Challenging Assumptions

I was recently removed from a Facebook discussion after I challenged a cherished axiom of social/political/theological juncture.  (And no, it wasn’t about immigration.) I have also noticed that when I blog about anything that hints at scrutinizing accepted talking points, the traffic drops to nothing. People don’t even read just to say, “What an idiot.” When I want hits, I write sentimental schmaltz. Critical thinking is not a particularly popular pastime.

So what sorts of challenges are unwelcome? How about the one that most recently made me persona non grata.

Ever since Engel v. Vitale was decided by the US Supreme Court in 1962, prayer has become increasingly banned in public schools. What began as a ban on school-sponsored prayer during educational time eventually led to the decision in Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe (2000), that student-led, student-initiated prayer at high school football games violates the Establishment Clause.  By extension this covers any student-led student initiated prayer at any school function.

Because Engel is a flawed example of judicial activism, it is bad. If prayer was constitutional for 171 years, it doesn’t suddenly become unconstitutional. This is just like the three-prong test of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) that sets out the requirements of any legislation that touches upon religion. If three prongs weren’t necessary before 1971, they don’t somehow become necessary afterwards. Any cases based on Engel and Lemon (like Santa Fe ISD) are, ipso facto, flawed.

To this point, I no doubt have my cheering section of politically active, conservative Christians behind me. This is, after all, pretty standard Strict Constructionist, Original Intent stuff. However, I think there is a need to re-evaluate, not the legal arguments, but the moral arguments that have become a popular extension from them.

As I mentioned above, I had my comments removed from a Facebook thread. This happened after I challenged the following statement: “Morals declined when we took prayer and God out of school.” (Being removed from a discussion is nothing new to me. I’ve even been thrown out of an entire conservative Facebook group for holding a minority opinion on an issue.)  This proposition has become as much a part of the warp and woof of Christian conservativism as the legal analysis of Engel and its progeny. How dare I question the unquestionable. Yet that is exactly what I do.

I do this for two reasons. First, and most simply, because the truth matters. Second, and perhaps more controversially, because, as I addressed in another instance on this blog less than a year ago, conservative Christians have succumbed to sloppy scholarship.

I do this from two sources of evidence. First, it is worth examining school-sponsored prayer in state education outside of the United States. Second, there is the issue of the historical record and proximate cause.

I bring to this discussion seven years of experience as a teacher in the state schools in England and Wales. As recently as 1998, it was statutorily re-affirmed that in state schools all pupils must take part in a daily act of collective worship unless their parent has requested a waiver. The acts of collective worship must be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character.” Not only that, but children are also required to attended Religious Education lessons throughout the entire course of their compulsory education. The majority of these RE lessons must also be based on Christianity.

With that experience, and over a decade of living in conservative rural England, I can assure you that the continuation of prayer and even of Christian education in state schools has done nothing to slow the decline of morals, of the young or the not-so-young, in the United Kingdom. Robert Bork once wrote that America is slouching toward Gomorrah. If the United Kingdom sought to pursue the moral standards of Gomorrah and its sister city Sodom, it would be an upward move. These two ancient conurbations of sin are veritable Cities Set Upon Hills compared to the morality of Sceptred Isle.

But what of the possibility of an actual causal link between Engel and moral decline? This raises a couple of related questions. First, did the removal of the content have an effect? What was the nature of that content in 1962?

We first have to recognize that in 1962, prayer in school wasn’t particularly widespread across the United States. It was actually at its peak in the 1920s, though it had been ruled out in quite a few states before or shortly after the turn of the 20th century. Along with mandatory Bible reading, it was the subject of considerable litigation in the state courts, sometimes upheld and sometime overturned, based on state constitutions.

Even though it was patchy across the US, what was the content of prayer in schools in 1962? Let’s look at the prayer that was ruled unconstitutional in Engel. In New York, the following prayer had to be recited by a school official each day: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.” After Engel, that one sentence was no longer recited publicly at some point during the day. It that enough to send the nation into a moral tailspin?

I cannot count how many examples I’ve seen of charts, graphs, and tables marking the decline in morality since the Engel decision. The interesting thing is that they don’t chart back before 1962 to indicate trends already in the making and unchanged by Engel or its progeny. And of course they don’t demonstrate a direct causal link between the removal of a one-line prayer and the rise in violent crime, sexual promiscuity, music piracy, or whichever evil they are attempting to emphasize. Generally they are based upon the self-evident statement that such evils are what happens when God is removed from public schools. A little circular reasoning goes a long way.

I will finish by going to the heart of the matter. Did “we” (through Supreme Court justices appointed by three different Presidents before almost all of us were born) take prayer or God out of schools? I know I prayed in school long after Engel, which was decided two years before I was born.  Prayer is, after all, talking to God. And can anyone remove God from a school or any place else? On the other hand, how many kids were actually praying when a teacher or principal recited “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country”? Or was it form over substance?  Can the acts of Supreme Court justices confer collective responsibility upon anyone, not to mention lives not yet in being?

In the UK, God is mentioned everywhere in school and He gets his own lessons, yet almost no one acknowledges Him. In the US, He is not officially mentioned and churches (other than liberal Protestant denominations) continue to grow. He is more openly acknowledged in the media and in politics than in 1962. There are more open visible followers of Jesus amongst young people in America than ever before. In trying to make a connection between the virtually symbolic act of removing prayer from schools and the abundance of sin, there has been ignorance of the fact that grace has much more abounded.

Would it be nice if we returned to the practice of a content-free, one sentence, ecumenical prayer in public schools each day? Perhaps. Is it going to stem the dishonesty, violence, fornication, or whatever other ills we identify in our young people or in our society? No. That takes real prayer. That takes changed hearts and changed lives.

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The Impossible DREAM

It appears there will be a token vote, perhaps as soon as tomorrow in the House of Representatives, on the frequently defeated Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act before the end of the lame duck session of Congress. I don’t know if the House has the votes, but the Senate won’t get past a cloture vote, so it’s a moot point.

Nonetheless, it’s litmus test time again.  Time to pull out all the talking points and treat them with the sacredness of Holy Scripture. It’s “amnesty by the back door,” “amnesty by the front door,” “amnesty by climbing in through the window,” etc. I just wish Holy Scripture was treated with the same sacredness.

The DREAM Act would allow children who were brought to the United States by undocumented parents to walk a narrow path to conditional permanent residency and eventually to full permanent resident status. Applying criteria we would never think of applying to those who providentially arrived on the planet north of the Rio Grande – especially if their parents were also so blessed in their own arrival – a few people will received a few opportunties they wouldn’t otherwise have. Of course the hitch is that the oppotunities will completely transform their lives. If there’s one thing we don’t like, it is people having their lives transformed when they don’t deserve it.

Other than the possibility of living out of the shadows and fringes of society, one of the aspects that irks opponents is the possibility that those for whom the DREAM Act is intended will be considered eligible for in-state college tuition. More than one commentator has asked why these people should get the benefit of resident fees when American citizen students from other states don’t. It could be because they are from out of state and aren’t  in the state for other the educational purposes. That’s the usual criteria. But this is a matter that will be decided by the individual states, or even the individual institutions or university systems, depending on how individual states have chosen to operate that decision making process.

One of the more outrageous comments I heard in opposition to the DREAM Act was that it was like letting the children of bank robbers benefit from the proceeds of their parents’ crime. However, this comment highlights a serious misconception that a lot of people seem to have. Legal residency isn’t a property right. Even citizenship is not a property right. It is not a possession. It is a legal status. There isn’t a big citizenship pie which can only be cut into so many pieces, so that only so many people can have some. If that were the case, we would need to consider imposing Chinese-style limits on the number children allowed in each family.

Undocumented aliens haven’t stolen anything by being undocumented. They haven’t stolen safety from drug lords and corrupt government officials. They haven’t stolen the possibility to work for food and shelter. They haven’t stolen the fear of detection that could lead them to being sent back to a place of danger and poverty. Were the DREAM Act to become law, they wouldn’t be stealing a chance at legal residency.

Status is an interesting thing. I was reading yesterday about the changes in the pecking order at Court due to the introduction of Kate Middleton into the British Royal Family. Particularly amongst the ladies, princesses mostly, there seems to be a great deal of concern as to who will now have to curtsey to whom and under what conditions, chiefly revolving around whose husband is in the room at the time. It is easy to look down our egalitarian noses at such nonsense.

But are we anything from outraged to at least a bit irritated that undocumented aliens, whether adults or children, would acquire a status, whether permanent residency or even citizenship, to which they are not entitled? Yet status is something about which the Bible reveals God is very interested. It also uses the analogy of robbery:

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

So how do we filter our attitude toward undocumented residents through Philippians 2? Is it useful only in “spiritual matters” or how we treat each other in church? Is this one of those areas where our Christianity and our politics need not meet? Do we bifurcate our responsibilities as a Christian with our responsibilities as a member of the body politic? Are we willing to wash the feet of our undocumented brother and then ring up ICE to pick him up and deport him?

But say it’s nothing to do with Jesus. (Say it at your own peril, but say it nonetheless.) Let’s say it’s just economics. Won’t passage of the DREAM Act lead to all these barely-legal aliens flooding our state colleges and universities, taking away places from natural born (and even those despised anchor baby) citizens? And since they tend to be poorer than rightful Americans, won’t they then be stealing all the financial aid?

I suppose there is an argument to be made for keeping an uneducated social and legal underclass in America. After all, they aren’t going anywhere. Despite all the calls for rounding up every undocumented resident and shipping them to the nearest international bridge and forcing them to walk across at gunpoint, logistically it isn’t going to happen, regardless of which political party is making policy. Likewise, they are not going to voluntarily “go back” to a country most haven’t seen since early childhood. And there are all those necessary jobs that just wouldn’t exist within the constraints of exisiting labor laws, so if we let all these people become legal, who will do the work beneath the dignity of most citizens?

One of the arguments made against the DREAM Act by people like William Gheen of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC is that by allowing the narrow group of qualifying individuals (not that ALIPAC would ever characterize them in such a way) to obtain permanent resident status, they will then be able to bring more relatives into the US legally. But I thought that was what they wanted in the first place: legal immigrants. Thus they expose their agenda, which is really about keeping immigrants out altogether.

Here’s what Gheen said on FoxNews about the beneficiaries of the DREAM Act: “If these illegal aliens, millions of them, are turned into citizens, what it’s gonna do, it’s gonna displace and replace millions of innocent American college students; it’s gonna displace and replace millions, perhaps tens of millions, of American workers; it’s gonna displace and replace millions, eventually, as you said, tens of millions of American voters.”

The best estimates seem to indicate that there are about 65,000 undocumented students graduating from US high schools each year. So we’ve gone from millions to thousands. But graduating from high school isn’t enough. The DREAM Act requires them to also get at least an associate’s degree, complete two years toward a bachelor’s degree, or serve two years in the military during six years of conditional residency. They are ineligible to receive federal financial aid toward their education. They must also keep their nose clean. If they do all that, they are eligible for permanent residency – LPR status with what is commonly called a green card (though the card itself is not green). Permanent residency petitions normally take in excess of a year to process, so really they are looking at seven years of conditional reisidency. LPRs, who must also stay crime-free to maintain their status, become eligible for citizenship after five years. So yes, it is possible for several thousand college-educated or veteran children of illegal immigrants to become citizens after a twelve-year process.

So in reality, the number of students are a drop in the ocean of higher education in the US, where there are over 19 million enrolled. Yes, they will eventually join the job market competing for jobs, but it will be hard to “displace and replace” millions of workers with a few thousand immigrants.

How they are going “displace and replace” voters, I have no clue. As far as I’m aware, there is no competition for the eligibility to vote. A 30-year-old veteran of the US military who was born in Mexico showing up at a polling station will not force election officials to tell a Son of the American Revolution, “Sorry, but you are no longer allowed to vote, as we have to let this new citizen vote, since he got his citizenship under the DREAM Act.” What utter nonsense.

The last bit of nonsense that needs to be addressed is the objection raised by a number of opponents, namely, that we need comprehensive immigration reform rather than a piecemeal approach. If there was any real will in the Republican Party for any sort of immigration reform, this might have a shread of credibility. The only immigration reform desired by most non-Hispanic Republicans is to build the wall higher with enough guns pointed to Mexico to stop new arrivals combined with more aggressive efforts to flush out undocumented immigrants domiciled in the US. The DREAM Act will be rejected now and forever because it does not fit this agenda.

Yet, I can’t get Philippians 2 out of my mind.

The Decline and Fall of the English Language

I was going to blog last month about how a BBC2 documentary found that 80% of Britons cannot recite a single verse of poetry. This is not helped by the fact 58% pupils never study poetry in school. Not a line. The ones who do read Carol Ann Duffy, the Scottish lesbian who was just named the new Poet Laureate. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with Miss Duffy’s poetry, but reading a single living poet does not constitute a sufficient literary education.

Like I said, I was going to blog about it, but I’d just be whinging once again about the state of education in this country. Then yesterday I was having a conversation with a couple of 14-year-olds. It start with me telling off one of them for using a participle that is an inappropriate term derived from an innocuous noun. He had no idea what a participle is. Okay, that’s not a big surprise. I probably didn’t learn about participles until at least the 9th grade, maybe even the 10th.

The disturbing thing is that neither he nor his friend knew what a noun is. This is something I learned well before the 5th grade, because by then we were parsing sentences. Now with the average 14-year-old, I have trouble getting them to write in sentences. I had a 16-year-old who handed in an entire 1500-word coursework without using a single mark of punctuation. I’m not exaggerating. But back to the boys in Year 9. . .

They had heard the term “noun” before. They just couldn’t agree on what it was. One of them thought it was a “doing” word. The other thought it was a “describing” word. He contended it couldn’t be a “doing” word, because that was an adverb.  These were not pupils in the bottom English set. They were not pupils with special educational needs. Because I was teaching a mixed-ability group, there was a top-set girl who actually knew that a noun was a “naming” word.

No poetry, no grammar. Is it the end of the English language or the end of civilisation?

One thinks of Eliot. . .

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends

No, wait. That would be trite  to anyone who has seen this over-used reference to Eliot.  And on the other hand, clearly it would be lost upon anyone with a secondary education in Britain in the last decade. I believe the general response would be, “T. S. who?”

Rick Perry, Texas and Secession

I love that Texas Governor Rick Perry has stirred the liberal hornets’ nest over whether or not he said things supporting Texas’ right to secede from the Union. He is now saying that his comments were misinterpreted. What a shame. I thought the way the TEA Party crowd in Austin understood them was perfectly good. I say this realising that supporting Texas puts me on the Potential Terrorist List with Homeland Security. But then again, I suppose Rick Perry will have to be on the list for saying, “States’ Rights! States’ Rights! States’ Rights!” so I suppose I’m in good company.

Things didn’t work out so well the last time Texas seceded. Maybe it was because they were held back by all the other Confederate states. When that didn’t go to plan, I had relatives who moved to Cuernavaca rather than live under oppression from Washington.

I have enjoyed all the rantings in the comments to the CNN articles. Being the Commie News Network, it attracts a lot of lefties shrieking about treason. And then the silly comments like ” You can deal with Mexico on your own, as it will then be your neighbor and your problem – not ours” – yeah, because California doesn’t have a problem with illegal aliens and no one has ever trafficked into Arizona.

Or “Please separate from us. As a teacher, I am looking for creative ways to bring up our national average in education. Please leave by all means.” I wonder where that teacher lives and works. Maybe in California, which ranks 22 places lower in Moran Quintos “Smartest State” rankings. In fact Texas ranks above all of the enlightened Left Coast states. It also graduates a higher percentage from high school than all of them.

Then there was “We can pick up Cuba or PR to replace Texas so that we don’t have to change the flag.” Yes, it would be better to absorb a Communist country than have Texans who don’t believe in the dominance of central government. After all, Obama is lifting all the restrictions with Cuba and Castro has responded by saying he is willing to talk with the US about anything as long as it is on equal terms.  So it won’t be absorbed, but it is willing to be an equal partner. I’m sure Cuba is a model for the Obama administration – not just free health care, but government intimately caring about the lives of every individual. If Texas misses out on an opportunity like this, it will put Texas in the 2010’s and the rest of the US in the 1950’s.

If Texas can’t secede, then it should invoke it’s power in the Treaty of Annexation to divide into five states. That would give it ten US Senators and control over 18.5% of the Senate. This wouldn’t have an immediate effect, because the Democrats currently effectively control 58 seats and will probably have 59 when Al Franken is admitted. Eight added Republican seats would only give the Republican 49 of 108, but a 49/59 split is easier to overcome than a 41/59.

Professional Secrecy

I didn’t blog last week about Alex Dolan, when she was suspended by the General Teaching Council for undercover filming in schools. The footage was shown on the Channel 4 investigative program Dispatches and actually brought the state of Britain’s schools into the open. She showed very bad behaviour in four different schools, including teachers hiding badly behaved pupils from Ofsted inspectors, and pupils openly threatening violence against her. She revealed that the education emperor has no clothes and the GTC did not take kindly to being exposed.

This week it is the turn of Margaret Haywood, who filmed the neglect of elder patients in a hospital for Panorama, the BBC investigative program. Even though all the patients gave consent after they were filmed, she was charged with breaching confidentiality and struck off the nursing register. Because she was too concerned about patient care, she was declared no longer fit to be a nurse.

I’m also reminded of the cops who beat up newsagent Ian Tomlinson from behind as he walked down the street with his hands in his pockets during the G20 summit. Tomlinson later died. Apparently the balaclavas over their faces are part of their uniform to protect them from fire, but they are still supposed to wear their identification number. Their numbers were not visible, so it took a while to identify them from the video footage.

Is it any wonder that three of the areas of public service people know aren’t working are education, nursing and law enforcement?

Children and Society: Cause and Effect

Some people on Facebook seemed surprised recently at my willingness to return to what has now become the Obamanation. Though this is not possible for a number of reasons, the newspapers continue to be filled with good reasons flee. I continue to marvel at the British Government’s lack of ability to discern the relationship between cause and effect, instead destroying the remnants of this society, completely baffled by both.

Side by side today in the Mail Online, were a stories about a 14-year-old and an 8-year-old. The older boy shot a teacher in the face with a pellet gun at Beal High School in Ilford, Essex. He got a 15-day suspension. His friends who helped conceal the gun after the incident got shorter suspensions. The teacher was lucky to have been hit between the eyes and not in one of them.

While I agree with the spokeman from the National Union of Teachers that children who use violence against teachers should be expelled rather than suspended, this is the same union that wants all faith schools in the country to be stripped of everything that makes them unique, better performing, and over-subscribed.

The 8-year-old refused to get ready for school on morning. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to go to school, but just because he got up late and was not doing as he was told. His mother smacked him with a hairbrush. A teacher found out. The mother was charged with assault and the boy taken into care by Somerset County Council. She now gets to see him for two hours a week. His long-term future will be determined when she is sentenced later this month.

The court will have to hear from social services whether they think the mother has been re-educated sufficiently to know that even though the law allows for “reasonable chastisement”, social workers are ultimately the interpreters of this language. If they like you, you get your child back. If they don’t, they can (and will, from countless stories in the press) permanently sever the parental relationship. Once an appeals court finally says that bureaucrats have over-stepped the mark, they may also say that unfortunately it’s too late for parents to have their children back.

Parents can’t discipline their children and schools are faced with increasing numbers of children who cannot be controlled at home and no power to control them at school.

Success is Failure in British Education

For the first time ever, a grammar school has failed an inspection. For those unfamiliar with British education, grammar schools are selective schools. Prospective pupils have to pass an entrance exam known as the 11-plus. Where they use to be commonplace, there are now only 168 remaining in England. In most places in the state sector there are only non-selective comprehensive schools.

So how did Stretford Grammar School fail inspection? Was it the location in a highly disadvantaged area? The 30% of pupils for whom English is a second language? After all, if the national average of good GCSE grades  (A*- C) when English and maths are included is 47%, how poorly must Stretford Grammar have been doing to have failed and threatened with closure unless the turn things around? I’ll tell you how poorly: 92% at grades A*-C. Nearly twice the national average.

So what did Ofsted find wrong with Stretford Grammar?

“These include the good personal development and well-being of pupils, the positive attitudes found among students, good attendance and behaviour, the feeling of safety and security in the school, positive pupil/teacher relationships, high staff morale and the good teaching and learning in the sixth form.” Oh, wait, sorry. Those were more of the good points.

So what was wrong with Stretford Grammar?

Lacklustre teaching. The inspectors didn’t like the teaching styles. They couldn’t tick the right boxes concerning what makes a good lesson. Oh, and girls weren’t making enough progress. This is surprising, because everywhere else the problem is that boys are underachieving. In other words, Stretford managed what other schools don’t.

So in case you were wondering, this is what a failing school looks like.