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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
April 1, 1996
Vol. 53
No. 7

Overview / Hopeful Signs

      Most educators know Robert Simonds as the man who has inspired thousands of conservative Christians to run for local boards of education. The president of Citizens for Excellence in Education, Simonds wields considerable influence among traditionalists with his political action kits and his newsletter, which both reflect and provoke parent opposition to many current school reforms.
      Simonds' writing has frequently been considered inflammatory and divisive by educators, but his organization recently signed a statement, also endorsed by ASCD and 18 other groups, that calls for civil resolution of disputes without name-calling and personal attacks. Although he continues to have strong convictions, he is making a determined effort to build bridges, knowing that in doing so he risks disappointing his readers.
      Simonds' quest for reconciliation rather than confrontation is in harmony with the work of Charles Haynes (p. 72), who is leading a campaign to clarify the place of religion in American public schools. Haynes wants educators, concerned that even the mention of religion may stir controversy, to know that legal authorities are firmly agreed on about 95 percent of the issues surrounding this topic. Though scholars will continue to debate exactly what the founders meant by "establishment of religion," they are in accord that public school teachers and principals may not promote particular religious beliefs or practices—but also that they must not unreasonably inhibit religious expression.
      Conflicts over religion in American public schools are not new; arguments over music at Christmas, saluting the flag, and the wearing of religious symbols have occupied parents, educators, and their lawyers for years. Recently, though, many of the most contentious disputes have arisen from traditionalists' concerns about the secular nature of current public schools. Through The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, Haynes has begun to help resolve such disputes using a process he calls "finding common ground." Local community groups discuss religion-related issues, such as whether to teach creationism in biology classes, in the context of the legal framework of the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.
      Can such a process contribute to better communication on matters that are equally divisive but that do not involve religion? Charles Haynes is confident that it can, and the experience of educators like Jan Vondra (p. 76), who participated in the process in the Snowline, California, Public Schools, suggests he is right. Referring to the "3Rs" framework—rights, responsibility, respect—parents and school people in Snowline reached agreement on what to do about a program that had been the target of parent complaints.
      Of course, no single solution, no matter how effective, can address the myriad concerns that connect educators to families of the children they serve. Arnold Burron (p. 80), a traditionalist Christian and an associate of Bob Simonds, urges that school districts clarify respective responsibilities by defining more clearly both the rights of parents and the prerogatives of the school.
      Other authors in this issue suggest a more consensual approach. Margaret Meyer and her co-authors (p. 54) tell how staff members of the Mathematics in Context project and the Ames, Iowa, Community School District carefully assessed and then addressed parents' concerns as they implemented a new mathematics curriculum. In a very different setting—urban Chicago—Harvey Daniels reports that he and his colleagues have won parents' support for contemporary reforms by engaging them in the same kinds of activities their children do during the day, such as writing about their experiences.
      David Elkind (p. 4) notes that reaching out to students' homes is more important now than ever because of stresses on families in our postmodern society. Parents have less time and energy for children, and young people are less protected. Busy as they are, educators can help families cope with the forces that make parenting difficult and that have a powerful effect on children. That can happen only when there is trust and respect on both sides.
      Schools and families need one another. This issue shows that, despite the obstacles, they are finding ways to work together.

      Education writer and consultant Ron Brandt is the former editor of Educational Leadership and other publications of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

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