Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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Texas Public Schools: Still Teaching Creationism

In Texas public schools, children learn that the Bible provides scientific proof that Earth is 6,000 years old, that the origins of racial diversity trace back to a curse placed on Noah's son, and that astronauts have discovered "a day missing in space" that corroborates biblical stories of the sun standing still.

These are some of the findings detailed in Reading, Writing & Religion II, a new report by the Texas Freedom Network that investigates how public schools in the Lone Star State promote religious fundamentalism under the guise of offering academic courses about the Bible. The report, written by Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, found that more than half of the state's public-school Bible courses taught students to read the book from a specifically Christian theological perspective—a clear violation of rules governing the separation of church and state.

Many school districts pushed specific strains of fundamentalism in the classes:

  • "The Bible is the written word of God," proclaims a slide shown to students in suburban Houston's Klein Independent School District (ISD). Another slide adds: "The Bible is united in content because there is no contradictions [sic] in the writing. The reason for this is because the Bible is written under God's direction and inspiration."
  • A PowerPoint slide in Brenham ISD in Central Texas claims that "Christ's resurrection was an event that occurred in time and space—that is was, in reality, historical and not mythological." (emphasis in original)
  • In North Texas, Prosper ISD promotes the Rapture, claiming in course materials that "the first time the Lord gathered his people back was after the Babylonian captivity. The second time the Lord will gather his people back will be at the end of the age."

Some Bible classes in Texas public school appear to double as "science" classes, circumventing limits placed on teaching creationism. Eastland ISD, a school district outside Fort Worth, shows videos produced by the Creation Evidence Museum, which claims to possess a fossil of a dinosaur footprint atop "a pristine human footprint."

Perhaps the wackiest Bible lesson was the one presented to students at Amarillo ISD titled: "Racial Origins Traced from Noah." A chart presented in the classroom claims that it's possible to identify which of Noah's three sons begat various racial and ethnic groups. Chancey explains:

According to the chart, "Western Europeans" and "Caucasians" descend from Japeth, "African races" and Canaanites from Ham, and "Jews, Semitic people, and Oriental races" from Shem. A test question shows that the chart was taken seriously: "Shem is the father of a) most Germanic races b) the Jewish people c) all African people."

In Texas, public schools have the legal right to offer these kinds of classes—up to a point. In 2007 the state legislature passed a law allowing school districts to offer "elective courses on the Bible's Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament." The Supreme Court long ago ruled that such classes pass constitutional muster, as long as they don't advocate for a specific religious view. As Chancey points out, the state of Texas obviously needs to do a much better job of educating its teachers about what that means.

Quick Reads: Nathanael Johnson's "All Natural"

book cover

All Natural: A Skeptic's Quest for Health and Happiness in an Age of Ecological Anxiety
By Nathanael Johnson
RODALE

In this thought-provoking read, Harper's contributor Nathanael Johnson weaves stories of his patchouli upbringing with trenchant interrogations of both "natural" and "technological" solutions to everything from pig farming to child rearing. For example, he cites studies showing that laboring mothers died at a higher rate in the mid-aughts than they did in the late 1990s as a symptom of how hospitals overtreat us—in this case with unnecessary C-sections that raise women's mortality risk. On the flip side, Johnson recounts his own home birth in Berkeley, where his hippie mother was bleeding uncontrollably by the time her midwife called in a doctor.

This review originally appeared in the January/February issue of Mother Jones.

Libertarian Propaganda With Your Organic Arugula?

If you shop at Whole Foods, you've probably seen the ads at the cash register for Conscious Capitalism. Cowritten by the store's founder, John Mackey, and Raj Sisodia, chairman of a nonprofit called Conscious Capitalism Inc., the book bills itself as a tale of "Mackey's own awakenings as a capitalist." While Mackey serves up plenty of cheerful exhortations and pithy self-help tips, however, the only "awakening" that you're likely to get from reading this 313-page apologia for libertarianism is a sense that he ought to stick to selling groceries. (Read my interview with Mackey here.)

To give Mackey his due, he proved that many shoppers are willing to pay a premium for foods that are healthy, sustainably produced, and sold by workers who earn decent wages and health benefits. His book strives to show CEOs in other industries that they can follow his lead. "We need a richer and more ethically compelling narrative to demonstrate to a skeptical world the truth, beauty, goodness, and heroism of free-enterprise capitalism," he writes. "Otherwise we risk the continued growth of increasingly coercive governments, the corruption of enterprises through crony capitalism, and the consequential loss of both our freedom and our prosperity."

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