Monday, August 16, 2010

Around the World: Criticizing the Texas State Board of Education for politicizing the state's social studies standards.

Americans United, Allies Commend House Resolution On Texas School Board’s Biased Social Studies Standards

Posted: 13 Aug 2010 10:51 AM PDT

Public school curriculum standards should never be politicized, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and allied organizations said today.

In a joint letter, Americans United and 22 other religious, educational and advocacy groups commended U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson for introducing a House resolution supporting academically sound curriculum development and criticizing the Texas State Board of Education for politicizing the state’s social studies standards.

Johnson’s measure, H.Res. 1593, charges that the State Board “disregarded many academically based recommendations and approved politically biased standards within the curriculum that are outside of mainstream scholarship.” (The resolution is co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Solomon P. Ortiz, Ruben Hinojosa, Silvestre Reyes and Gene Green.)

Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “The Texas School Board’s handling of the social studies standards was a travesty. America’s school children cannot be expected to learn accurate history if ideologues are allowed to manipulate the educational process.

“Teachers and scholars, not politicians, should take the lead in developing curriculum standards,” Lynn said. “The Texas School Board flunked its big test. I hope every member of Congress joins Rep. Johnson’s resolution as a co-sponsor.”

The groups’ joint letter to Johnson asserted, “The politicization of the process by which curriculum standards are adopted in Texas has garnered national attention and has set a dangerous precedent that we fear could be repeated in other places. Therefore, we appreciate your efforts to draw attention to this problem. We agree that it should not be up to any politician to write history; instead teachers and experts in the field should be utilized to determine curriculum standards.”

The letter noted that the State School Board approved curriculum standards that are “academically unsound and politically biased.” The Texas standards, the groups charged, downplayed the struggle surrounding the civil rights movement and undermined the constitutionally mandated separation between religion and government.

“We greatly appreciate your leadership on this important issue,” the letter concluded. “Emphasizing that academic experts, rather than politicians, should develop curriculum standards that are clear, informed, and inclusive will help ensure that our students learn accurate history and acquire the analytical skills needed for success in college and the workforce.”

Groups signing the letter include the American Federation of Teachers, Americans for Religious Liberty, American Association of University Women, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Anti-Defamation League, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Catholics for Choice, Center for Inquiry, Hindu American Foundation, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, Interfaith Alliance, National Alliance of Black School Educators, NAACP, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Council of La Raza, National Council of Jewish Women, National Education Association, National Women’s Law Center, People For the American Way, Secular Coalition for America, Texas Faith Network, Texas Freedom Network and the United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries.

Related articles:

1.       Secular Coalition Applauds Resolution Supporting Fact-Based Education, Denouncing Texas School Board Meddling

2.      Humanists Decry New Texas Social Studies and History Curricula; Urge Other States to Reject Texas Textbooks

3.      Texas Appoints Fundies to Rewrite Statewide Social Studies Curriculum

Praying for Abstinence

Posted: 13 Aug 2010 10:28 AM PDT

Religious people are less likely to drink heavily. However, there’s a chicken-and-egg problem here. Is it that turning to god help people stay off the demon drink, or is it that hard-core party animals are less likely to be religious?

These questions crop up a lot in studies of religion, but there are a couple of ways round them. Basically, you can look at what happens over time (does being religious at the start of the year predict alcohol consumption at the end), or you can encourage people to be religious and see what happens to their drinking.

That’s what Nathan Lambert, of Florida State University, and colleagues, have done (they’ve done a couple of similar similar studies in the past). They took a group of students and found that, sure enough, the religious ones were less likely to binge drink. They also showed that religiosity at the start of the semester predicted less binge drinking at the end.

Rather more interesting was that they then did a trial in which they randomized students (all of them religious believers) to two groups. One group was asked to pray every day for their friends and family (they had to pick 5). The other group was asked simply to think positive thoughts daily about their friends and family.

By the end of the study, four weeks later, the ‘good thoughts’ group were drinking nearly twice as much alcohol as the ‘prayer’ group.

So it seems that making nominally religious people actively engage in their beliefs can discourage them from drinking. But why?

Lambert has two theories. First is that prayer may help to improve your relationships with others (that’s something Lambert has shown in an earlier study). And if relationships are stronger, then you’ll have less need to turn to drink to overcome social barriers.

His second theory is that spirituality and alcohol consumption are alternative routes to relieve the ‘burden of self’. This is the idea that, particularly in Western cultures, people are under high pressure to succeed as individuals. By turning to prayer, people may have less need to turn to the bottle.

Personally, I think something else is going on here. By making people pray every day, what you are doing is reminding people constantly of their religion. It’s called priming. And by doing that, you remind them of their cultural expectations – and also remind them that god is watching them.

In other words, you’d expect daily prayer to encourage people to conform to whatever it is they think their god wants – in this case temperance!

Lambert, N., Fincham, F., Marks, L., & Stillman, T. (2010). Invocations and intoxication: Does prayer decrease alcohol consumption? Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 24 (2), 209-219 DOI: 10.1037/a0018746

This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

Related articles:

1.       NC county commission votes to keep praying to Jesus

2.      Health Care Reform: $250M for Abstinence-Only Sex Education??

3.      Do secular see religious Jews as more trustworthy?

Post-USSR Russian Orthodox revival leads to discrimination, bigotry

Posted: 13 Aug 2010 09:30 AM PDT

Medvedev + Orthodox Church = ?

In the 1990s, following the collapse of the USSR, official state-enforced religious suppression in Russia came to an end. The revival of the Russian Orthodox Church is bringing with it a new fanaticism and theocratic assertions of religious belief over those of other — or no — faith.

The Soviet Union officially came to an end following a referendum in Ukraine in December, 1991. Largely the result of failed economic policies, the Communist state’s collapse came only after a decade of “glasnost”, or openness to the non-Communist world. An increase in free speech — though not to levels expected in the US — and access to information about the West showed Soviet citizens that they could have freer and more prosperous lives.

Part of that freedom was the end of state-enforced suppression of religion. The Communist regime, through its official disapproval, had effectively shut down the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church, integral to Tsarist Russia’s identity for 1,000 years, was largely driven underground as churches were bulldozed and monasteries converted to army barracks. While some churches defiantly remained open, they were considered a “cult” by the ruling authorities.

After 75 years of oppression, millions of Russians leapt at the opportunity to rebuild Russian Orthodox churches, get baptized, and show their faith publicly. As National Geographic reported in 2009 about Russia in 1992:

Thousands of ruined churches—including those the Soviets had used as warehouses, factories, or barns—were being restored to their original function, and eventually to their former splendor. The monumental Cathedral of Christ the Savior, destroyed on Stalin’s orders in 1931, rose anew on the banks of the Moscow River. Believers who had gone underground during Soviet times emerged and began energetically establishing parishes, orphanages, halfway houses, and schools. Thousands of men were ordained to the priesthood, and thousands more—men and women—took monastic vows, all yearning to recover a guiding faith.

NG reporter Serge Schmemann wondered in his article about the future of the Russian Orthodox Church.

I wondered where this plunge into the past, often idealized and dimly perceived, could lead. Would the Orthodox Church become a potent force for reform, speaking truth to the Kremlin’s power? Or would it resume the role it had played over centuries of tsarist rule and again become an ornament and tool of an authoritarian state?

The answer is clear.

Although the Russian Constitution calls for the separation of church and state, Russia’s three post-Soviet presidents—Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin, and Dmitry Medvedev—have made regular, well-publicized appearances in church, and Orthodox bishops and priests are fixtures at state functions.

The Russian Orthodox church has obtained “favored status” with the Kremlin . . . a status which appears to be leading toward official state religion status. Orthodox priests are increasingly involved in varied state functions.

Where is this leading Russia? Increasing tolerance . . . of religious discrimination.


Today, the Toronto Sun reports that Vasily Boiko-Veliky, head of massive dairy Russkoye Moloko (Russian Milk), has announced new rules for his employees. Any employee having an abortion, or refusing to be married in the Russian Orthodox Church, will be fired.

“We have about 6,000 employees, most of whom are Orthodox, and I expect them to be faithful and to repent,” Boiko-Veliky said. Any woman having an abortion “can no longer be an employee of our company … We don’t want to work with killers.”

As for those employees already married? They have until October 14 to be married in a Russian Orthodox Church ceremony . . . regardless of their faith, or lack thereof. Jew, Muslim, nonbeliever? All must participate, or be fired. New employees who are already married have three months to participate in the ritual. At their own cost, of course.

It is Boiko-Veliky’s belief that the record heat wave and drought in Russia is the result of Russian sin, and that more church weddings will help appease his god.

What does this mean for the Russian Orthodox Church’s future? While a spokesman for the Church, Vladimir Vigilyansky, commented that the rules could cast the church in a “bad light”, there is no apparent condemnation from the Church on the matter. Meanwhile, Boiko-Veliky’s rules violate the Russian constitution. Former Labour Minister Alexander Pochinok comments, “Russia is a multi-confessional country and one cannot violate the constitution, international law and the labour code, which say that to place any limits on the profession of faith or to force employees into it are categorically prohibited.”

How effectively has the Church inserted itself into the Kremlin? Official government response to these new rules

Related articles:

1.       Russian art exhibitors convicted of blasphemy

2.      Russian “blasphemy trial” works get published

3.      Eileen Read: Why are 110,000 Orthodox Israelis Rioting to 'Protect' Segregated Schools?



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