August 20, 2015
“Ok, class, let’s move on to Margaret Sanger. Anyone know who she was?”
The man speaking is my professor for Post-Civil War American History. The year is 2012, and among the thirty students in the class, I am the only history major.
“Um, she, like, promoted family planning and condoms and stuff,” one freshman offers.
“She founded Planned Parenthood and was…persecuted for her nonconformist beliefs,” a sophomore contends, leaning back in a manner of nonchalance meant to impress the freshmen.
“She was pro-abortion,” says a blunt fifth-year senior from the back of the class who has ceased to care about freshmen and professors altogether. This guy just wants to graduate.
“Right, all of you,” says the prof. He has a way of inspiring us and could instigate a campus-wide mutiny if he put his mind to it. He launches into Sanger’s story with gusto and studied importance, his tone communicating how heart-wrenching Sanger’s story is. This poor woman only wanted to help the needy, for crying out loud! Students, what should we believe about the people who tried to stop her? The class listens in a self-righteous rapture as the professor weaves story and worldview ever tighter together.
I shift around in my seat, trying to suppress the nervous jittery feeling I get whenever I feel like I should say something in a room of one-track opinions. I’m a Christian, and I hate abortion because it destroys innocent lives created by God. I don’t like it when the founder of the biggest provider of abortion in the US is venerated in front of people who don’t know better.
In addition, an apologetics camp I attended in high school taught me that Margaret Sanger was a decided racist and enthusiastic eugenicist—two belief systems that brought about the Holocaust of World War II as well as forced sterilization in the U.S. for the mentally-impaired and “ethnically inferior”. This fact is my secret weapon. The only thing keeping me from raising my hand now is the fear that I will stutter or embarrass myself, but as the professor goes on about Sanger’s hard work and dedication to her cause, I can no longer help myself. I try to come up with an intelligent phrase as my hand shakily slides upwards.
“Yes, Haley?” he says interestedly, making me feel even more ill at ease. I cannot afford to blow this.
“Didn’t she hate black people?”
I said black people? What were you thinking, brain? Mayday, mayday! The one person of color in this private-school history class turns his entire body to face my corner desk.
The professor considers my question with a serious expression and slightly patronizing air.
“Yes, that is one dark spot on her record, isn’t it? Yes, Sanger was very much interested in eugenics, which was, anyone know what that was?”
I raise my hand again.
“Eugenics is a study based on the belief that the human race can breed out mental or physical defects and also says that certain races are inferior to others and should be kept from breeding with, quote, superior ones. It was an instrumental part of the factors that led to the Holocaust.”
Whew. At least I was able to come up with something intelligent there.
“Exactly.” The professor looks at me approvingly. “Sanger believed that eugenics—a very popular belief in her time—could be used to make future Americans less prone to physical or mental illness. Although it did contain racist undertones, the people who believed in it really just wanted a better future for their kids.”
Man, this guy is really sugar-coating this pill for us today.
“And as far as the racism charge goes, historians today are beginning to believe that Sanger only pretended to be racist so that she could get donations and approval from the wealthy white people she knew.”
Wait, what? Is he serious? Where’s the evidence for this?
“Alright, class, good work today. See you next week.” The usual din of paper shuffling, backpack-stuffing, and undergrad chatter ensues. I walk out of class, dumbfounded by the blatant worldview bias of the prof. and the students’ careless acceptance of historical theories presented as law.
I tell this story to emphasize that worldview in the classroom is crucial. The way that ethical, political, and religious ideas are taught in the elementary, middle, and high school classroom can make or break a student’s chances of graduating college with a Biblical worldview intact. Christian parents, teachers, and professors have the responsibility to provide a bulwark of philosophical support to students and cannot be careless about this duty.
Parents, teachers, and mentors need first to be willing to discuss worldview issues with children. Next, they need to be willing to discuss these issues rationally, always desiring the truth over easy answers. If you, parent, really do believe that Christianity is true, then it shouldn’t scare you to explore what the other side believes. Do your homework—don’t just passively accept popular historical interpretations. Think deeply. Study what Christian apologists (and their opponents) have said, and above all, stay humble. After all, children like to follow their leaders. It’s best when their leaders are honorable.
Haley Maycock is an online history teacher with Polymath Classical Tutorials.