Tuesday, December 07, 2004
The words of Kathleen Quinn, aka MOL's "harpo", at the BOE last night about the school's "holiday music" policy
For many years these various extreme sects simply kept their distance from each other, hacking out new settlements on virgin plots of land. Newark – more properly pronounced “New Ark” – was one such late settlement, founded by a Christian sect so extreme they couldn’t get along with the extreme Puritans who had landed before them.
We all know that eventually these extremists fought a revolution to cement their independence, and set about forming a unitary, functioning government. Bernard Shaw wrote of the American Constitution that it is "one of the few modern political documents drawn up by men who were forced, by the sternest of consequences, to think out what they really had to face, instead of chopping logic in a university classroom."
What the founders of our country faced is, however, exactly what you face today: An increasingly crowded landscape of human beings who profess a multiplicity of fundamentally incompatible religious points of view, and even no religion at all. Over the last 25 years in particular, we have witnessed increasing and I think legitimate resistance to public school instruction that attempts to blur the differences between religions. The well-meaning idea of “inclusion” and ecumenism has proved an unworkable policy in the public schools.
Ever since this “holiday music” issue arose in our community, I have been struck by the number of adults who have said to me personally or through the media that they have vividly painful memories of being a non-Christian child in a public school which organized “holiday” celebrations in December. They were made to feel like they were second-class citizens. They can remember a feeling of being violated and humiliated and insulted, like they didn’t really belong in school.
To remember all that, well into middle age, tells you something about how deep it cuts into the psyche of a child when their schools, to which they look for guidance, acceptance and affirmation, present them with a face that they interpret as saying: “We are the religious majority. You’re in the religious minority. Dance to our tunes.”
In Thomas Jefferson’s view, when government agencies impose an unwanted religious practice on an individual – not to mention a child – it is a repugnant act, a violation – not of the law or the Constitution – but the natural rights of the individual human being. I agree. You cannot first destroy a child’s sense of belonging, sense of integrity, sense of equality, and then expect him or her to concentrate on what’s on the blackboard. No political majority has the right to elect a school board which does that to them as part of their compulsory education.
In compulsory education, the independence of children’s individual religious beliefs must be protected precisely because we demand that students conform to school authority. And the school must have the authority to decide timing and what gets taught when. It must have the authority to withhold and postpone certain information because of context and conditions in the outside world.
The school board’s policy is overwhelmingly in the best interests of all the school’s children. I commend the Board for adopting it and urge you to retain it. I urge you to stand firm against those who, under the banner of “inclusion” or under the banner of “the majority” or the banner of “tradition” would now insist on religious content in the schools every December. The present school policy preserves the integrity of the curriculum by preserving the necessary authority of the Administration.
I would like to close by expressing my admiration and gratitude for the way in which the School Board President, Mr. Brian O’Leary, has conducted himself while under extraordinary political pressure.