in Created and Called for Community we read an excerpt from John Henry Newman‘s “What is a University,” a chapter in his 1852 book The Idea of a University.  Newman wrote this book while serving as rector of Catholic University of Ireland. (today it is known as University College Dublin), a school that he helped found.

We started our conversation, as we always do, by sourcing the document. Who was Newman? Several students found it interesting that Newman was not welcomed to teach at Oxford University, an Anglican institution of higher learning, after he converted to Catholicism.  This was a great opportunity to think about previous course readings.  As we learned from Randy Basinger’s recorded lecture last week, Christian colleges and universities often place boundaries on faculty and students. These boundaries are usually defined by belief and behavior rooted in the particular school’s mission and understanding of Christian faith. In 19th-century England, Oxford was a Protestant institution. I pointed out that Oxford was not as inclusive as present-day Messiah College, a Christian college that hires Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox believers.  As we noted last week, other Christian colleges such as Wheaton College, Gordon College, or Calvin University do not hire Catholic professors.  If Newman were teaching at one of these colleges at the time he converted to Catholicism, he would need to leave.

We also thought together about Newman’s “What is a University?” in its 19th-century context. Students quickly noted that Newman was writing in a world where only men attended university.  His understanding of “diversity” was limited when compared to our modern understanding of “diversity.” For Newman, diversity meant different kinds of white men.

At this point I paused and explained how I might teach this document differently in a history course.  I imagined teaching Newman’s ideas in a course on 19th-century British history.  In such a course my primary goal would be to get students to think about what Newman’s essay teaches us about his world.  But in CCC, my primary goal is less about getting my students to understand the “foreign country” of 19th-century Great Britain and more about trying to get them to think about whether Newman has anything to offer our understanding of Christian higher education today.

This discussion allowed me to reinforce an important lesson about studying at a college (like Messiah College) with a robust general education program informed by the liberal arts.  Each discipline in the curriculum offers students a different way of thinking about the world.  I used global poverty to illustrate my point. In a political science class, for example, students might address global poverty by thinking about ways of alleviating it through public policy.  In a history class, students might reflect on the roots of global poverty or the kind of choices humans have made in the past that have resulted in global poverty. In a psychology class, students might reflect on the relationship between global poverty and mental health.  In a literature class, students might read stories of global poverty–fiction and non-fiction–that trigger their moral imaginations.  In an environmental studies class students might think about the links between climate change and global poverty.  And so on….  This is the kind of “connectedness” that Ernest L. Boyer described in his essay on Messiah College.

It was now time to dive into the text.  I started the conversation by asking the question in Newman’s title: “What is a University?” Some students were drawn to Newman’s claim that a university is “a place for the communication and circulation of thought, by means of personal intercourse….” I asked them to suggest some ways in which “thought” is communicated and circulated at a university.  Students, of course, mentioned their professors imparting knowledge in formal class settings.  But I wanted them to think beyond the classroom.  We talked about the word “circulate.”  How do ideas circulate on a college campus? Like bees released from the hive, ideas should be buzzing constantly around the campus.  They should fly out of the classroom door and fill the sidewalks, cafeteria, and dorms–constantly circulating through conversation and discussion.

We also discussed Newman’s idea that the university is a place–a real, flesh and blood, place.  Newman writes: “The general principles of any study you may learn by books at home; but the detail, the colour, the tone, the air, the life, which makes it live in us, you must catch all these from those in whom it lives already.”  In an age of online learning, virtual reality, and the internet I wondered if my students thought Newman’s call for face-to-face learning was still relevant?  I was surprised that so many students, struggling to keep their phones out of sight as they consulted an essay published on paper, seemed to agree with him here.

Several students wanted to talk about Newman’s idea of the university as a place focused on character building. We had a good discussion here about gender.  Newman often thinks of character in masculine terms.  He wants his university to produce good 19th-century “gentlemen” with proper “carriage,” “gait,” and “gestures.” But my students also agreed that some of the character traits Newman hoped students would learn in college were still relevant today.  My students wanted an education that helped them be more courteous and conversant.  They wanted a university to help them develop “the talent of not offending,” “delicacy of thought,” “happiness of expression,” “taste and propriety,” “generosity,” “forbearance,” and “candour.” These character traits, they argued, transcend time (the 19th-century) and gender.  The students universally agreed with my claim that the modern pluralistic university is no longer very concerned about character building.

We closed class by discussing liberal arts education as a form of “catechising.” Newman writes:

Truth, a subtle, invisible, manifold spirit, is poured into the mind of the scholar by his eyes and ears, through his affections, imagination, and reason: it is poured into this mind and is sealed up there in perpetuity, by propounding and repeating it, by questioning and requestioning, by correcting and explaining, by progressive and then recurring to first principles, by all those ways which are implied in the word “catechising .” In the first ages, it was a work of a long time; months, sometimes years, were devoted to the arduous task of disabusing the mind of the incipient Christian of its pagan errors, and of moulding it upon the Christian faith.

For most of my students, “catechism” is a foreign word.  They attend evangelical churches that do not offer formal programs of catechism designed to shape the mind, heart, and soul of young women and men in the congregation.  Catechism is an invitation to spiritual formation.  Spiritual growth seldom comes through the mountain-top experience at a weekend youth retreat.  It comes instead through the daily grind of practicing the spiritual disciplines–scripture reading and memorization, prayer, fasting, and other practices that take our focus off self and put it on God and others.

This is how Newman understands the catechizing nature of a liberal arts education.  Intellectual formation comes through repetition, discipline, questioning, requestioning, correcting, explaining, and the regular appeal to “first principles.” Yes, students may get temporary intellectual “highs” as they encounter an inspiring professor or attend an undergraduate conference, but the”arduous task” of “disabusing the mind” of errors and “moudling” it in truth takes time.  It takes a lifetime.

On Monday we start the “Creation” unit.  We will begin in a very familiar place.

The Author’s Corner with Anna Mae Duane

educated for freedomAnna Mae Duane is Associate Professor of English at the University of Connecticut. This interview is based on her new book, Educated for Freedom: The Incredible Story of Two Fugitive Slave Schoolboys Who Grew Up to Change a Nation (NYU Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Educated for Freedom?

AMD: I was exploring the archives at the New-York Historical Society and I came across a skit included in the records of the New-York African Free Schools. This 1822 skit depicts two students, one student chastising the other for having a slothful mother who keeps him from getting to school on time. I wanted to know what it was like to be a nine–year-old child, and to stand on stage and act out a script that depicted your mother–and by extension the other mothers at the school–as being too lazy, or too ignorant to understand the great importance of getting to school on time. Since that day, I’ve been told many times that this is, perhaps, the wrong question to ask. We can’t ever know how any historical person really felt, and in this case, the evidence made it seem like a particularly futile question to ask. These were children, Black children in a slave nation no less, reading words written for them by white adults, which they dramatized before a public that would judge them on their performance. In other words, we must recognize that these two schoolchildren were utterly subaltern: it’s a fool’s errand to try to hear them speak.

Educated for Freedom is a response to that objection. As I’ve researched the work of the school, and the lives of the two of the remarkable people who have attended it (one of whom, Dr. James McCune Smith, turned out to be one of the kids in the skit), I’ve realized that the historical and the literary documents offer ample proof that these children and others like them were part of broad conversations about the nation, about power and, most particularly, about the future.

So while this book is a biography of two men who became giants of Black abolitionism, I wanted to keep the dialogue open between their lives as adults and their experiences as children by pausing at moments when their “adult” work–in medicine, science, and politics—was shaped by Black children in their lives, sometimes strangers, sometimes fugitives, sometimes their own children. Much work on Black abolitionism has stressed the ways in which the activists sought, understandably, to gain access to a citizenship that was coded both male and adult. I sought to structure the book in a way that braided the personal with the political, the needs of a child, with the demands of a citizen, to reflect how mutually constitutive these terms were in the process of determining how slavery was defined, attacked, and defended in the years leading to the Civil War.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Educated for Freedom?

AMD: The book begins with Black students being told that they could never be fully American, and ends with one of those students speaking before Congress: that journey helps us understand the power of Black political organizing both in the public and private realms.  We can’t understand how the intertwined concepts of freedom and Americanness were transformed in the nineteenth century without fully recognizing the revolutionary work of African American students, parents and activists: people who were never meant to claim the role of free American citizens. 

JF: Why do we need to read Educated for Freedom?

AMD: Well, to start with, the lives of James McCune Smith and Henry Highland Garnet are incredibly exciting!  Smith and Garnet are far from household names, but they were players in many of the century’s most momentous events. The  impoverished sons of enslaved mothers, they managed to meet the Marquis de Lafayette, earn a Medical degree, fight off angry mobs, influence John Brown and his fateful raid, speak before crowds of thousands, challenge the terms of white abolitionism, and address Congress. Their lives and work allows us to reimagine  how we imagine the scope of African Americans’ influence in pre-Civil War America.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American Historian?

AMD: At first I thought I’d be a literary critic of the Renaissance! And then I enrolled in an early American literature class, and I was hooked. I was immediately intrigued by  how the New England settlers worked so diligently to place their suffering–and the suffering they imposed on so many others–within a coherent symbolic framework. Since then I’ve been fascinated with the stories we tell ourselves about the past, particularly about how often those stories return to the tableau of an endangered child.

JF: What is your next project?

AMD: I have two projects that I’m in the process of developing. The first, tentatively titled “American Orphans” builds on Educated for Freedom‘s argument that children are not bystanders in American history or rhetoric. Instead, they have been key to how the U.S. has explained itself symbolically. I’ll be researching schools, prisons, and other sites to chart how their  subjection to, and resistance of, their national role has shaped definitions of citizenship and freedom. I’m particularly interested in exploring how  the trauma of orphanhood became celebrated as an American rite of passage on the way to independence in ways that justified–even glorified–separating children of color from their homes and communities

My second project–in the very early stages–will be a developing series of biographies of the New York African Free School students aimed for younger audiences.

JF: Thanks, Anna Mae!

Annette Gordon-Reed Reviews Alan Taylor’s New Book on Jefferson and Education

Taylor JeffersonWhen a Pultizer-Prize-winning American historian reviews a new book from another Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian it is worth a separate post here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. Taylor’s book is titled Thomas Jefferson’s Education.  Here is a taste of Gordon-Reed’s review at The Atlantic:

The Revolution and the creation of the United States of America broadened Jefferson’s vision in many ways, and by his mid-40s, he had taken to insisting that the job of reforming Virginia—above all, ending slavery, a system in which he participated—would fall to “the rising generation.” He and his fellows in the revolutionary generation had done their service by founding a new country. It was now up to the young people who inherited that legacy to carry the torch and continue the advancement of what he considered Enlightenment values. But Jefferson could not totally bow out of the quest to transform the place he was born and had long thought of as his “country.” After 25 years in national public service, he was at last able to return to the project in 1809, and he did so decidedly in his own way.

Improving Virginia’s system of education, Jefferson believed, was the foundation upon which progress would be built, and the foundation had to be laid properly. If publicly supported primary and secondary schooling was not possible, he would shift his focus. He filled his time in retirement writing and answering letters, and playing host to the hordes of visitors who came up the mountain to see him. But his main mission was planning for a university that would rival the great universities in the North. No longer would the sons of Virginia be limited to attending his alma mater, William & Mary, or traveling north to Harvard or Yale—choices that disconcerted him for different reasons.

In Thomas Jefferson’s Education, Alan Taylor—the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor of History at the University of Virginia—probes that ambitious mission in clear prose and with great insight and erudition. He explains why Jefferson found those educational choices so intolerable, what he planned to do about the situation, and how his concerns and plans mapped onto a growing sectional conflict that would eventually lead to the breakup of the Union that Jefferson had helped create.

Read the entire review here.

Everything Has a History, Including Parents Complaining About Their Kids’ Homework

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Do you complain about your kid having too much homework?  Slate‘s Rebecca Onion historicizes your complaint.  Here is a taste of her piece “‘The Child is Made to Study Far, Far Beyond His Physical Strength‘”:

If you find yourself stressed, annoyed, and furious about your child’s homework this fall, it might help to know that you are participating in a great American tradition. In January 1900, Edward Bok wrote a scathing editorial in Ladies’ Home Journal about homework in America, with the headline “A National Crime at the Feet of American Parents.” “The child is made to study far, far beyond his physical strength, and consequently his mental good,” Bok pronounced. The elementary and junior high school student, Bok wrote, shouldn’t even need to tote books home from school, because he should be outside with his friends between dismissal and dinner—and after that, he should be asleep. “To rob a child of the playtime which belongs to him is a rank injustice,” Bok argued. “No child under fifteen years of age should be given any home study whatever by his teachers.”

In October of 1900, Bok followed up on his polemic, writing that since it had published, the magazine had received “hundreds of letters from teachers and parents” that “conclusively showed that the facts were even much worse than had been stated,” along with letters from “physicians, almost without number” who “urged the elimination of this evil and injury from the lives of our children.” Bok suggested that parents could act. They should send notes to teachers “stating that under no circumstances whatever will the father and mother permit any home study by the child.” And according to the editor, thousands did just that.

We often think of the American past as a time when students labored for hours in candlelit rooms to meet rigorous educational standards. But as the education researcher Brian Gill and the historian Steven Schlossman have reported in a series of articles, ever since the early 20th century, when American law began to require that all children go to school, many American parents have found homework infuriating. They’ve even complained about helping their kids with math, just like you.

Read the entire piece here.

Onion talks about bringing history to public audiences in Episode 12 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

The Author’s Corner with Steven Green

the third disestablishment

Steven Green is the Fred H. Paulus Professor of Law and Affiliated Professor of History and Religious Studies at Williamette University. This interview is based on his new book, The Third Disestablishment: Church, State, and American Culture, 1940-1975 (Oxford University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Third Disestablishment?

SG: Many things led me to write The Third Disestablishment.  I have written extensively about the ongoing dynamic of religious disestablishment in the 18th and 19th centuries.  My thesis has been (and continues to be) that there were various levels of disestablishment — political, institutional, legal, cultural — and that they occurred in incremental steps and at different times.  In essence, disestablishment was not perfected with the enactment of the 1st Amendment and, quite clearly, there was never a consensus on what it meant.  The Third Disestablishment brings this narrative forward to the mid-20th century where the Supreme Court formally embraced separation of church and state as the meaning of the Establishment Clause.  The book examines the cultural forces behind this embrace.  I felt that this was a story that had not been fully told before.

I also wrote the book in order to explore the background of the ongoing controversy over whether separation of church and state is/was the correct model.  The book also seeks to address why separationism arose, then fell into disfavor, at least as a legal principle.   Finally, on a personal level, in my earlier career as a 1st Amendment lawyer, I encountered several of the figures and organizations discussed in the book, though in their much later years.  This motivated me to examine the initial dynamic that led them to become involved in this issue.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Third Disestablishment?

SG: The book responds to more recent interpretations that maintain that separation of church and state became a legal and popular construct in mid-century due chiefly to residual Protestant suspicions of Catholicism.  It also maintains that even in its heyday, church-state separation was a contestable and indeterminate concept, and that its demise both legally and culturally began much earlier than has otherwise been maintained.

JF: Why do we need to read The Third Disestablishment?

SG: While numerous books have been written on the development of church and state, this book provides a fresh perspective by interweaving the cultural and legal developments of the period into  comprehensive narrative.  It examines the cultural backdrop to the Court’s adoption of its modern church-state jurisprudence.  It explores the roles of leading figures of the time, including Reinhold Niebuhr, John Courtney Murray, Paul Blanshard, Cardinal Francis Spellman, Billy Graham, Norman Vincent Peale, John F. Kennedy, and several consequential Supreme Court justices.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

SG: I have been interested in the interaction between religion and politics/law in US history since undergraduate school.  I made the decision to enter a history PhD program after practicing law for 4 years.   Since then, I have had an amazing career that has allowed me to do legal advocacy, teaching, and scholarship in the area of religion, law, politics and history. 

JF: What is your next project?

SG: I am writing a book for Cornell University Press in its religion in public life series on–you guessed it–the development of church-state separation in American history.

JF: Thanks, Steven!

Let’s Remember That Evangelicals Led the Way in Opening Higher Education to Women

Holyoke

Mount Holyoke College

Baylor University historian Andrea Turpin provides some historical context to the entire Paige Patterson mess.  Here is a taste of her piece at The Conversation:

Southern Baptist Convention leader Paige Patterson was asked to step down early Wednesday morning following a meeting of the board of trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he served as president. With a following of over 15 million, Southern Baptists are America’s largest Protestant denomination.

Trustees were responding to a petition by over 3,000 Southern Baptist women regarding what they called Patterson’s “unbiblical” remarks on womanhood, sexuality and domestic violence. In an audio recording from 2000 that surfaced recently, Patterson was heard counseling a woman to stay with her abusive husband. In another sermon, he commented on a 16-year-old girl’s body. And even as the trustees met, news broke that Patterson allegedly advised a female seminary student not to report a rape to the police.

It would be easy to assume evangelical Christian educators like Patterson uniformly discriminate against women because they believe the Bible teaches women to submit to men. But, as a historian of women, religion and higher education, I know that the story is not that simple: Evangelicals actually led in opening higher education to women.

The very first college in world history to offer a bachelor’s degree to women, Oberlin, did so in 1837, with the goal of training more people to spread the evangelical gospel.

In other words, theologically conservative Christians pioneered women’s higher education for theological reasons.

Read the rest of the piece here.  And check out our Author’s Corner with Turpin here.

The Author’s Corner with Adam Laats

9780190665623Adam Laats is a professor of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership at Binghamton University. This interview is based on his new book, Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Fundamentalist U?

AL: Over the years, as I researched the history of conservatism and evangelicalism in American education, I couldn’t help but notice the enormous influence of the network of conservative-evangelical colleges and universities. Back in the 1920s, the parlous state of higher education was one of the first concerns of conservative-evangelical intellectuals and activists. Back then, the linchpin of fundamentalist culture-war strategy was the notion of establishing their own, independent, interdenominational, fundamentalist colleges and universities. I wanted to know how the network of these evangelical institutions developed over the course of the twentieth century.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Fundamentalist U?

AL: Evangelicalism stubbornly resists definition. In order to understand it, we should look at the dynamics of its institutions, not only at the statements of its leaders.

JF: Why do we need to read Fundamentalist U?

AL: Anyone who hopes to understand American evangelicalism should study its institutions, and colleges, seminaries, institutes, and universities have been among the most influential evangelical institutions. Why did “fundamentalists” separate from “evangelicals?” How has creationism evolved? What does it mean to be a good, godly spouse or parent? How can white evangelicals confront the legacy of white Christian racism? These issues roiled evangelicalism throughout the twentieth century, and institutions of higher education were often the stages on which the debates played out.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American historian, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

AL: I fell into it backwards. I taught high-school history and English and became fascinated with the weird ways schools function as social institutions. I wanted to understand schools, so I began studying their history. I’m still hoping to figure it out.

JF: What is your next project?

AL: I’ve moved back in time to the early 1800s. Back then, a British reformer named Joseph Lancaster promised he had found the solution to urban poverty. By implementing his “system,” cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and Boston hoped to develop schools that would teach low-income children how to read, write, cipher, and show up on time for work. It didn’t work. I’m trying to figure out why so many prominent leaders, including Governor DeWitt Clinton of New York and philanthropist Roberts [sic] Vaux of Philadelphia believed in what one early historian called Lancaster’s “delusion” of school reform.

JF: Thanks, Adam!

Slavery at Princeton University

MacLean House Princeton

Check out Alex Carp‘s piece at The New York Review of Books on slavery and American colleges and universities.  This particular excerpt deals with slavery at Princeton:

Last fall, after more than four years of research, Princeton became the latest university to present its results. Princeton was the site of a George Washington victory over British forces and housed the Continental Congress. All of the university’s founding trustees, and its first nine presidents, owned slaves. Slaves owned by the university’s fifth president—two women, a man, and three children—were auctioned off under the so-called “liberty trees” outside his house, two sycamores planted around the time of the repeal of the Stamp Act and pointed out on campus tours through this year only as evidence of the college’s devotion to the American Revolution. (Princeton is one of the rare American institutions older than its country. The university was on its sixth president by the time the ink dried on the US Constitution.) According to Martha Sandweiss, the historian who led the project, Princeton epitomizes “the paradox at the heart of American history: from the very start, liberty and slavery were intimately intertwined.”

Slavery was not uncommon in New Jersey, and even once abolition began, it took generations to complete. An 1804 law granted emancipation only to New Jersey slaves born after July 4 of that year, and only after they had served what one historian has called a “term” of slavery that could last for as many as twenty-five years. One result of this gradual abolition was that many New Jersey slaveholders sold enslaved children born after that deadline to plantations out of state, which reduced the number of enslaved people in New Jersey without emancipating anyone. Another was the transition to institutions that closely resembled slavery: towns throughout the state established “poorhouse farms,” where the vagrant or indigent would be confined to work or were sometimes rented out. Businessmen traveling from New Brunswick to New York at the turn of the nineteenth century—a trip that could take the better part of three days, generally by carriage and boat—would come across “stray negroes” who could be jailed, then sold to pay jail expenses, if they failed to explain themselves sufficiently. The last child registered for gradual emancipation—a girl named Hannah, born in 1844, before legislators replaced the category with something called “apprentices for life”—remained enslaved until barely two weeks before the Confederacy’s 1865 surrender. Princeton’s entanglement with slavery, Sandweiss said when describing the project’s findings last fall, is “typical of other eighteenth-century institutions. And it makes us quintessentially and deeply American.”

At its best, this wave of research demonstrates the ways in which slavery and its legacies have built the world we live in: how the ideas and institutions born in one era do not entirely cast off the forces that shaped them as they move through time. There is no evidence that Princeton University itself owned slaves, but by the early nineteenth century its main building, Nassau Hall, was adjacent to a private farm where enslaved people tended to cattle and worked in a cherry orchard; on the other side of the building, slaves worked in the taverns and other businesses on Nassau Street. Before they could enroll in courses, prospective students had to pass exams in Latin and Greek administered personally by the president; Sandweiss speculates that students arriving for their exams early on their first morning would be greeted at the president’s doorstep by “an enslaved person—the first person on campus a prospective student might meet.” As the college began to chase planter wealth, its antebellum student body grew disproportionately Southern and repeatedly clashed withPrinceton’s community of free African Americans. The school’s Civil War memorial is one of the very few in the country to list the names of the war dead without noting on which side they fought—Sandweiss knew of only one other, at a boarding school—and the university began to grow to its modern size through gifts from a family fortune made by providing financial and shipping services to Cuban slave plantations until at least 1866, the year after slavery’s abolition in the United States.

Read the entire piece here.

Author’s Corner with Johann Neem

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Johann Neem
is a Professor of History at Western Washington University. This interview is based on his new book, Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America (John Hopkins University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Democracy’s Schools?

JN: I decided to write this book for two reasons. First, and foremost, I worried that citizens and policy makers did not have a “go to” book for the formative era of American public education. The leading books in that field were influenced by the culture wars—and thus they were highly critical of the potential of public education. Scholars on the right and left agreed that schools promoted “social control” and served elites, not ordinary people. At a time when our public discourse of education is increasingly vocational and instrumental, I wanted to clear the space to remind Americans today why we had public schools in the first place: to develop the capabilities of citizens; to promote human flourishing for each individual; and to bring together a diverse society.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Democracy’s Schools?

JN: Democracy’s Schools argues that there exists a longstanding and productive tension between the demands of “democratic education” and of “education in a democracy.” Democratic education emphasizes civic goals and the liberal arts and was often promoted by elite reformers such as Horace Mann, whereas education in a democracy depends on local control and schools tied culturally and politically to citizens themselves.

JF: Why do we need to read Democracy’s Schools?

JN: We need Democracy’s Schools because we’re adrift today. At a time when we tend to focus on narrow skills and economic training (“college and career readiness,” in the words of the Common Core—see my essay on the subject), it is worth looking back to an era when public schools served democracy’s needs and represented democratic values. It is worth remembering why reformers sought to increase access to the liberal arts. And it’s worth recognizing that the public schools have a responsibility not just to reflect our differences but also to bring a diverse people together. In short, we need Democracy’s Schools to remember that in the dirty bathwater of our education history there is still a baby worth caring for.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JN: I was a history major in college, but had intended to go into education policy. I wrote my senior thesis on civic education in a democracy, so in some ways I have returned to my roots in this new book. I decided to become an American historian after taking Gordon Wood’s class on the early American republic and realizing that the questions that most intrigued me were being asked by all Americans– whether rich or poor, white or black, male or female– in the decades following the American Revolution.

JF: What is your next project?

JN: I’m not sure. I am continuing to write about education, democracy, and higher education reform. I have started doing some work on the historic relationship between the humanities and American democracy, not just in schools but in society more broadly. We’ll see where it goes!

JF: Thanks, Johann!

Slavery at Harvard

Faust and Coates

Drew Gilpin Faust and Ta-Nehisi Coates

I just came across this article Lydialyle Gibson’s essay in Harvard Magazine titled “A Vast Slave Society.”  It is a report on a one-day conference at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute on slavery at America’s first institution of higher education and other colleges and universities.  Speakers included Drew Gilpin Faust, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lizabeth Cohen, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Adam Rothman, James T. Campbell, Craig Steven Wilder, Vincent Brown, Natasha Trethewey, Annette Gordon-Reed, Sven Beckert, Julian Bonder, Daniel Coquillette, Alexandra Rahman, Alejandro de le Fuente, Hilary Beckles, Max Price, Christiane Taubira, and Daniel Carpenter.

Here is a taste:

OTHER SPEAKERS, including Faust, echoed that same sentiment, though with less specificity. “We cannot successfully move forward as a university, as a nation, or as citizens, without acknowledging this history and making it important to the understanding of our present,” said Harvard’s Beckert. “And to be meaningful, that acknowledgement will have to have economic and political consequences; it cannot be purely symbolic or rhetorical.” Stanford historian James T. Campbell, who a decade and a half ago led Brown’s effort to research its own past, said, “There has to be some response in the present to what you know about the history.” Conceding the impossibility of any full remedy, he added, “Nothing you do in the present even approaches the significance and scale and scope of the crime. That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything.” Adam Rothman, a Georgetown historian involved in that university’s archival effort, asked how many in the audience thought his university ought to help subsidize the education of people descended from slaves that it had owned in the early 1800s. Most hands went up.

As schools move forward in their efforts to reckon with centuries-old questions that have suddenly become urgent, Coates offered a few bits of advice. For one thing, he said, “Do not limit the study of enslavement to slavery.…Recognize that the plunder of enslavement does not end with enslavement.”  He also counseled them to “listen, and don’t be self-congratulatory, and don’t get too mad.” People will be angry with them, he warned, and with good reason. “The worst thing you can do is retreat into your shell.…You’ve got to listen. You’ve got to listen, and you’ve got to hear that anger. It comes from a deep, deep place.”

Read the entire article here.

 

Benjamin Rush on Religious Education

6e84c-rushIn 1786 Benjamin Rush wrote “Thoughts Upon the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic.”It is a classic example of what historians and political theorists call “civic humanism.” At one point Rush states that goal education is to “convert men into republican machines.” Religion and Christianity is mentioned a lot in this essay, but Rush often mentions it in a utilitarian way.  In other words, religion is good when it serves the needs of a virtuous republic.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from the document:

I proceed in the next place, to enquire, what mode of education we shall adopt so as to secure to the state all the advantages that are to be derived from the proper instruction of youth; and here I beg leave to remark, that the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.

Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mahomed inculcated upon our youth, than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. “But the religion I mean to recommend in this place, is that of the New Testament.”

The Author’s Corner with Andrea Turpin

ANewMoralVision.jpgAndrea Turpin is Assistant Professor of History at Baylor University. This interview is based on her new book, A New Moral Vision: Gender, Religion, and the Changing Purposes of American Higher Education, 1837–1917 (Cornell University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write A New Moral Vision?

ATDuring my PhD program at Notre Dame I was reading up on the changing role of religion in American higher education when I noticed something quite striking: the leading books on that topic hardly mentioned women at all. This widespread omission in an otherwise excellent body of scholarship was stunning because American women first entered higher education in large numbers during the exact decades when more and more leading colleges and universities abolished required religious instruction and worship: the 1870s through the 1910s. I wanted to find out how these concurrent trends interacted, and what effects that interaction had on the education of both sexes and the subsequent ways male and female graduates shaped American society.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A New Moral Vision?

AT: A New Moral Vision argues that a group of reformers I call “evangelical pragmatists” led the initial push for women to enter American higher education in the decades before the Civil War, but that in the changed intellectual environment after the war leaders of trendsetting men’s, women’s, and coeducational colleges and universities all drew on women’s new presence in higher education to articulate a compelling alternative to previous evangelical approaches to student moral formation. In place of fostering conversion, these religiously liberal educators sought to foster in students of both sexes a surprisingly more gendered ideal of character and service than had earlier evangelical educators of either men or women, and this new moral vision expanded graduates’ opportunities in some ways but restricted them in others, which contributed significantly to the changing shape of American public life.

JF: Why do we need to read A New Moral Vision?

ATIf you’re an American historian, you need to read it because it makes the case for the centrality of higher education to the development of American culture, hopefully in a way that will be useful for teaching and research in a wide variety of fields within American history. For example, it explains how the contours of separate male and female cultures of public service during the Progressive Era trace back in part to leading participants’ undergraduate experiences. For historians of religion, the book also posits a new way of thinking about what we normally call the “secularization” of American higher education—and to some extent American culture—that I believe to be fairer to the religious liberals who oversaw this transition. For women’s and gender historians, its narrative is a striking example of the difference it makes to our understanding of the history of both sexes when we recover the role of women in aspects of American history where they have still been overlooked. The book explains how the entrance of women into higher education changed men’s higher education too and why this new reality meant that educating both sexes did not translate into as egalitarian a society as might have been expected.

Finally, I’d like to think the book will also be of interest to educated Christian laypeople for two reasons: First, it tells the story of a time and place when conservative Protestants were surprisingly more egalitarian in their gender ideals than liberal Protestants, and this fact calls into question some of our contemporary assumptions about the connections between theology and gender. Second, it provides a fuller backstory to contemporary Christian higher education by exploring the effects different approaches to that project have had in the past.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

AT: Little-known fact: I started college as an astrophysics major! A couple months in I had a vocational de-conversion experience while staring at the board in a basement laboratory as the professor explained standard deviation. Suddenly I just saw Greek letters. I realized I didn’t want to spend my life doing that type of work, and that I preferred writing papers to doing problem sets. I loved the ideas of science, but not the practice. Fortunately, that semester I was also taking a wonderful history of western civilization class taught by Princeton professor Anthony Grafton and excellent preceptor Erika Hermanowicz (now at the University of Georgia). That experience convinced me to switch my major to history of science, which I loved. I particularly enjoyed investigating the interplay between science and religion. For my graduate work, I built on my initial interest in the history of scientific ideas by broadening out to intellectual history. Meanwhile, I chose to concentrate on American history to combat the ease with which we can take our culture for granted and assume that’s just the way things are. I wanted to help my students and readers realize that the culture we see around us is the product of a long trajectory of historical change—and that it is therefore changeable, by us. As American citizens, we have the great responsibility to discern what is good and fight to keep it and discern what is bad and fight to change it.

JF: What is your next project?

AT: My second book project is a history of women’s participation in the Protestant fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early twentieth century, a debate whose ramifications extend into the present culture wars. My working title is A Debate of Their Own: Women in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy. Even recent scholarship on this controversy has continued to focus on the beliefs and actions of men because men dominated the pulpits, periodicals, and even businesses that shaped much of the public conversation surrounding the debate. Meanwhile, historians interested in how gender played into these disputes have primarily focused on the theology of gender roles that these men articulated. Thus, even scholars concerned with the debate’s impact on women have focused on male sources. My book project examines the voices of the women themselves who entered into the religious tousle between the two parties. I ask what these women actually cared about—to what extent their concerns mirrored men’s and to what extent they voiced different priorities and took different approaches to conflict, especially as women often worked together in separate women’s organizations or auxiliaries.

JF: Thanks, Andrea.

 

Are Christian Colleges Partly to Blame for the Overwhelming Evangelical Support for Donald Trump?

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Mid-American Nazarene University

Adam Laats of the SUNY-Binghamton’s Graduate School of Education is writing a fascinating book on fundamentalist and evangelical colleges.  His working title is “Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education.” When completed, this will be the definitive history of evangelical higher education in 20th-century America.

Laats has shared some of his research in a recent History News Network piece titled “What Were White Evangelicals Thinking?” The piece tries to explain why over 80% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.  Laats begins by pointing to the well-rehearsed reasons for why evangelicals pulled the level for The Donald: anti-Hillary sentiment, the Supreme Court, and the longstanding link between evangelicals and the GOP.

But Laats wants to offer another reason for why evangelicals supported Trump. He writes:

All those factors are true and important, but they are not sufficient to explain Trump’s popularity among white evangelicals.  If we really want to understand it, we need to grasp the true contours of the evangelical intellectual tradition.  That tradition has always made room for Trump’s brand of flag-waving, chest-thumping, America-First populism.  On the campuses of evangelical colleges and universities—the intellectual citadels of American evangelicalism—Trump-like attitudes have always found congenial homes.  

Laats then goes on to describe Christian nationalist sentiment at Wheaton College in 1935, Moody Bible Institute in 1947, and Bob Jones University in 1963.

“Leaders” of these schools did promote Christian nationalism during the 20th-century.  Laats is correct.  But then he takes his research and launches into the present.  He writes:

This sort of star-spangled spirit isn’t just a relic of Cold War Americana.  Into the twenty-first century, too, evangelical colleges and universities have harped on an in-your-face patriotism.  Last year, for example, administrator Randy Beckum at Mid-America Nazarene University was demoted and embarrassed.  His crime?  In a chapel talk, Beckum reminded his evangelical audience that their religious values should come before their Trumpish ones.

As Beckum put it, “We have to be very careful about equating patriotism with Christianity.”  Even more careful than Beckum imagined, apparently.  For questioning the knee-jerk Americanism so prevalent among his students, Beckum found himself the target of evangelical attack and ridicule.

I am familiar with the Mid-America Nazarene case that Laats cites.  He has described the case correctly.  But I would also add that nearly all evangelical colleges would have allowed, if not endorsed, the views that Beckum presented in the Mid-America Nazarene chapel.  In other words, Mid-America Nazarene University is hardly representative of evangelical Christian colleges today.  For every Liberty University or Mid-America Nazarene there are dozens and dozens of evangelical colleges who reject this kind of Christian nationalism and Trumpism.

I would venture to guess that the overwhelming majority of the faculty and administrators at evangelical colleges and universities in the United States DID NOT vote for Donald Trump.

If students at evangelical colleges voted for Trump–and there were many who did–it was not because they were fed pro-Trump rhetoric from their faculty.  In fact, I know several faculty and graduates from the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University who strongly opposed the Trump presidency.

Laats continues to compare Cold War evangelical colleges to evangelical colleges in 2016:

At evangelical colleges and universities, this tradition has always played a leading role in defining evangelical identity.  White evangelicals are a religious group, true, but they have also always been energized by a vague yet powerful patriotic traditionalism.  Like other enthusiastic Trump supporters, white evangelicals have been fueled by a combative culture-war patriotism.  They have always defined themselves by their proprietary attitude about “our” America, the one they hope President Trump will make great again.  

Were evangelical colleges fused with a  “combative culture-war patriotism” during the Cold War?  Yes.  But I don’t think this defines most evangelical Christian colleges today.

Having said that, I am not convinced that evangelical colleges are the best way of measuring evangelical support for Trump in November 2016.  Most evangelicals, both in the Cold War and today, did not or do not attend Christian colleges.

NOTE:  Since I am a fan of his work and respect his scholarship, I sent this post to Laats before I published it here.  He asked for an opportunity to respond and I gladly agreed. Stay tuned.

The Author’s Corner with Jennifer Oast

OastJennifer Oast is Associate Professor of History at Bloomsburg University. This interview is based on her new book, Institutional Slavery: Slaveholding Churches, Schools, Colleges, and Businesses in Virginia, 1680-1860 (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Institutional Slavery?

JO: It started with a primary document that puzzled me about fifteen years ago.  My master’s thesis examined the Bray Schools, which were colonial-era schools for slave children funded by British philanthropists.  While researching the school in Williamsburg, Virginia, I came across a list of the children in attendance in the 1760s; on this list, the College of William and Mary was named as the owner of two of the children.  This surprised me greatly, because while I thought I had learned a lot about slavery as a graduate student, I had never learned that slaves could be owned by a college, as opposed to an individual.  I started looking for as many examples of slave owning institutions as I could find, such as other schools and colleges, church congregations, and the public, and this became the topic of my dissertation and, ultimately, the basis of my book.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Institutional Slavery?

JO: Slaves owned by institutions faced unique challenges (and sometimes opportunities) that set them apart from traditional slaves. Although slave owning by institutions has been largely forgotten, it is impossible to fully understand the commitment of southern whites to maintaining the slave system without realizing how truly pervasive it was throughout society as well as how many southern whites became beneficiaries of slavery because of slave owning by a local institution.

JF: Why do we need to read Institutional Slavery?

JO: Institutional Slavery is the first book to focus on the lives of slaves who were owned by institutions in Virginia.  While the records are often scarce, I have been able to piece together some really fascinating stories about some of the slaves who were owned by institutions.  For example, many were owned by institutions but hired out annually so that their income became an endowment for the institutions to which they belonged, such as church congregations.  This meant that they were hired out to different owners every year, in some cases for their entire lives, creating tremendous family instability.  Other slaves worked at the institutions which owned them, such as the slaves who worked on college campuses, and this opened up its own sets of challenges.  For example, how would the relationship between slaves and students be negotiated on the campuses where they all lived and worked?  So Institutional Slavery provides insights into slave life outside of the traditional plantation setting.  I think that many who might pick up my book, historians and the public alike, are starting to question the complex connections between slavery and southern universities, churches, businesses, and other institutions.  This book lays bare some of those connections and will, I hope, inspire others to continue to research how institutional slavery functioned elsewhere in the South.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JO: I grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where Civil War history permeates the culture, and I was fascinated by American history even as a child.  Wonderful Social Studies teachers in middle and high school inspired me, and I also grew to love American history more as I started researching my own family history when I was sixteen.  I am sure I was the only teenager in my high school who was excited to turn eighteen so she could get into the Library of Congress reading rooms!  There was never any question that I would major in History when I went to William and Mary, only what I would do with the degree.  After graduation, I taught in a public high school for two years, but missed being a student myself so much that I returned to my alma mater for graduate work.  Looking back, it is hard to picture myself doing anything else.  I’ve been very fortunate that so many opportunities have opened for me to pursue my passion for history.

JF: What is your next project?

JO: In Institutional Slavery, I touch briefly on slaves owned by the state of Virginia in the last chapter, but I have conducted more research on publically-owned slaves and plan to study this in more depth. 

JF: Thanks, Jennifer!

What Does It Mean for a College to be "Fundamentalist?"

Adam Laats, a historian of education at SUNY-Binghamton and the author of the I Love Your But You’re Going to Hell blog, is working on what promises to be a very interesting book on the history of Christian higher education.  (We wrote about it here).

In the course of his research Laats is wrestling with the question of what makes a fundamentalist college “fundamentalist.” 

After discussing how definitions of fundamentalism put forward by Joel Carpenter and Matthew Sutton do not explain the fundamentalism that he is encountering in the history of these colleges, Laats writes:

But such definitions don’t seem to match the ways fundamentalism has been defined in its leading institutions. At the colleges I’m studying—schools such as Wheaton CollegeBob Jones UniversityBryan CollegeBiola UniversityThe King’s College, and similar schools—there’s more to the school than just theology.
When these schools called themselves “fundamentalist” (and they DID, even relatively liberal schools such as Wheaton), they meant more than theology. They meant more than just “radical apocalyptic evangelicalism.” They meant more than just “not-Mennonite-or-Pentecostal.”
Defining fundamentalism as it was used in fundamentalist institutions is a trickier issue than simply defining fundamentalist theology. By and large, when schools talked about themselves as “fundamentalist,” they meant that the professors and administration all signed on to fundamentalist theology. But they also meant that the students would have a vaguely conservative atmosphere in which to study. No smoking, no dancing, no etc. They also meant that students would be controlled and guided in their life choices. And they also meant that students would be more likely to socialize with similarly fundamentalist friends and future spouses.

Laats is on to something here.  Fundamentalist colleges certainly uphold fundamentalist theology, but what makes such colleges “fundamentalist” has a lot more to do with student life and their approach to learning.  I would say that fundamentalist colleges–both today and historically–have survived because they are safe places.  The are not only safe places where young fundamentalists can find Christian friends and spouses and be protected from the “immorality” of the secular university, but they are safe places because a young fundamentalist can attend such a college and leave with his or her faith in tact.  

Fundamentalist parents are often more concerned with indoctrination (in fundamentalist doctrine), purity, and separation from the “world” than education.  They fear the kinds of ideas–biblical criticism, evolution, etc.–that will destroy their child’s faith.  If you are an adult fundamentalist who believes that the “world” is full of threatening intellectual forces that could jeopardize the soul of your son or daughter, it makes perfect sense that you might send him or her to a fundamentalist college.  The separatist impulse of American fundamentalism is best illustrated in the movement’s approach to higher education.

I am looking forward to Laat’s book.

The Wren Building at the College of William and Mary

Chris Gehrz of Pietist Schoolman fame brought to my attention this interesting article on the Wren building at the College of William and Mary. (Chris is a William and Mary grad).  

I love old academic buildings (Nassau Hall at Princeton is my favorite for a variety of reasons).  I have been in the Wren Building a few times and have tried to wander through it whenever I am in Williamsburg.  It is a great old building that is still in use for academic purposes.

Here is a taste of Sarah Ruiz’s article on the Wren from The Flat Hat, the student newspaper of the College of William & Mary.

…The Wren is the United States’ oldest academic building but it was not always used for education. It served as a field hospital in two wars, and functioned as the Virginia capitol twice.
“It’s really fascinating to me to think about what rooms they used and how this building actually functioned as the Virginia government,” Kern said.
There were other moments in the building’s history, however, that threatened its existence. The Wren suffered through three fires in its time: once in 1705, just five years after its construction, and again in both 1859 and 1862. According to Kern, one professor’s account from the night of the 1859 fire tells the story of College President Bejamin Ewell rousing the grammar school boys from their beds on the second floor, and then rescuing important artifacts from the burning building. Among those artifacts were portraits of James Blair and his wife, the College seal and the Charter itself.
“The official apparatus of the College is saved during that fire,” Kern said. “The descriptions of all of that suggest an attention to the history of the College, and also give us this insight into how people are using the spaces at that moment. That’s a particularly exciting window into what must have been a terrifying night for lots of people.”
In 1881 the College building was again threatened when the school was forced to close its doors due to lack of funds until 1888. During these “silent years,” President Ewell continued to ring the Wren’s bell at the start of every academic year. Associate Director of Historic Campus Kimberly Renner said these moments of disuse are a testament to the building’s endurance….

Fundamentalist U

Laats’s first book: “The Other School Reformers”

If you are not reading Adam Laats’s blog I Love You But You’re Going to Hell I encourage you to bookmark it or put in in your feed.  Laats teaches in the Graduate School of Education at SUNY-Binghamton and has written extensively on religion and the culture wars as they relate to American education.

I have been reading Laats for a year or so, but I just recently learned of his new book project: “Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education.”  Here is Laats’s description of this well-funded project:

In my new book, tentatively titled Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education, I’m exploring the complex history of evangelical and fundamentalist higher education. In many ways, these schools have functioned as institutional hubs in the kaleidoscopic world of conservative evangelicalism. From Reagan to Romney, from Cruz to (Jeb) Bush, politicians hoping to woo the conservative religious vote have visited conservative schools such as Bob Jones and Liberty University…

Schools such as Bob Jones and Liberty, as well as Wheaton College, Biola, The King’s College, and a host of other institutions, have educated generations of evangelicals in the distinctive intellectual and cultural traditions of their faith. Students at these schools agree to more rigid lifestyle rules than they would on secular campuses. And they agree to have their educations shepherded by faculties who have signed on to detailed statements of faith. Just as alumni of the Ivy League might brag about their alma maters, so alumni of these schools feel a distinct connection to their colleges. Politicians hoping to prove their conservative credentials want to jump on that bandwagon.
But that does not mean that these colleges are somehow monolithic.  The differences between these schools often loom larger than their similarities, at least in the world of evangelical Protestantism.  What does it mean to be “creationist?”  What changes are healthy, and what are dangerously heterodox?  And what is the proper, Godly relationship between men and women?  There is no single “evangelical” answer to these questions.  Just as at pluralist campuses, evangelical campuses have been rocked by controversy on all these issues.
But there is a palpable sense of connection.  There is something that unites the fractious world of evangelical higher education.  And in this book, I’m asking questions about it:  What did such schools hope to teach each new generation of evangelical student?  How did they hope to raise up new generations of faithful young people in a country that was slipping farther and farther into secularism?  And, importantly, how did students respond to these efforts?
If we hope to understand America’s continuing culture wars, we must make sense of the many meanings of these institutions.  After all, our culture wars aren’t between one group of educated people and another group that has not been educated.  Rather, the fight is usually between two groups who have been educated in very different ways.
I’ll be traveling over the next year or so to a set of non-denominational evangelical schools such as Bryan College, Wheaton College, Biola University, Bob Jones University, and others.  I’ll be looking in their archives at the residue of student life and learning across the century.
As I do so, I’ll keep posting updates in these pages about my evolving argument.  And I invite input from readers who’ve attended such schools.  How did going to a conservative evangelical college shape you?  How did you rebel or conform to the school’s expectations?
Stay tuned.  This looks like a really interesting project that will no doubt make a big splash in the Christian college world.