Maybe it's time for people to pay attention to the faith-based provisions of No Child Left Behind.
The brochure announcing a workshop co-sponsored by the Birmingham City Schools and the U.S. Department of Education was shocking to people who thought there existed in this country a careful separation of church and state. Anyone who had made her way through all gazillion pages of the No Child Left Behind legislation wasn?t shocked. Here?s the summary of the new government position on funding religious bodies with education funds?from a White House Press Release:
"Allows Community-Based Organizations to Receive Grants for After-School Programs. Before and after-school learning opportunities will be expanded by granting states and school districts freedom to award grants to faith-based and community-based organizations."
An announcement of the upcoming meeting in Birmingham has a border of patriotism stars. It proclaims that the city schools "in partnership with The Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives of the U. S. Department of Education Present No Child Left Behind:
The Importance of Faith-Based Partnerships.
A Grant Writing Workshop for Faith-Based and Community Organizations.
Got that? ?Faith-based? is repeated three times in the short announcement. Similar workshops have been taking place across the country. More accurately, they are blanketing the country.
The Birmingham meeting hall was packed. Although billed as a four-hour workshop to provide grant writing information for faith-based and community organizations, faith-based initiatives were the focus. Don't for a minute think that there's anything special about this meeting in Birmingham. Functionaries on the government payroll are crisscrossing the country--showing church groups how to toady up to government directions and collect taxpayer dollars.
The big bucks involved spawn what they always spawn--political influence-peddling. Maybe it's just a coincidence that the former mayor of a large city got himself ordained. If we had any investigative reporters who gave a fig about education and separation of church and state, they might stop shouting hosannas over No Child Left Behind and look into such matters. So far, the press has found it more fun to continue to follow the public school-bashing bandwagon and to ignore the political implications of faith-based initiatives.
Speaking on the President's Behalf
Anne Hancock introduced herself as an envoy of President George Bush and Secretary of Education Rod Paige, saying that she spoke in their behalf. Hancock noted that this is the federal legislation to direct resources to faith-based organizations to help children?s education. ?I don?t know why it wasn?t in schools already. I know what the laws are, but. . . .?
Hancocks didn?t finish the sentence, but we can finish it for her. People in the U. S. Department of Education know what the laws are, but they feel confident they can do what they damn well please. They can do it because media and politicians have joined hands in applauding the hijacking of public education. After all, Republicans and Democrats alike cheered the No Child Left Behind legislation. One can only wonder how many of them read the bill they supported so enthusiastically.
Here's a question to ask your Congressperson: Which is the worst shame? To have voted for No Child Left Behind without having read the bill? Or to have voted for it after having read it?
Repeat a Lie 111 Times and Then It's True
U. S. Assistant Secretary of Education Susan Neuman missed the Birmingham meeting, but, as she is fond of announcing in her very frequent speeches in every other nook and cranny of the land, ?We're no longer debating whether scientifically based research and scientifically based evidence is important, we know it now is important and we know it is critical."
This is the imperial "we," made famous by Queen Victoria when she pronounced, "We are not amused." Albert was long dead. But being Queen, Victoria could be sure her personal opinions would be institutionalized.
This singular "we" may not be debating with herself or her co-workers. If debate occurs when Washington, D. C. functionaries wearing earplugs refuse to listen, does that mean it didn't happen? If newspapers like the Baltimore Sun and the Los Angeles Times brook no deviance from the party line of their own hired-gun reading experts, does this mean no debate has occurred?
Every teacher knows that different children require different approaches. Any parent of more than one child knows how different children are. Insisting that there is no debate is worse than a lie; it's a mistake.
The imperial Neuman continues the party line, "As many of you know, we have counted one hundred and eleven times that the phrase "scientifically based research" is in our new law.? Thus the woman whose fine research--before the Feds gave her the nod--included evidence on the importance of libraries--now gives us a new Standardista axiom: A lie repeated 111 times is, for the purpose of dispersing U. S. Department of Education dollars, determined to be truth.
Scientific and Religious Cronyism
Two phrases identify the Bush education plan: scientifically based evidence and faith-based iniative. But note: This is science and religion based on political cronyism. The Feds brook no discussion, never mind dissension. And the Democratic politicos so quick to fall into line on the No Child Left Behind act have been singularly slow in catching on to the possibility that the Republican scheme has little to do with leaving children behind and lots to do with highjacking black votes.
U. S. Education Department functionary Anne Hancock said that the government has spent $10 trillion on education in the past half century (her boss travels the land moaning ?trillions and trillions?). Now, she says, again echoing her boss, through testing, we will be able to tell which 4th grader is behind. ?Not just which school or which class, but actually which child is behind."
Standardistas utter such claims with a tone of reverence: a test so wondrous that it can identify which child is behind. Standardistas utters such claims with the reverence and inevitability of a traffic cop extolling radar's utility in identifying a speeding car.
Funny thing: did they ever try asking a teacher which kids in her class are struggling? My fellow teachers and I can tell them. And we don?t need high-stakes tests or faith-based initiatives to do it. We can give them a whole lot of important information about our students, things unknown to Harcourt or CTB McGraw-Hill. Unknown even to the local clergy.
Of course, identifying "which child is behind" is just a smokescreen. What Hancock was leading up to was her next statement: ?Good research has shown us what works in education.?
Right. Here comes another version of the sell with which the U. S. Department of Education is blanketing the country. Modern-day counterparts to Fuller Brush Men, these government flunkies are required to invoke the phrases ?good research? and ?scientific reading? at least 63 times in every speech. The people in control of the pursestrings make it plain: If you don?t support and endorse ?scientific reading", then you are just so much mashed potatoes.
Whipping Their Little Hands with a Ruler When They Get It Wrong
But Hancock give the party line her own bizarre nuance: ?My teacher taught me how to read with phonics and she whipped my little hand with a ruler when I got it wrong. We know phonics works. We know regular testing of students works.?
And if slapping them into phonics doesn?t work, our federal tax dollars is instituting that old-time religion as a backup plan. How big a step is it from faith-based to faith-healing? If you can?t slap them into phonics, how about immersion? Exorcism? Laying on of hands? Organizations purporting to be faith-based now exist that promise to ?send a salvation note from the desk of God? to anyone the payer requests. Now we taxpayers are going to pay them to send a phonics note. And call it science.
Postscript (with apologies to Fred Allen:
You can take all the sincerity in the federal functionaries pushing No Child Left Behind, place it in the navel of a mosquito carrying the West Nile Virus, and still have room for 3 caraway seeds and a Standardista's heart.