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Values-Based Education

School prayer can be Constitutional

June 23rd, 2007, 8:03 pm

I support the promotion of values-based education in the American public school system. In fact, I think that educating students about values is more important than teaching them algebra, biology, even literature.

Values are not, however, the Ten Commandments. It's simply unfair that children from families who are Buddhist or Shintoist or Muslim or Hindu should be forced to learn and practice the doctrinal mandates for Jews and Christians. Unfortunately, some supporters of values-based education are more interested in rearing young people on doctrinal Christianity than they are in encouraging them to be polite, considerate, and conscientious members of society.

Religion has its place in the classroom. But not a single religion. Students should study all the major world religions, with an emphasis on the common values each shares. For instance, "karma" (in Hinduism and Buddhism), "wu-wei" (in Taoism and Confucianism), and the "do unto others" motto in Judeo-Christianity and Islam all address the same moral principle: You treat others with courtesy, then you will be treated likewise. Why students aren't learning such worldly fundamentals--and instead are wrangling with noun-verb agreement and quadratic equations--shows you just how out of touch with the truly important things in life our education system is.

Values, on the other hand, are not necessarily religious principles. I'm talking here more of ethics. If I'm a young healthy man sitting in a seat on a bus, and an old lady comes onto the bus, I should without hesitation offer her my seat. That is not a religious commandment. It is common courtesy. It may not seem like much, but common courtesy is in my opinion the "moral fabric" that holds a culture, a country, a family together.

Imagine living in a society where people--complete strangers--actually acknowledge each other when walking along the sidewalk, when standing across from each other on the subway, when sitting down next to each other in a restaurant. Imagine people smiling in a genuinely friendly way, and cordially making eye contact, when encountering each other in public places like elevators, airport ticket lines, crosswalks. Such a society IS possible, providing its citizens have been socialized (i.e., educated) to behave in such a manner by their public schools.

Christian conservatives believe that fundamental to any such society is faith as expressed through prayer. However, those who want prayer to return to the public classroom realize that having students recite an actual prayer--beginning with "Dear God" and ending with "Amen"--is Constitutionally impossible. Hence they promote the more benign "moment of silence" during which religious students may pray and non-religious students may do other things, like meditate I guess, or day dream. I support having a "moment of silence" in the classroom. In silence there is the potential for spirituality, and spirituality--however you may wish to conceive of it--is important enough to have some sort of place in school. Because nondoctrinal spirituality is not equivalent to religion, a moment of silence in public education does not violate the Constitutional separation of Church and State.

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