The Briefing 08-24-16

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Planned Parenthood's deadly—and newly aggressive—worldview

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The "unschooling" movement hits Louisville. Was Rousseau right about education?

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Transcript

The Briefing

August 24, 2016

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Wednesday, August 24, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Planned Parenthood's deadly—and newly aggressive—worldview

We are now witnessing an entirely new, aggressive style of defending the “right to an abortion,” as it’s styled in America, and what we see is that the pro-abortion movement is in a sense taking off the gloves. The latest evidence of this comes in an article by Caitlin Gibson at the Washington Post, the headline is,

“The abortion rights movement is bolder than it’s been in years.”

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The subtext,

“That’s Cecile Richards’s plan.”

That subtext refers of course to Cecile Richards, the head of the most aggressive abortion-rights movement in America that is none other than Planned Parenthood. Gibson writes,

“On the morning of one of the most important days in her career, Cecile Richards waited anxiously in her office at Planned Parenthood headquarters in Manhattan, texting furiously with friends across the country.

“A few minutes past 10 a.m., a message from her daughter flashed across the screen. A single word: Yay!

“‘That was when I knew we’d won,’ Richards says, recalling the moment when she learned of the decision in the biggest abortion-related case to come before the Supreme Court in more than two decades.”

That refers back of course to the abortion case that came from Texas at the end of Supreme Court term this year, a case that was undeniably a big win for the abortion-rights movement. But the major point being made in this article in the Washington Post is that it also signals a new very aggressive mode for the pro-abortion rights movements. We read that,

“One hundred years after Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger began educating women about birth control in New York and 43 years after Roe v. Wade, the reproductive rights movement in America is at a pivotal crossroads. Facing hundreds of restrictive laws nationwide, abortion rights advocates are going on the offensive with a new strategy.”

Now one of the things we need to note at this very point early in looking at this article is the fact that the reporter refers to the pro-abortion movement as,

“The reproductive rights movement in America.”

Hold that thought because it’s going to become very important later in the article.

“Gone,” writes Gibson, “is the vaguely conciliatory mantra of the past, the ideal of keeping abortion ‘safe, legal and rare’ once advocated by Bill and Hillary Clinton.

“Today’s activists,” (we need to note and that means especially Hillary Clinton), “are bringing the passionately debated procedure into the light, encouraging women to talk openly about their abortions and giving the movement an unapologetic human face.”

The Washington Post article to no surprise makes a direct link between this new activism and aggressiveness on the part of the pro-abortion movement and the likely election of Hillary Clinton as President of the United States. It was the New York Times several months ago that identified Hillary Clinton as basically the candidate from Planned Parenthood. What we have seen in the Clinton candidacy is the fact that there is a decided shift as is reflected in this article from the position that was advocated by then candidate and later President Bill Clinton and affirmed by his then First Lady Hillary Clinton that abortion should be—there were those words—“safe, legal and rare.” But yet what we see now is no indication whatsoever that abortion should be rare. Instead, what we see is that whereas there had been, somewhat at least, a moral apology for abortion as being according to the pro-abortion side at some points necessary, now that argument is shifted to an outright celebration of abortion. But the moral equation behind this is actually a little bit more complex, and it has to do with the fact, acknowledged in this article, that the pro-abortion movement has also sought to improve its standing amongst the American people by changing the vocabulary, by changing the language of the abortion-rights debate.

What’s not so much acknowledged in this article in the Washington Post is the fact that the abortion-rights movement found itself on the moral defensive almost since the Roe v. Wade decision came down in 1973. And that’s because opposition to abortion rights was rightly defined as being pro-life. That is because those who opposed legal abortion understood that it was the murder of an innocent human being, of a human being in the womb, and thus what was at stake was the sanctity of human life. The abortion-rights movement found itself in the position of trying to argue that somehow the issue isn’t and wasn’t and could never be that unborn human life in the womb. Therefore, as we see in this article, and I read,

“Since Richards’s ascension,” (that is to the leadership of Planned Parenthood), “[she] has also pointedly transformed its messaging and its public strategy. Two years ago,” this is a very interesting note, “Two years ago,” we read, “the organization officially — and shrewdly — shed the abortion-specific “pro-choice” label in favor of broader terms such as ‘reproductive rights’ and ‘women’s health care.’ Most notably, it started highlighting the day-to-day reality of abortion, encouraging women to come forward with their personal stories.”

Now early in engaging with this article, I wanted to draw attention to the fact that this reporter uses the very language that she later identifies as that which was behind the strategy undertaken by Planned Parenthood under the leadership of Cecile Richards. That’s a very important point. It was Cecile Richards in the pro-abortion movement that realized it was losing ground trying to call itself the pro-choice movement. That language was itself very morally informative because it showed the fact that personal autonomy and choice were being held high as the ultimate moral goals of the movements. That seemed to fall flat, at least in the minds of many Americans, when over against the argument for the sanctity of human life. So what we see is a new honesty in one sense, but it’s also a deeper dishonesty. It is an honesty that the pro-choice language failed, but there’s now an even deeper dishonesty, and that is the relabeling of abortion as “reproductive health” or as a “woman’s health” issue.

In terms of policy and what we need to note most carefully, the biggest side of this new aggression in the abortion-rights movement is the outright call for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment passed in the 1970s by both houses of Congress and signed into law, a law that stated that federal tax money cannot be used by the Medicaid program in particular to fund abortions. This was considered an important protection of the American conscience so that American taxpayers were not effectively coerced into the entire industry of abortion with their tax dollars. Now you see the pro-abortion movement—and officially the Democratic Party by its platform this year and as also represented by its presidential nominee—moving into an entirely different mode, openly calling for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment and following that example of the logic and the linguistics of Cecile Richards, arguing that the most fundamental issue is what’s labeled as “reproductive health.”

Here we need to note the very sinister use of language, calling the abortion of an unborn human being a reproductive health issue is effectively not only using a euphemism, it is an intentional moral evasion. But it’s also redefining health. The one thing we need to note here is that this is a horrifying use of the word health which involves nothing less than the destruction and the ending of an unborn human life. This shifts the moral emphasis entirely from the unborn child who becomes a basic moral non-entity, according to this worldview, and everything comes down to a woman’s choice redefined in the most savvy and manipulative manner as reproductive health.

There’s another deeply disturbing part of this article and it’s where the reporter tells us,

“Making the world safer for abortion is a central part of Richards’s mission, a fact not lost on antiabortion advocates.”

Now just consider that for a moment. Here an entire moral world is turned upside down. The statement “making the world safer for abortion” raises a very crucial question. What in the world could that mean? Well, you might think at first glance that would mean making abortion safer for a woman. But that’s not what Planned Parenthood is really calling for. As a matter of fact, Planned Parenthood celebrating that Supreme Court decision was in their very arguments arguing against more stringent health requirements of facilities that would conduct an abortion. What they mean here is making abortion ever more readily available and not only that, but subsidized and paid for by the American taxpayer. So note very carefully what’s happened here. Here we see a moral revolution represented in the fact that the pro-abortion movement tried its best to redefine itself as pro-choice. That didn’t exactly work, so now they have redefined their entire worldview in terms of what they styled as “reproductive health” and a woman’s health. But what we also note is that when they talk about a woman’s health, a reproductive health, they’re really talking about killing an unborn human being. And when it comes to killing that unborn human being, now they say that one of their big issues is to make abortion safer in America. But there are two big problems there. The first problem is they really don’t even mean safer for the woman, they just mean more readily available and taxpayer subsidized, and they certainly don’t mean healthy for the child, because the intended consequence, the entire point of the abortion, is to kill the unborn child.

The "unschooling" movement hits Louisville. Was Rousseau right about education?

Next, in terms of worldview analysis we need to recognize that the entire process of education is one of the most important arenas in which worldview becomes very evident, and where worldview plays such a central and identifiable role: deciding what to teach, how to teach, whom to teach—understanding that the process of education is inextricably tied to educational aims and objectives and goals and also to the idea of whether or not we understand the subject to be in need of new information that would come from outside or instead the process of education is somehow to draw out information that’s innate in a child in order to somehow liberate it. Those issues come very much the forefront in a story that comes from Louisville, Kentucky, where WDRB reports,

“A new school is opening near Cherokee Park on Alta Vista Road.

“Stonecote Sudbury School is the first of its kind in Louisville, bringing children and families Sudbury learning, where students have a lot of leeway.”

The reporter is Katie George; she cites Ashley Wright, a founder of Stonecote Sudbury School in Louisville, who said,

“The student is free to direct their own course of learning. So after checking in, they would be free to choose their day … They have 5.5 acres of the campus they’ll be free to explore.

“Students,” we are told, would, “pick what they want to learn and how they want to learn it.

“There are no classrooms, no grade levels and students from ages 5 to 18 share the same spaces and the same responsibilities.”

George writes,

“There’s no hierarchy. Everything is decided by democratic process on the School Committee, where both kids and staff have equal votes.”

April Williams, identified as another founder of the school said,

“They have a voice, they have a vote, and in anything that they want to accomplish, they can make that clear. They can say, ‘I want this in my life, and these are the steps I want to take to reach this goal.’”

Wright, the other found of the school cited in the article, said,

“You can look at the traditional measures of success, but for us, the profound measure of success is that a student leaves feeling capable of navigating their own life and successful in it.”

This is a part of the larger movement in America known as “unschooling,” but it didn’t start in this country, it started in Europe and in particular it started in Great Britain. The unschooling movement was a part of the radical ideology in the 1960s pushing back against ideas of institutional education and suggesting that somehow children need to be liberated from the prison of the public and private school systems and set loose in order to learn on their own. This is a styled form of democracy, where we are told that the students would have an equal vote with those who will be teaching them, concerning not only what will be taught and how it will be learned, but who should do the teaching. It turns out that children will be liberated to vote to fire their teachers if they so choose; there will be no assigned times to arrive or to leave the school, instead there will be wide latitude; students will not be told what to do, but rather asked what they want to do. They will not be segregated by grades, and they won’t be given grades. This is one of those radical experiments that, frankly, boggles belief, but nonetheless shows up in the headlines even this week in Louisville, Kentucky.

In an article on the school that appeared in the Courier-Journal, the local daily newspaper, we read,

“Students can determine for themselves when they feel ready to leave the school. They write a thesis that includes what they’ve learned and a plan for post-graduation and present it to a panel of Sudbury staff from around the country. The panel ultimately votes whether to award the student a diploma.”

Now, we simply have to note that apparently at this stage democracy leaves the picture, because the students evidently, according to this report, don’t get to decide whether they graduate or not, nor does the local school make that decision. It’s in the hands of others. Perhaps at this point there’s a little panic in those who are in this unschooling movement that the unschooled are going to show up at the university as unlearned and unknowledgeable.

It turns out that the whole Sudbury model goes back to the Sudbury Valley School founded, here’s no coincidence, in 1968 in Framingham, Massachusetts. It’s a part of that unschooling movement that involves other educational experiments as well.

As soon as I read about the Stonecote Sudbury school that is at least proposed to be within a stone’s throw of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I recognized the refrain of what was known in the 1960s and 70s as Summerhill, an experimental unschooling movement in Great Britain. Now, it led to some very interesting stories, especially in terms of the 1970s, when students very famously were treated just almost exactly as is proposed in this Sudbury school. There was no curriculum, it was supposedly Democratic, and the whole ideal was to draw out of the child rather than to somehow put into the child knowledge that was not otherwise present.

Back in 2014, Mark Oppenheimer, reporter for the New York Times, wrote an article on the Sudbury movement in the New Republic. He asked the question,

“Would You Send Your Kids to a School Where Students Make the Rules?”

In the article we read this,

“The Sudbury advocates would also say that even if a given student never picks up on some bit of knowledge that we civilians deem essential, then so what? The tradeoff made at Sudbury is worth it: Every child will have some blind spots—and don’t children in most public schools, and even the best private schools, have blind spots?—but Sudbury children have a radical sense of empowerment and responsibility for their own education.”

Whatever you think of this experiment, we need to note that it is laden with worldview importance. It also perhaps is now becoming unlikely—yesterday’s edition of the Courier-Journal tells us that the school is, “running out of time.”

Reporters Martha Elson and Kirsten Clark write,

“Plans appear to be failing for a controversial new school proposed in a 1920s mansion near Cherokee Park, although a fundraising campaign was still going on Monday.

“With only about two weeks to go before Stonecote Sudbury School was supposed to open Sept. 6, the school’s organizers had not purchased the property… and the school had not applied for a necessary permit from the city to operate a school there, according to online records.”

So it turns out that this revolutionary experiment in education in Louisville, Kentucky might not actually happen, but it has caught the attention and the interest of the community and for good reason. It is the worldview dimension of the entire question of education that is undeniable here. Parents have to ask the question, do we really believe that children ought to be the recipients of information that is given to them? Do we really believe that education for children will take place best where there is a uniform structure and where there is a hierarchy in which there is an authoritative teacher whose responsibility is to teach the students and a clear distinction between those who do the teaching and the taught? From the Christian worldview perspective, we understand that that relationship can be overly defined. That is to say, even the best teacher is also a learner along with the students. But there is also a very clear affirmation according to the Christian biblical worldview that there is a responsibility of those who have a particular knowledge to teach and responsibility of others to learn. And this is not only modeled in the Scripture very clearly, especially we might say in the Old Testament between parents and children or adults and children, but also in the role in the local church of the one who is called to the office of teaching as a teacher and preacher. That’s a very clear biblical pattern.

But there’s another worldview issue we also need to recognize. One of the interesting things is that when looking at a story like this, the temptation is to say, “Oh, here we see the refrain of the 1960s.” And again, that’s not an accident. After all, the Sudbury movement was started in 1968, as was the Summerhill movement in Great Britain. But this is where a longer historical perspective is helpful, because in reality, if you look back to the origins of this movement, you have to go back at least to the 18th century and one of those formative philosophers of the modern mind, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Genevan who wrote in French and who was a reformer in terms of education by his own declaration and one of the most radical minds of the early modern age.

Rousseau, in a book entitled Emile, presented what he understood as the correct way of raising and educating children. It was Rousseau who made the very classic argument at about the time of the American Revolution that education was not to be a process whereby information and wisdom would be imparted to children, but rather an understanding that the child, him or herself, is actually the source of the knowledge and wisdom and the responsibility of the educator is to get out of the way and to remove the structures of society that would inhibit the child from reaching inward and finding that knowledge and wisdom.

All of this is of course also tied to other understandings concerning the child in questions of discipline. The democratic experiment underlined that Summerhill and the Sudbury schools is premised upon the understanding that children will somehow discipline themselves now again in a small context. That’s quite possible, as children might be able to reach a certain consensus about what is right and wrong and even perhaps in some situations how a peer should be judged for certain moral behavior. But you’ll notice that even that has to take place in a context that is entirely organized by adults and overseen by adults and is surrounded by authority. That was true in Summerhill and it’s true in the Sudbury schools. That reveals something of a lie at the very heart of the experiment.

It might be plausible to take Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s optimistic view of human nature and of the child if the children were the ones who were organizing the school and raising the money for it or making the money for it and establishing the larger rules. But that’s not the case. This is one of those situations in which taking a second look reveals the worldview issues that come immediately to fore.

Perhaps the greatest direct refutation of this kind of model of education is not only the Christian biblical worldview, but a very direct reference to the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, because proverb after proverb we have the exact confrontation with the ideas of these kinds of educational revolutions suggesting very clearly— no, not just suggesting, stating very clearly—that it is the responsibility of parents to raise children according to the wisdom and nurture and knowledge of God and that it is the parents responsibility to teach.

Furthermore, in Proverbs 22:15, we are told that it is folly that is bound up in the heart of the child. Now just think about that for a moment. This is not to single out the child as the only place that folly is to be found in the heart. That’s true of all of us. But in a specific way, what that points out is the fact that children have to be corrected in the way they’re thinking and they have to be taught the correct way to think, because the correct way of truth does not come naturally to anyone, parent or child. But it is the parents responsibility to teach the child.

But that gets to the basic question about the child. Is the child born in a state of intellectual and moral righteousness which is only corrupted by a larger society? Or is the child born in a state of unrighteousness? That’s a crucial question. It is answered by the biblical worldview, but the answer to that question has everything to do with how you understand not only parenting, but the process of education, and whether or not you welcome innovation such as the Sudbury School as good news or bad news.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing