Archives for category: Courage

Jan Resseger, tireless champion for social and economic justice, reflects on the fading reputation of the charter industry. The decision by the Trump administration to axe the federal Charter Schools Program (DeVos’s slush fund for corporate charter chains) is the latest affront to an industry that once was regarded as the great hope for innovation and effectiveness but got overwhelmed by scandals and profiteering.

Resseger credits the dramatic turn in the public reputation of the charter industry to the work of the Network for Public Education and its executive director Carol Burris.

Burris brings to her work the experience of a veteran educator, a teacher and principal who spots scams quickly. Burris also has a rock solid sense of integrity that makes her unwilling to tolerate organizations that are designed to benefit the adults, not the students. She is the quintessential embodiment of the “David” I wrote about in my book SLAYING GOLIATH. She works with passion and dedication because of a sense of mission, not for love of money. She is a mortal threat to the Goliaths who wear the fake mantel of education reform. She can’t be bought and she can’t be stopped. Unlike the hirelings of Goliath, she really does work for the children, for whom she has worked all her life.

This is a short and powerful speech by Senator Mitt Romney explaining why he decided to vote to convict Trump. He knew that he was breaking ranks. He knew he would anger many in his party.

He voted his conscience.

Conscience over party. Remarkable.

Alan Singer posts here a brilliant speech that he delivered about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. the civil rights movement, and Dr. King’s continuing legacy today. He reminds us that the issues that Dr. King addressed are still unresolved: racism, poverty, war, violence. He points out that when Dr.King was assassinated, he was helping low-wage sanitation workers in Memphis to organize a union to improve their wages, working conditions, and lives. The next time you hear a billionaire or right-winger claim that school choice is “the civil rights issue of our time,” ask him or her (or yourself) whether they are also fighting as Dr. King did to end racism, poverty, war, and violence.

Speaking recently at the Uniondale, New York, public library, Singer said (and this is an excerpt),

The traditional myth about the Civil Rights Movement, the one that is taught in schools and promoted by politicians and the national media, is that Rosa Parks sat down, Martin Luther King stood up, and somehow the whole world changed. But the real story is that the Civil Rights Movement was a mass democratic movement to expand human equality and guarantee citizenship rights for Black Americans. It was definitely not a smooth climb to progress. Between roughly 1955 and 1968 it had peaks that enervated people and valleys that were demoralizing. Part of the genius of Dr. King was his ability to help people “keep on keeping on” when hope for the future seemed its bleakest.

While some individual activists clearly stood out during the Civil Rights Movement, it involved hundreds of thousands of people, including many White people, who could not abide the U.S. history of racial oppression dating back to slavery days. It is worth noting that a disproportionate number of whites involved in the Civil Rights movement were Jews, many with ties to Long Island. In the 1960s, the Great Neck Committee for Human Rights sponsored an anti-discrimination pledge signed by over 1,000 people who promised not to discriminate against any racial or ethnic groups if they rented or sold their homes. They also picketed local landlords accused of racial bias. The Human Rights Committee and Great Neck synagogues hosted Dr. King as a speaker and raised funds for his campaigns on multiple occasions.

King and Parks played crucial and symbolic roles in the Civil Rights Movement, but so did Thurgood Marshall, Myles Horton, Fanny Lou Hammer, Ella Baker, A. Philip Randolph, Walther Reuther, Medger Evers, John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, Pete Seeger, Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson, as well as activists who were critics of racial integration and non-violent civil disobedience such as Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers.

The stories of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King have been sanitized to rob them of their radicalism and power. Rosa Parks was not a little old lady who sat down in the White only section of a bus because she was tired. She was only 42 when she refused to change her seat and made history. In addition, Parks was a trained organizer, a graduate of the Highlander School where she studied civil disobedience and social movements, and a leader of the Montgomery, Alabama NAACP. Rosa Parks made a conscious choice to break an unjust law in order to provoke a response and promote a movement for social change. 

Martin Luther King challenged the war in Vietnam, U.S. imperialism, and laws that victimized working people and the poor, not just racial discrimination. When he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, he was helping organize a sanitation workers union. If Dr. King had not be assassinated, but had lived to become an old radical activist who constantly questioned American policy, I suspect he would never have become so venerated. It is better for a country to have heroes who are dead, because they cannot make embarrassing statements opposing continuing injustice and unnecessary wars.

The African American Civil Rights Movement probably ended with the assassination of Dr. King in April 1968 and the abandonment of Great Society social programs by the Democratic Party, but social inequality continues. What kind of country is it when young Black men are more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system than in college, inner city youth unemployment at the best of times hovers in the high double-digits, and children who already have internet access at home are the ones most likely to have it in school? What kind of country is it when families seeking refuge from war, crime, and climate disruption are barred entry to the United States or put in holding pens at the border? These are among the reasons I am recruiting everyone to a movement for social justice. These are the things that would have infuriated Martin Luther King.

I promised I would share excerpts from four of Dr. King’s speeches. Everyone has the phrases and speeches that they remember best. Most Americans are familiar with the 1963 “I have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and the 1968 “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis just before he died. These are four other speeches that still resonate with me the most today.

The first speech I reference is one for local Uniondale, Long Island, and Hofstra pride. In 1965, Dr. King was honored and spoke at the Hofstra University graduation. It was less than one year after he received the Nobel Peace Prize and three years before his assassination. In the speech Dr. King argued “mankind’s survival is dependent on man’s ability to solve the problems of racial injustice, poverty and war” and that the “solution of these problems is . . . dependent upon man squaring his moral progress with his scientific progress, and learning the practical art of living in harmony.” I have no doubt that if Dr. King were alive today, he would be at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement, demands for gun control, climate activism, and calls for the impeachment of Donald Trump. 

In his Hofstra speech, Dr. King told graduates, families, and faculty, “we have built machines that think, and instruments that peer into the unfathomable ranges of interstellar space. We have built gigantic bridges to span the seas, and gargantuan buildings to kiss the skies . . . We have been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains . . . Yet in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, something basic is missing. That is a sort of poverty of the spirit, which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish. But we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”

Read the rest of this powerful speech by Professor Singer about Dr. King’s relevance for us today.

 

 

This is a book you will want to read if you are a parent, a teacher, a teacher educator.

Opting Out: The Story of the Parents’ Grassroots Movement to Achieve Whole-Child Schools is an essential addition to your bookshelf.

It was written by Professor David Hursh of the University of Rochester and parents leaders of the New York Opt Out movement Jeanette Deutermann, Lisa Rudley, and Hursh’s graduate students, Zhe Chen and Sarah McGinnis.

Together they explain the origins and development of the one of the most significant parent-led reactions against high-stakes testing and in favor of education that is devoted to the full development of children as healthy and happy human beings. The media liked to present the Opt Out movement as a “union-led” action, but that was always a false narrative. It was created and led by parent activists who volunteered their time and energy to save their children from test centric classrooms and wanted a “whole-child” education that helped their children become eager and engaged learners.

David Hursh has written and lectured about the assault on public education and the dangers of high-stakes testing.

https://www.waikato.ac.nz/wmier/news-events/prof-david-hursh-on-the-takeover-of-public-education

University of Rochester Meliora Address (2013): High-stakes testing and the decline of teaching. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIQu2Hh_YkI

Keynote address: New York State as a cautionary tale (2014). New Zealand union of primary teachers and administrators. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hW4vZGsLiL4

The parent co-authors are leaders of the New York State Opt Out movement, primarily through their role in New York State Allies for Public Education, which has organized hundreds of thousands of parents to say no to excessive and pointless testing, whose only beneficiaries are the big testing corporations.

The parents of the Opt Out movement are a stellar example of the Resistance that is bringing an end to this current era of child abuse and test-driven miseducation.

I was happy to endorse the book and am pleased now to recommend it to you.

 

 

This is a beautiful and powerful statement spoken in court by a young man on trial for “extremism” in a Russian court. It was translated by Masha Gessen and appears in The New Yorker online. it explains the power of Resistance to tyranny and the importance of individual responsibility and love.

Gessen writes:

A twenty-one-year-old university student named Yegor Zhukov stood accused of “extremism,” for posting YouTube videos in which he talked about nonviolent protest, his campaign for a seat on the Moscow City Council, and different approaches to political power. In his most recent video, recorded four months ago, he suggested that “madmen” like Vladimir Putin view power as an end in itself, while political activists view it as an instrument of common action. In many of his vlog entries, Zhukov is seated against the backdrop of the Gadsden flag—“Don’t Tread on Me”—which appears to hang in his bedroom in his parents’ apartment. The prosecutor had asked for four years of prison time for Zhukov. On Friday, a Moscow court sentenced Zhukov to three years’ probation—an unusually light punishment probably explained by the public response to Zhukov’s speech, which several Russian media outlets dared to publish. Hundreds of people gathered in front of the courthouse on the day of the sentencing. As a condition of his probation, Zhukov is banned from posting to the Internet. The judge also ordered that the flag, which was confiscated by police, be destroyed.

Instead of writing my own column, I have translated Zhukov’s final statement, delivered in court on Wednesday. I did it because it is a beautiful text that makes for instructive reading. Parts of it seem to describe American reality as accurately as the Russian one. Parts of it show what resistance can be.

Zhukov’s statement:

“This court hearing is concerned primarily with words and their meaning. We have discussed specific sentences, the subtleties of phrasing, different possible interpretations, and I hope that we have succeeded at showing to the honorable court that I am not an extremist, either from the point of view of linguistics or from the point of view of common sense. But now I would like to talk about a few things that are more basic than the meaning of words. I would like to talk about why I did the things I did, especially since the court expert offered his opinion on this. I would like to talk about my deep and true motives. The things that have motivated me to take up politics. The reasons why, among other things, I recorded videos for my blog.

“But first I want to say this. The Russian state claims to be the world’s last protector of traditional values. We are told that the state devotes a lot of resources to protecting the institution of the family, and to patriotism. We are also told that the most important traditional value is the Christian faith. Your Honor, I think this may actually be a good thing. The Christian ethic includes two values that I consider central for myself. First, responsibility. Christianity is based on the story of a person who dared to take up the burden of the world. It’s the story of a person who accepted responsibility in the greatest possible sense of that word. In essence, the central concept of the Christian religion is the concept of individual responsibility.

“The second value is love. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ is the most important sentence of the Christian faith. Love is trust, empathy, humanity, mutual aid, and care. A society built on such love is a strong society—probably the strongest of all possible societies.

“To understand why I’ve done what I’ve done, all you have to do is look at how the Russian state, which proudly claims to be a defender of these values, does in reality. Before we talk about responsibility, we have to consider what the ethics of a responsible person is. What are the words that a responsible individual repeats to himself throughout his life? I think these words are, ‘Remember that your path will be difficult, at times unbearably so. All your loved ones will die. All your plans will go awry. You will be betrayed and abandoned. And you cannot escape death. Life is suffering. Accept it. But once you accept it, once you accept the inevitability of suffering, you must still accept your cross and follow your dream, because otherwise things will only get worse. Be an example, be someone on whom others can depend. Do not obey despots, fight for the freedom of body and soul, and build a country in which your children can be happy.’

“Is this really what we are taught? Is this really the ethics that children absorb at school? Are these the kinds of heroes we honor? No. Our society, as currently constituted, suppresses any possibility of human development. [Fewer than] ten per cent of Russians possess ninety per cent of the country’s wealth. Some of these wealthy individuals are, of course, perfectly decent citizens, but most of this wealth is accumulated not through honest labor that benefits humanity but, plainly, through corruption.

“An impenetrable barrier divides our society in two. All the money is concentrated at the top and no one up there is going to let it go. All that’s left at the bottom—and this is no exaggeration—is despair. Knowing that they have nothing to hope for, that, no matter how hard they try, they cannot bring happiness to themselves or their families, Russian men take their aggression out on their wives, or drink themselves to death, or hang themselves. Russia has the world’s [second] highest rate of suicide among men. As a result, a third of all Russian families are single mothers with their kids. I would like to know: Is this how we are protecting the institution of the family?

“Miron Fyodorov [a rap artist who performsunder the name Oxxxymiron], who attended many of my court hearings, has observed that alcohol is cheaper than a textbook in Russian. The state is pushing Russians to make a choice between responsibility and irresponsibility, in favor of the latter.

“Now I’d like to talk about love. Love is impossible in the absence of trust. Real trust is formed of common action. Common action is a rarity in a country where few people feel responsible. And where common action does occur, the guardians of the state immediately see it as a threat. It doesn’t matter what you do—whether you are helping prison inmates, speaking up for human rights, fighting for the environment—sooner or later you’ll either be branded a ‘foreign agent’ or just locked up. The state’s message is clear: ‘Go back to your burrow and don’t take part in common action. If we see more than two people together in the street, we’ll jail you for protesting. If you work together on social issues, we’ll assign you the status of a “foreign agent.” ’ Where can trust come from in a country like this—and where can love grow? I’m speaking not of romantic love but of the love of humanity.

“The only social policy the Russian state pursues consistently is the policy of atomization. The state dehumanizes us in one another’s eyes. In the state’s own eyes, we stopped being human a long time ago. Otherwise, why would it treat its citizens the way it does? Why does it punctuate its treatment of people through daily nightstick beatings, prison torture, inaction in the face of an H.I.V. epidemic, the closure of schools and hospitals, and so on?

“Let’s look at ourselves in the mirror. We let this be done to us, and who have we become? We have become a nation that has unlearned responsibility. We have become a nation that has unlearned love. More than two hundred years ago, Alexander Radishchev [widely regarded as the first Russian political writer], as he travelled from St. Petersburg to Moscow, wrote, ‘I gazed around myself, and my soul was wounded by human suffering. I then looked inside myself, and saw that man’s troubles come from man himself.’ Where are these kinds of people today? Where are the people whose hearts ache this much for what is happening in our country? Why are hardly any people like this left?

“It turns out that the only traditional institution that the Russian state truly respects and protects is the institution of autocracy. Autocracy aims to destroy anyone who actually wants to work for the benefit of the homeland, who isn’t scared to love and take on responsibility. As a result, our long-suffering citizens have had to learn that initiative will be punished, that the boss is always right just because he is the boss, that happiness may be within reach—but not for them. And having learned this, they gradually started to disappear. According to the state statistical authority, Russians are slowly vanishing, at the rate of four hundred thousand people a year. [Deaths exceeded births by nearly two hundred thousand in the first six months of 2019.] You can’t see the people behind the statistics. But try to see them! These are the people who are drinking themselves to death from helplessness, the people freezing to death in unheated hospitals, the people murdered by others, and those who kill themselves. These are people. People like you and me.

“By this point, it’s probably clear why I did what I did. I really want to see these two qualities—responsibility and love—in my fellow-citizens. Responsibility for one’s self, for one’s neighbors, for one’s country. This wish of mine, your honor, is another reason why I could not have called for violence. Violence breeds impunity, which breeds irresponsibility. By the same token, violence does not bear love. Still, despite all obstacles, I have no doubt that my wish will come true. I am looking ahead, beyond the horizon of years, and I see a Russia full of responsible, loving people. It will be a truly happy place. I want everyone to imagine Russia like this. And I hope this image can lead you in your work, as it has led me in mine.

“In conclusion, I would like to state that if the court decides that these words are spoken by a truly dangerous criminal, the next few years of my life will be marked by deprivation and adversity. But I look at the people [who have been jailed in the latest wave of activist arrests] and I see smiles on their faces. Two people I met briefly during pretrial detention, Lyosha Minyaylo and Danya Konon, never complained. I will try to follow their example. I will endeavor to take joy in having this chance—the chance to be tested in the name of values I hold dear. In the end, Your Honor, the more frightening my future, the broader the smile with which I look at it. Thank you.”

 

The Washington Post reported this evening that moderate Democrats who voted to impeach Trump are the targets of a GOP ad campaign to oust them. Every one of them knew they were putting their future at risk.

 

GOP-tied group to spend $2.5 million against moderate Democrats

An advocacy group with GOP ties said Wednesday it will spend $2.5 million in the immediate aftermath of the House impeachment vote to attack supportive Democratic lawmakers in running next year in districts President cTrump previously won.

The new American Action Network spending is in addition to the $8.5 million the group has already spent in the lead-up to Wednesday’s vote — a campaign that has spooked many vulnerable Democrats but failed to convince them to oppose impeachment.

A total of 29 members will be targeted by digital ads. Nine of those will see cable and broadcast television ads run in their districts: Democratic Reps. Jared Golden (Maine), Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), Xochitl Torres Small (N.M.), Susie Lee (Nev.), Max Rose (N.Y.), Anthony Brindisi (N.Y), Kendra Horn (Okla.), Joe Cunningham (S.C.) and Elaine Luria (Va.).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is a day when we pause and give thanks to whatever deity we worship (or not) for the blessings we enjoy: our freedom, our family, our friends, and our good fortune to live in a democracy where we are all responsible for making it better for our brothers and sisters.

I want to share with you a profound speech delivered by our good friend Rev. Dr. Charles Foster Johnson about religious liberty and the public schools and the future of our democracy.

Charlie Johnson is the founder and leader of Pastors for Texas Children. PTC has led the fight against vouchers in Texas and has helped like-minded religious leaders in other states form their own organizations to support religious liberty and public schools. I never expected, at this late chapter in my life, to discover that I have a dear friend who is a Baptist minister in my home state of Texas. I admire his courage, his intellect, and his passion for the common good. Needless to say, he is on the honor roll of this blog, and I name him as a hero of the Resistance in my forthcoming book Slaying Goliath. I can’t think of a better way for you to spend a few free minutes on this day than to read this wonderful speech.

This is the only post you will receive today. Enjoy the day. Read this speech.

 

J.M. Dawson Lecture on Religious Liberty

“Religious Liberty, the Public School, and the Soul of America”

Baylor University

October 7, 2019

 

     I am deeply honored to deliver the J.M. Dawson Lecture on the Separation of Church and State, and I am humbled to offer a few remarks in the name and legacy of this remarkable Baptist leader and great American on the bedrock principle of religious liberty and its practical corollary, the separation of the church and the state in public affairs.

 

     When I spoke recently with my oldest granddaughter Corley, who is age 10, she asked me what I was doing. I told her I was preparing a sermon for my friends at Baylor University on “Religious Liberty, the Public School, and the Soul of America.” She said, “Papa Charlie, you always use the biggest words… what does all that mean?”

 

     I learned a long time ago that if the preacher can’t explain a concept to a child, then he or she doesn’t quite get it either. So, I drew a breath and said something like this, “Sweetie, God made us free people. No one can make you love God. No one can prevent you from loving God. It is our choice. All faith in God is voluntary. It is your decision. No one can make that decision for you. Not your parents, not your friends, not the president or the police or the law or the government. Only you.”

 

     Then this granddaughter of two Baptist preachers on her mama and her daddy’s side (she doesn’t have a chance) said, “I know, Papa Charlie! We talked about that at church. And, we talked about that at school too.”

 

Religious Liberty

 

     Throughout our lives, we have had a sustained theological critique of the Enlightenment and its emphasis on the individual. This project of correction, as I understand it, notes that the philosophical framework through which the modern sensibility has been shaped places undue importance on the autonomy of the individual and gives inadequate attention to the influence of community. There has been something of a robust debate about this dialectic between the individual and the community, about the historically baptist and catholic understandings of authority and epistemology, and the cultural, moral, and theological implications of these respective worldviews. This university has been a key participant in this debate. Some of you here today have contributed significantly to it.

 

     It certainly makes sense to me. As a pastor for over 40 years, I have abundantly observed folks who believe all reality begins and ends with themselves, and who exercise little submission to anyone or anything but themselves. We have this psychological and spiritual dysfunction on vivid display in our highest leaders today. We have certainly paid a high price for this narcissism. We like the immortal figure of Greek mythology, fixate on ourselves, and die in the process.

 

     But, we do not have to fall for the myth of autonomous individualism to affirm the irreducible and inviolate freedom of the human conscience. In this day of mass society, where corporate conglomerates monitor our every thought, news networks disseminate state propaganda, media machines determine our daily consumption, and pastors become mouthpieces for Caesar, that we need a recovery of individual freedom. Isn’t it the day and time for us to reaffirm the power and freedom of the individual, and to call for a new assertion of individual rights and responsibilities, and to inculcate all over again in our students and congregants an individual and personal decision-making power?

 

     Forgive the patriarchal references, but I remember Will Campbell saying at Mississippi College in 1978 something to this effect: “I am less free than my daddy, my daddy was less free than my granddaddy, and my granddaddy was less free than my great-granddaddy.” I had no clue then what on earth he meant by such a cryptic remark. But I do now. And so do you.

 

     We today are like the Grand Inquisitor of Dostoevsky’s famous story who has Christ arrested for cursing humanity with freedom. The Inquisitor concluded that Christ made a strategic error in not turning stones to bread, not casting himself off the pinnacle of the Temple, not ruling over the kingdoms of this world, for these things would have sealed his leadership and people would have followed him. But instead, Christ remained free, and gave us the burden of freedom. The Grand Inquisitor says, “anyone who can appease a man’s conscience can take his freedom away from him.” No kidding. We see it every day.

 

     God has created human freedom as a reflection of God’s own freedom, God’s own non-contingency, as the theologians would put it. The individual liberty accorded every person is a work of God in Creation, and an integral feature of human worth and dignity.

 

      A core component of this freedom is at work in the realm of religion. Religious liberty and is the right and choice of the human—the “inalienable” right, as Jefferson immortally put it—to worship God according to the compulsion of his or her own individual conscience, or not to worship God at all.

 

     To say the term “religious freedom” is to speak a paradox of immense power and implication. The very impulse of religion is submission to a power outside oneself, to cast oneself in categorical terms upon God in a posture of what Schleiermacher called “absolute dependence.” The project of any religious concern is the relinquishment of one’s own autonomy to the hegemony of God.  

  

     In a sinful world, full of idols that vie for our submission, the individual made in the image of God is the only entity competent to make this decision. Christ quoted the Psalmist in his reply to Satan in the temptation in the wilderness, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” This is the great baptist understanding. There is no other legitimate and competent authority other than the individual to make a religious decision. This is what we mean when we speak of “soul competency,” as E.Y. Mullins put it:

     “Religious liberty excludes the imposition of religious creeds by ecclesiastical authority. Confessions of faith by individuals or groups of men [and woman], voluntarily framed and set forth as containing the essentials of what men [or women] believe to be the Gospel are all right. They are merely one way of witnessing to the truth. But when they are laid upon men’s [or women’s] consciences by ecclesiastical command, or by a form of human authority, they become a shadow between the soul and God, an intolerable yoke, impertinence, and a tyranny.” (“The Baptist Conception of Religious Liberty,” 1923)

     Therefore, all religious activity must be strictly voluntary on the part of the individual. There can be no coercion in these matters, and certainly no collusion with the state in them. In fact, no institution whether the church or the state, possesses any competency to make any religious decision on behalf of an individual. Virginia baptist preacher John Leland put it this way:

 

“Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles that he believes, worship according to his own faith, either on God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse, or loss of property, from his religious opinions.”

 

     The corollary to this God-given religious liberty is the principle of the strict separation of the church from the state. In our work in Pastors for Texas Children, we refer to religious liberty as a gift from God to all people, and note that James Madison did not make it up. God did. Madison took an eternal spiritual truth that God authored and wrote it down in an extraordinary sentence that comprises the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

 

     Leland’s influence over James Madison is well-known by everyone in this room today. When Madison learned that Leland might challenge him for his seat in the House of Representatives, Madison forged a compromise with Leland that resulted in the popular baptist preacher standing down from his electoral challenge in exchange for Madison’s championing of the principle of church/state separation. And the rest, as we say, is history.

 

     It is not an overstatement to say that religious liberty is the principle upon which our nation was founded. A free church in a free state. And long before America came along the first pastor of the church told his congregation at Galatia, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand fast, therefore, and do not submit to a yoke of slavery.”

 

     Corley, my ten year old granddaughter, knows this. She learned it at church. And she learned it at school.

 

 

The Public School

 

     The public school is the building block of American democracy. It is the cornerstone of our national life. It was determined at the outset of our Republic that the American experiment might have a chance of succeeding if we educated all our children in a public trust—not just those fortunate enough by reason of their class and station to receive an education.

 

     In 1785 John Adams said, 

 

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

 

Clearly, this founding father of our Republic saw public education as central to our social contract and fundamental to the provision of the common good.

 

     Universal education is a moral mandate rooted in the faith tradition. In the creation story itself, God brought all of creation to the human to see what the human would name it. This “naming” impulse is education. It is central to the first charge God gives to the human, “to be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth, and subdue it.”   

  

     The first schools in America were founded by faith communities.  Shortly thereafter, at the dawn of our Republic, people of faith realized that an educated populace was essential for the preservation of democracy and self-governance.  Therefore, public education for all children in America was birthed out of a moral sensibility. That conviction was encoded in constitutions of the respective states as our nation expanded westward. Virtually every state constitution has a mandate for public education.  Our own Texas State Constitution in Article 7, Section 1, says this: 

“A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

     For these reasons of profound moral and religious motivation, public school educators often are faith leaders themselves. They serve as pastors, ministers, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, youth and children’s leaders, committee chairpersons, mission and music directors, accompanists, and many other ministry positions in the life of the church.

 

     It is axiomatic among congregational pastors that the persons we turn to for religious instruction of our children are our public school teachers. Furthermore, it is common for a local church pastor’s spouse to teach in the nearby public school.  This has been a time-honored clergy couple vocational package for decades.  Our sons and daughters are employed in the public schools as coaches, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and custodians.

 

     Public schools are filled with many people of faith. These teachers, principals, and school staff bow their heads in our houses of worship with us, serve and fellowship alongside us, and model their faith in schools and classrooms, following the spirit of 1 Peter 4:10, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

 

     This is why an affirmation of universal and public education can be found in the denominational documents of all faiths.  It is a universal human right accorded every child be virtue of being on God’s planet.

 

     Schools and churches remain inextricably bound together in every community. 90% of our children in our churches attend public schools. The rest attend all the other models of education, whether private, online, and home schools. We appropriately affirm all these models of education.  Indeed, our congregations are comprised of leaders in all these diverse school models.

 

     We see the local public school and its classroom as a center of God’s love.  Education is a gift from Almighty God accorded to every human being regardless of race, religion, economic status, and special need.  The public school, unlike the private school, receives and accepts every single child that shows up on its steps, and meets that child’s needs as sensitively and lovingly as possible. 

 

     Our loved ones and fellow church members do not leave God at the door of the school house as they go about their daily duties.  They carry the love and grace of God with them every hour of every day.  Indeed, they show love, unconditional acceptance, and physical assistance to children who have special needs, come from emotionally deprived circumstances, and suffer the ill-effects of crushing poverty. It’s what a teacher does.  It’s a calling before God.

 

     My own daughter-in-law, who is a public school educator, did not get the memo that God has been taken out of our schools.  She takes the longsuffering love that she showers on our grandchildren into the classroom with her, and pours it out on children from the community all day long. Corley is not the only recipient of it. All the children in her classroom receive it.

 

     Our neighborhood and community public schools are the primary vehicles for perpetuating civil society, promoting human equality, strengthening our economy, and ensuring continued democratic reform in our nation and world. 

 

     The public school is the proving ground for religious liberty and the principle of church/state separation. Here our children witness firsthand that their own religious experience is not given preference over anyone else’s. Here they see early on the tremendous power of voluntary and personal faith, that faith is something expressed and brokered by them—not by some official institutional leader. To use a familiar term, they discover their own individual priesthood.

 

     Public education advances moral and civic values through early investments to give every student a fair shot and the tools needed to pursue a more prosperous, self-sufficient future. These investments reap significant long-term economic dividends and savings generated from fewer societal problems, benefiting all of us.

 

     By investing in public education, we invest in the future of 50 million American schoolchildren. This basic investment is the key to a child’s future economic mobility, the financial stability of families, and our long-term economic prosperity. We know, because it is well-documented, the direct correlation between education achievement and economic viability.

 

     As we have noted, our spouses and church members routinely teach in our public schools. Often in our towns, the public school district is the chief employer and economic generator of our communities.  As goes the financial health of our public schools, goes the financial health of our churches.  The school is the center of vitality and meaningful, life-enriching activity for our people.  One only need look at the importance of Friday Night Football for folks to see this.

 

     It is the public schools that serve all children. Not just those of economic means, or whose parents are engaged, or who are from stable homes, or who perform well academically. But, all.

 

     Over 60 percent of Texas schoolchildren are economically disadvantaged. Public schools cannot be expected to overcome the challenges created by rising poverty, and especially when they are educating more students with less money. The last thing these poor neighborhoods need is to be stripped of their remaining vitality.  

 

     Texas ranks near the bottom in per-pupil spending nationwide. Bear with a brief history of Texas education policy. In 2011, devastating funding cuts forced school districts to lay off teachers, increase class sizes, and reduce pre-kindergarten programs. In 2013, Texas legislators restored only a portion of the cuts — about 60 percent —leaving a gaping deficit in education funding. In 2015, schools also had to accommodate for student growth, totaling 300,000 more students than in 2011. In 2017, House Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s proposal to infuse $3 billion new dollars into the public education system was pulled from the floor by that good man because he didn’t have the votes to pass it. Only in this year’s session did we finally get $6.5 billion new dollars for our children’s public education—and only after Texas voters retired some key legislators who oppose public education in the 2018 elections.

 

     These are profound moral, Biblical, constitutional, and economic reasons for universal education paid for by the public. The case for quality public education is overwhelming.

 

     So, we wonder what the real agenda is in our legislative assault on public schools? We have witnessed firsthand the cruel attack on our public education system as a “monstrosity.” We are more than a little outraged to hear from some of our elected officials that our public schools are “Godless.”  We have heard with our own ears loose talk of our schools as “failed” and our teachers as “incompetent.” Then, when our own Texas legislature began churning out bills designed specifically to demoralize teachers—vouchers, unlimited charter school expansion, opportunity school districts, tuition tax credits, A-F school rating, parent trigger—our good faith pastoral nature to give benefit of the doubt began to cave to the unpleasant conclusion of something more insidious unfolding before our eyes:  the intentional dismantling of the Constitutionally mandated public trust of universal education.

 

     The privatization of the public trust of universal education is a thinly veiled disguise to turn the local public school into a profit center for the personal financial gain of a few. State legislatures all over our country are being pressured by rich interests to divert already stretched dollars from our public schools to fund private and charter schools.  We know that the private schools are not asking for this support; they do not want government interference and intrusion into their private assemblies. That is the reason they established the private school in the first place.

 

     We are deeply troubled by the government expansion and entitlement programs undergirding privatization policies.  Private school vouchers and so-called “school choice” initiatives are nothing but government giveaway programs with no accountability or oversight.  Absent are the myriad stewardship measures the public schools must submit to give account for how state dollars are being spent.  We hear about these overwrought accountability rules from our family and church members all the time.

 

     We decry the expansion of unlimited charter schools as a replacement for our traditional community and neighborhood public schools, the avalanche of burdensome assessment measures our teachers and students are subjected to, and the de-professionalization of teaching through low wages and bad conditions.

 

     We must prioritize the adequate funding of our institutions of public education for the benefit of all Texans. Up until the 86th Legislative session, the previous Texas legislatures have seen contentious fights over public education policy and the dramatic cuts to public school funding. This must stop now.

 

The Soul of America

 

     There are two competing visions for the soul of our nation: one weakens the public and one strengthens it. On one side, there is a drive to de-fund public education, de-professionalize teaching, misuse test scores to declare schools as failing, and institute paths to privatize schools in the name of school reform. These privatization schemes take the form of private school vouchers, for-profit virtual schools, and corporate chain charter schools that do not serve all students equally.

 

     The other vision is to provide adequate funding for all schools, implement high quality and full day pre-kindergarten instructional programs that start our youngest learners on their path to educational success, raise the bar with higher standards and more respect for the teaching profession, focus on a rich instructional program instead of a narrow overemphasis on testing, and engage community partners in support for neighborhood schools and the children and families they serve.

 

     Those advocating the privatization of public schools have attacked the public education system and falsely labeled neighborhood schools as failures. This arbitrary judgment has been exposed as a cynical strategy to divert public education monies for private purposes, and has brought advocates like Pastors for Children to the fight against privatization and in support of initiatives that tell the true story about the value of our public schools.

 

     The “choice” that corporate chain charters claim to offer parents and students is illusory. It is really these private operators who exercise their own freedom to choose which students they will recruit and retain and which students they will exclude or filter out. And the latter group disproportionately includes Hispanics, African-Americans, English Language Learners, students with disabilities, and students who are at risk because of disciplinary or academic difficulties.  These children are our neighbors too.

 

     The private school voucher, regardless of the euphemism by which it is falsely named, will not begin to cover the cost of a private education that even approximates the quality of the education that poor child receives in the traditional public school.  Quality private education costs far more than what the voucher covers.  Furthermore, there is no transportation allotment attached to the voucher. One surely notices that private schools are not located in poor neighborhoods.  How would the poor child get to the private school even with a voucher?

 

     As we have said, the poorest children among us attend public schools.  They are the places these children are taught, fed, affirmed, and loved.  62% of the 5.4 million schoolchildren in Texas attend public schools.  Private schools do not exist to care for poor children in this way, nor do they intend to accept the influx of poor children into their schools through vouchers. That is the very reason private schools are private in the first place.  It is as morally wrong for the State of Texas to divert already stretched public dollars for underwriting the religious mission of private church and parochial schools, as it is for the state to require intrusive accountability measures for the private schools that receive that public money. Let private schools remain private, public schools remain public.

 

     The chief objection we have to vouchers is the inherent religious liberty violations of them. The Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the State of Texas, Article 1, Section 6 and 7 states this:  “No man shall be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent. No money shall be appropriated, or drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any sect, or religious society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the State be appropriated for any such purposes.”  Clearly, using tax dollars for religious private schools violates this principle. 

 

     Do Texas Christians really want their tax money to fund Muslim private schools?  By last count, we have eleven madrassas in the state of Texas.  Do Muslim folks want their money underwriting Baptist church schools? Do Texas Baptists really want their tax money to fund Roman Catholic schools that teach the infallibility of the Pope?  Do Texas Catholics really want their tax money funding Baptist schools that teach children the priesthood of all believers?

 

     Let us rededicate ourselves to these children in our public education system. Rather than again fixating on controversial, unproven policies that further impair our public schools, let us reclaim our collective will to pursue proposals that give our schools the support they need to prepare our children for the economy they will inherit, and create.

 

     Pastors for Children are mobilizing congregational leaders to do precisely this. We have three objectives in our work:  1) Get the congregation involved in assistance ministries in your local neighborhood school, always under the authority of the school principal and in deference to God’s gift of church/state separation; 2.) Get congregational leaders engaged in public education advocacy by bringing your influence to bear on state legislators who shape education policy for our children; and 3.) Engage in electoral races not to endorse candidates, but to endorse the justice provision of quality public education for all children.

 

     We are now in six states: Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Florida. We have held meetings and conversations with faith leaders in a dozen other states where we will soon plant our work.

 

     Let’s provide our children the education that our community provided us. Their future, and ours, depends on it. Let us rededicate ourselves to these children in our public education system. We have an absolute and total obligation to our children. Not just the few. Not just the privileged. Not just our own. All children. 

 

   The great equalizer in American life is the neighborhood public school. It is the laboratory for our democracy. It is the teller of our national history and story. It is the training ground for citizenship in this great land. It is the discovery zone where our children uncover their own God-given talent, realize their own significance, understand the power of their own individuality, and locate their own place within the larger world of their community. It is the social and communal context where the values of our faith are incarnated. It is the meeting place for the widening diversity of our American life. The public school is the shared space where we nurture civic virtue, cultivate mutual respect, practice tolerance across racial, class, gender, political, and religious lines, and preserve and protect God’s Common Good.

 

Jan Resseger gives thanks for the teachers and other educators who boldly walked out and went out on strike over the past two years. So do I.

These courageous educators challenged the national narrative that had been so deviously cultivated by billionaires and Wall Street about “failing schools” and “bad teachers,” in an effort to destroy public faith in public schools and promote privatization of public funds.

Thanks to #Red4Ed, the new and realistic narrative is about crowded classrooms, crumbling schools, underpaid teachers, and schools without nurses, social workers, or librarians.

#Red4Ed said, “No more!”

The first walkout was in West Virginia in the spring of 2018. That walkout closed every school in the state and unleashed a wave of strikes and walkouts that continues now.

Reading about the West Virginia walkout inspired me to start writing a book that will be published January 21, called SLAYING GOLIATH. I will be in West Virginia on February 22 to meet those brave teachers and thank them for what they have done for all of us.

 

What a delight to watch an experienced diplomat speak with intelligence and forethought to the House Intelligence Committee.

If you missed her opening statement, you can watch it on YouTube or other sources.

After three years of watching a semi-literate, dissembling president and his supine toadies as they weave their way through the messes of their own creation, it is a pleasure to watch Marie Yovanovitch speak knowledgeably about the rule of law.

Yes, there are people in the government who are role models for our children. Think Ambassador William Taylor and State Department official George Kent.

And think about the first person to step forward and courageously offer testimony, Ambassador Yovanovitch.

Risking the wrath of the president and the Secretary of State, Yovanovitch spoke up and in her wake, others followed.

She was an eloquent spokesperson for the rule of law and for integrity.

She exemplified grace under pressure.

She is a hero for our times.

#GoMasha is trending on Twitter.

Thank you, Ambassador Yovanovitch for restoring our faith that our government and our democratic values will survive the bigotry, the toxic nationalism, the authoritarianism, and the constant lying of the Trump era.

 

Newly elected Governor Andy Beshear has invited teachers to lead his inaugural parade! 

Governor-elect Beshear recognizes that angry teachers powered his upset election over the loser, Matt Bevin, who showered contempt on teachers. And paid for it.

A group of Kentucky teachers will serve as the grand marshals for the inauguration parade. It’s set for Dec. 10 in Frankfort.

“In my first inauguration announcement, I want to show my appreciation for our public educators, who work tirelessly, every day to improve the lives of our children and lift up our communities, and that is why I am naming them inauguration parade grand marshals,” Beshear said Wednesday.

The Kentucky Education Association’s president called the appointment an honor and tribute to educators.

“It signals Gov.-elect Beshear’s and Lt. Gov.-elect Coleman’s clear commitment to public education and a renewed respect for Kentucky’s educators, who faced withering attacks from the previous administration,” said KEA President Eddie Campbell.