Vail Daily column: Dangers of a religious-based charter school curriculum |

Vail Daily column: Dangers of a religious-based charter school curriculum

Jack Van Ens

Half-truths are slippery because they dupe listeners into believing they’re hearing the whole truth. Half-truths partially divulge what’s reliable, not all of it.

Here’s a popular half-truth that Tea Party activists and evangelical Christians assume is OK. They claim charter schools that teach a classical core curriculum from a Judeo-Christian perspective may be funded by our tax dollars. This is a half-truth.

Thomas Jefferson rejected this half-truth that the Christian legacy and classical education should run side-by-side in public schools. Conservative Christians of his era denounced him as an infidel.

Let’s understand why Jefferson initially wrapped the Judeo-Christian heritage around rigorous classical education. Then, let’s discover why he backed off from this ill-advised experiment.

Jefferson’s model for learning replaced salvation with humanistic education as the vehicle for teaching morality.

Jefferson advocated literacy for all citizens. He believed the Republic flourished because of an expanding literate middle class. In this initial stage of sponsoring public schools, Jefferson joined classical virtues with Judeo-Christian morality. He respected this religious tradition because its tenets dovetailed with Jefferson’s model of classical education. Such learning molded virtuous citizens. Religious educators respected social virtues, like honestly dealing with neighbors, which are indispensable for guaranteeing patriotic republicanism.

Jefferson acted like the apostle Paul who merged devotion to Jesus with classical values Homer and Plato espoused: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence (from Homer and Plato), if there is anything worthy of praise (from the ancient Greek and Romans), think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

However, Jefferson’s thinking changed from that of a too-cozy relationship between Judeo-Christian religion and classical curriculum. He opted for secular education and founded the University of Virginia, the first secular college in the nation. The Constitution inspired Jefferson, which is a thoroughly secular document with no mention of God.

Jefferson, along with Benjamin Franklin, held at arm’s length Judeo-Christian religion because it tended to intrude on classical education. He replaced religion with humanism. A Jeffersonian public school student reveals humanism by honing astute intelligence, achieving eloquence, working for the common good, showing intellectually ambition and enrolling in life as a school from which she never graduates.

Jefferson’s model for learning replaced salvation with humanistic education as the vehicle for teaching morality. The life of the mind, human reason and morality functioned as tools for gaining quality education. Working for the common good mattered more than getting right with Jesus, which was a church and home responsibility.

Christian conservatives abhorred Jefferson’s model of secular education in 1817, as do their heirs today. Retaliating, they spread a half-truth that it’s possible to blend in a charter school the Judeo-Christian heritage with classical education, without becoming too religious. This end-around Jeffersonian humanistic education doesn’t work.

The Tea Party/evangelical Christians game plan is: Emphasize economic and religious freedom. Repeat the mantra: Limited government, low taxes, light federal business regulations, less labor-unions and more labor-market flexibility.

During the Reagan presidency, conservative Christians excoriated Jeffersonian public education as “godless humanism.” When that tactic failed, they adopted a strategy of returning America to its religious roots, which Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz allege our born-again founding fathers fostered. U.S. history records that four of the first five presidents weren’t born-again. They practiced a secular, unconventional Christianity that denied the Trinity, miracles and Christ’s divinity.

Consequently, Tea Party/evangelical conservatives have shifted their strategy again. Now they work on local fronts throughout the nation, taking over and establishing charter schools.

A case in point is the proposed Golden View Classical Academy in Golden. This educational model connects with Hillsdale College in western Michigan, a premier think-tank for justifying free-market enterprise. This school sponsors Rush Limbaugh on radio, advertising free courses on the Constitution, interpreted from a free-market slant. An (un)distinguished Hillsdale graduate is Erik Prince, who founded Blackwater, the shadowy quasi-army that raked in millions guarding American diplomats and contractors in the Iraq War. Prince’s military commandos acted like unbridled stampeding stallions, causing havoc among innocent Iraqi civilians. Blackwater disregarded federal regulations that guide appropriate military action because such rules would crimp their way of taking care of business.

To bolster musical education, Tea Party/evangelical conservatives tap resources from Colorado Christian University in Denver, an adamant opponent of secular humanism.

The half-truth that it’s OK in public schools of merging Judeo-Christian religion with classical education is appropriate for private Christian schools. There students pay tuition in classes not funded by government taxes.

Jefferson rejected the half-truth that public charter schools should blend Judeo-Christian religion with classical education. Citizens in Jefferson County Colorado honor their namesake by heeding his caution and respecting his humanistic perspective.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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