Strange standards

Education | The University of California system is trying to force Christian schools to use the same textbooks that lower-scoring public-school students use. An association of Christian schools is fighting back

Issue: "Trailer park blues," Nov. 26, 2005

MURIETTA, Calif.- It's a mid-October test day in Hao Tiet's physics classroom at Calvary Chapel Christian School (CCCS) in Murietta. Ubiquitous southern California sunshine beams through the windows as his 12 students, most clad in board shorts and flip-flops, weigh in on whether they're ready.

"Let's do this," says one boy, whipping his bangs out of his eyes with an expert jerk of the chin.

"Let's not do this," says another boy in a brown surf-logo hoody. "Let's delay!"

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Some students watch carefully as Mr. Tiet sketches dry-erase vectors on a whiteboard and calls out review questions on Newton's First Law of Motion. Others scour their textbook, Prentice Hall's Conceptual Physics (2002), willing last-minute scraps of data to cling to their brains.

Topics in the textbook they're using would give most people the willies: rotational mechanics, thermodynamics, special relativity, nuclear fission and fusion. The textbook they're not using, Physics for Christian Schools from Bob Jones University (BJU) Press, teaches all the same lessons, only more of them and in more detail. But CCCS no longer can teach physics using the BJU text. Nor can any Christian school in California if it wants to keep its students academically eligible for admission into the University of California system.

The university's Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools claims that private-school students who take physics courses based on the BJU text "may not be well prepared for success" at its schools. The same goes for courses and textbooks that approach four other disciplines-history, government, literature, and biology-from a Christian perspective.

Now, CCCS, the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), and several parents are fighting back. The group in August filed suit alleging that the university's actions violate their 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law, as well as First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, religion, and association.

The University of California (UC) on Oct. 28 filed a motion to dismiss the case, saying that "most of Plaintiff's federal constitutional claims fail as a matter of law."

What plaintiffs claim, specifically, is that the California state university system is mounting a campaign to "methodically and ominously" exclude courses with a Christian viewpoint from its "a-g requirements," a group of core studies high-school students must complete in order to gain admission. The university is unlawfully expanding its own authority, ACSI and CCCS claim, pressing "onward from deciding admissions guidelines to determining what viewpoints may and may not be taught in secondary school classrooms, which books may and may not be used, and what students with the same test scores are and are not eligible for admission."

As evidence, plaintiffs cite an incident in October 2004, when CCCS submitted for approval a course called "Christianity's Influence on American History." The course featured a widely used college history textbook, but added the content of a BJU text with a Christian viewpoint. Five days later, the University of California rejected the course. "'Christianity's Influence'" was "too narrow/too specialized," its form letter read, teaching a viewpoint "not consistent with empirical historical knowledge generally accepted in the collegiate community."

Meanwhile, the University of California has approved a long list of other specialized history courses, such as "Western Civilization: The Jewish Experience" and "American Popular Culture," as well as narrow courses-including "Feminist Issues Throughout U.S. History and Race" and "Class and Gender in Modern America"-whose content may be "accepted in the collegiate community" but scarcely anywhere else.

The university also nixed the proposed CCCS course "Christianity and Morality in American Literature," which used a textbook from A Beka, one of the two largest Christian publishers, along with BJU Press. The course outline adds a conservative Christian viewpoint to a lengthy selection of American lit standards, including Benet, Sandburg, Twain, Poe, Hawthorne, and Wilder, most of whom struggled with Christianity or rejected it outright. Still, the state school system said the course lacked "a non-biased approach," and "insufficient academic/theoretical content."

The university "routinely approves courses that add viewpoints such as a non-Christian religion, feminism, or a political viewpoint," said Robert H. Tyler, an attorney with Advocates for Faith & Freedom in Temecula, Calif., who is co-counsel for the plaintiffs. "But the university disapproves courses that add viewpoints based on conservative Christianity." The university told CCCS that if it removed scripture verses and theological prefaces opening each chapter of Physics for Christian Schools, the textbook would be acceptable.

Particularly ironic, said Wendell Bird, an Atlanta-based business attorney and co-counsel for ACSI, is the university's assertion that students taking rejected courses "may not be well prepared" for state university success. On the Stanford Achievement Test in spring 2005, students from ACSI-member schools outscored students from public and private schools by 18 to 26 percentile points, depending on grade and subject matter, according to Harcourt Assessment Services.


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