School Boards, Trustees for the Scholastic Population

Posted April 13, 2014 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

The first time I ran for school board in 1976, I don’t think I took the job title seriously. Jimmy Carter included his time on the school board with some significance in his resume for qualifications for the Presidency. Since then, I have spent 24 years on two school boards in Williamson County. Most school board decisions are routine. School systems are run by Directors of Schools and professional educators.

I remember the first time I read the job description of school boards to be “trustees for the scholastic population of the school district.” At the time I did not anticipate the controversy that would arise between privatizing public education, for-profit charter schools, vouchers, textbook censorship, and parental rights. Southern states with Republican majorities have launched an attack on local school boards. In Tennessee, there are several pieces of pending legislation that would shift education decisions from local autonomy.

Several years ago, the sequence of No Child Left Behind; Race to the Top; and Common Core Standards created an adversarial relationship between the federal government and state governments in the field of education. State governments reacted to the heavy- handed intrusion of Presidents Bush and Obama, and they became the heavy hand of intrusion. The national agenda of conservative and liberal in Congress and in state legislatures has given rise to a conflict for the minds of our children. We have added the key words of parental choice and competition.

In the power struggle for control of public education, much of the conflict is built on fear. This goes back to integration of schools and the Supreme Court cases of separation of church and state in 1962 and 1963. The religious right convinced its constituents than we had kicked God out of the classroom. State legislators followed with enabling legislation that created home schooling as an alternative to religious private schools. In order to justify this change, it became necessary to translate the fear from the religious right to convince people that public schools were failing.

When I first heard of “Guns in Parks” legislation, I did not think any parents would want to take a firearm to their child’s baseball game. Then we learned that the governing body of interscholastic sports would prohibit use of county or municipal parks for athletic competition. In response, our school board voted 12 to 0 to ask the County Commission to opt out of Guns in Parks. The County and local municipalities complied and the problem was solved. Now four years later, the State Legislature is voting to override local decisions. We are at risk of losing access to public parks for use by our students.

More recently, in response to a textbook challenge from an ethnic special interest group, one of our legislators has introduced legislation to take the textbook selection process away from education specialists and give that power to parents. That raises the question—which parents? This has the potential of creating an ideological battle over content. This includes conflicts over secular and the sectarian content. It involves revisionist history, the Creationism and Evolution conflict, and interpretation of the Constitution. The same legislator introduced a bill restricting dissemination of information about the Affordable Health Care options.

As local school boards approach the August elections, the ideological conflict between the State Legislature and local jurisdiction has attracted ideological candidates. School boards are at risk of losing the trusteeship of the scholastic population. Public education is at risk of being taken over by State Legislatures and private interests, under a well-intended, but deceptive, principle of smaller government and parental rights.

Candidate for State Legislature, House District 65

Posted April 5, 2014 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

It was humbling and challenging to open the Tennessean, and see the list of names of people who filed petitions to seek public office. I asked myself, “Why would these people want to do this?” I was listed among those officially as William S. Peach, which only my extended eight-generation family in Williamson County would recognize. I will be on the ballot for more name recognition as Bill Peach in the 65th District of the State Legislature in August, and maybe again in November. We all have our individual and personal reasons. I asked the same question 38 years ago when I was one of 8 candidates seeking the six at-large seats for the Franklin Special School District board. Back then, I was able to win on name recognition and Main Street reputation and didn’t have to raise and spend money.

In my history of elected public service, I came away with a record of 8 wins and 1 loss on the FSSD board, and 2 wins and one loss on the Williamson County board, pretty good percentages for any sports except politics and gun-fights. Since I left the board in 2010, I have watched our school boards, our directors of schools, our teachers, our parents, and our students struggle with decisions made at the federal and state level that were not in the best interest of our children. The list is long and we will discuss these between now and August, or November.

In the 24 years I was on school boards, public education was not a local political issue. Republicans and Democrats put away their labels and party designation on school board ballots. Teachers and other educational specialists were comfortable in either political party. Both were supportive of public education and teachers’ rights. Today, in the state legislature, there are advocates for vouchers, privatization, textbook censorship, and the erosion of public funds to for-profit charter schools and sectarian schools. Even in Williamson County, there are candidates who bring those issues to the County Commission and local school boards. They come with an emotional appeal to their voter base and take advantage of low turnout and lack of voter awareness. Unless we are involved in local politics, sometimes those people are elected. Even if they only serve one term, they can diminish the quality of education for all of us.

In 1992, the entire board of FSSD lost after we introduced a non-traditional school calendar and purchased 80 acres of prime (expensive) property, on which we built Freedom Middle and Poplar Grove schools. Ironically, many parents liked the non-traditional calendar two decades later. My second loss, in 2010, may have been more targeted political ideology not relevant to education. It came at a time when public education was becoming a national and state partisan divide. Today those issues are even more volatile and politically polarizing–privatization, vouchers, textbook content, academic standards, guns in parks and loss of access to playgrounds and athletic fields for our children, and political attacks and poorly-defined expectations on classroom teachers.

I am not a big fan of standardized tests. We use those numbers primarily as public validation for bragging rights for our two school districts and the exemplary ACT scores of our children. We don’t have standardized tests for school board members and state legislators. We are judged by our constituents every two or four years, and eventually for whatever legacy we leave. Among the outstanding schools in Franklin and Williamson County, 13 of them were built during my 24 years on school boards. There are 13 plaques with my name on them on the walls. More, importantly two of those buildings have libraries with shelves of books where two of my favorite daughters are professional media specialists and librarians, and five of my seven grandchildren are still in Williamson County schools.

I know there are many more issues facing the state legislature, but for now I come with only one—public education. More specifically, the right of our local school boards and county commission to enjoy the right of “smaller government” at the level closest to the concerns of our teachers, parents, and students. There should not be an adversarial relationship between the State Legislature and local government. I doubt that I can make a major difference within the power structure of the current state administration, but I want to be part of the conversation and a voice for the students of Williamson County. Most of them are too young to vote, so I appeal to you on their behalf.

Every Citizen, a Law unto Himself

Posted March 30, 2014 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Religious liberty is a cornerstone of the American way of life, a fundamental principle of the U. S. Constitution. The Founding Fathers were close enough to the bloody religious wars in Europe to establish a government respectful of all religions, but demanding none. Still, no Constitutional freedom is limitless. For more than a century, jurists have restricted liberties when they interfered with other important values.

If two values are in conflict, an individual’s right to equality ought to win out. In a 1993 Supreme Court case Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority, “Can a man excuse his practices because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

Most of us interpret the First Amendment to guarantee religious freedom to individuals. Recent discussions involving legislation, and Supreme Court decisions have applied these principles to churches, religious charities, religious-issue political groups, school administrations, family owned businesses, and corporations.

In Tennessee, the House and Senate has passed the “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act” and sent it to Governor Haslam for signing. The purpose of the bill is to protect student religious rights and allow students to impose religion on other students. The possible effect would come if this involves sanctioned religious activity, school events, and use of the intercom and public address system, subjecting other students to religious content, leaving parents with no recourse. Should a student of a minority religious faith or a non-believer be permitted similar access? This legislation brings into question whether a student could stand in class and say their religion teaches that gay people are sinners and are going to Hell, and would that speech be protected?

On a national scale, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. as to whether for-profit companies can use their religious beliefs to deny their employees coverage of contraceptives, currently entitled to by federal law. The drugs in question are scientifically designated contraceptive, not abortifacient. Non-profit organizations with religious objections to birth control have also challenged the benefit. This raises the question of whether an employer could discriminate against single mothers, or deny coverage of immunizations of children for religious reasons. Some religious groups might keep outdated practices toward women, denying them equal access to jobs. While many people believe God has designed a patriarchal family structure, our civil society puts a premium on promoting equality. Many instances of child abuse and spousal abuse have roots in the disciplinary dictates of cult-like religions. If businesses are given exemptions from a valid law that serves a useful public purpose because they claim it violates religious beliefs, where would it end?
In the long history of education, courts have ruled that is unconstitutional to expend public funds for sectarian instruction. These principles are derived from the writings of Jefferson and Madison who believed that religious freedom was best achieved through separation of jurisdictions of religious law and civil law.

The origins of the religious right in the 1980s, the Moral Majority, and later Evangelicals have reinvigorated the argument for the subjugation of the Constitution and civil law to Biblical law. Some argue that morality and ethical conduct are derived only from divine command, and question the validity of secular morality. Normally, we consider morality as a religious directive, and we enact civil laws to protect religious freedom, and define unethical and illegal conduct and protect civil rights of others that might be denied in the name of religion.


The Process of Textbook Selection

Posted March 19, 2014 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Some members of a special interest group challenged a paragraph in one of the textbooks in Williamson County schools. In response to the objection, the publisher deleted the paragraph in the new revised edition. Human Geography is an advanced placement, college level elective for high school. The textbook is scheduled for adoption for another five or six years, a period best suited for cost efficiency and updated revisions.

This one objection was brought by a parent representing an ethnic group. The paragraph was a discussion question relating to acts of violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The school board voted 8 to 4 to keep the book, which had been the standard text without previous objection by any student or parent. With the revision, the objection has been resolved. In response to this, the school district scheduled several periods in which the proposed textbooks for next year were on display for parental review. I don’t think any parent accepted that invitation. Our Williamson County parents trust the judgment of professional educators and classroom teachers who have expertise in subject material, grade appropriate sequence, and books conducive to effective classroom instruction.

Our State Legislature misread the scope of displeasure and has introduced a bill which will allow the legislature to appoint members of the Textbook Commission currently appointed by the Governor. Their reasoning is to ensure more legislative oversight of the textbook selection process. The bill introduced by Glen Casada and Mike Bell has several components. It establishes criteria for reviewing textbooks by the commission including verifying that information in the text is factually accurate. It also provides for giving parents, teachers, and local education experts a place at the table allowing them to be appointed to local textbook review committees.

Historically, most efforts at censorship have been directed against one of a long list of books assigned for outside reading, including many of the classics that portray periods of racial injustice or contain offensive language. Our policy permits a student to choose a teacher-approved alternative selection. This is easily resolved. Censorship of textbooks is obviously more complicated. Challenges to textbooks are usually along ideological lines in conflicts of disparate interpretation of American history and the intent of the Founding Fathers in drafting the Constitution. Science books that include a chapter on Evolution, or teachers who introduce Creation or Intelligent Design may evoke parental objections.

In the past, books that contained chapters on women’s rights have been challenged by the Eagle Forum. There have been infrequent incidents of ideological conflicts over textbook treatment of slavery, capitalism, civil rights, gender identity, religious history, controversial historical figures, military conflicts, social protest, and freedom of speech.  

Public education was originally established to provide education for all children, not just the rich and the religious. That was, at the time considered by many to be a liberal concept. Some state legislatures, including Tennessee, are pressing for privatizing public education, diverting public funds to private, for-profit charter, and sectarian schools. Lobbying groups which promote privatization seem to have undue influence on the same legislators who are promoting revision of textbooks. School districts and school directors across the state may have succeeded in deterring the legislature in its effort to delay or repeal Common Core Standards. Objections to Common Core seem not to be coming from parents or teachers, but rather from organized groups.

Those who are close to public education, with children who are teachers or students are concerned about this legislation.  Our parents trust our professional educators; they don’t always trust the state legislature and special interest groups to determine the content of our textbooks.

The Politics of Green Eggs and Ham

Posted March 11, 2014 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Even though we all appreciate the poetic genius of Dr. Seuss, I had never thought of him as a political theorist until Ted Cruz included his classic story in his now infamous Senate filibuster. More recently, Sarah Palin used the basic rhyme scheme to improvise with a parody at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The story line of Green Eggs and Ham is overshadowed by the creativity of its melodic and imaginative rhyming. When asked if he liked green eggs and ham, Sam expressed a simple aversion to something that is, except for color, a staple of breakfast in America. But Sam would not let it rest. He did not like them here or there, he did not like them anywhere. He would not eat them in a box; he would not eat them with a fox. An astute reader would understand that Sam had never tried this delicacy, and could predict he would eventually learn to like green eggs and ham, and then declare, thank you, thank you.  And he would eat them anywhere.  

The invitation list for speaking at the Conservative PAC was not extended to all Republicans. It was limited to the most conservative, and adding Rand Paul to appeal to a younger libertarian audience. There are several schools of thought within political conservatism. Ideally, conservatism implies moderation and caution, which does not play well at CPAC. It is a pragmatic ideology that gives us time to catch our breath, analyze the options, and avoid extreme and irrational acts. For many years this was the progressive tradition of the Republican Party, in contrast to a more conservative Democratic Party entrenched in lingering prejudicial resistance to abolition and a modern industrial culture. The Republican Party appealed to “traditional views and values.”

The other definition of conservatism is “tending to oppose change.” The CPAC candidates were of this ilk. The Republican Party is at risk of letting this wing of the party made up of Cruz, Palin, Cardenas, Reed, Perry, DeMint, and other extreme conservatives redefine “traditional views and values.” Each speaker espoused his or her conservative interpretation of fundamentalist Christianity, the traditional family, individual freedoms, the constitutional size of government, free market private enterprise, military superiority, personal responsibility, and a return to the greatness of a former time in American history not clearly defined.

Our two-party system has the potential of becoming a realistic and logical choice of clearly articulated platforms of liberal and conservative “traditional views and values.” Our foreign policy and military deployment would be conducted with moderation and caution. Human rights and equal opportunity would be available to everyone.

The CPAC convention came to a merciful end leaving the audience convinced they did not like green eggs and ham, nor did they like the affordable health care act. They did not like the presidency of Barack Obama, or his “weak and feckless” handling of foreign policy. They did not like it here or there; they did not like it anywhere.

We all have become politically much like Sam, whom we remember for his adamant preconception of something he did not like. Fortunately, teachers and parents have read this classic piece of literature to inquisitive and attentive children who have found delight in Sam’s willingness to try something new and different.

Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin were not so lucky. The Senator used the reading to fill time in an otherwise meaningless filibuster. The former governor and vice-presidential candidate used it for comic approval before an approving audience. She closed with her dislike for change and hope. She did not like it, nope, nope, nope.   

Another Cycle in the History of Organized Religion

Posted March 5, 2014 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Many years ago in my early years in the Church of Christ, we looked upon some people who were called “holy rollers” as primitive, uneducated people who were more “country” than we were. We also looked with distrust on the more sophisticated Episcopalians and Presbyterians who lived in town. I did not know any Catholics until I moved to town. As I got older, and maybe wiser, I became more tolerant and abandoned our tradition of believing we alone “rightly divided the word of God,” whatever that meant. As I have distanced myself from “religion” I feel more deeply spiritual now than I did in my days of teaching Sunday school, and contemplating the ministry as a profession.  

On a typical day, I sit in front of my computer and I see videos and articles about: (1) a Baptist Church in Kentucky giving away shotguns to attract “un-churched men to find Jesus.” (2) the snake-handler who died of a snakebite and his son planning to follow the family religion, (3) Ken Ham and the Creation Museum, (4) state legislatures who pass legislation to include Creationism in the science classroom, (5) televangelists who prey upon sincere Christians to support lavish life styles, (6) sexual abuse of children by Priests, youth directors, and predators within the religious community, (7) members of the religious right who glean verses from Leviticus and Deuteronomy to validate prejudice, hatred, and corporate religion, (8) Westboro Baptists and similar hate groups, (9) the effort to transfer public school funds to sectarian schools, (10) political prayer breakfasts that lay claim to God’s favor in only one political party, (11) the misunderstanding and fallacious depiction of education in public schools coming from those who would privatize education, (12) those who insist we were established as a Christian nation and the Bible is our Constitution, (13) those who insist President Obama is the Anti-Christ and we are living in the end times, and hope for the return of Jesus to deliver us from liberals, humanists, and secularists, (14) the trend toward patriarchal family structure and disciplinary child and spousal abuse. And the list goes on.

It is tragic that world history is marked with wars and persecution between Protestant and Catholic; between Muslim and Christian; between Christians and Communists or Fascists; and between Christian nations killing each other and dying in the name of the same God.

I see early Christianity established in the backdrop of Judaic theocratic nationalism, the Roman Empire, and a world of Greek and Roman mythology.  I see Christians mauled by lions as part of the bloody Roman entertainment with chariot races and gladiators. This was followed by centuries of oppression in the wilderness of Papal architectural and economic splendor, and a liturgy of creed and edict of theocratic oppression.  

On the human side of Christianity, many years ago a group of Churches of Christ responded to a famine-stricken Ethiopia with a delegation of Christians who took food, which they cooked and served to starving people. Our Church at Fourth Avenue joined the effort. Someone at the small Church at Boston, Tennessee called me and asked if I would deliver a check to Fourth Avenue. An elder brought it to me in an unsealed envelop. The check was for one thousand dollars, from a small rural, white, fundamentalist congregation. We are still blessed with congregational fellowship, the support system of Sunday school classes, comforting local ministers, food pantries, clothing rooms, and the large or small spiritual welcoming community for a migrant population.  Church is the quintessential comfort zone for many of God’s children.  

The early Christians were not an arrogant and combative people, even though Jesus cursed a fig tree and overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. I have images of early Christianity of Jesus speaking to a multitude about the poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. I see Jesus weeping at the death of a friend, mingling with sinners, healing the sick-and-afflicted, and feeding the hungry.

The perception of a war on Christianity is not an attack from the left, or the secular, or the government, or academia. It is a potential self-inflicted destruction of the innocence and compassion of its former self. It includes a return of superstition, mythology, anti-intellectual literalism, and a potential low point in the historical cycle of enlightenment. I am reluctant to use the phrase “Old Testament Christianity” but these are the voices I think I am hearing.

Most of my writing is an effort to cling to and defend a more humanistic Christianity, and to advocate a harmony of faith and reason. The more I learn from the fields of science, philosophy, history, and literature the more I am convinced of the existence of God, and find a lesser attraction to systemic worship and ritual. The more I observe human behavior of saint and sinner, of believer and agnostic, I am convinced that organized religion in its present form is no more or no less conducive to ideal moral behavior than secular morality based on reason, on moral conscience, altruistic love, and more humanely-driven ethical theories. 



The Reasonable Rhetoric of the Road

Posted March 3, 2014 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Sooner or later, it becomes necessary or logical to remove a bumper sticker. Then, we are faced with scraping off the ugly residue from what was once a noble statement on behalf of humanity.   For three years, I had questioned the need or wisdom to display the name of an unsuccessful 2004 candidate for President.   After that, I chose to wear a lapel pin to support my 2008 candidate rather than a bumper sticker.

I had not removed my sticker of preference until late September of 2007.   I kept it on as a subtle alternative to wording that might suggest denial of blame for any political result from the previous cycle.  That is one consolation of losing.  Imagine my displeasure and chagrin if my candidate had won and embarked on an ill-conceived mission for which I might now feel deep pain and guilt.

Some person, who may have disliked my candidate, inscribed a word that some might consider obscene on my bumper sticker for the world to see.   Decency demanded that the offending graffiti be removed.  Luckily, the three-year-old relic peeled off, leaving no lasting evidence of political activism.

For weeks, I drove the streets of Franklin with the passive innocence of a naked rear bumper.   I was intimidated by lines of traffic with drivers who have found their political truth in the simple eloquence of a single letter.   They are fortunate in that they have escaped the vandalism of disapproval.   I don’t know if they have resisted the thought of leaving ugly residue, or having to get a sharp blade to remove the black-and-white keepsake of better times and public celebration.  Sometimes cognitive dissonance outlasts reality, or the life of a bumper sticker.

I am not ready to commit my driver-side back bumper for four more years to extol the virtue and wisdom of some candidate who could either lose, or even more tragic, win and embark upon a path of folly that might do irreparable harm to the security and quality of life of our country.

Indicative of our cultural and intellectual recession, bumper stickers and buttons seem less inspired and less poetic than those I displayed proudly when I was younger and more impressionable.   Today’s bumper stickers tend to be more angry and inconsistent with rational dialogue.  Most of the messages now are inflammatory and divisive, combative and confrontational.   Many are affirmations of faith; others are flagrant rejections or ridicule of someone else’s faith.

We may have overdone the red circle and diagonal slash of disavowal.  We have trivialized the meaning of life and choice beyond recognition.  There may be nothing that has not been said about ecology, gun rights, global warming, abortion, intelligent design, prayer in public places, and nine-eleven.   A year or two from now we may tire of first-name familiarity with Rudy, Fred, and Hillary, the ideological futility of Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, and sectarian political endorsements left and right.  We can avoid the arrogance of flaunting victory, or the anger of losing. 

 It is not easy to find one simple phrase that defines your politics, your faith, your philosophy, your family values, and still expresses the passion and boundaries of your cultural and social activism.  As one becomes more introspective and contemplative, one’s thoughts become more complex and less adaptable to bumper sticker simplicity. The words on bumper stickers are usually too few for meaningful comprehension, or too small to read at a safe distance, or too complex for the duration of one red light.

 I looked for something related to my love of education, literacy, books, and children.  I even found one that includes a statement of faith, values, and patriotism without being arrogant or condescending.  If you are driving around Downtown Franklin or Cool Springs, look for a small sports car that has rejoined the road rhetoric with the statement, “War Leaves Every Child Behind.”  The time may come when I can remove this one, but not right now. 


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