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Book Club: Next Book and Good News

Posted on : Apr-10-2012 | By : John | In : Book Club, Event

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    Update: Katherine Stewart will be joining us for our first ever author visit to a BSBC meeting. Don’t miss it!

    P.S. I got Mary Roach’s autograph (times 2) last night. She would have signed my Kindle as well, but we couldn’t find a Sharpie. Someone remember to bring a Sharpie to Book Club!

Our next book will be The Good News Club by Katherine Stewart. It is the story of how the Christian Right is attempting to use America’s public school system to proselytize our children and (as intended collateral damage) destroy the education system itself.

Always look on the bright side of life

Ironic results of religious extremism

Stewart was not much concerned when a “nondenominational Bible study program” showed up as an after-school activity at her daughter’s public elementary school, but as she learned more, she became deeply worried. She discovered it was “just one small part of a much larger story that should be of concern to anyone who cares about the future of public education – or indeed the future of secular democracy – in the United States.”

In a strategy very reminiscent of the Discovery Institute’s promotion of Intelligent Design as a wedge issue to subvert the teaching of evolution in the public schools and insert religious doctrine into our science classes, an organization called the Child Evangelism Fellowship has been organizing “Good News Clubs” in elementary schools across the nation and around the world, to indoctrinate children (as young as possible; they start in kindergarten) in fundamentalist Christian ideology.

Thanks to a duplicitous Supreme Court decision (Good News Club v Milford Central School, 2001) based on the dubious proposition that 5-year-olds could clearly distinguish events and programs sponsored by their schools from those carried on in the schools (after hours, at the same time and often in the same rooms as legitimate after-school programs)and conducted often by teachers or teacher’s aides, sectarian religious groups must be granted the same access to public school property as any other outside community groups such as art and music programs, boy and girl scouts, community service organizations, and so forth.

While the adult club organizers aren’t allowed to proselytize on school grounds (except to children whose parents have given explicit written permission), nothing prevents the children from doing so, as they are encouraged to do by the clubs. The conflicts engendered between the children, the bullying and the shaming and the destruction of friendships, and subsequently the conflicts between their parents and within their community, can rapidly destroy the public spirit that supports the schools, causing people to cease to volunteer for school events, stop attending PTO meetings and stop supporting school fundraisers, and generally promote hatred and intolerance, as happened in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle in 2008. But this is all well and good to the religious right.

In 1979, Jerry Falwell made the agenda transparent: “I hope to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we don’t have public schools,” he said. “The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them.”

The first chapter of the book tells the story of the events in Seattle then and after. In the second chapter, Stewart attends a national convention of the CEF. Apart from drawing parallels to a multilevel marketing scheme, this chapter lacks the diverting whimsy of Jon Ronson’s attendance at Bohemian Grove and Bilderberg Group gatherings. It is all deeply disturbing. Their goal is to establish Good News clubs at all 65,000 public elementary schools in the US within the next 24 years. They are already in 3500 schools, about 6% penetration. They have a very detailed strategy for extending their reach. The casual bigotry, racism and homophobia exhibited at the convention is also horrifying.

I’ve only read the first two chapters so far, but skipped ahead to find out if there were any local connections to the book. I found two. The CEF’s target city in the fall of 2010 was Boston. Did anyone here notice? Did you have any run-ins with them? They do try to stay under the radar, at least until it’s too late. The second local connection is that Katherine Stewart attended the John D. Runkle School in Brookline, where our own Liz teaches!

We will be meeting at our usual place, the Harvard Northwest Science Building, 52 Oxford St, Cambridge (unless the weather is nice, in which case we’ll be meeting under the Giant Green Pepper, just north of Harvard Yard, between Memorial Hall and the Science Center) from 3 to 5 PM on Saturday, May 19th.

Please sign up at our Facebook event page (unless you’d rather not, but it does give us some idea of how many people to expect.) If you sign up to the Boston Skeptics Facebook group and then register for the event, you will get notified of any changes of schedule and of future events (maybe, it seems to be acting strangely at the moment.) So far as I know, we’ve never denied anyone membership who requested it, but who knows, you might be the first! I also (sometimes) attempt to Tweet reminders shortly before the event, though I have been remiss at this recently.

UPDATE: don’t bother with Facebook. They’ve broken it in such a way as to make it completely useless for group events like the Book Club and Skeptics in the Pub meetings.

The Good News is that we’ve joined the 21st Century, when everything changes. The Boston Skeptics Book Club has formed the nucleus of the Skepchick Book Club. Read Mary’s post to see how it all will work. Basically, there will be an on-line gathering to discuss the same book the day after our meeting. Everyone (local or distant) is invited to attend and discuss! Virtual snacks and drinks provided.

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