Thursday, May 10, 2018

On the 19th Anniversary of Columbine—Child Safety Accounts: Protecting Our Children with Freedom

Safety in schools has become of paramount concern to students and parents, especially on days like today, the nineteenth anniversary of the horrific Columbine school shooting. It’s not just school shootings causing this concern, however. It is the bullying, sexual harassment, and assaults many students deal with on a daily basis. With the rise of smartphones and social media, the bullying suffered at school can now follow children anywhere, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Parents of children with special needs or health issues also must have concerns about whether their child’s school is equipped to keep them safe.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent for the Atlantic, explained in a recent talk the struggles many students now face: “I grew up in West Baltimore... so when you went out into the world, you had to negotiate a different kind of logic, and that logic often had to do with making yourself safe. It wasn’t just enough to do X, Y, and Z in school, you had to always think about making yourself safe... I would say each day a third of my brain was dedicated to negotiating violence.”

When so much energy is spent on figuring out how to keep yourself safe just getting to school, you can imagine the sense of exhaustion setting in on a child even before they crack open their first book in the morning. No wonder then, after negotiating this violent maze day in and day out, that many students aren’t performing well in class. Scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, colloquially known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” continue to be stagnant, even though there has been a significant increase in recent decades in school funding and regulations passed in the name of creating better education outcomes.

School safety isn’t a problem for just a tiny minority of students anymore, either. Nearly 21 percent of all students ages 12 to 18 report being bullied at school. While that statistic represents important progress since 2005, when 28 percent of middle- and high-school students reported being bullied, it’s little consolation to the estimated 6.1 million students who are being bullied today.

Close to one-third (31 percent) of 6th grade students say they have been bullied, as well as 25 percent of 7th graders. Around one in five 8th, 9th, and 10th graders also report being bullied, along with 15 percent of high school juniors and seniors. Findings from the CDC indicate that the overall high-school bullying rate is 20 percent.

Students should not have to wait years at a time or become victims of violent crime before their parents are allowed to transfer them to safer schools. That is why the Heartland Institute is currently working on a proposal for states to create a Child Safety Account (CSA) program that would allow parents to immediately have their child moved to a safe school—be it private, parochial, or a different public school—as soon as they feel the public school their child is currently attending is dangerous to his or her physical or emotional health.

The Florida Legislature recently recognized the issue of bullying and violence against children in schools. To solve this issue, they passed the Hope Scholarship, allowing students who are victims of bullying and other violence to choose another school within their district, outside of district boundaries, or a private school. This bill became law this March, receiving strong approval in both the state’s House and Senate.

Parents worry about the safety of their children at school just as much as their children do, if not more so. Unfortunately, as it currently stands, parents don’t have many options at their disposal to rectify the problem if they feel like their child’s school is an unsafe place for them. Unless they can afford to send their child to a private school or homeschool them, their child’s fate is determined by circumstance and an entrenched bureaucracy.

It shouldn’t be that way, and that is why CSA programs are so desperately needed. Heartland’s program would offer parents and their children a near-instantaneous solution to school violence by allowing parents to quickly and easily move their child to the school they determine to be the best and safest fit for them—whether that school be another public school, charter school, or private school. Even more importantly, it makes the parents themselves, not some disinterested bureaucrat, the final arbiter of whether or not the child’s school environment is an unsafe one for them.

Right now, thousands of students across America are frustrated, hurting, and dreading having to wake up in the morning and to spend a day in a place where they are poorly treated and possibly physically harmed. Their parents are hurting for them, worried about what the news from school is going to be each day and feeling exasperated and helpless because they think there is nothing they can do to help their child. That is why Child Safety Accounts or so desperately needed. There is no time to act like the present.


The Consequences of Historical Ignorance

America is suffering through a crisis in education, especially when it comes to history.

Many were horrified when a poll, released in April, showed that two-thirds of millennials don’t know what Auschwitz is, despite the fact that it was the most notorious Nazi death camp in World War II.

That was hardly the only worrisome poll of late.

Americans should be outraged that our schools have failed to teach even the most basic historical facts to the younger generations. Worse, the education they receive has often only turned into a justification for superficial social activism, lacking in depth and veracity.

David Hogg, the teen survivor of the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, who became a gun-control activist, exemplifies this worsening problem. He recently tweeted:

 Throughout history violence and war only creates more of itself for example WWI->WWII->Cold War ->Korean War->Vietnam and up to today. While nonviolent moments like Gandhi’s, the suffrage movement or Civil Rights movement lead to peace and long lasting change. Ours will too.

This is little more than bumper sticker history, demonstrative of Hogg’s historical illiteracy.

For one thing, it’s unlikely that Gandhi’s pacifism would have been of much use against the Nazi war machine. People willing to put other humans in ovens are unlikely to be moved by passionate pleas for peace.

It should be noted, too, that Hogg’s two examples of nonviolent movements succeeding—Gandhi’s Indian independence movement and the U.S. civil rights movement—were not exactly nonviolent.

The Partition of India was incredibly violent, and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of people. And the civil rights movement certainly wasn’t an entirely nonviolent affair, either. The rights of many black Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were secured almost entirely by gun ownership.

These so-called nonviolent movements occurred in countries with a tradition of respecting the rule of law and individual rights, giving them an actual chance to succeed through ballots instead of bullets.

In China, nonviolent student protests in the 1980s were crushed by the state—literally in the case of the Tiananmen Square protest. Historically, repression has been the norm, not the exception.

For Americans, the right to speak freely and protest was only secured because young men, mostly teenagers, were willing to take up arms—arms that Hogg and others have so relentlessly crusaded against—and risk their lives to fight for their God-given liberties against the British Crown.

At one time, every American would have known this and would have acknowledged the blood and suffering of the Revolution that secured our freedom and independence.

War is a terrible thing, but it is often just and necessary, and it has certainly served to stop tremendous evil in this world. To deny that is absurd.

Despite the clear gaps in his historical knowledge, Hogg hasn’t shied away from insulting the civic acumen of others and hectoring them. He once said, “Our parents don’t know how to use a f—ing democracy, so we have to.”

Not content to simply insult his parents’ generation, he then followed up in a later interview claiming that those who were against him were on the wrong side of history—a history that his generation would presumably be writing.

“Regardless of what your opinions are or where you come from, you need to realize we are the future of America,” Hogg said in an NPR interview. “And if you choose not to stand with us, that’s OK, because you’ll be on the wrong side of the history textbooks that we write.”

If that’s so, then future history textbooks will look more ideological and baseless than accurate portrayals of the historical record. But perhaps that’s because many current textbooks are, too.

Americans are free, regardless of their education or knowledge level, to use a public platform to espouse their views. At the same time, it’s hard to have a substantive and productive debate on the issues of the day when even the most basic facts of history are unknown to those doing the debating.

Platitudes begin to sound like profound insights when one has an extremely narrow view of history and world events.

It would be nice to see a little more humility from those who have such an incomplete understanding of that history.

Nevertheless, we have only ourselves to blame if we are not doing more to fix the increasingly deplorable state of American schools.

We must admit that the public school education model is failing our youths, despite how much money we’ve pumped into the system.

We should take it upon ourselves to improve our republic through better schools—perhaps charter schools, or even better, private schools funded by caring parents who increasingly can use vouchers or education savings accounts to escape the current institutions that have failed them.

Currently, many of our schools don’t meet even the basic requirements of what Americans need to be informed citizens. Worse, the education students are receiving, especially in civics, is heavily skewed toward left-wing politics.

As my wife, Inez Stepman, wrote for The Federalist:

If education reform is going to be about more than ticking up the United States’ score on international exams, and if school choice is also our only opportunity to break a left-wing ideological monopoly on public education, we must deliver meaningful, universal education choice to parents now, while Generation X parents are still the majority of those with school-age children.

We must give all parents the opportunity now to choose education options that align with their values, or the values we cherish will continue their slide into extinction.

Historical ignorance and cultural disintegration are only going to become more pronounced until we find a way to expand the net of education that works for the youngest generation.

School choice can no longer be treated as a back-burner issue.

Our future and our freedom depend on it.


Australia: School chaplain program's $247m budget extension rejected by teachers' union

The Australian Education Union has joined a chorus of secular groups in opposing the Coalition’s decision to extend the school chaplains program in the 2018 budget.

Tuesday’s budget confirmed the federal government will give $247m over four years to continue the controversial program, which places 3,000 chaplains recognised by religious groups in schools to provide pastoral care.

According to budget documents, the renewed program will have “an enhanced focus on addressing bullying in schools”.

Luke Howarth and dozens of other Coalition MPs have pushed to expand the program, despite warnings from the Rationalist Society of Australia that it “interferes with the right to religious freedom and involves religious discrimination in hiring decisions” because secular pastoral care workers cannot be hired.

The Australian Education Union president, Correna Haythorpe, said: “We do not support the chaplains program.

“Our schools need these funds to invest in programs such as school counsellors and student wellbeing programs in schools. We prefer to see that money invested in our schools more broadly.”

In March the education minister, Simon Birmingham, said he had received “representations from many, many schools around the country, arguing in favour of the continuation of that program”.

Alison Courtice, a spokeswoman for Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools, said the government had ignored “many representations opposing the program and urging, at the very least, that the religious requirement be removed”.

Courtice said the Queensland guidelines allowed for groups employing chaplains to apply for a temporary waiver of minimum qualifications, but “no such waiver applies to the faith requirement ... which clearly illustrates that the program is about religion more than what’s best for students”.

Although chaplains are not allowed to proselytise, Courtice noted the same people were allowed to deliver religious instruction when not on chaplaincy hours. She called this “a concerning blurring of the lines, with students potentially failing to distinguish between the roles”.

Secular groups are concerned chaplains can skirt the rules by telling a personal story of embracing religion, inviting guests who encourage children to attend religious services or other religious events, or using materials such as the Qbla app, which contains more overt religious material.

In a 2015 consultation report the Australian Human Rights Commission reported that at almost all the public meetings it held, complaints were raised about the chaplains program.

But the commission refused to review the program in 2018 when the Rationalist Society raised a complaint, citing the fact the review conducted by former minister Philip Ruddock is already investigating freedom of religion.

In April Guardian Australia reported the federal and several state governments had stopped counting complaints against the school chaplains program after responsibility for administering the program was transferred to the states in 2015 as a result of a high court challenge.

In 2015 federal Education Department officials told Senate estimates that in the previous year, 2,312 of the program’s 2,336 chaplains were Christian. The rest were adherents of Islam (13), Judaism (eight) and one each from Bahá’í, Buddhism and Aboriginal traditional religions.


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