Avoid Stereotyping

By Wayne Jacobsen Caricatures drive the current debate between education and religion almost more than the issues themselves. Educators are pictured as a monolithic group of liberals, valueless monsters out to create students with no moral compass. Religious activists are vilified as miniature ayatollah’s forcing other people into compliance with their own faith. I’ve not met anyone on either side of this debate that comes close to fulfilling these images. Adhering to these stereotypes will thwart any attempts to find respect or mutually-satisfactory solutions in the current debate. Violating them, …

A Prognosis of Religious Conflict

By Wayne Jacobsen Won’t this all blow-over soon? That’s the question hopeful administrators frequently ask me. I share their hope, but not their optimism. In the next 5-7 years four factors will combine to keep religious issues on the front-burner of public education. Without a successful strategy to address religious concerns, tensions will only grow stronger in years ahead. 1. Personal frustration. Who isn’t disheartened by great needs that challenge today’s youth? Violence and gang activity threatens our schools. Drugs and sexual activity continue to grow. If religious parents aren’t …

Religious Expression and Public Schools

By Wayne Jacobsen “(The First Amendment) does not convert our schools into religion-free zones… Religion has a proper place in private and a proper place in public because the public square belongs to all Americans.” President Bill Clinton, July 12, 1995 To parents at students at James Madison, High School Vienna, Virginia Though many political observers saw President Clinton’s speech only as an attempt to thwart conservative attempts to push through a constitutional school-prayer amendment, his words and his directive to the Secretary of Education to distribute national guidelines explaining …

What Do Religious Parents REALLY Want?

By Wayne Jacobsen When the pro-life movement calls those who deliver abortions “baby-killers” and when pro-choice advocates say that pro-life adherents want to “control the bodies of women,” the debate is not defined, it is derailed. In the arena where public opinion is influenced one of the most-used tactics today is to state your opponents position to such an extreme that they can’t even recognize it themselves. That may help win converts to a cause, but unfortunately it leads to a public debate based on misinformation, which turns out to …

Who Agreed on What??!?!?

By Wayne Jacobsen It’s unbelievable that People for the American Way and the Christian Coalition would agree on anything, especially the role of religion in public education. But that’s what they’ve done. And they weren’t alone. Look at some of the other organizations who shared in this Statement of Principles regarding religious liberty and public education: AASA American Center for Law and Justice American Federation of Teachers Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Central Conference of American Rabbis Christian Educators Association International Christian …

Wildfire: The Tense Climate in Public Education

By Wayne Jacobsen If you’ve never seen it, it is impossible to describe how quickly a wildfire can spread especially this time of year in the tinder-dry foothills of California. It just takes a spark, and even the first attempts to stomp it out often backfire, causing more sparks to scatter in the wind. Suddenly a raging inferno tears across the hills until thousands of acres are blackened in its wake. If you’ve never seen it, it is impossible to describe how quickly a community can be devastated by religious …

Turning Dissent Into Dialog

By Wayne Jacobsen Differences of opinion don’t have to erupt into full-blown conflict. BridgeBuilders has helped districts discover how to turn community frustration into the kind of civil conversation that can build bridges between diverse groups and help fashion a stronger school district. Whether it’s frustration over HIV/AIDS curriculum, holiday celebrations, math programs or school reform, many communities are learning how to create the environment that allows constructive dialogue between diverse members of the community to forge a district-wide consensus that will enhance the mission of public education. While BridgeBuilders …

The Diversity Dilemma

A BRIDGEBUILDER POSITION PAPER What to Do About the New School Safety Legislation by Wayne Jacobsen, President of BridgeBuilders in association with The Common Ground Project What’s a school district to do? The California Department of Education has just issued recommendations for implementing the new safe schools legislation regarding sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools. Excluded from the process, conservative groups have countered with a sweeping Student Exemption Form that could undermine attempts to implement the new legislation even if only a small percentage of students return them. …

There’s a Stop Sign at the Corner of Church and School

There’s a stop sign at the corner of Church and School, as well there should be. It wasn’t always there. People used to slow down at the intersection and keep an eye out for each other. But as traffic increased, some notable accidents occurred on this very corner. Lots of people got hurt, and word has it that some cars were even torn right in two. So awhile back they put up a stop sign at the corner, and the community hasn’t quite been the same since. Now some of …

Recommendations of the American Assembly

A diverse representation of religious groups, scholars, and attorneys for advocacy groups on the left and right met under the auspices of The American Assembly March 23-26, 2000 in New York to formulate a consensus on religion in America’s public life. Wayne Jacobsen, President of BridgeBuilders, served as a discussion leader and part of the drafting team for the Assembly. The American Assembly, an affiliate of Columbia University, was founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1950 “to illuminate issues of public policy.” The Assembly convenes authorities from relevant constituencies …

Student Religious Rights: Survival Tips for School Boards:

You’ll thank me for this! I came across this excellent article in the Pennsylvania School Boards Association Bulletin, and offer it here as a PDF Download with their permission. This is the most concise, accurate and helpful resource I’ve ever read for dealing with religious expression issues. Written by a friend of mine, Tom Hutton, a staff attorney for the National School Boards Association, this article summarizes remarks he offered to the Tennessee School Boards Association Summer Law Institute and includes seven important tips for school boards dealing with tensions …

Building Harassment-Free Schools Without Adding to the Controversy

Below is an article I wrote for the NSBA regarding a recent negotiation I did with a district in Iowa. It is an excellent case study on how the guidelines I wrote about in my last Watch can be implemented at a local level to help resolve conflicts over sexual orientation issues. To List or Not to List: The Marshalltown Solution By Wayne Jacobsen, President, Bridgebuilders “We’re done tonight when 90% of us agree on a policy to recommend to the school district.” That’s always my opening line in these …

Sexual Orientation Discrimination and Harassment

On March 9, The First Amendment Center will release its latest guidelines to help public schools deal with cultural and religious conflicts. This one, Public Schools and Sexual Orientation: A First Amendment framework for finding common ground is designed to help schools deal with sexual orientation discrimination and harassment without undermining those parents, students and staff who have moral objections to homosexual behavior. Wayne Jacobsen of BridgeBuilders helped Dr. Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center broker this agreement with representation from educational, gay and lesbian, as well as religious …

Student Expression at Graduation — What’s a Principal to Do?

Margaret Hill, Ph.D., California Three Rs Project Lead High school administrators across California are planning graduation ceremonies and facing the perennial questions and challenges regarding the parameters for student expression at such events. The hot button issue around the nation is the controversy over prayer at graduation ceremonies. Charles Haynes, First Amendment Center Senior Scholar, wrote extensively about the issue in 2003 and most of the guidelines he discussed at that time are still valuable for schools to consider. It is important to remember that the following does not constitute legal …

Disarming Controversy Through Common Ground Thinking

Disarming Conflict Through Common Ground Thinking By Wayne Jacobsen The following text is the Introduction to Fastback #515 published by the Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation. The entire booklet may be ordered from their website. Use the ‘search’ button in their Publication Archives and use ‘Jacobsen’ in the Author/Speaker Last Name search field. Cost is $4.00 plus shipping for this 45 page booklet. When World Views Collide Conflict erupted in a medium-sized school district in San Diego County, California, when the school board changed its personnel policies. The new policy …

Opening Statement

United States Commission on Civil Rights By Wayne Jacobsen Dear Madame Chairpersons and Distinguished Members of the Commission, Five years ago I was pastoring a growing, evangelical congregation in Central California. Today, I travel throughout the United States helping school districts and religious parent groups build bridges of cooperation through some of the most divisive issues of our day. Why did I make that change? The reasons are best exposed in comments made to me by a teacher from Northern Ireland who was in Massachusetts on a teacher-exchange program. After …

Resolving Religious Conflict

A Guide for School Administrators By Wayne Jacobsen It started out simply enough. A mother asked to have an alternative reading book for her sixth-grade daughter because she found some material in it to be objectionable to her religious beliefs. The teacher refused, informing Cathy’s mom (not her real name) that it was part of the core literature and was mandatory reading. Cathy’s mom appealed to the administrators, and their response was the same. Unable to convince them of the depth of her concerns she took the only course her …

Building Bridges to Religious Parents

By Wayne Jacobsen She was not a close friend, but I had worked with her on a number of school committees in the past. I knew her to be an effective administrator, a wonderful person and a church attender. But none of that mattered tonight. As she tried to explain her role grading the ill-fated California CLAS test, her remarks were rudely shouted down with mockery and her honesty repeatedly challenged. What was more shocking than how my friend was being treated, was the content of the audience doing it …