Sunday, September 16, 2012

Are teachers going to have to become "curricular dieticians"? Nonsense!

The environment, sex, marriage...these are subjects that could come up in any classroom, depending on a variety of stimuli like the short story, essay or poem or novel being discussed. Any class in civics or media would also find discussion difficult if such topic had to be avoided. These are also subjects that cut to the core of many religious beliefs, and for fundamentalists of any faith, they are "hot-button" subjects around which some fundamentalists have drawn "red lines" making any classroom mention of such subjects "triggers" for reprisals against the offending school, teacher and school system.
Clearly, in both the letter to Christian and Muslim parents, and in the Greek Orthodox father's law suit against the Hamilton-Wentworth school board, the 'red lines' are being drawn, not so much in the sand, as around the newly constructed moat around the "ownership" of the children, as the dentist father puts it. (See Globe Editorial and Law Suit stories below)
Are the teachers and administrators in public schools to become both puppets and "victims" of the religious bullies? Is the tail of the fundamentalists going to wag the dog of the already emasculated public school system?
We all know that the public school system in any society and culture is one of the best, if not the prime, instruments for building bridges of tolerance, respect and acceptance of different cultures, ethnicities, and lifestyles. And at least in the North American context, large strides in the direction of respect for a multicultural parent demographic have demonstrated such systemic respect. Of course, there are still bullies in the school yards, many of whom are repelled, for example, by those living a gay-lesbian-transgender lifestyle. When the public school system is under attack from the religious "right" regardless of the faith perspective of those attacks, then the whole society has both a right and a duty to step up and draw a larger line in the sand. The public school system must never be held hostage to the religious claims of the religious, if we are to preserve the purpose and sensibility of a healthy, vibrant and non-discriminating curriculum.
If specific religious institutions wish to conduct classes in their facilities, on whatever topics (leaving aside the training in both social upheaval and terrorism), with parents of those religious institutions consenting to such training, that is their business, both the institutions and the parents.
However, to expect any teacher of any subject to transformer him or herself into a curricular dietician, removing the slightest mention in the classroom or on the premises of the school of anything smacking of "peanuts" (because of a religious "allergy" of the child) is both impractical and unwarranted.
We know much today about the dangers of specific food allergies and public institutions in both health care and education have moved a long way to accommodate such dangers. There is scientific evidence to support such moves, and they could impact children/people from all faiths.
However, to balkanize the school system, and the curriculum, to placate the religious beliefs of specific faith communities is to expect the impossible.
It is quite a different thing to avoid using a specific word of disrespect, for a specific cultural or ethic community, in public discourse, from sanitizing normal conversation from the religious "tastes" of the many religious groups whose children attend the public school system.
Christian fundamentalists would limit the shool's ability to teach the curriculum
Editorial, Globe and Mail, September 14, 2012
A form letter is being circulated to enable conservative Christian and Muslim parents to ask Ontario public schools to exempt their children from various programs, as an accommodation of their religious faith. A similar letter is at the heart of a Christian family’s lawsuit against a southern Ontario school board that refuses to grant the requested exemption. Its core belief is that parents have the right to direct the spiritual and moral education of their education.

Fair enough. Some exemptions may be reasonable to ask for and receive – from sex education, for instance. But here’s the problem: The authors of that form letter define spiritual and moral education so broadly as to encompass a wide swath of the public-school day. In their view, a public-school education delivers, explicitly and implicitly, a religious training of its own – in “secular humanism.”
Take discussions about the environment – labelled “environmental worship,” or “naturalism.” “Our faith requires that we place nothing above our God,” says the letter, written by a group that calls itself Public Education Advocates for Christian Equity. “Meeting expectations of conservation would be more successful, for our children, if connected to their spiritual understanding of being responsible to their Creator.” Any time the environment is to be raised, parents would have to be notified ahead of time. Presumably, spontaneous discussion of the environment would be off limits.
Or take “values neutral education – indoctrination of students in ‘moral relativism’ and principles of situational ethics. This ‘ism’ is a central tenet of the religion of ‘Secular Humanism.’” This may cover nearly any topic imaginable. Perhaps discussion itself is off limits.
There’s a space in the form letter to ask for notification or an exemption from any discussion about homosexual “conduct or relationships” as “natural, healthy and acceptable.” Since when does the teaching of “acceptance” of anyone run counter to parental rights? Should schools be obliged to tell parents about books about gay parents on in-class bookshelves, or of pictures of lesbian mothers or gay dads on the walls? Should children be excused from learning about respect for difference?
The accommodation sought by these parents would make it difficult for public schools to transmit the curriculum, with its explicit teachings and implicit values. It’s not really an accommodation they seek; it’s a different program.
And then there is this:
By Kate Hammar, Globe and Mail, September 10, 2012
A Hamilton-area father is taking his local school board to court, accusing teachers of failing to accommodate his family’s Christian beliefs.

Steve Tourloukis, a dentist and follower of the Greek Orthodox Church, has a daughter in Grade 1 and a son in Grade 4 at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. He says that teachers at his children’s school have dismissed his requests for advance notice whenever they discuss family, marriage and sexuality in the classroom.
He would like the warning in order to determine whether he should coach his children ahead of the lesson, or pull them from the classroom altogether.

“My children are my own. I own them. They don’t belong to the school board,” Dr. Tourloukis said.
He dismissed the idea of sending his children to a private or Catholic school.
“Why should I send my children to another school?” he said. “I pay my taxes…I don’t see why somebody else’s discrimination should cause me, should influence where I send my children. Not in a free country. Not in Canada.”
Dr. Tourloukis told reporters Monday that the school board had rejected his requests to have his children withdrawn on the basis that it discriminated against other students. He filed a lawsuit against the board on Friday. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
The school board’s director of education, John Malloy, said he couldn’t discuss the specifics of the case, but said broad requests for religious accommodation were relatively rare. It’s more common for parents to request specific accommodations around a section of a course such as sex ed.
Broad requests for accommodation may impact other students – who would like to discuss spending the day at the park with their two dads, for example – and are much more problematic.
“It’s imperative that any accommodation doesn’t hurt someone else in that classroom who has a right to be accepted,” Mr. Malloy said.
The board’s religious accommodation policy states that schools should “study what all people believe, but should not teach a student what to believe.”
Education Minister Laurel Broten said the government took the politics out of creating the curriculum by asking an expert panel to help draft it in 2003.
“We really focus on vetting a number of key components across all of our grades,” Ms. Broten told reporters on Monday.

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