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Educational historian looks at origins of the culture wars
Date:4/19/2010

BINGHAMTON, NY It did not take long for Binghamton University educational historian Adam Laats to look to the past for answers while teaching high school in Wisconsin.

"I was amazed at how nave I was: I thought everyone was basically the same as me," said Laats, now an assistant professor in Binghamton's School of Education. "But parents were hawks, as they should be, about what was being taught in the classroom. Things I thought we agreed on, such as evolution, still raised their ire."

During graduate school, Laats turned his attention to Protestant fundamentalism in the 1920s. He found that the movement has had a major effect on the American school system and also helped lay the foundation for today's culture wars.

"The trenches were dug in the '20s for the fights that still go on today," he said. "The positions and even the names including 'fundamentalist' began in the '20s."

Laats was one of 20 scholars to receive the prestigious National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2009. A book based on his research, Fundamentalism and Education in the Scopes Era: God, Darwin and the Roots of America's Culture Wars, will soon be published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Unlike other movements of the period, fundamentalism did not arise in the 1920s because of new ideas. Instead, Laats said, it was a reaction to new ideas in schools, religion and culture, such as Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

"The fundamentalist movement came about in part because people felt their basic beliefs had been dismissed by educators," said Laats, who considers himself secular. "Fundamentalists worried that students were being taught dangerous ideas. In the 1920s, two ideas of what schools should be doing came into conflict. All of a sudden, schools seemed to be teaching ideas that were turning students away from their faith."

The confrontation came to a head in a courthouse in tiny Dayton,
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Contact: Gail Glover
gglover@binghamton.edu
607-777-2174
Binghamton University
Source:Eurekalert  

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