I wrote a blog post recently expressing shock that Rick Santorum would attack public education at the state level--an attack he later repeated in the Feb. 22 debate ("not only do I believe the federal government should get out of the education business, I think the state government should start to get out of the education business"). Santorum was attacking an idea traceable to Thomas Jefferson that was later put into action by Horace Mann, the great educational reformer of the early 19th century. What I didn't know until a reader informed me was that the Christian right has had Mann in its crosshairs for some time now.

Here, for example, is Tim LeHaye in his 1980 book The Battle For The Mind (quoted in Religious Fundamentalism and American Education: The Battle For The Public Schools by Eugene F. Provenzo):

The process did not begin with Horace Mann, although he probably did more to humanize American education in the nineteenth century than any other educator, and thus we tend to trace humanistic roots back to him. Mann was vigorously opposed by ministers of his day, who foresaw the shift from a biblical to a humanistic base for education, but their resistance was gradually overcome.

This passage would be unobjectionable if written by anyone other than a Christian fundamentalist. What the uninitiated need to know is that in the wingnut lexicon "humanist" and "humanistic" are pejorative terms synonymous with "godless and sinful." The Christian right theologian R.J. Rushdoony, an early advocate for Christian homeschooling, spelled this out (this quote is also by way of Provenzo):

Control of children and their education is control of the future. Humanists have always understood this. Horace Mann, James G. Carter, and their many associates (including Senator Charles G. Sumner) were all Unitarians; they hated the Puritan faith of their forefathers with a passion. Their purpose in promoting state control of education was twofold. First, they rightfully understood that the only way to destroy Biblical faith was to control the schools and, little by little, remove Christianity and introduce Humanism. Second, they were Centralists or statist, men who believed that salvation comes by work of statist legislation or law.

"The direction of America’s education," writes David A. Noebel, former president of Summit Ministries in Manitou Springs, Colo., "can be seen as a descent from Jonathan Edwards (1750) and the Christian influence, through Horace Mann (1842) and the Unitarian influence, to John Dewey (1933) and the Humanist influence." (The Christian right hates Dewey even more than it hates Mann.) From there, Noebel explains, it was only a hop, skip, and a jump to B.F. Skinner, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Eric Fromm, Carl Sagan, and Norman Lear.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you ... the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. This week, anyway.