Friday, January 20, 2012

Pagan woman challenges Bibles in North Carolina school

The mythical "separation of church and state" requirement again

A pagan mother's challenge to the distribution of donated Bibles at a local school has prompted the Buncombe County Board of Education to reevaluate its policies regarding religious texts.

Ginger Strivelli, who practices Wicca, said she was upset when her 12-year-old son came home from North Windy Ridge intermediate school with a Bible. The Gideons International had delivered several boxes of the sacred books to the school office. The staff allowed interested students to stop by and pick them up.

"Schools should not be giving out one religion's materials and not others," Strivelli said. According to Strivelli, the principal assured her the school would make available religious texts donated by any group. But when Strivelli showed up at the school with pagan spell books, she was turned away.

"Buncombe County School officials are currently reviewing relevant policies and practices with school board attorneys," the district announced in a written statement. "During this review period, no school in the system will be accepting donations of materials that could be viewed as advocating a particular religion or belief."

The school board is expected to address the issue at its next meeting Feb. 2. According to legal experts, the First Amendment gives public schools two clear choices when it comes to the distribution of religious texts.

"You can either open your public school up to all religious material, or you can say no religious material," Michael Broyde, a professor and senior fellow at Emory University's Center for the Study of Law and Religion said. "You can't say, 'You can distribute religious material, but only from the good mainstream faiths.'"

Preventing government from favoring or restricting any one religion may have helped the U.S. avoid the bloodshed experienced in some other Western nations, such as Germany and Ireland, according to Broyde.

"America runs a grand, noble experiment in religious diversity without violence," he said. "There's no killing of the Jews. There's no Catholic-Protestant violence. We are very successful in this grand experiment."

Traditionally, that "grand experiment" has involved Judaism and a handful of Christian denominations. But as non-traditional faiths spread into new communities, longstanding customs such as prayer, Christmas plays and Bibles that once went unquestioned in public schools are finding themselves under increased scrutiny.

"Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, not on Wiccan principles," Bobby Honeycutt, who attended public schools in Weaverville during the 1970s, said. "Our children have access to more non-Christian print material in the libraries and online than they really do Christian stuff," he said.

While many Weaverville Christians see recent events as a threat to tradition, others see a purpose in enforcing church-state separation in public schools, because even the nation's traditional faiths have divisions.

"Many Christians have stood up and said they agree with me too," Strivelli said. "Because, as much as they may like the Bible, they don't want Jehovah's Witnesses coming in with Watch Tower (magazines) or Catholics coming in and having them pray the Rosary."


More Grammar (selective) schools would put Britain in the Premier League

In Britain, you can be too clever by half, but there is no such thing as too sporty by half

Is Stephen Twigg out of his tree? The shadow education secretary is trying to get Liberal Democrat MPs to join Labour in fighting a change in national admission rules which gives English grammar schools the freedom to take more pupils. Twigg claims the plan will “expand academic selection by the back door”. Disgraceful! I mean, what have grammar schools ever done for Britain?

Er, unleashed the potential of the most meritocratic generation in our history? Yeah, but what else?

Supplied a rigorous education enabling children from modest backgrounds to compete with offspring of the wealthy for university places, thus breaching bastions of hereditary privilege and creating a more diverse group of people at the top of society?

Yeah, OK, but who wants more evil and socially divisive grammar school places?

There are currently about 12 applicants for each of the 158,000 grammar school places. At Wallington in Surrey, police were called to maintain order at an entrance exam when nearly 1,500 pupils battled for 126 places. No wonder. In 2007, grammar schools outperformed private and public schools in exams for the first time, and have kept outperforming their rivals.

Parents will lie, move house, bankrupt themselves with tutors and even engage in high-class prostitution to get their child a precious grammar place. Yet such is the ideological myopia of Mr Twigg and his fellow zealots that selection, even when it is proven to offer the only chance of social mobility, is deemed to be the enemy of something they hilariously call fairness.

Well, the other day I met a child who is going through the most brutal form of selective education imaginable. Matthew is 15 and he wants to be a professional footballer. At nine, Matt was spotted by a London club and was given a scholarship place at their Academy. Getting in, which was ferociously hard, turned out to be the easy bit. Competition within the Academy is relentless. Of the 150 aspiring youngsters, maybe only two will make the final cut. When Matt’s team travels abroad it is accompanied by coaches who spot future stars among dirt‑poor street kids. Matt is not only competing in the Academy against his British peers but the very best boys from Europe and Latin America.

It’s hideously pressurised and the prospects of achieving the ultimate goal are slim. Matt loves it. Piglet in clover. I have never met a happier teenager.

Now let’s imagine another boy or girl like Matthew. This child is also from a working-class background, but with a brain as nimble and special as Matt’s right foot. She or he is the stand-out pupil at junior school. Given the right training, their brain has the potential to do something spectacular, but it can’t be singled out from the rest. He or she will not be stimulated by the ability of other similarly talented kids in an institution dedicated to nurturing the professors or inventors of the future.

For, verily, it has been decreed that selection according to nimble feet or muscular arms or dancing grace or vocal ability is permissible and selection according to intelligence is wrong. In Britain, you can be too clever by half, but there is no such thing as too sporty by half. Unthinkable, isn’t it?

You may have noticed that, as a result of these contrasting ethos – Darwinian selection in soccer, denial of the fittest in schools – we have tumbled down the international Premier League table to 17th in reading and 24th in maths, but are rather good at football. If school was a football club, it would be time to call in Martin O’Neill (himself the brilliant product of one of Northern Ireland’s 69 grammar schools).

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the new head of Ofsted and, I very much hope, education’s answer to the Sunderland manager, said this week that more than a million youngsters are trapped in “coasting” schools. Coasting schools are to good schools what Billericay Five A Side is to Manchester United. Sir Michael is abolishing Ofsted’s “Satisfactory” rating, beneath whose euphemistic cloak has been hidden all manner of shocking failure. Let me clarify. Schools rated Outstanding by Ofsted are generally pretty good, though an astonishing 53 per cent of those schools achieved that rating without being outstanding in teaching and learning. What are they brilliant at, then – recycling? Knifelessness? Schools rated Good by Ofsted are usually not too bad and as for Satisfactory schools, well, carry a pepper spray. In an age of slippery, relative standards, grammar schools remain a rock of excellence.

Still, Stephen Twigg is right about one thing. There should be no more academic selection by the back door. Too right. Let there be selection by the front door. We should send out search parties to liberate every bright kid trapped in a “satisfactory” school.

Recently, in BBC4’s The Grammar School: A Secret History, Michael Portillo, the son of a Spanish immigrant, recalled a reunion at his alma mater, the fiercely competitive Harrow County School for Boys. Sadly, one old boy was unable to attend, but at least he had a good excuse. Paul Nurse was in Sweden collecting the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Raised in Wembley by his grandparents – granddad was a mechanic at the Heinz factory, nanna a cleaner – Sir Paul is a prime example of what selective education can do for a child’s life chances.

Is there a small boy in 2012 living in a poor home who is going to grow up to be President of the Royal Society and a Nobel Laureate? Without a grammar school education to drive him on and make him take those difficult science A levels, there’s not a hope in hell.

There is, however, one chance for that boy to go to a place of fierce competition and unapologetic excellence. If, that is, he is gifted and talented. With a ball.


Israel's Post-Zionist Education Ministry

One of the declared goals of the Netanyahu government is to ensure that Israeli schoolchildren receive a strong Zionist education. To this end, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appointed Gideon Sa'ar as his education minister.

Sa'ar has long distinguished himself as a critic of post-Zionist initiatives to transform Israel's educational curriculum from a Zionist curriculum which in accordance with the Education Law of 1953 is charged with inculcating school children with "the values of Jewish culture," "love of the homeland," and "loyalty to the Jewish state," into one that indoctrinates Israel's youth to adopt a post-nationalist, universalist perspective that does not value Jewish nationalism and rejects patriotism as atavistic and even racist.

In light of the importance that the government has placed on Zionist education, it is quite shocking that under Sa'ar, the Education Ministry approved a new citizenship textbook for high school students that embraces the post- Zionist narrative.

This fall, the new textbook, Setting off on the path to citizenship: Israel - society, state and its citizens (Yotzim l'derech ezrachit: Yisrael - hevra, medina v'ezracheya) was introduced into the state's official citizenship curriculum. In everything from its discussion of the War of Independence, to globalization and transnational institutions, to Israeli politics, to the peace process, to Israel's constitutional debate, to Operation Cast Lead, the textbook adopts positions that are post-Zionist and even anti-Zionist. It champions these positions while denying students the basic facts necessary to make informed decisions on how they relate to their country, their people and their rights and duties as citizens.

In a letter to Sa'ar written on October 4, 2011, Bar-Ilan University law professor Gideon Sapir set out four ways the textbook distorts history and reality. First, in its discussion of the historical background of Israel's founding, the book gives only passing mention to the international legal foundation of the state - the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine from 1922. The Mandate called for the reconstitution of the Jewish commonwealth in the land of Israel. It granted sovereignty to the Jewish state over all the territory that today makes up Israel, Judea, Samaria and Jordan.

The textbook provides no map of the Mandate.

Instead it suffices with a map of the UN's 1947 partition plan, a map of the territory controlled by the Jewish forces before the establishment of the state, and a map of the 1949 armistice lines.

Sapir explained, "In the absence of the map of the Mandate, the '49 map, (i.e. "1967 borders"), is presented as Israel's maximal legitimate borders, (with the alternative borders being the partition map."

Second, Sapir noted that the book's explanation of Israel's constitutional foundations present the so-called "constitutional revolution" of the 1990s as utterly uncontroversial. Through the "constitutional revolution," the Supreme Court effectively seized the Knesset's legislative powers. And as Sapir notes, it justified the move through a distorted interpretation of laws "reading into them rights that were specifically removed from them by the Knesset."

In hiding the controversy surrounding the "constitutional revolution," the textbook denies students the ability to understand current events. Without awareness of the controversy, students emerge from high school with no ability to understand the current fight between the court and the Knesset regarding the separation of powers.

As Sapir notes, the textbook demonizes the political Right generally and in Israel in particular. While just last month Labor politicians and leftist commentators called for the government to deny due process rights to right-wing protesters, Setting off on the path to citizenship presents political violence as the sole province of the political Right. So, too, while the book claims the Left has a monopoly on human rights, it tells students that "nationalistic chauvinism is identified with the rightist character."

After being told such a thing, how can a good, enlightened high school student wish to be identified with the largest political camp in Israel? Indeed, how can he accept that such a political camp has a right to participate in Israeli "democracy"?

Finally, Prof. Sapir mentions that the chapter on the peace process between Israel and its neighbors blames Israel for the absence of peace. The chapter begins a discussion of prospects for peace after the 1967 Six Day War. In so doing, it places the responsibility for the absence of peace on Israel which, it claims, blocks peace by refusing to give Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to the Palestinians and the Golan Heights to Syria.

The book paints sympathetic portraits of the Syrian regime, ignores then-prime minister Ehud Barak's offer to relinquish the Golan Heights for peace, and makes no mention of repeated statements by Arab leaders calling for the destruction of Israel and denying Israel's right to exist.

Aside from the points raised by Prof. Sapir, the book also criticizes Israel for not fully embracing the post-nationalist world order represented by the UN. It criticizes Israel for rejecting the legitimacy of the International Court of Justice's nonbinding legal opinion from 2004 regarding the security barrier. At the same time, it makes no mention of the fact that the ICJ's opinion denied Israel's right to self-defense and that the judges themselves included outspoken haters of Israel.

So, too, in attacking Israel for not embracing the UN as the arbiter of issues of war and peace, by among other things, refusing to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission after Operation Cast Lead, the textbook makes no mention of the UN's anti-Israel agenda which it advances through every organ of the institution. High school students who study from this textbook are not told about the UN's diplomatic orgy of anti-Semitism at Durban in 2001 in which Israel was singled out as the most racist, illegitimate evil state on the planet. They are not told of the UN General Assembly's insidious 1975 resolution defining Zionism - the Jewish national liberation movement - as a form of racism.

All of this actually makes sense. Because the textbook itself claims that the Jewish people are a religious group, not a nation. In a teaching note, the textbook recommends "explaining to the students that Judaism in its original meaning is a religion. The Zionist movement transformed the term, 'Judaism,' into a nation."

This shocking assertion, which channels the PLO's genocidal, anti-Semitic charter while ignoring 3,500 years of Jewish history, is par for the course for the textbook introduced into Israel's high schools under the Netanyahu government.

THE QUESTION OF how this book was approved was the subject of an in-depth investigative report written by Gil Bringer and published in Makor Rishon on December 9, 2011. In a nutshell, the story is yet another chapter in the well-known tale in which leftist politicians working hand in glove with leftist academics and leftist media, install leftist political activists in permanent, "professional" positions within the state bureaucracy in order to enable their radical policies to outlive their time in office.


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