Tag Archives: Public School

Christian Club Targeted by the Public

The Good News Club is a national Christian organization which meets in public schools and teaches the values and faith of the Bible. Though successful in many states – sometimes embraced and sometimes discouraged – they only recently have begun to have a presence in Portland. The club has been targeted and vilified by some members of the Portland public. Since the Good News Club and other clubs like them have the legal backing  of the Supreme Court, they cannot be turned away but are facing a firestorm of hatred and general outrage among this predominately religion-fearing population.  The Good News Club has found bad news in Portland.

This is hardly a unique phenomenon for Portland or Christians, nor is it the biggest news story of the day, but it presents a good opportunity to study the absence of liberty in public education. I define the culprit broadly as Public Society.

A Facebook page is dedicated to fighting the use of public schools by “religious extremists.” Protect Portland Children stands on the premise that children don’t need to be saved because they are not sinners. That is obviously not what the Good News Club or any other Christian organization is teaching. But these social media users have the right to think this and the right to be concerned about ideological recruitment in a place where their children attend daily mandatory classes, thanks to the non-voluntary guidance of the State. Remember the State.

This is a reminder that we have both the right to exercise religion, and the right to abstain from religion (the First Amendment ). We do not have a mandatory religion, nor do we have mandatory non-religion. Constitutionally, Christians cannot make others join their religion and others cannot prohibit Christians from exercising their faith. Personal faith isn’t authentic under conditions of coercion anyway. Having established this,  it should be recognized that Christians want others to join them in their belief, and at the same time noted that plenty of people have no intention of doing so. We have a conflict. You shouldn’t be surprised.

Some people follow a philosophy of relativism. They don’t believe in anything and think no one else should either. They enter Public Society with a negative agenda. You can’t do that and you can’t make me do that! They think that someone who actually believes in something is a “religious extremist.” But I ask, must we all adhere to your relative truth for you to be able to believe it?

Other people believe in something they think is actually true and they think that everyone else should believe it too. That’s what it means to believe in actual truth. It has universal implications. Relativists shouldn’t care what other people believe. Those who follow the teachings of Jesus do care and generally have a message in Public Society that is positive.  I can believe this and you can too! Jesus’s message is deep and mysterious, and many Christian groups have differing interpretations on the finer points, but it is most importantly summarized as “God loves you,” rather than “You are a sinner.” If you can’t make it past that difficult hurdle, understandably you won’t find the grace that flows on the other side.

Of course not everyone fits into these two categories. Some people believe in something else or nothing at all. While the State does require you to go to school, no one is making you or your children attend a Christian club against your will. You don’t have to go. You could even go to a different Christian club if you don’t like the Good News Club’s version of Christianity. Many groups have the right to meet and express their ideas in Public Society, and they do so. The Boy Scouts, Chess Club, Democrats, and Republicans. If you don’t like tying knots, check mate, or donkeys and elephants  you shouldn’t attend their clubs, but they can meet nearby. It’s ok. Stop hating. Learn about something new. Christians happens to believe in something with eternal consequences and are just as outraged at other things which are found in the Public School. Evolution? Creation? Should Public  Society decide or should you?

Conversely to all of this, Christian churches often open their doors to a wide range of secular groups and activities, many of them obviously non-Christian. A few that come to mind in my own neighborhood are preschools, clothing swaps, park and rides, and community gardens. None of these are religious activities, but they are to be found on property owned by religious institutions. Yes, I see you shaking your finger to point out that sometimes the church chooses to shut the door on ideas it disagrees with, and you certainly are right. It does. But it has the right to do so because it is a voluntary association. Public Society is not. Remember the State? Not voluntary.

Public Society exists, for better or for worse, as a place where all have (or should have) equal rights. In order to be equal, we have to strip down to nothing at all, removing everything that is unique about each of us. Public Society cannot discriminate the way an individual can in a voluntary association. There is a difference between believing something yourself and allowing others to believe something different, and it doesn’t fit in well here. The devaluing of individual rights, choices, and values in public education results in a subservience to a thinly spread layer of mediocrity funded by struggling graduates of the same system. It looks like religion without the necessary voluntary aspect. There’s no tolerance for liberty.

The public realm is owned by everyone, and so it’s  owned by no one. I certainly have no individual privileges of liberty in the land of forced equality. Do you? With no rights of my own, I have little benefit for myself. These people want to have their Christian club and some other people don’t want to let them because they wan to control everything in Public Society. I saw a popular quote on Facebook from author John Green stating that “Public education does not exist for the benefit of the student or for their parents. It exists for the benefit of the social order.”  Well, that is sadly true. Public education doesn’t really care about you or your truth.

Portland Public Schools Strike

The teachers of the Portland Public Schools prepare to strike on February 20th in a labor dispute that will affect about 48,000 students.  All schools will be closed during this localized government shutdown, reminding us that not only are labor unions no friend of liberty, they are no friend to our children’s education.

2/20 Update: A compromise was reached, and the strike didn’t happen.

I don’t have children in the PPS school district, but this does affect me directly because this is my community of neighbors and friends. Because there are few school choice options, many families are affected. While the district and the teachers try to figure out a collective compromise on their disputes over pay, workloads, and health insurance, an entire community of parents is trying to figure out what to do with their children. The implications will trickle down to each parents inability to go to their own job, and this leads to an overall weakened economy as we scramble to right a sinking ship rather than do our own jobs and help make the world turn.

At the recent strike vote, at least one teacher stood amidst a swirling storm of yes votes to admit that the strike is wrong and the school is failing the children by walking out. But there are too few who risk voicing such an opinion, so nothing changes and the union rolls on, crushing those who don’t grasp its mandate.

Unions are fueled by fear and peer pressure. A majority is formed that endangers the rights of the minority. Threats are common, and of course there is a lot of yelling and large painted signs waving along a picket line. Everyone is warned not to cross the picket line. I think there is a lot of hate in that place, and this isn’t something our children need.

Some teachers have said they would not cross the picket line for fear of their jobs. Others say they’re here for the children, not for disagreement. Now we all feel like we have to choose sides, since we’re all affected. But apparently other teachers can and will be hired on a temporary basis, so sending your child to school (and crossing a picket line) is an actual option. A problem with unions is that there is always someone who is willing to do the work but that individual is not allowed to voluntarily associate in a different way than the mandate of the majority.

Higher wages at the expense of fewer jobs. An us vs. them mentality that marginalizes non-members and stifles overall creativity and growth. This is what you can expect while a small group benefits from the influence of the labor union, and a much larger group (the entire remainder of the community) is worse off because of it. So using their own math against them, it is actually the majority of society that is worse off at the expense of the minority.

Meanwhile, a shining light. Voluntary associations are stepping in. Local community members and church groups are offering resources to help parents and children. Some buildings are providing space for childcare and people are organizing activities for children so that parents go to their jobs. These individuals are coming together as a community to do what they need to do to get on with their lives and step around the cumbersome constricts of organized labor.

School Choice

I was asked to review the book School Choice: The Findings by Herbert J. Walberg (2007), which compares the status quo traditional public school system alongside a few alternatives. Though not specifically addressing programs in the state of Oregon nor the Montessori educational approach (topics of personal and community interest), nor saying much about homeschooling (another relevant topic of interest), this book organizes a clear framework for considering potential educational options.

This is a statistics-heavy research-based publication. Parents and students who are able to make a school choice and attend a school other than the default public school in their district are found to be more satisfied with their educational experience. When schooling is detached from random housing boundaries, the results are positive. Consistently, students do as well or better than their peers who are in the nearby government-funded and government-run schools.

In reviewing charter schools (see below), voucher programs (publicly funded scholarships to private schools), and private schools (privately funded and run), the book does not necessarily advocate a singular path away from traditional public school but rather emphasizes choice and the positive effects of available alternatives. All three of these options must be chosen, they cannot fall into the lap of the parent. And each of the three must be given as an available option in order for the choice to be made. Choosing families and non-choosing families in the community are most commonly affected with a positive outcome by the choices the choosers are able to make.

It is suggested that most parents with students in public school do not choose for their children to be there – they just ended up there by default. Either the parents want an alternative to traditional public school and are unable to obtain it, or they simply accept the situation as it is, often with reservations. I don’t think this can be true for everyone, but the research shows it is typical that most parents dislike (to one degree or another) something significant about their public school.

As one of the three options presented by Walberg, Charter Schools are explained as having the benefits of wider accessibility due to their funding source by the state (similar to a public school), and as having the greater economic efficiency and improved academics possible through non-centralized, independent leadership (as often found in private schools). A compromise between extremes, charter schools are popular and they generally accept (by random lottery) only a fraction of those interested. Research shows that enrolled students do well and the charter school raises the local standard of excellence in the community by influencing neighboring public schools to make positive competitive changes.

That charter schools are only a compromise rather than something totally different from a traditional public school is observable from by the following. They are often over-regulated, a quality they were most often founded to avoid, and they receive lower funding than public schools, though funded from the same source. Funding varies widely from state to state and can lag significantly behind the local neighboring public schools. However, as with private schools, charter schools have shown they can do more with less.

Walberg finishes by discussing the positive benefits of competition resulting from school choice and the importance of parental satisfaction with school choice. Hopefully we are moving towards increased freedom of choice, allowing parents to step outside the rigid boundaries of the status quo to make individual decisions about the quality education each wants for their children. In order to do so, it is important that a great many options are made available, in order to make a choice.