Schools Without Rules: Private schools' curriculum downplays slavery, says humans and dinosaurs lived together
Some private schools in Florida that rely on public funding teach students that dinosaurs and humans lived together, that God’s intervention prevented Catholics from dominating North America and that slaves who “knew Christ” were better off than free men who did not.
The lessons taught at these schools come from three Christian publishing companies whose textbooks are popular on many of about 2,000 campuses that accept, and often depend on, nearly $1 billion in state scholarships, or vouchers.
... The books denounce evolution as untrue, for example, and one shows a cartoon of men and dinosaurs together, telling students the Biblical Noah likely brought baby dinosaurs onto his ark. The science books, they added, seem to discourage students from doing experiments or even asking questions.
“Students who have learned science in this kind of environment are not prepared for college experiences,” said Cynthia Bayer, a biology lecturer at the University of Central Florida who reviewed the science books. “They would be intellectually disadvantaged.”
The social studies books downplay the horrors of slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans, they said. One book, in its brief section on the civil rights movement, said that “most black and white southerners had long lived together in harmony” and that “power-hungry individuals stirred up the people.”
The books are rife with religious and political opinions on topics such as abortion, gay rights and the Endangered Species Act, which one labels a “radical social agenda.” They disparage religions other than Protestant Christianity and cultures other than those descended from white Europeans. Experts said that was particularly worrisome given that about 60 percent of scholarship students are black or Hispanic.
... The Florida Department of Education does not track the curriculum used by the 140,000 students who attend private schools on state vouchers. In fact, Florida law prohibits the department from asking about or regulating academics at these schools....
The scholarships that private schools may use to purchase these academic materials are paid for either directly by the state or with tax credits — money diverted from the state budget by corporations that make scholarship donations and then write off an equivalent amount from their state tax bills.The scholarships are available to students from low-income families or to those with disabilities, and their parents are free to enroll them in any private school that accepts the state-backed vouchers.
Nearly 80 percent of scholarship students attend religious schools, and most of those institutions are Christian. About 16 percent of the scholarship schools are Catholic, and those schools use their own curriculum as do some other schools including those that are Islamic or Jewish (combined they make up about 5 percent of the schools) and those without religious affiliation.
With few exceptions, the Christian texts the Sentinel had reviewed focus on simple reading passages, basic math and repetitive activities, such as copying sentences, with little to demand students think critically, the experts said....
In public schools, Florida teachers need a bachelor’s degree and passing scores on state certification exams, but there are no required teacher credentials for private schools that accept state scholarships.
“Honestly, with our curriculum … a certified teacher is not required,” Natasha Griffin, district superintendent of Esther’s School, which has seven campuses in Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel last year.
At Esther’s School in Kissimmee, 11 of 18 teachers lacked college degrees last year, according to a document Griffin sent to the education department. For two of them, 11th grade was their highest educational level. Almost all of the school’s nearly 60 students are on state scholarships this year....
The BJU text said “God provided” North America as a place for the Protestant church to flourish, keeping Catholics to Central America and South America.
An ACE workbook notes Native Americans were forced off their lands but then blames them for becoming “dependent on their government.” The Abeka book said in a section on “evangelizing black Americans” that “the slave who knew Christ had more freedom than a free person who did not know the Savior.”
... The math and reading texts fall short compared with the books used in public schools, too, the experts said. The BJU math book was well done, but most of the math texts focus heavily on teaching rules and computational methods but do little to build students’ understanding of the concepts needed to really understand the subject, said Jie Yu, an assistant professor of education at Rollins College.
The reading texts include “simple kid stories” that are appropriate but not challenging, said Patricia Goldman, language arts specialist for Seminole public schools. The stories, and accompanying questions, lack the complexity the state expects for literary lessons in public schools, she added.
“There’s really not a lot of heavy thinking,” she said.