Focus On The Problems: Public School Districts Are Using A Religious Right Group’s Materials In Classes

Some public school districts are using a Religious Right group’s materials for health and “character education” classes, church-state activist Zack Kopplin reported yesterday for ThinkProgress. Focus on the Family’s children’s shows, parenting training and other instructional materials are currently promoted by a number of school districts in several states.                                               

According to Kopplin, public schools in Spartanburg, S.C., and Largo, Fla. show episodes of “McGee and Me,” a Focus on the Family (FOF) production, to students.

“‘McGee and Me’ describes itself as “an animated wonder that teaches biblical values,’” Kopplin wrote. “In one episode, all the bullies hate Christmas because they’re not Christian, and they’re actually bullies because their fathers were alcoholics.”

This is not a church.

That sounds about right.

Like many former fundamentalists, I am all too familiar with “McGee and Me” – though it’s hardly the worst Christian children’s show in existence. That honor likely belongs to “Psalty,” which purportedly follows the adventures of a singing anthropomorphic hymn book. Psalty and his terrifying mouse friends lead their “little praisers” on a series of Pied Piper-esque adventures that are allegedly about Jesus. He will haunt my nightmares until I die, and that’s probably the point of the show.

On a scale of “Psalty” to, say, “Veggie Tales,” “McGee and Me” hovers somewhere in the middle. But it still doesn’t belong in public schools. None of these shows do because they’re designed to convert children to a very specific branch of Christianity. The connection of “McGee and Me” to Focus on the Family is of particular concern: As Kopplin notes in his piece, FOF promotes the use of violent corporal punishment on children.

The organization’s founder, Dr. James Dobson, is a child psychologist, and has for decades deployed his academic credentials to defend extreme views on child discipline.

“[P]ain is a marvelous purifier,” he wrote in 1970’s Dare to Discipline. “It is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely.”

In The Strong-Willed Child, Dobson graphically described beating his pet dachschund after it refused to get into its crate. Dobson didn’t include this anecdote as a charming aside; instead, it’s framed as a model for parents.

Thirty-one states have banned the use of corporal punishment in public schools. Minnesota is one of them. But Kopplin reports that at least one Minnesota school district included FOF in an official children’s resource guide. California has also banned corporal punishment in schools – but San Bernardino’s Thompson Elementary still promotes FOF materials for “parenting training.”

Dobson’s books have sold millions of copies and Dobson himself is still something of a celebrity among evangelicals, even though he no longer runs Focus on the Family. So it’s difficult to believe that school officials don’t know about his views (“McGee and Me,” after all, isn’t exactly a mainstream phenomenon). Further, Focus on the Family has long been a public antagonist to LGBTQ rights, women’s rights and even public education. Dobson has consistently championed Christian homeschooling as an ideologically pure alternative to public schools.

It’s particularly strange, then, that public school officials would look to his organization for curricular materials. Strange, and possibly unconstitutional.

The group’s materials on discipline, child health and even school bullies are shaped by its sectarian perspective. It’s even in the organization’s name: Focus on the Family promotes a fundamentalist vision of what the American family ought to be.

Public schools don’t lack secular alternatives to Focus on the Family. They should use them.