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God's Choice: The Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School [Paperback]

Alan Peshkin
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 15 1988 Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School
Is Bethany Baptist Academy God's choice? Ask the fundamentalist Christians who teach there or whose children attend the academy, and their answer will be a yes as unequivocal as their claim that the Bible is God's inerrant, absolute word. Is this truth or arrogance?

In God's Choice, Alan Peshkin offers readers the opportunity to consider this question in depth. Given the outsider's rare chance to observe such a school firsthand, Peshkin spent eighteen months studying Bethany's high school—interviewing students, parents, and educators, living in the home of Bethany Baptist Church members, and participating fully in the church's activities. From this intimate research he has fashioned a rich account of Christian schooling and an informed analysis of a clear alternative to public education.

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From Library Journal

For the third book in his series on American communities and their schoolsfollowing Growing Up American ( LJ 10/15/78) and The Imperfect Union ( LJ 1/1/83)Peshkin spent two years observing and participating in the life of a fundamentalist Baptist church and its secondary school, researching the relationship between its religious doctrine and educational practice. While he acknowledges his own divergence from fundamentalist views, Peshkin analyzes the contributions of such a school to its participants and the paradoxical place of the institution within a pluralistic society. Fundamentalists may be less homogeneous in their practices and beliefs than the author sometimes implies, but his well-documented research is for the most part objective, perceptive, and fairvaluable for professional educators, as well as interested laypeople. Cynthia Widmer, Williamstown, Ma.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Alan Peshkin is professor of comparative education at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. God's Choice is the third in his series of studies exploring American communities and their schools. The other books in the series, Growing Up American and The Imperfect Union, were also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
This is the best example of qualitative research that I have ever read. In my doctoral program, this book persuaded me that qualitative research is a viable method of scholarly inquiry. Before reading Peshkin, I never really viewed qualitative studies as being useful.
Peshkin is even-handed in his treatment of the subjects, and presents his findings in a manner which shows objectivity and wthout predisposed guile.
Attention anyone teaching qualitative research methods courses: Rquire this book!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing Reading! May 18 1997
By A Customer
I very much enjoyed reading this book. The author treats his subject matter objectively and gives both sides of the issue. In doing so, he creates a vivid portrait of Christian fundamentalism and education in the late 20th century
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging Ethnography March 31 2009
By BookMan - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
God's Choice provides a rather in-depth and detailed look at the pseudonymous Bethany Bible Academy (BBA) as part of an 18 month ethnographic study. Peshkin and his research assistants collected a considerable amount of data and provided a very detailed account of a fundamentalist Christian school. What makes this intriguing is that Peshkin, admittedly a Jew looking into a school that takes a very literal interpretation of the Bible (both the Old and New Testaments), presented a surprisingly objective view of the inner workings of the institution. Administrators, teachers, and students were all treated with respect (even when the author may not have agreed with their views), and a very full picture of BBA was provided. The manner in which BBA dominated the individual lives of those touched by its influence was very clear and even though come of its practices might be very disturbing to some (especially concerning the element of control), readers are left feeling as if they understood the total milieu of BBA.

Peshkin did an exemplary job in providing an account of BBA that exudes veracity throughout and, for those embarking upon a study of qualitative research methods, also provides an excellent model for them to follow. The problem is, particularly for potential researchers, is that there is a lot of garbage out there which continues to be published that gives qualitative research an arguably bad name. If qualitative research, in general, were as exemplary as God's Choice, qualitative methods might be held in higher esteem.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing Reading! May 18 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
I very much enjoyed reading this book. The author treats his subject matter objectively and gives both sides of the issue. In doing so, he creates a vivid portrait of Christian fundamentalism and education in the late 20th century
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should Be Required For All Qualitative Researchers May 16 2000
By Michael Firmin - Published on Amazon.com
This is the best example of qualitative research that I have ever read. In my doctoral program, this book persuaded me that qualitative research is a viable method of scholarly inquiry. Before reading Peshkin, I never really viewed qualitative studies as being useful.
Peshkin is even-handed in his treatment of the subjects, and presents his findings in a manner which shows objectivity and wthout predisposed guile.
Attention anyone teaching qualitative research methods courses: Rquire this book!
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An important, if flawed, work Jan. 30 2013
By Kirk C. Baker - Published on Amazon.com
_God's Choice_ stands out for the nearly unfettered access Peshkin gains from the school administrators, and the willingness of administrators and students to speak with him. He clearly is very good at establishing trust and removing barriers to open communication.

Yet the assertions that Peshkin is "objective" or a "best example" of qualitative research are quite overstated. First, the two are mutually exclusive; great qualitative research does not aim for objectivity, but for respectful subjectivity. During analyses and conclusions, the researcher should hold him/herself accountable to his/her subjectivity, rather than pretend it does not exist. And this is where Peshkin clearly falls short.

He describes his own Jewish identity and progressive educational stance in the beginning, admitting he always felt an "outsider" in a community that proselytized endlessly. Yet he never clearly accounts for this feeling, since throughout the entire book, there is a sense that Peshkin is the normal person and those he interviews are somehow different. This is called "exoticization," and is an indicator the researcher never fully presents the views of others without filtering them entirely through his/her personal lens. While it is impossible to do otherwise, there is no self-reflection throughout the book that helps us understand Peshkin's lens. In other words, this book will feel natural and perhaps even "objective" to those predisposed to view Fundamental schools as strange and exotic, but will be off-putting to those who seek to understand the culture of the place on its own terms - the ultimate purpose of qualitative research.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No Backstage Behavior: How Not to do Participant Observation March 9 2008
By Robert A. Williams - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Peshkin, an education professor, did an okay job of reporting frontstage behavior at a certain independent religious school. He approach several schools with his idea to sit-in on classes before he found a gatekeeper willing to accomodate him. The school's mission was to proseltyze the Jewish researcher/observer right along with the kids. Peshkin was never privy to any backstage behavior, which accounts for such statements as "Not for a moment did I believe that Pastor Muller was presenting a case tailor-made for the benefit of his long-term visitor" (p 10) and "he spoke always with one voice, as did the educators his school employed" (p 11). In short, this is not the way to do educational anthropology if your goal is to suss out what is really happening. On the other hand, Peshkin's method does not step on anyone's toes and makes future research easier to pitch to gatekeepers.

That said, the ethnographic observations concerning students prove valuable. Many of the students were not in on a frontstage production for the benefit of Peshkin, which is evidenced by Chapter 9 - 'In Satan's Clutches: Bethany's Scorners'. Here the students let on that there is more going on at Bethany than is meeting Peshkin's eyes: "...mixed marriages. The teacher [who soon left Bethany's employment], he asked us what we thought of them"; "They criticize a lot here"; " a type of favoritism which really shows out in sports"; and "Parents feel 'put down'".

Peshkin does not give us a chapter on parent scorners or teacher scorners. Instead, he tells us later in the chapter 'Costs and Benefits' that "I could see a marvelous order, an enveloping sense of peace, an abundance of the meaning and sense of community that so often accompany a collective religious experience . . . Bethany is an extraordinary haven for those who believe "(p 283).

But what was Bethany for the teachers who left? for the parents who felt put down? for those who dared not complain publicly or even privately to the Jewish researcher in the Christian fundamentalist school? Had Peshkin landed a job as a teacher there, and kept his Judaism private, he would have been privy to some very interesting backstage behavior on the part of staff and parents. Without that backstage behavior, his study only sheds light on the students there and some discontents amongst them.
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