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 engaged in public schools as part of the solution, they will make it the scapegoat for society’s ills. It may not fair, but it will happen.
2. Cultural alienation. As our society grows increasingly secular, religious people will feel even more isolated. Trends in the entertainment and advertising industry continue to create a world that holds little relevance to lives of religious people. Certainly religious parents aren’t alone in this alienation, but when they already feel that public schools have betrayed their faith, their frustration and anger will more quickly be expressed there.
3. Social ambiguity regarding religion. The transition away from cultural Christianity has left many confused about the role religion can play in public life. In an environment of uncertainty teachers and administrators have found it easier to ignore religion, but by doing so convey a second-class status upon it. This trend is the one most easily mitigated. Efforts are being made to clarify the role of religion in the community and schools certainly should be part of that process. Where the lines are clear, I suspect religious people will find ample room at the table
4. Political agenda of advocacy groups. With the battle lines drawn there are now significant organizations on both sides of religious issues that can exploit virtually any situation to advance their goals. Those who seek significant changes in public education have a vested interested in focusing on every miscue or failure of that institution as a way to channel voter frustration toward their agenda. Many religious organizations now hold public education under a microscope.
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