Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Schooling Amanda: who decides?

Kurowski/Voydatch, Cal Thomas, kids, schools, politics

I'm feeling a little sorry for Wauwatosa school superintendent Phil Ertl. In deciding to forbid real-time viewing of a presidential speech, he's opened the door further for groups of parents with special interests to approve or censor curricula. And that can be a real headache.

Imagine trying to get consensus about anything except, maybe, math. Not enough of us understand that well enough to have political opinions about which math facts are dangerous.

Who should determine what's the right educational content for kids? What's the proper political stance for school? Who decides?  Parents or the government?

It's a trick question, because parents are the government. We elect officials democratically, including school boards, and in order to have a well-functioning society, we agree to go along with the rule of the majority and the law.

Which raises the question whether the employee Ertl or the elected school board should have made that decision. But I digress.

In a democracy, when we don't agree, we may object on conscience, vote the old bums out of office and put new ones in, protest, or civilly disobey. When it comes to schools, we talk to teachers and principals and boards. They may disagree with us, in which case we can become resigned, change schools, select private schools that we think reflect better our beliefs, or  homeschool.

In New Hampshire, the Live Free or Die state, the courts recently ruled that homeschooled Amanda Kurowski should go to public school for a while.

Her dad (divorced from her homeschooling mother) was worried that his daughter seemed to be developing somewhat extreme and very rigid religious beliefs--the same beliefs her mother holds.

You can understand the father's concern. By at least one account, Amanda thought that if her father really loved her, he'd believe as she did so he could be with her in heaven.

The idea "if you don't believe the way I do, you won't go to heaven" is very upsetting to kids. Especially when they love people with different beliefs. At that age, Ellen Dietrich baptized me in the school bathroom because she believed only those baptized as Catholics (I'd been baptized as a Lutheran) would go to heaven. And she loved me, so she wanted me to be saved.

Anyway, the court agreed with Amanda's guardian ad litem and her dad.  While Amanda is smart and healthy and basically well adjusted, it would be good to expose her to a broader range of religious ideas, it ruled.

I'm not sure why they think that's going to happen in the public schools, which aren't supposed to talk much about religion. My kids, who had liberal religious beliefs, experienced enormous pressure in Wauwatosa middle school to conform to conservative religious beliefs. That pressure came from kids, not teachers, of course.

I started writing this because I wanted to disagree with conservative columnist Cal Thomas. He wrote about the case as an example of elites (the court and, though it was quite a stretch, the Obama Administration) ruling against the people.

I saw it as a parental dispute in which the courts ruled with the conventional father against the sort of wacky mother, a common enough occurrence.

But my knee got stopped in mid jerk. After reading the brief, I found I agreed with those who think the decision was wrong. I don't agree with Amanda's mother, but there's really no evidence that Amanda's not doing pretty well, thank you, just as things are.

And I don't agree with Thomas's contorted politcization of the case. The issue isn't really about elites versus the people, homeschooling versus public schooling, liberals versus conservatives, secular humanists versus fundamentalist Christians, mom's rights versus dad's rights.

It's about everyone rushing to preserve and protect their personal views of reality. And forgetting Amanda in the process of making her a case and a cause.


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