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The dominance of conservative protestant values in an American small town: institutional continuity among home, church, and school

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posted on 15.05.2017, 06:46 authored by Smith, Catherine
This is an ethnographic case study of a small community in the American Midwest, concerning the relationship between small-town Conservative Protestants and their local schools. This study is based on interviews with parents, teachers, students, and other community members. It focuses on their identities as “small-town” residents, as well as on their concerns about public education in American and how these related to their perceptions of the state of education in their local schools. This study engages with scholarship concerning the imaginings of the American small town, and with popular debates regarding the presence of Christianity in public education. Via a case study of one small town, this thesis will interrogate and extend existing scholarship on Christianity in public education in the USA, as well as critically scrutinizing popular imaginings of how Conservative Protestants perceive public education in their community. I look particularly at the Conservative Protestant concerns about sex education in public schools, as well as the place of prayer and other religious observances. This study does this by examining how residents of one small community, where local schools and teachers are imagined to “belong” to the community rather than to the state, position themselves in relation to education. I argue that the participants in this study and their views of schooling challenge common understandings regarding Conservative Protestants in scholarly research in education. For instance, while Conservative Protestants are often imagined to be fighting for a return to “traditional values” in schools, and for the return of a Christianity-based curriculum, Conservative Protestants in the small town I study firmly believe that they are still experiencing this reality in their local schools. These Conservative Protestants are more concerned with secularism entering their schools from “the outside” than with turning back the clock from it. This study also looks at the mechanisms by which small towns maintain control over dominant values in their communities and reinforce them in local schools. I focus on values concerning sex and sexuality, as these were of particular concern to my participants and played the most active role in producing community insiders and outsiders. This study examines the way that sexual values, which have their roots in the Church and home, are reinforced in the local school through the community’s high level of institutional continuity. Further, I look at how one set of values – “traditional” Conservative Protestant values – maintain their dominance in the community and subjugate other value systems. Placing particular focus on the school, this thesis examines the ways that dominant community values and norms produce insiders and outsiders, and what spaces are permitted to these groups. I specifically look at the fate of student outsiders, both socially and academically.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Mary Lou Rasmussen

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Monash University. Faculty of Education. Education


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education