I won’t beat around the bush.
The reason the world perked up and paid attention to Sinclair’s The Jungle in 1906 is the same reason that the world should now, 105 years later, snap to attention and read Katherine Stewart’s latest nonfiction book, The Good News Club: it awakens us to something we may previously have known nothing about, but which is under our noses every day, is active in our communities nonstop, and is potentially damaging to us all, and well into the future, too, if gone unnoticed. Stewart’s findings can’t afford to be ignored, for the same simple fact that made Sinclair’s expose crucial: whether the book calls you to action or not, you are inarguably worse off not knowing what’s detailed within it.
I had the occasion to read this book back in July 2011, for reasons I don’t think I’m allowed to detail here. At any rate, I read the then-confidential volume (concealed in a white paper cover) on the beach on the Fourth of July. I read about U.S. public schools caving, silently, to the demands of the Child Evangelism Fellowship, among other insidious religious groups that infiltrate America’s education programs and curricula with innocuous-sounding “Good News Clubs” and “Spirituality for Kids,” evangelist and scientologist organizations, respectively. I read about these groups’ systematic flouting of every restriction in place designed to keep them a separate entity from the classroom itself, and to uphold our nation’s separation of church and state. When you read these ugly findings on a sunny beach full of raucous children, an eeriness sets in: how many of them have had a Good News Club come through their town, encouraging them to “be a missionary every day,” and to consider any non-member of the club an irreparable sinner? How many have informed their fellow elementary classmates that they, the Others, are destined for fire and brimstone? Moreover, how many of the kids on that beach had been told as much by their classmates? After all, Stewart’s research estimates that 3,410 Good News Clubs alone are currently in operation at elementary schools around the country, to say nothing of the countless other groups that have found loophole after loophole to strong-arm their way into the schools.