The Political Divide on Educating our Children

Posted June 29, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

I think I am hearing most, or all, of the Republican candidates advocating school choice. I understand there is inequity of quality of education in many cities and rural areas. I don’t know if you appreciate how fortunate we are to have great school districts in an affluent county with well-educated parents motivated to support public schools.

Most Liberals and Conservatives are advocates of choice in principle, but maybe not in practical application. We are debating what government should do and what should be left to private enterprise and churches. We often think of socialism and capitalism as opposing dichotomies. We learned early in our history that education could not be left to churches, private enterprise, and parents. We decided that it was the role of government to provide education for all children, and require by law compulsory attendance.

School choice allows parents to choose alternatives to public schools—church affiliated private schools, secular private schools, and home schools. With that there are some standards of accreditation and scope of curriculum and subject areas. This is the essence of parental choice.

The first option of choice is to attend another public school. In Williamson County and Franklin Special schools there is minimal difference in the student performance. Our schools are divided by proximity in transportation zones and grade level configuration. Some options of out of zone attendance are available when space is available. We build our schools to accommodate population growth. To allow students to attend their public school of choice is impossible logistically.

With that comes the obligation of the school district to provide the same quality of teaching skills, textbooks, technology, support services, and academic requirements. The statistical results of standardized tests and extracurricular success are based on student performance. When high performing and low performing students transfer, the test scores follow the students. Charter school test scores are consistent with the students who choose to attend those schools. The obligation of the school district is to provide equal academic opportunities where the students live.

A second option is to transfer tax revenue to religious schools. Most people would agree that this is not consistent with the First Amendment and our history of court decisions. It is not the role or right of government to provide a religious curriculum.
Most private schools, secular or affiliated with a denomination have tuitions that far exceed the cost per pupil expenditure of public schools. This would in effect be a subsidy to upper income parents who have chosen prestigious private schools and academies. These schools do not provide access to low income or special needs students, or students who cannot pass entrance exams.

Full implementation of school choice would also include home schools affiliated with home school providers of curriculum and standards of accountability. Home school students are educated outside the jurisdiction and accountability of the local school district. All parents home school their children with their variable skills and motivation of their children’s areas of skills and interest. Without some oversight and accountability of curriculum and student performance, no public funds should be available to students who choose not to attend public schools.

We don’t want to go back to the days before public education. America has a long way to go to catch up with a few developed countries that have more rigorous academic standards and longer school days and longer school years. The problem is not with teachers unions, or textbooks, or the lack of religious instruction. The problem is with our culture and our desire for academic and intellectual excellence and willingness to fund it.

Religious Freedom, Exemptions, and Concessions

Posted June 16, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

The First Amendment codified government neutrality toward religion. The relationship between government and religion is based on the premise that religion is always an instrument for good. Within the religious community, behavior is influenced by the laws in the Bible and other religious writings, and the traditions within a specific denomination or sect. In a secular democracy, public moral or ethical conduct is adjudicated by civil law.

Within our history, conflicts have arisen in several areas in which individuals and institutions have insisted on the right to avoid a law based on religious beliefs. Most of the time, these exemptions from enforcement are consistent with the common good and do no harm. Sometimes the exemption includes a victim of a religious injustice has no recourse under law.

The parental right and responsibility to care for, teach, and punish children, in theory, should not be governed by civil law. Children spend much of their time in school–public, private, or parochial, in compliance with compulsory attendance laws. Children also spend time in a religious environment of influence from parents, youth leaders, clergy, and religious peer relationships.

One of the most notable Supreme Court decisions, Wisconsin v. Yoder, held that Amish parents could avoid the Wisconsin compulsory education law by removing the children from school after the eighth grade. The state argued that limiting education of children was the equivalent of denial of medical care, immunization, nutrition, safety, and survival skills for life. The counter argument was that the state did not have the right to define a level or content of education needed by a student.

That decision became a precedent for other religious parents who objected to public school curriculum, textbook content, dress codes, and the absence of religious instruction. The following is from the website of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA):

“God has delegated the authority and responsibility to teach and raise children to the parents first. Parents can delegate their authority to teach and raise their children to someone else, but not their responsibility to teach their children. God will hold parents responsible for what education their children receive (from teachers, books, assignments, or peers). We have a free choice in this country to not send our children to an ungodly public school. Our children are souls entrusted to our care.”

The argument for exemption from civil law for moral or religious reasons has been part of our history of civil disobedience. During periods declared or undeclared wars we have made accommodation for conscientious objectors and punished illegal draft resistors. The tradition has been approval of exemptions based on official religious objection, and reluctance of approval for secular moral or ethical objections. This has been the pattern for many government entities—prisons, military, schools, health care decisions, land use, and tax exemptions.

From our laws and judicial decisions, there is a perception of government persecution of people of faith, and a concurrent persecution of individuals by religion. To some members, Christianity is a fundamentalist religion that governs every aspect of their lives. The reference to our being “a Christian Nation” is occasionally proposed by those who would challenge our secular democratic civil government. Unlike orthodox Judaic law or Islamic law, fundamentalist Christianity does not supersede or negate constitutional law.

There has been an ongoing dialectic between religious entities and civil law. There was a time in Anglo-American history in which established religion was sovereign. Today, the rule in the United States is that every citizen, including the religious, is subject to constitutional law, with free exercise of religion, and individual freedom from the imposition of religion.

The Power of the President and the Supreme Court

Posted June 16, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

As we approach the end of the Obama administration and the impending 2016 presidential election, we are frequently reminded of the ages of our Supreme Court Justices and their health and longevity. The President elected in 2016 will likely have the opportunity to appoint two or three younger justices.

In the Marbury v. Madison decision in 1803, the Court ruled that Congress exceeded its power in a specific act related to the Judiciary. In that decision, the Court established its power to review acts of Congress and declare invalid those acts found to conflict with the Constitution. In theory, persons chosen to sit on the highest court are the preeminent judicial scholars. Nominees are proposed by the President, drawing on the recommendations of other judges and lawyers, and confirmed or rejected by the Senate. History has recorded landmark decisions and the written opinions of legal scholars sitting on the bench at a moment in history in which America advanced or restricted the freedoms enumerated in the Constitution.

Within the current configuration of the Supreme Court, there are four sitting members reputed to be consistently conservative in decisions before the Court; four members considered to be predictably liberal; and Justice Kennedy, the deciding vote in most of the five to four decisions. If a vacancy were to occur before the change in the White House before January of 2017, political pressure will be brought on the President to appoint a liberal justice and pressure on the Senate to reject any liberal nomination.

We like to believe that the Supreme Court is apolitical and justices should be able to render decisions inconsistent with the political views of the President who appointed them. More often we define members by how they have voted on the social issues that divide the electorate. In 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the Court ruled “the separation of public schools for black and white students was inherently unequal.” This overturned Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and the separate but equal principle that enabled segregation on railroads and other public facilities.

In the 1960s, the focus of conflict between liberal and conservative decisions on racial equality was overshadowed by landmark decisions in separation of church and state in public schools and the perceived travesty of “kicking God out of schools” in the Court ruling “government bodies could not encourage the recitation of a state-composed prayer in public schools.” The establishment clause and the freedom of religion clause continue to separate liberal Christians from conservative Christians, and Evangelical voters from secular voters on judicial issues.

With the probability that the Republican majority in the Senate will prevail and the Democratic Party will retain the Presidency, we may be facing four or eight years of gridlock in the confirmation of appointees. Consequently, the most divisive issues will challenge new justices. The Court could enable another Bush v. Gore, which may have determined the result of a presidential election.

The march to justice leans toward individual rights, but raises the question, “Whose rights.” Conservatives compete for Second Amendment rights; accommodation for religious exemptions; limiting government regulation and invasion of privacy; opposition to limiting political contributions; limiting access to abortion; and defense of traditional marriage. Liberals contend for safer gun laws; separation of church and state; equal pay for women; reproductive rights; elimination of cruel and unusual punishment; marriage equality; health care issues; and fairness in voting rights. Voters are listening intently to the words of the candidates for President and Congress. The fragile majority of the Supreme Court hangs in the balance in 2016.

Security, Fairness, Fraud, and Voter Equality

Posted June 7, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Hungarian-born billionaire and financier, George Soros, is planning to spend five million dollars to help cover the Democrats’ legal costs of challenging voter laws in Ohio and Wisconsin. Soros has for years been the evil poster image of the Democrats’ equivalent to the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson.

When the Founding Fathers promoted the idea that the power of government was derived from the consent of the governed, they also conveyed their fear of democracy. In the writings of James Madison, he asks if the right to vote should be limited to property owners. As a republic, most of our laws governing elections are written by individual states through the power delegated to state legislatures. In approximately 21 states, legislatures have passed laws requiring photo identification, reducing the number of polling places, and shortening or eliminating early voting.

This wave of laws passed in states with Republican controlled legislatures has effectively restricted voter eligibility and accessibility, but has also invigorated a battle for voter registration and acquiring voter identification cards. The intent of the laws was to target the persons least likely to own a drivers license and the poorest of citizens. The argument that there was widespread voter fraud, duplication, and false identity turned out to be overstated with no evidence of significant voter fraud. This is the responsibility of local administrators of elections and accurate voting records.

We all know for certain this is a power struggle to permit or deny the right to vote to persons more or less likely to support or oppose specific political parties, ideologies, and economic or demographic interests.

Looking back at the intent of the Founding Fathers, and their fear of democracy, the right to vote was originally acknowledged for only white, free, literate, male, property owners over the age of twenty-one. That has since been revised and extended in the 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments to former slaves, women, and eighteen-year-olds.

When political parties promote and facilitate voter-registration drives they target demographic groups most likely to support candidates and issues of the party. The second phase of this is voter turnout and voter accessibility. Most counties have established early voting periods before and up to five days before the regular election. This process is closely monitored by election officials. This is also a safeguard against voting by ineligible undocumented residents who are not citizens. There is something called a provisional ballot, which is a time-delayed verification of eligibility or questionable identity. It also applies where and when same-day registration is permitted.

State legislatures are empowered to redistrict every ten years following each census. Partisan legislatures can, with carefully drawn boundaries, create enclaves of demographic, racial, and party affiliation voters to create safe congressional and state legislative seats often disproportional to total state population. Safe seats tend to discourage voter participation by any minority, which has a negative effect in local election turnout which perpetuates the power of incumbency.

The question debated by Madison and the Founding Fathers and which continues today is who should participate in the elective process. While we claim to be a compassionate and altruistic people, it is to our individual interest that we encourage or restrict persons more or less likely to vote like we do. This would apply to all of the issues that divide us—party affiliation, liberal or conservative, religious or secular, labor and capital, and the long list of social issues. The history of our Constitution has been moving toward insuring equality and access of voting rights. Partisan state legislatures have intentionally attempted to reverse that tradition and should be challenged.

Visions of Changing Humankind and America

Posted June 3, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

When we discuss education reform, most of the criticism of public education comes from people who identify as conservatives. This isn’t just opposition to Common Core, or opposition to anything associated with the Obama Administration. There is a competition politically and religiously between liberals and conservatives for the minds of our current and future leaders and the election of those who govern. The liberal and conservative divide is in our churches, our schools, our civic clubs, our neighborhoods, and our families. Every family has a crazy uncle who is unabashedly against something, and a teenager or a millennial with visions of changing humankind for the better.

Conservatives appeal to America’s periods of exceptional greatness, the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, a Christian nation, winning two world wars, and a republic of States’ Rights. We understand and respect the competition and differences in these concepts. Some people define America’s greatness as conservative values and some define her greatness in the advancement of liberal values and human rights.

The history textbooks that I studied in middle school and high school were narratives of history from Columbus to the end of World War II. They were factual, and we committed them to memory for exams and parental approval. Today’s high school history textbooks are designed to stimulate creative thinking. New and updated history textbooks have multiple pages of prefatory references and links to everything that has happened in American history from 1492 to the copyright date 2015. The history of America has been a struggle between change and resistance to change. These periods were not always defined as conservative and liberal at the time of political debate. We preferred the terminology right and wrong, fair and unfair, moral and evil, religious and secular, or just things we liked or did not like. As I listen to the many candidates for President and other offices, I hear a plea to take our country back to a former time. We can’t do that, and we really don’t want to do that. We have to start from now. We have to defend what is right, correct what is wrong, and fix what is broken.

Most of us today define our moral values as either liberal or conservative. Even our religion is divided along liberal and conservative lines. So are our political party affiliations and our candidates, our interpretation of the Constitution, our attitude toward the Supreme Court, our economics of free enterprise and government intervention, immigration, national security, military intervention, gender equality, the Second Amendment, our dependence on fossil fuels, and climate change.

Most of the people who live in Tennessee’s rural counties define, defend, and extol the values that they traditionally embrace as being conservative. When you talk to them you will find their values are not too different from the values we embrace as liberals. Southern conservatives will love you, respect you, and be your friend. It is just that they expect and assume you to be a conservative, Republican, church-going fundamental Christian, with some reverence for the Confederacy and the Old South, and its architecture, its history, and its guns and monuments.

Somewhere in their conversation they question your having voted for President Obama and your preference for one of the potential liberal Democratic candidates over a Republican nominee. The fate of all Americans depends on the guarantee and advancement of human rights, economic opportunity, and homeland security. Whether we identify that as conservative or liberal, it is essential that our thinking is logical, our language is civil, our words are carefully chosen, and we respect the equal rights and individual dignity of everyone.

Peanuts, Sunday School, and Fundamentalism

Posted May 21, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

One of the basic principles of fundamentalist Christianity is the literal interpretation of the Bible. On the first Sunday after my baptism by immersion at the age of twelve, my Sunday school teacher interpreted the role of women in the church to preclude her from teaching a class that included a baptized male member of the class. With permission from everyone involved I began teaching that class. I am grateful for the opportunity it gave me, but I am saddened by her loss inherent in fundamentalism.

I have been reading the history of three major fundamentalist religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. There is a common theme of submission to divine will and a sacred governing document from which we learn God’s will.

During the month of May, I have attended two events associated with high school graduation. The first was a long held tradition dating back the 1400s at Oxford of a religious ceremony that we call a Baccalaureate service. This was a student sanctioned event, in a church, including motivational speeches from faculty members, students, and spiritual mentors of the students. The exercise included three prayers and Bible readings from the Old and New Testament. Attendance by the graduating seniors was optional. The other event was the official graduation exercise with presentation of diplomas, awards, speeches, and recognition of completion of secondary education.

Having begun my religious tradition in a small rural congregation, I was blessed with indoctrination of Christian principles and the fellowship of a church environment. I was also taught a mutual respect for the harmony of faith and reason. The Bible and secular education in a public school were dual foundations that shaped my life. I found no contradictions in the law, logic, and love that came with that community of fellowship.

Occasionally, we learn from unlikely sources. I just read a Peanuts comic strip, or it may have been a parody of the strip. Two of the characters, Linus and Lucy, are in a conversation in which one of them suggests, “America should get back to Christian principles.” Linus then offers suggestions, followed by Lucy’s objections:

“Provide food and shelter for the poor. No, I’m not paying for a lazy person. Visit and comfort people in prison. No, they deserve that. Pay our taxes without complaining. No, that’s my money and I want it. We should show love and mercy freely. No, that has to be earned. We have to avoid violence. No, we have to punish the bad guys. We should be gracious to foreigners and strangers. No, they shouldn’t be here. We should oppose social injustice throughout the world. No, that’s not our problem. Then what Christian principles are you talking about? Opposing gay marriage.”

In the 22nd chapter of Matthew, a lawyer asked Jesus a question about what is the great commandment, looking for either a simple definition of religion, or more likely to trap Jesus. Jesus gave the following answer, “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

We often refer to the first commandment as vertical Christianity and the second as horizontal Christianity. We often think of the first as our reason for being moral, and the second as our reason for being ethical. The current emphasis on conservative evangelical religion may have over-shadowed our attention to the ethics and compassion in the second commandment.

Bigotry, Prejudice, and Intolerance

Posted May 8, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

When the Founding Fathers were writing the Constitution, one of the most contentious disagreements was whether or not the rights with which we are endowed by our Creator should be enumerated in that document. The Bill of Rights, a listing of specific rights, was added to placate the concerns of signers with fears of a potential tyrannical President.

The provision for a bicameral Congress was a compromise with the Senate as equal votes among the states and a proportional direct representation of the people based on a formula of a free and slave population. The Founding Fathers envisioned the House of Representatives and State Legislatures as “government by the people.” As our democracy evolved, the Legislature became the most restrictive of the three branches in human rights and freedoms of speech and religion.

Our history of tolerance, or intolerance, has not come from government, but from other individuals or groups who feel threatened by diversity or the granting or enforcing equal rights for others. We define tolerance as respect for the beliefs and practices of others. Respect for beliefs is protected by freedom of religion, whereas practices are judged by potential harm to others and can be prohibited by law or regulation. Our guarantee of freedom of speech and the press is an extension of our freedom of unspoken or covert belief or thought.

In the play and movie, Inherit the Wind, the characters portraying William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow referred to the “right to think.” Tennessee had passed a law prohibiting the teaching of Evolution in public schools and the “Monkey Trial” in Dayton gave us national attention.

The word tolerance also implies leeway for variation from a standard. We hear media references to playing “the race card” or “the religious card.” This if often followed by references to prejudice or bigotry. Variations from a standard have many areas of difference, some derived at birth by genetic replication with minor variations or severe impairment. Thereafter, variations are the result of education, religion, politics, geographic traditions, and patterns of thought, advocacy, and behavior.

Prejudice is defined as adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand without knowledge of the facts. In contrast, bigotry can relate to intolerance in matters of religion, race, or politics, without reference to preconceived opinion. Bigotry or prejudice can be taught, or acquired, by ancestral or regional influences.
We like to believe we live in a “post-racial” and a “post religious intolerance” period. We like to believe we have by law, logic, and compassion adopted equal rights in gender, sexual orientation, religious freedom, voting rights, and all other variations from standards. In retail, some businesses have asked for the right to refuse customers based on strongly held religious opinions.

To accuse someone of bigotry or prejudice for inflexibility on strongly held religious or political ideology is unfair. These would be considered intolerant only if someone were to question another person’s right to think or believe or not believe something. Strongly held acquired views are derived from television, reading, peer influence, or from that most cherished right, the right to think.

We have recently discussed the right of a student to think in our discussion of Common Core State Standards, textbook adoption, methodology of teaching, and testing that includes critical thinking skills.

I think most of us defend the right of bigotry and prejudice, unless it impedes or denies the rights of others, or if it leads to violent acts. Violence is indefensible. Bigotry and prejudice are part of our religious and political freedoms. They are inviolable in our Bill of Rights, as is the right to think.


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