We Can Redefine Public Education to Make it
a Safer Environment for Everyone!
Resolving disputes over issues with religious overtones has seemed like a no-win situation to many educators. The prevailing wisdom said either to ignore them citing separation of church and state, or to placate the latest complaint and hope people on the other side don’t find out about it.
However, cultural conflicts in our day not only make that virtually impossible, but unwise as well. The questions that confront public educators in this arena can no longer be ignored.
- What do we do when parents resist school reform as intrusive to the family?
- Is there a way to discuss condoms or homosexuality without starting a firestorm in our district?
- How do we address parent concerns that some facets of the curriculum or library materials, undermine their religious values?
- Do science and religion have to be antagonists?
- What kinds of religious expression must the public school accommodate and how do we get our community to understand that?
Fortunately today Supreme Court decisions, legislation and ground-breaking initiatives by the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University provide an effective way for us to have civic dialogue about these and other matters without destroying the fabric of our communities. Understanding religious liberty and how it affects public education can help diverse constituencies find enough common ground to seek cooperative solutions to some of society’s most difficult issues.
At BridgeBuilders we have found effective ways to help schools foster a religious-neutral environment that can resolve these issues with better understanding and mutual respect across divergent viewpoints. We have been able to help communities discover win/win solutions to these issues and by doing so provide a better educational climate for all its students.
Many districts have trained their staff, educated their communities and adopted common ground policies that demonstrate how religious neutrality in public education can benefit all students. The hope of American democracy is that one does not have to be less Christian, less Jewish, less an atheist or less anything else to participate in society. Learning how to do that will benefit every community, and will help school boards and administrators turn much of the dissent in their community into constructive dialogue that strengthens the district and the community. Never has their been a greater opportunity to engage the entire parent community as full partners in the process of education.
A grateful superintendent recently wrote us this note:
“Some board members were sure that we would find no resolution to the conflict. They expected all-out confrontation. You proved them wrong. Your uncommon mix of information, interaction skills and level head was just what this community required. We now count several former protesters among our most eager supporters.”
If you know a school district, educational association, parent group or county office that would like us to provide a workshop in your area, please call our office. We can arrange it with little financial exposure on their part.
We also provide mediation and consultation for those already engaged in conflict or seeking to heal from past battles that have polarized the community. We hope your district never has a need for these services, but if you do, please don’t hesitate to call and find out how we can help.
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