“The 4th R” Recognized with NEA New Scholar Award

I’m so pleased to share that the National Education Association has awarded “The 4th R: Encountering Conservative Christianity in the Classroom” its New Scholar Prize for a scholarly article on teaching that “offers practical approaches to improving teaching and learning at the college level.” The article analyzes several artifacts from conservative Christian popular culture–including a Chick tract and the film God’s Not Dead–in an effort to understand the messages that conservative Christian students often receive about college in order to better support the challenges they might be facing in the classroom.

I’m honored that this article was selected by the New Scholar Prize committee for this recognition–but, more, I’m encouraged by Thought & Action‘s willingness to engage the topic of working with politically and religiously conservative students. As the Trump administration continues its assault on the things higher education values–data, facts, truth, respect for difference, reading, civil discourse, education, critical thinking, engaged debate– and as universities continue to come under attack for being “liberal bubbles,” legislators attempt to undermine academic freedom by instating ideological hiring quotas and banning books by progressive authors, and conservative watchdog groups mount attacks on textbooks and individual professors, it can be tempting to dismiss (and even blame) conservative Christian students. (Note: I think that it’s perfectly fine to blame conservative Christians for their destructive politics. I just don’t think it’s a great pedagogical strategy.) My hope is that this article explains, at least in part, how some of these students got into their political positions. The goal isn’t empathy for students who promote policies that harm others but a contextualization of such students in a subculture often hostile to higher education.

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Above, a few panels from Jack Chick’s “Big Daddy?” Note the image, in the first panel, of a banana-eating ape with the words “Our Father”–the first lines of the Lord’s Prayer–underneath. 

As always, I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of people who helped me in with this project, including some who probably don’t realize how inspiring they were. These include Gregg Primo Ventello, whose fantastic essay “Brownbackistan”–about being an educator under a governor hostile to public education, got me reading Thought & Action regularly; Natalie, whose sincere and critical interest in God’s Not Dead reinvigorated this project; the jackass who left that Jack Chick tract about eternal damnation in the Northeast Arkansas Baptist hospital emergency room, which got me re-reading my Jack Chick collection; and my mother, a “union thug” who has marched countless miles on the picket line to insure that labor is rewarded fairly.

But, most of all, I owe a lot to the many students I’ve taught at Arkansas State University. Many were patient with me as I learned how to teach to a population that is comprised heavily of students from rural, Southern, conservative, Protestant backgrounds. And they hung in our conversations even as I pushed them in ways they probably didn’t necessarily enjoy. To Robert, Chris, Jamie, and many others–thank you.

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