It’s the middle of the day at the public high school in Anytown, Texas. During the school’s non-pedagogical break period called FOCUS, which is used for various things such as study hall, college preparation, or occasional attendance at convocations. Today happens to be a day of convocation. The school’s 1,100 students gather in the gymnasium and listen to an Islamic imam proselytizing the virtues of his religion. During the presentation, students are asked to kneel and face Mecca for a prayer. Many Christian students are very uncomfortable and begin to question the constitutional legality of such an event in a public school during school hours. A student is so offended that he asks his teacher if he can leave. He is told that the classroom door is locked so he must stay for the summons. Eventually, more than 100 students stage a walkout in protest.
Does this sound crazy? Are you thinking, good for these students, this school was irrelevant? Well, this scenario, almost verbatim, just happened in Huntington, West Virginia, only it was not an Islamic imam leading the service, it was an evangelical Christian preacher. Dear readers, if this story doesn’t deeply concern you, either you don’t understand the Constitution and what a public school is for, or you don’t agree with the Constitution and want it changed.
I’m here to try to show you that this type of scenario is one of the major underlying factors in this current push for more parental control over what happens in public schools. Dozens of states are bombarded with nearly identical harmful education bills written and sponsored by an organization known as ALEC. When the wording of this type of legislation mentions that parents should be able to opt out of any content that might make their children “uncomfortable”, let’s face it; what this really means is that they don’t want anything that would cause the children to think critically about their family’s nationalist Christian values. When those bills were drafted that included the creation of parent-dominated “committees” to oversee a local school district’s curriculum policies to better reflect the “values” of the community, you can bet your last dollar exactly on the values they have in mind. groups like purple for parents and others of their ilk, would be absolutely thrilled with what happened in Huntington, West Virginia. That’s what they want more than anything. They want to tear down the separation wall of
church and state– hit that, they want to bring down the wall of separation between Christianity and the State (they would like to leave this wall for other religions) – and inaugurate a ultra-conservative Christian and nationalist curriculum in their public schools. They think they can get away with it since the majority of members of their communities share a similar conservative Christian nationalist value system. The only thing stopping them so far is the Constitution. I find that a lot of people on the far right seem to misunderstand a fundamental tenet of the Constitution; that is, the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, is an anti-democratic document. This is the opposite of majority rule. The Constitution protects the rights of the minority (sometimes even one) against the will of the majority. One Landmark Supreme Court decision after another has upheld this crucial American ideal. Yet Christian nationalists get furious every time they lose one of these cases. So they set about formulating their plan to get around the problem. They began their attack on public education. To their credit, they have done a masterful job of this, especially in the redder parts of the country.
Their ultimate plan was to reduce the “public” part of the term public schools. They have demonized public schools with malicious and lying lies. They have created a completely unfair standardized testing system tied to teacher pay and school funding. They have created unhealthy competition between public schools now forced to advertise and sell themselves in an effort to recruit students because of the money they bring in to school systems. They somehow managed to get the public tax money in the form of school choice vouchers to be used legally to steal students (often some of the best and brightest) from public schools and send them to private schools with faith-based programs, while keeping public schools accountable for providing special education services to the student who has been stolen from them. And now they continue to escalate their attack trying to empower Christian Nationalist parents to control the curriculum in public schools.
Apparently, the gains that far-right Christian nationalists have already made with school choice vouchers funding public school children’s tuition in faith-based private schools were not enough. The fact that parents already had the ability to control their children’s curriculum and reinforce their Christian nationalist values in private schools at public expense should have been considered the ultimate victory (albeit unconstitutional, in my book ). But that’s obviously not the case. They also want control of public schools.
But what they ignore or don’t understand is the fact that unless they can change the Constitution, for every Christian summons they allow, they should also allow a Jewish summons, or a Buddhist one, or Islamic. . This is how the Constitution works. Just as on television where public networks must provide equal time to all presidential candidates, a public school must also be open to all faiths. This is the part of the plan they can only overcome if they can destroy public education as we know it or completely desecrate the Constitution.
History has shown time and time again that supermajorities are rarely, if ever, good for anyone. If you’re not comfortable with that, you better be prepared to smash some of those supermajority state legislatures with your vote.
It’s in your power.