Christian 'Movement' Seen Trying To Influence Schools
NEW ORLEANS--A subgroup of the religious right wing is launching a "systematic movement to take over American education,'' an educational researcher asserted last week.
The movement is known as "impact evangelism or Christian reconstructionism,'' said Robert Marzano, who was speaking at a meeting here of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
But Mr. Marzano, who has a book on the subject due out later this year, noted that "Christian reconstructionism is not a synonym for fundamentalist Christianity or the New Right.''
Rather, Mr. Marzano said, it is a nondenominational, grassroots movement aimed largely at restoring Christianity to the public schools.
At the heart of the movement, he contended, is the National Association for Christian Educators, based in Costa Mesa, Calif., and its offshoot, Citizens for Excellence in Education.
Mr. Marzano accused the group, which has about 120,000 members nationwide, of spearheading a number of attacks in local school districts against a wide range of educational programs. Members have criticized global-education, self-esteem, and gifted-education programs, he said, as well as whole-language approaches to teaching reading.
Mr. Marzano also pointed to the group's efforts to place its members on local school boards. The organization's leader, Robert Simonds, has claimed that more than 1,250 of its members were elected to school boards last fall, the researcher said.
"'We need strong school-board members who know right from wrong,''' Mr. Marzano quoted one of Mr. Simonds's books as saying. "'The Bible, being the only true source of right from wrong, should be the guide for board members. Only godly Christians can qualify for this critically important position.'''
Mr. Marzano and others also blame the movement for what they say is a growing number of censorship attempts in public schools in recent years.
"This movement is very powerful and growing at a geometric rate, and I don't think we realize what we have to lose as educators,'' Mr. Marzano said.
As the creator of a thinking-skills program known as "Tactics for Thinking,'' Mr. Marzano has himself been criticized by members of the movement. His program, which is marketed by A.S.C.D., has been attacked for promoting so-called New Age religion through its use of imagery--a charge he disputes.
He said his book on the movement, due out this year, is based on two years of review of the literature produced by groups involved in the effort. The book is being published jointly by the A.S.C.D. and the Education Commission of the States.
"I think, in the past, education has not considered this movement that big a threat,'' he said. "But I don't think two large organizations like å.ã.ó. and A.S.C.D. would get into this issue now if they didn't think it was important.''
The assumption at the heart of the movement, according to Mr. Marzano, is a belief that the United States is--and was intended to be--a Christian nation.
The theory holds that Christianity in public institutions is being replaced by a rival creed, secular humanism, which is now evolving into New Age religion. Schools are seen as a bastion of this rival religion, in part because the education philosopher John Dewey was the principal author of a 1933 document, the "Secular Humanist Manifesto.''
Mr. Marzano said educators are in part to blame for misperceptions about their programs.
"At best, we have been uncommunicative to parents and the public and, at worst, we have been unresponsive,'' he said.
'Moral Sanity' Sought
In a telephone interview, Mr. Simonds said Mr. Marzano had mischaracterized him as a "Christian reconstructionist.''
While reconstructionists advocate reclaiming all institutions for Christianity as a means of spurring the second coming of Christ, Mr. Simonds said, the campaign to place members of his group on school boards is intended only to make those boards more representative of the community. Most Americans already consider themselves Christians, he added.
"We are middle-of-the-road evangelical Christians,'' he said. "All we want to do is return the schools to academic excellence and moral sanity.''
Mr. Simonds agreed, however, that his organization has long been concerned with the presence of such practices as imagery or progressive relaxation in schools.
Members of the audience at the A.S.C.D. conference who identified themselves as fundamentalist Christians also took issue with Mr. Marzano's assessment.
"You have taken the most extreme cases,'' said Judy L. Norton, an educational consultant from Eagle River, Alaska. "There's a lot of people out there who are not extreme.''
"I've been in education 18 years, and all I ever wanted was equal
time and equal choice and to be respected for my opinion,'' she