Friday, December 29, 2006


What could possibly be the connection between school desegregation and the mystifying phrase "Bong Hits 4 Jesus"? Something critically important, it turns out. Both have spurred legal battles that have risen to the U.S. Supreme Court, and both demonstrate that a public school system that demands everyone's support but can only reflect some people's values will inevitably lead to conflict.

Earlier this month, the court heard arguments on school integration cases from Louisville and Seattle in which plaintiffs challenge enrollment policies that consider race in deciding who can attend specific public schools. In Jefferson County, Ky., which contains Louisville, parents are allowed to choose among many district schools, but no school's enrollment can be less than 15% or more than 50% African American. The result: Students have been denied admission to the schools of their choice on the basis of their race.

Seattle's system was similar, considering race in determining who could attend high schools to which more students applied than could be accommodated. (The district suspended use of race when it was challenged in 2001.) If a child's race would have gotten a school closer to an enrollment mix of 40% white and 60% minority -- roughly the district's overall complexion -- the child got an admissions advantage.

The desire to promote integration and diversity is laudable. Indeed, because Seattle and Jefferson County public schools are government entities, they have an obligation to ensure that benefits are distributed equally. But that's also the biggest failure of their integration plans. Rather than letting all parents choose the best schools for their children, the districts have kept kids out of good schools because of their race. As Louisville mother Tamila Glenn, whose son was forced to change schools between kindergarten and first grade, put it: "It's like saying, 'You can only play with these people because you have too many black friends,' " when you talk to your child.

So how does the bong hits case, which the court recently agreed to hear, pit irreconcilable values against each other as the integration controversies do? It goes back to January 2002, when Juneau-Douglas High School student Joseph Frederick held up a sign emblazoned with "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" as the Olympic torch passed through Juneau, Alaska. Frederick refused to put the sign down when Principal Deborah Morse ordered him to, so Morse suspended him, asserting that she could not allow a student to encourage illegal drug use and defy her instructions. Because citizens have a right to expect that the schools for which they pay won't permit behavior that disrupts learning, or promotes illegal activity, Morse did what she had to. But then there are those pesky competing values again: While districts must maintain order, government may not punish speech just because some people find it inappropriate.

"We thought we had a free-speech right to display a humorous saying," Frederick has explained. Unfortunately, while Frederick's sign might have been unique (though not, frankly, all that funny), neither the fight over it, nor the Seattle and Louisville cases, is the least bit novel. The sad reality is that public schooling forces Americans to fight constant, values-laden battles not just over race or free speech, but a myriad of other issues as well, including sex education, religious expression, homosexuality, evolution, and so on. The Christmas season sparks some of the fiercest battles of all. These conflicts are inevitable: No school can simultaneously respect all speech and censor disruptive expression; engineer integration and be colorblind; celebrate Christmas and be totally secular, and so on. As a result, citizens have no choice but to engage in political combat to get what they want from the schools they are forced to fund.

Thankfully, since these battles have a common cause, they also have a common solution: unfettered school choice, in which the public ensures that everyone can afford an education, but individual parents and autonomous schools decide what values they'll embrace. Want a racially diverse student body, as many parents, both black and white, do? Pick a school that has one. Not fond of kids talking up bongs? Choose a private institution where children check their speech rights at the door. Want to end the fighting? Let parents select the schools they like, and the underlying cause of combat will disappear.

Whether it's an issue as contentious as race, or as strange as a kid's sign about bongs, public education is beset by constant political warfare. But it doesn't have to be. All we need to do is set people free.


Australian government tackles Islamic bigotry in schools

The Howard Government is to roll out a pilot program in schools in Muslim areas of western Sydney that will address the compatibility of Islamic and Australian values and the wearing of religious attire, including headscarves. The $1 million federally funded three-year program to improve understanding of other faiths and cultures will be run at schools in the suburbs of Lakemba, which has a large Muslim population, and Macquarie Fields, the site of youth riots last year. The move comes amid broader efforts to reshape Australia's ethnic affairs policies to put a greater emphasis on integration and English-language skills.

The pilot, which will run in up to 16 schools, aims to "reduce isolation and alienation felt by some students" and to "support Australian Muslims to participate successfully in the broader Australian society", according to a government-issued request for tenders to establish and manage the program. Education Minister Julie Bishop said the pilot, to be rolled out next year, would investigate the "challenges facing students in a range of school environments, and will seek to establish best practice which will help us to further encourage tolerance and social cohesion through school education". "It is important to help all Australian schools educate our children about values which support our democratic way of life and our capacity to live in harmony with each other, regardless of individuals' circumstances, backgrounds or beliefs," she said.

But some Islamic community leaders said they were concerned that some of the material being developed for the pilot could create negative sentiment about Muslim students wearing headscarves and other religious attire. Controversy about the wearing of headscarves by young girls has raged throughout Europe since the France banned public school students from wearing them in 2004. Belgium adopted a similar ban and Germany and Denmark banned public school teachers from wearing them. In October, the debate flared when British Prime Minister Tony Blair described full-face veils as a "mark of separation". Several Liberal MPs have indicated they support banning headscarves in local schools.

Material being developed for the pilot includes questions about whether religious/cultural attire creates challenges in schools. The material developed for the pilot must also "identify a series of challenges faced by Muslims and non-Muslims in schools, i.e. the compatibility of Islamic values with Australian values and cultures ... gender relation issues and cultural/religious attire," the request for tender said.

Islamic Friendship Association spokesman Keysar Trad, who is based in the Lakemba area, said he was concerned that debate about religious attire would be reignited as a result of the pilot. "I am worried that this could result in greater fears rather than something constructive or positive -- the last thing we need is to reinvent the wheel when it comes to religious attire in schools." Ameer Ali, former chair of the Prime Minister's hand-picked Muslim Reference Group, said the program should have pilots in each state rather than just in Lakemba and Macquarie Fields.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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