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In 1980s and 1990s, the Christian Right movement emerged as a political force, questioning the movement’s ability to advance its political goals by using its resources and the church community. Based on the Christian Right’s emphasis on education, values and culture, as well as their concern on public school leadership and governance, a critical issue has to do with the extent to which the Christian Right engaged and attained influence in school politics. Moreover, this issue gained more attention due to media accounts that pointed its occasional success and have indicated that this movement has mounted an organized and broad effort to impact local educational policy. In the mid-1990s, this issue was a question of pointed interest more so than today, but it is still a topic worth exploring. Mellissa M. Deckman addresses this issue in her book titled “School Board Battles: The Christian Right in Local Politics” using case studies and a national survey of school board candidates of two districts. The purpose of this paper is to critique chapter 6 of this book.

Chapter 6 was titled as follows: “The Christian Right as School Board Members: How Conservative Christians Govern 135”. In chapter 6, Melissa M. Deckman has addressed the issue of conservative Christian governance in which some Christian Right candidates were not only elected but also win a re-election. The main goal of this chapter was to examine whether Christian Right candidates were more likely to win the school board elections than other type of candidates. In order to achieve this goal, the author has relied on the case studies that offer one example of a school board with minority conservative Christian (Fairfax County) and another example of a school board with majority conservative Christian (Garrett County). The results of the analysis carried by the author in some way disapprove the credibility of the hidden agenda of conservative Christian in school politics.

In the case of Garrett County, where majority elected school board members were conservative Christians, they demonstrated their capability of coping with their opponents; hence, they were able to adopt policies and remote radical proposals contained in the Christian Right program in a moderate and relative manner (Deckman, 2004, p. 163). However, in the case of Fairfax County, where minority elected school board members were conservative Christians, they behaved as what is referred to the author as ‘prophets seeking no compromise’ (Deckman, 2004, p. 164).

Although, they were unable to pass most of their proposals, since conservative Christians used their minority status effectively by continually causing nuisance resulting in blocking the adoption of decisions by compelling the majority of the debates concerning the conservative Christian program. They would sometimes successfully rally portions of population against the policies of the majority of the board. It undoubtedly that the author has achieved her goal by showing that governance of conservative Christian factions is more complex than what media had reported for both majority and minority conservative Christians. Furthermore, this chapter clearly helps the readers to understand why religious Right have enjoyed a lot of electoral success, despite the fact that majority of American voters do not formally seem to abide with their ideas. The two case studies used in this chapter suggest that Christian Right board members have a marginal impact at best on district governance or policy. These case studies also prove that not all Christian Right candidates and their campaigns are similar despite the fact that they share some important group goals and characteristics.

Although, this chapter has presented reliable information concerning the conservative Christian governance, there are two areas in which additional research would have helped. First, apart from the two case studies, the author has relied on quotes and anecdotes that are at least ten years old. This chapter would have benefited from these examples by demonstrating that the issues raised have crucial relevance and were not simply products of the early 1990s. Second, Deckman is either unfamiliar with or has ignored the work of school board politics that was conducted between the year 1997 to 2004. Work conducted by political scientists such as David Leal and Terry Moe has quantitatively documented school board electoral processes and how interested groups influenced the electoral processes. If she was familiar with this work, then she would have been less surprised by her findings concerning school board amateurism and would have been in a position to clearly explain the relative character of a Christian Right candidate.

The language used in chapter 6 is very simple without jargon words and this assists readers to understand the essence of the study. The description of the study in a simple language facilitates the understanding of the subject matter of the chapter. Besides, in-text citation of primary and secondary sources is well done, showing the reliability of the research. The citations provided give the readers an opportunity to go back to the original studies to find out more on the studies reviewed in this chapter. The format employed is excellent as it allows free flow of ideas brought out in the study. The flow of ideas is further enhanced by the use of direct quotes, which clarify more issues used in the study.  The methodological approach employed is considerably reasonable.

This chapter is well-written and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in knowing about the conservative Christian governance. Since the chapter has examined whether Christian Right candidates were more likely to win the school board elections than other type of candidates, readers would understand why religious Right have enjoyed a lot of electoral success despite the fact that majority of American voters do not formally seem to abide with their ideas. Anyone who has read this chapter would agree with me that, governance of conservative Christian factions is more complex than what media had reported for both majority and minority conservative Christians. Therefore, the chapter gives a frame work upon which other studies can be based on.

In general, Melissa M. Deckman has provided a highly convincing and accurate analysis that relied on quantitative and qualitative data thus bringing out the real picture of conservative Christian in local politics. Therefore, we cannot underestimate the contribution of this chapter to the attention of the political mobilization of conservative Christianity present-day America locally. However, developments on the governance of conservative Christians is not considered important as local government actions are considered to be more stringent. All in all, the chapter is an incremental contribution to our apprehension of politicking by the Christian Right and school boards. 

In conclusion, the chapter has addressed the problem of conservative Christian governance. The author has relied on the case studies that offer one example of a school board with minority conservative Christian and another example of a school board with majority conservative Christian. In the case of one county, where majority elected school board members were conservative Christians, they demonstrated their capability of coping with their opponents; therefore, they were able to adopt policies and remote radical proposals contained in the Christian Right program in a moderate and relative manner. However, in the case of the other county, where minority elected school board members were conservative Christians, they behaved as what is referred to the author as ‘prophets seeking no compromise’ (Deckman, 2004, p. 164).

It undoubtedly that the author has achieved her goal by showing that governance of conservative Christian factions is more complex than what media had reported for both majority and minority conservative Christians. This chapter clearly helps the readers to understand why religious Right have enjoyed a lot of electoral success despite the fact that majority of American voters do not formally seem to abide with their ideas. The two case studies used in this chapter suggest that Christian Right board members have a marginal impact at best on district governance or policy. The author has presented the document very well and it is written using simple language making it easier for anyone interested to understand its subject matter.

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