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Education and the Pagan Child |
| by Christina Aubin |
There is an amazing selection of educational opportunities available to children in the US. Selections include public schools, private schools, charter schools, and home schooling. Which route to take is purely a personal choice based upon what best suits the child and family. The choices and combinations are endless.
I was never a public education fan, until the past year. I personally had a difficult and horrible experience in the public school system where I grew up. However, after a private school handed my daughter as difficult a life lesson as anyone could hand a young child, we ended up in the public school system.
We found ourselves in a new town, suddenly school-less because of a Waldorf teacher who lacked any form of integrity or judgement left us hanging the day before her transfer was to occur. Based upon our acceptance and start date at the Cape Ann Waldorf, I withdrew my daughter from her beloved Lexington Waldorf, to begin the next week at her new school. However, the night before the day she was to begin the teacher called and said "she could not handle another student" (mind you there were only 14 in the class) and this was "something she had to do."
In desperation I called the public school system to find out the procedure in enrolling my daughter and explained our situation. Thus we landed at the local public school, in a rather bumpy re-entry into school. I was amazed at the staff at this school, they rallied around my daughter and supported her in so many ways as she slowly came out from what was the most devastating experience of her young life.
Being that my daughter transferred from a Waldorf into a public there were gaps in her learning base, as the two educational systems are radically different. The teachers worked with her and guided her through; they spent extra time and encouraged her. What we found was a nurturing, caring and supportive environment for our daughter, which is offered free to anyone!
Today public schools can offer many advantages to their pupils. They have resources some private schools only dream of; of course much of this is dependent upon the location and school district you are in. Public schools also have to follow set rules and regulations set forth by the school administration, public law and public scrutiny. I have come to realize, after my disastrous involvement with Cape Ann Waldorf, that public scrutiny can be a good thing in insuring the well being of our children is being met.
Suggestions for dealing with Public Schools
Federal Guidelines for religious expression in public schools
- Have a copy of the Parent and Student handbook. Be sure to read it through so you have an understanding of the rules and regulations (including dress code - note any rules regarding religious medals or jewelry - it has to be an all or none situation).
- Know you child's (children's) teacher and support staff. If you are "out of the broom closet" then be sure to create the environment in which folks can feel comfortable asking questions. Although it is a violation of your civil rights for any member of the school staff to ask you your religion, if you are out of the "broom closet" and it is obvious, information will help quiet any fears that may arise. I have found this to begin some wonderful conversations and allow further understanding in an area that tends to be "homogeneous Christian".
- Be involved in the classroom and school, if at all possible. This allows you to have a finger on the pulse of the school, it also allows others in the school to know you as who you are, not what you represent. If unable to actually be "in school" then be sure to develop a relationship with the teacher that allows frequent and open communication.
- If you want exercise your ability to have religious days off, you should find out the policy on notification of days off for religious purpose. The school has no right to deem whether your religion is a "valid" religion -- as this again would be a violation of your civil rights. You could worship kumquats and it could be a high holy kumquat day and they would have to allow an excused absence.
- Rules can not be made that single out one religion over the others in public schools. All rules must be inclusive to all or exclusive to all in a public school setting - if they do single out particular religions then they are violating your First Amendment rights. (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.)
- Any and all issues that might arise should be well documented. If possible see that all communication is written and copied to all pertinent personnel and organizations, sent via return receipt mail service. When issues arise keep logs on any phone or personal conversations; it helps to keep you organized in your dealings. Dedicate a three-ring binder to house this log so you can add pages, as you need. Never, never underestimate the power of carbon copying (cc'ing) everyone - it makes people accountable and acknowledges that they have the ball in their court. (Your school handbook should lay out the proper notification procedure and chain of command within the school district - be sure to also include an outside group such as ACLU, if possible)
What are the ground rules for religious expression in public schools?
Secretary of Education Richard Riley, at the direction of President Clinton, issued guidelines in 1995 and updated them in 1998 to reflect recent court decisions.
A synopsis of the guidelines:
Students have the same right to engage in individual or group prayer and religious discussion during the school day as they do to engage in other comparable activity.
Local school authorities have "substantial discretion" to impose rules of order but may not structure the rules to discriminate against religious activity or speech.
Students may attempt to persuade peers about religious topics as they would any other topics, but schools should stop such speech that constitutes harassment.
Students may participate in before- or after-school events with religious content, such as "see-you-at-the-flagpole" gatherings, on the same terms they can participate in other non-curricular activities on school premises.
Teachers and administrators are prohibited from either encouraging or discouraging religious activity and from participating in such activity with students.
Public schools may not provide religious instruction but may teach about religion.
Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork and other written and oral assignments. The work should be judged by ordinary academic standards and against other "legitimate pedagogical concerns." Students may distribute religious literature on the same terms other literature unrelated to curriculum can be distributed.
Schools have "substantial discretion" to excuse students from lessons objectionable on religious or other conscientious grounds. But students generally don't have a federal right to be excused from lessons inconsistent with religious beliefs or practices.
Schools may actively teach civic values and morals, even if some of those values also happen to be held by religions.
Students may display religious messages on clothing to the same extent they may display other comparable messages.
For the complete printable version of these guidlelines, see: THE EQUAL ACCESS ACT.
Public School Links:
Private schools can offer an educational view that is not as wide and as politically correct as the public school systems. There are some beautiful educational philosophies out there that are wonderfully implemented. In some areas they are the better choice of educational alternatives.
I am, however, tainted on private schools at this point in my life. In many instances you are bound to their channels of problem resolution, when problems occur. Dependent on the school and the people running it this can be an infuriating experience. They do not have the same rules of conduct regulating them as do the public schools, as they are private institutions, which can produce issues and areas of concern.
Many states offer consumer protection laws that can be utilized by consumers against any institution (including private schools). In Massachusetts there are laws against the unfair and deceptive trade practices covered by Massachusetts general law 93A. Be sure when involving yourself in a private school situation you have an understanding of the routes for conflict resolution and the educational and philosophical mandate of the school.
Also although an institution is private, they have to follow the law and have regard for one's civil rights. However, the path is a bit murkier as they are not a federally or state funded public institution. For example, look at the issues arising from the Boy Scouts not allowing gays, it is a murky issue based upon the fact that they are a private group not a public, although they are more a semi-public group. The reason this issue is in high court is because the definitions and regulations as not as clear-cut as they are in a public setting.
Understanding the schools educational philosophy is dramatically important in choosing schools, however each individual school will be different, sometime drastically. I will share a personal experience as an illustration.
My daughter went to an accredited Waldorf school in Lexington Massachusetts, who is a full member of Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA). She had a wonderful experience, the school was one that was centered on the child's needs and on nurturing the whole child, it was an environment she felt safe in. All interactions were based upon mutual respect and honesty, we never felt at any time my daughter's best interests were not being served.
When we moved to the North Shore of Boston, we choose another Waldorf School in Beverly, Massachusetts, assuming it was the same supportive, warm wonderful type of school that Lexington was. We, however, could not have been more wrong in our assumption.
The Cape Ann Waldorf was deceptive from the onset. They told us they were accredited, they weren't. They told us they were full member of AWSNA, they aren't. They accepted my daughter, had her visit her new class, and gave her a start date, then the 3rd grade teacher called the night before she was supposed to begin and said she changed her mind. That was the day before she was supposed to begin, she called and said, "this is something I have to do" and she could not begin the next day.
That was it, we attempted to go through their channels to resolve this, but to no avail. We had the former school try to intervene, but they would not discuss it with them. In fact, they lied to my daughter's old school and said a decision was not made when in fact they had called the Sunday before she was supposed to begin.
So here we were, with a devastated child, who had the only schooling system she had ever known, ripped away from her by people who were highly unethical, completely deceptive, and uncaring about the callousness of their action upon a child.
Both schools were Waldorf, however the implementation of the educational philosophy was on one hand (Lexington Waldorf) was superb and a fine example of the beauty of this learning system and the other (Cape Ann Waldorf) was a nightmare of co-dependent, unethical and deceptive people. We were floored by the drastic difference between the two schools.
So I urge you to investigate fully any school you are entertaining enrolling your child in. Be sure that the people running it do have your child's best interest at heart. Make sure it is accredited, as that is the only way you can be sure that the school is following their mandate. Be sure to go through the school manual and understand it fully. Please work on the side of caution for the sake of your children.
I do not know if the second school was taken aback when I discussed our Spiritual Path as Witches with the teacher (in all honesty after that discussion things changed quickly). The Lexington school, after meeting with teachers and staff, were comfortable and actually highly understanding and encouraged us to share our beliefs with them. The Lexington Waldorf provided an environment that lent to sharing and learning about all different Spiritual Paths. The teacher from the Cape Ann Waldorf, looked as though a truck hit her when I told her. Which is funny in retrospect, as the Waldorf festival philosophy is not too far from our Wheel of the Year festivities.
It is hard for me to fathom why a school, based in a philosophy of nurturing the whole child, caring for children as a primary concern, protecting them from having to grow up too soon, could ever do what the Cape Ann Waldorf did to my child. Their callousness and non-concern for the feeling of my child, who had been Waldorf since Kindergarten, absolutely floored me. But what it did drive home, as a keen point, is that independent private schools are just that, independent of outside control but also outside any pressure to keep them in line and acting in the best manner for the children.
I can say that this school handed my young daughter a serious life lesson. One we, as her parents, attempted to circumvent. We were moving to a new area and taking her from her school of 4 years, and felt we were minimizing a rough reentry by staying within the same school philosophy. Little did we realize how different the schools could be.
I am not anti-private school, but rather anti-non-certified and rouge schools, which run outside the mandate of their educational philosophy. Also private schools do not offer the same clear cut do's and don'ts that public schools do, in public schools there are clear cut violations of civil rights where religion is concerned, not so for private schools.
So buyer beware!
Private School Links:
This is a new topic for me so the research has been interesting. It seems charter schools are considered public schools and therefore must follow the same rules. They are held accountable in the same manner that public schools are.
In this, a charter school can be set up with a particular educational philosophy (i.e. Waldorf, Montessori) but it bound to the same laws and rules that traditional public schools are. Also, it is an interesting alternative for parents seeking a slightly different angle of education for their children but are secure in the civil rights protections that public education offers families and their children. Any group of parents can band together and put forth an initiative for a charter school, so if it interests...
The following are excepts to assist you in understanding Charter schools.
Charter schools are public schools operated under a charter (contract) between a public agency and groups of parents, teachers, school administrators, or others who want to create more alternatives and choice within the public school system. The contracted agencies are expected to produce agreed-upon levels of student achievement within a certain period (usually three to five years). If they don't, their sponsors may end their charters. Charter schools give parents, students, and educators public school alternatives based on the idea that competition will bring new educational ideas. This brochure provides an overview of the charter school movement and directs you to additional sources for more information.
1999 ERIC Digest Charter Schools: An Approach for Rural Education, written by Timothy Collins, director of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools, and the 1998 ERIC Digest Charter Schools, written by Margaret Hadderman, a document analyst for the ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management.
Instead, a school receives a "charter"--in effect, a license to operate--that is good for a certain period (usually five years). During that time, the school enjoys freedom from red tape in return for a pledge to produce specific results. It decides who will teach what and how, where to locate and what hours to operate, whether to require uniforms, what homework to assign, how best to impart reading skills to six year olds, and which sports (if any) to offer. It can spend its money on teachers, tutors, counselors, or computers--as its leaders see fit. Since nobody is forced to attend, the school must answer through the marketplace to its students and parents. And since the charter-issuing body (typically a state or local school board, sometimes a university) is not obliged to renew its charter, if it wants to remain in existence it must also deliver the promised results, which are usually defined in academic standards and tracked on statewide tests. If the charter-issuer wishes to ensure that the school doesn't voyage into curricular outer space, it can stipulate core skills and knowledge. Otherwise, those running the school decide what to teach. (The one big exception: no religion.)
Excerpted from WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD IDEAS? By Chester E. Finn, Jr. American Experiment Quarterly, Spring 1998-http://vs1.channel1.com/users/hudson/library/badgood.html
"Charter schools are public schools and so are bound by the Constitution's prohibition against the establishment of religion," Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU
Charter School Links:
Homeschooling: Homeschooling offers a curriculum that you, as teacher and parent, control. There is controversy over the use of Charter School funds for these endeavors, but public money is available to homeschoolers. I am not well versed in these matters, so I offer the following links as a launch pad for your exploration.
Montessori at Home
Pagan Parenting Coordinator - The Witches' Voice
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