Choice solves the religious holiday clash

You can’t please everyone. When Muslim parents in Montgomery County, Maryland asked for days off for Muslim holidays, the school board eliminated all religious holidays from the school calendar. It turns out you can annoy everyone.

Religion isn’t the problem, writes Cato’s Neal McCluskey on Reason. Public schooling is the problem, he argues. Choice is the solution.

McCluskey advocates vouchers for each student, so funding follows the child. “Let parents choose schools that share their values, religion, views on math curricula — you name it.”

The people of Montgomery County are diverse, and a single system of schools for which they all must pay simply cannot treat them equally. Just look at the “solution” the board came up with: ending official recognition of Christian and Jewish holidays, but holidays like Christmas and Yom Kippur remaining days off because attendance would be too low to operate. Muslims, meanwhile, are too small a minority to greatly affect attendance, so the schools will still be open on their holidays.

. . .  Values-based conflagrations are constantly flaring up across the country, whether the flashpoint is school holidays, student prayer at graduations, reading Huckleberry Finn, the content of history curricula or myriad other matters.

Parental choice — funded by taxpayers — could improve social cohesion, he argues.

. . . some empirical research has shown more meaningful connections between students of different races in private than public schools, perhaps because choosing a school based on shared values or interests provides a bonding agent more powerful than the things that divide groups. Finally, research has suggested chosen schools are better than public schools at instilling basic American civic values like voting and tolerance of others.

It’s almost impossible to treat everyone equally within a single school system, McCluskey concludes. “To foster peace and real unity, educational freedom is key.”

Nutcracker field trip is back on

The Mouse King dances in the Joffrey Ballet’s version of The Nutcracker in Chicago

It’s a Christmas miracle! An elementary school PTA in a Boston suburb will not cancel its annual trip to see The Nutcracker.

Someone complained children would see a Christmas tree on stage, reports WHDH. Other parents complained when the PTA decided to end the optional trip.

The Nutcracker does indeed have religious content, notes Reason.

Everyone in the ballet is celebrating Christmas, a Christian holiday commemorating Christ. Same thing happens in A Christmas Carol, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas, White Christmas, Black Christmas (a slasher movie) and—heck—Handel’s Messiah.

. . . How about all those Renaissance paintings of Mary and Jesus? Should the PTA ban trips to the art museum?

“Kids can be exposed to ideas and cultures different from their own”  without feeling offended. Or they can decide not to go.

District drops preference for “non-Christian” teachers

When hiring teachers, “special consideration shall be given to women and/or minority defined as: Native American, Asian American, Latino, African American and those of the non-Christian faith,” reads the teachers’ union contract in Ferndale, Michigan. Earlier in the contract, however, a clause bans discrimination based on religion, notes Michigan Capitol Confidential.
The “non-Christian” language is “antiquated” and will be deleted, said a spokeswoman for Ferndale Public Schools. “The district does not discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion or other related issues,” she said.

Apparently, the language was added in the late ’70s. My guess is that someone noticed an increase in Muslim students and thought it would be nice to hire some Muslim teachers. But are Asian-American teachers underrepresented relative to the number of Asian-American students? I doubt it. And I’m sure there are plenty of female teachers in Ferndale. Why not “special consideration” for men?

It’s not clear that students learn more from a teacher of the same race, ethnicity or religion. But I’d have no problem with a school district that gave special consideration to applicants from the students’ neighborhoods and cultures. Should that kind of discrimination be OK?

Report: Textbooks boost Islam

Islam is presented positively — and inaccurately — in U.S. textbooks, charges a report by ACT! for America Education. It’s more “indoctrination than education,” says Brigitte Gabriel, the group’s president.

The report provides happy-think quotes from textbooks:

“The Quran granted women spiritual and social equality with men.”

ACT! responds:  The Quran does not grant “social equality” to women. “Muslim women cannot divorce except in limited circumstance—men can divorce at any time for any reason—and the testimony of one man equals that of two women in legal proceedings.”

“In Medina, Muhammad…fashioned an agreement that joined his own people with the Arabs and Jews…These groups accepted Muhammad as a political leader.”

Response:  The Jews did not accept Muhammad as a leader. He “expelled two of the Jewish tribes and destroyed the third, beheading the men and selling the women and children into slavery.”

“Shari’a law requires Muslim leaders to extend religious tolerance to Christians and Jews.”

Response: “Shari’a law imposes a litany of burdens and restrictions on Christians and Jews, both in their daily lives and in the practice of their religions.”

“In the early eighth century, Islam became popular in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent.”

Response: Islam spread through conquest.

In addition, textbooks spend many pages on European slave traders, ignoring the role of Islamic slave traders, the report charges.

Textbook writers hate controversy. I’m sure they accentuate the positive when writing about any religion — but not to this extent.

School bans atheist’s editorial on religion

Administrators, teachers and coaches promote “pro-Christian” beliefs at school events, wrote Krystal Myers, an atheist, in the Lenoir City High School (Tennessee) school newspaper. But school officials pulled the honor student’s editorial, claiming it would be “disruptive,” reports the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Schools Director Wayne Miller said the school district is not violating the law.

Prayers at athletic events are student-led. School board meetings do begin with a prayer, but there are usually no students present, he said.

One teacher wears T-shirts that depict the crucifix, Myers wrote. Other teachers often use Bible verses for the “Quote of the day” written on classroom boards.  Coaches encourage team prayer before competitions. “As the captain of the swim team, I feel I have to be a part of it.”

Myers also cited Lee vs. Wiseman, a U.S. Supreme Court decision based on a case where a parent tried to stop a rabbi from speaking at a middle school graduation. The court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the inclusion of clergy who offer prayers at official public school ceremonies violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

“The school’s rule creates subtle and indirect coercion (students must stand respectfully and silently), forcing students to act in ways which establish a state religion,” the ruling said.

 If Myers editorial had run in the school newspaper — she’s the editor — would the Christians have rioted? I doubt it.


Feds investigate Gulen’s Turkish teachers

More than 120 charter schools in 25 states have been founded by followers of Fethullah Gullen, an Islamic leader exiled by Turkey. Federal agents are investigating whether teachers imported from Turkey have been forced to kickback money to a Muslim movement known as Hizmet. The FBI and Departments of Labor and Education investigators are involved, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Unlike in Turkey, where Gulen’s followers have been accused of pushing for an authoritarian Islamic state, there is no indication the American charter network has a religious agenda in the classroom.

Religious scholars consider the Gulen strain of Islam moderate, and the investigation has no link to terrorism. Rather, it is focused on whether hundreds of Turkish teachers, administrators, and other staffers employed under the H1B visa program are misusing taxpayer money.

Gulen schools used 684 H1B visas in 2009 to bring in Turkish administrators and teachers. Many of the teachers were math and science specialists.

Ruth Hocker, former president of the parents’ group at the Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania Charter School in State College, began asking questions when popular, certified American teachers were replaced by uncertified Turkish men who often spoke limited English and were paid higher salaries.

Although the school is located near Penn State, which graduates many certified teachers, school officials claimed “they couldn’t find qualified American teachers,” Hocker said.

An anti-Gulen web site also accuses the schools of hiring Turkish teachers who speak poor English, hiding ties to the Gulen movement and focusing resources on “a small group of high-performing students” who compete in math and science competitions, “while the curriculum is mundane or even deficient for the remaining students.” The site does not claim the schools teach Islam.

Here’s a pro-Gulen web site.

Waldorf public schools face lawsuit

Sacramento public schools include a Waldorf-inspired K-8 school and a high school. Both schools are popular with parents, but not with People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools, which has filed a lawsuit charging that the Waldorf system is based on founder Rudolf Steiner’s religious philosophy, anthroposophy, and therefore can’t receive tax dollars.

There are 43 Waldorf-inspired public schools in the U.S., including 24 in California, according to the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education. More are in the works.

John Morse Waldorf-Inspired K-8 School, a district-run school, is moving to a new campus with room for more students. The school integrates “activities of the heart, hands and head” throughout the curriculum, including “handwork, gardening, cooking, and woodworking.”  Teachers stay with the same students throughout their education, if possible. Reading isn’t taught till students are considered ready, which may be as late as third grade. Here’s an Edutopia article on the school.

George Washington Carver School of Arts and Science, a charter high school, offers project-based and hands-on learning and stresses drama, art, gardening and poetry. However, all students take the A-G courses that will qualify them for state universities.

PLANS sees Waldorf as “a cult-like religious sect following the occult teachings of Rudolf Steiner.”

Waldorf educators say, simply put, Waldorf is a holistic approach that focuses on a child’s development and has art infused into the curriculum.

Waldorf-trained teachers learn Steiner’s philosophy but don’t teach it in the public schools, says Betty Staley, who trains teachers at Rudolf Steiner College near Sacramento.

Waldorf education is progressive education with delayed reading instruction and a lot of art and nature study. It may work well for some children. Despite some of Steiner’s beliefs about the spirit world, I don’t see Waldorf as new-age religion.

Of course, some see Apple as a religion.

Indian boy wins right to wear braids

An American Indian boy can wear braids to school, despite his Texas school district’s grooming policy, a federal appeals court ruled today, upholding a lower court ruling. AP reports:

The 5-year-old boy’s parents, Kenney Arocha and Michelle Betenbaugh, argued their son, identified in court papers as A.A., has a constitutional right to wear a hairstyle that conforms to his Native American religious beliefs.

. . . The boy wears his 13-inch-long hair in two braids outside his shirt.

The Needville Independent School District south of Houston had argued its grooming policy, which requires short hair for boys, teaches hygiene, promotes discipline and avoids disruptions.

“We feel vindicated in our beliefs that no parents should be forced to choose between their religion and culture and a public education for their children,” Arocha and Betenbaugh said in a news release.

It’s hard to argue that long hair isn’t hygienic for boys but is perfectly OK for girls. On the other hand, Needville may need to protect A.A. from Boy Named Sue issues. Sikhs don’t cut their hair for religious reasons. Boys often wear their hair in a topknot under a loose turban — and they do get teased and sometimes bullied for looking different.

Boy suspended for 'violent' sketch of Jesus

An eight-year-old boy was suspended and sent to a psychologist for evaluation because he drew a “violent” picture of Jesus on the cross, reports the Taunton (MA) Gazette.

A second-grade teacher at Taunton’s Maxham Elementary School had asked children to draw something that reminded them of Christmas. The boy drew a stick figure of a man on a cross, probably inspired by a recent family visit to a Christmas display at a Christian shrine.

“I think what happened is that because he put Xs in the eyes of Jesus, the teacher was alarmed and they told the parents they thought it was violent,” said Toni Saunders, an educational consultant with the Associated Advocacy Center.

Superintendent Julie Hackett said an outside evaluation is required when there are “particular concerns about a child’s safety.”

A psychologist, hired at the parents’ expense, found the boy poses no safety threat. But the second grader found it hard to return to school, the father says. The district has agreed to transfer the boy to another elementary school.

Via The Corner.

The school district said the boy wasn’t suspended, though it hasn’t disputed he was sent home till he could get a psych exam. The district also says the photo circulated isn’t the one that upset the teacher and that the teacher didn’t tell kids to draw a picture of something that reminded them of Christmas (or any other religious holiday).

Pastafarians seek equal time

Darwinian evolution? Intelligent design? In a letter to a Kansas school board,  Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster devotees demand that Pastafarian beliefs be taught in public schools along with other theories of creation.

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

Pastafarians also want teachers to wear the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s chosen outfit, pirate regalia. (“He becomes angry if we don’t.”)

You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s. For your interest, I have included a graph of the approximate number of pirates versus the average global temperature over the last 200 years. As you can see, there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature.

The Church of the FSM is “today’s fastest growing carbohydrate-based religion,” claims founder Bobby Henderson. And no wonder.  The Pastafarian heaven features strippers and a beer volcano. My husband, a devour Frequent Flyertarian is considering conversion.

Wikipedia has more.