We live in a changing world that is highly diverse in the makeup of
its people. A World Village, (Table 1), demonstrates the diversity in continent
representation, economics, and religion. While this diversity adds a richness
to a society, it historically has often been a source of conflict. Perhaps
the conflict is no more visible than in our public schools.
Table 1. A World Village
If 5.5 billion people were somehow proportionally concentrated
into a global village of 1,000 persons, we would have:
Fear and misunderstanding all too often fuel the fires of conflict. I was
adequately reminded of this when traveling to the Slovak Republic to work
with school principals in democratizing their schools after the Velvet
Revolution. Because they were a part of the communist regime for more than
four decades, I held a perception of these former "communists" that was
based on fear, deceit, and misunderstanding propagandized by politicians
and the media. After working with Slovak school leaders for nearly a year
and a half, I have discovered they are a caring, hard-working, loving people.
We have many more similarities than differences in our hopes, dreams, and
values. This discovery came about through dialogue as we gave one another
the gift of being heard and understood. Consequently, fear, distrust, suspicion,
and ungrounded hatred have given way to respect, admiration, collaboration,
and commitment to the work we share.
80 South Americans
60 North Americans
60 would control one half of the total income
500 would be constantly hungry
600 would live in shanty towns
700 would be illiterate
(Joseph, 1991, p. 6)
85 Other Religious Group
A similar kind of fear and misunderstanding has gripped many of our
public schools and communities across America and throughout lowa. On one
side are those who are referred to as the Christian Right, considered by
many to be the self appointed conscience of American society (Kaplan, 1994).
In their efforts to shape their public schools, they are often seen as
waging aggressive attacks-"attacks that at times seem to be designed to
dismantle this nation's education system" (Jones, 1993, p. 22). On the
other side of the battle lines are school officials who frequently are
seen by the Christian Right as defensive, anti-Christian (even satanistic),
wimps who have yielded to all of the evils of a secular world.
Since the mid 1980s, groups representing the Christian Rights-the Christian
Coalition, Citizens for Excellence in Education, Focus on the Family, National
Association of Christian Educators, Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America,
and many smaller organizations-have become "increasingly persistent and
increasingly interested in turning the nation's public school system into
a system of sectarian 'back to basics' schools" (Jones, 1993, p. 22). "Attacks"
by these groups and strategies designed by school officials to counter
the "attacks" have in some cases escalated beyond local battles to a culture
war over control of our nation's public schools.
Through the debris of battle many challenges emerge for schools and
communities. How can we develop an understanding of the challenge some
religious groups feel to live in a secular society while answering to the
higher authority of their beliefs (Hitz & Butterfield, 1994)? How do
schools balance respect for the individual parent's beliefs with respect
for all people's beliefs (Fege, 1994)? How much control do parents have
over what their children are taught? How do we build trust and understanding
in the school community? How do educators communicate to all citizens without
alienating people who align with groups holding diverse viewpoints?
The challenges confronting public education are not going to go away.
Nor are citizens who hold diverse beliefs about and expectations for their
public schools. And educators cannot operate closed systems that are unresponsive
to the community they serve.
We must be open to learning about and working with people who see the
world and life differently than we do if we are to provide a quality education
to our young people. "It is the involvement with the needs of others that
provides the cement that binds people together in community" (Joseph, 1991,
p. 7). If we are to bring the diversity of our local communities state,
and nation together in a team learning environment where people support
one another, we must create a climate in which they know and understand
one another-the gift of being heard and understood. Given the time, it
is possible to find common grounds for cooperation. As Molnar (1994) noted,
"We can find considerable common ground if we learn to respect each other
and are willing to acknowledge that, even when we disagree, our respective
views are shaped by an abiding respect for public education and concern
for the welfare of our young"(p. 5).
Unless school officials intend to declare all out war on segments of
their communities and play power politics to protect their domain, they
must ensure that their decision making processes are open and that they
protect the rights of both the most vocal and the most silent in their
communities (Boston, 1994). And if those representing the Christian Right
truly want to shape their schools through academic excellence (Simonds,
1994) rather than destroy them, then we must develop out of our differences
a shared understanding of the role of religion and values in public schools
In an effort to assist schools and communities in developing greater
understanding of divergent views about the role of religion and values
in Iowa's public schools, the Institute for Educational Leadership hosted
a working conference designed to initiate dialogue among diverse groups.
Sixty elementary and secondary teachers and administrators, college/university
faculty members, State Department of Education and intermediate agency
consultants, board of education members, professional association representatives,
and community leaders and citizens representing separationist and anti-separationist
views were invited to the University of Northern Iowa campus. Individuals
were selected based upon their keen interest in the role of religion and
values in public schools, their skills as communicators, and their enthusiasm
for exploring issues in the interactive environment characteristic of the
working conference format. Each participant selected 1 of 6 areas for indepth
Each participant prioritized issue areas and was invited to write a position
paper on the issue of greatest interest. Papers were submitted prior to
the conference, copied, and sent to participants in the same issue area.
This monograph is a compilation of the position papers in each issue area
as well as the consensus reports developed by the six groups during the
three day conference and written by each group's facilitator(s). Because
time prevented development of a conference report, these papers represent
the views of the participants within each issue area and are not necessarily
shared by all conference participants.
- The Current Debate in Public Education: Whose Children? Whose Schools?
- The Teaching of Values in the Public Schools: Which Values? Whose Values?
- School Choice: Possibility or Problem?
- Separation of Church and State: What are the Legal Issues?
- Consensus Building in the Community: What Generates Trust and Respect?
- Changing Schools for a Changing Society: The Schools as a Positive Force.
As planners for the working conference identified critical issues imbedded
in divergent views on the control of schools, many skeptics in the university
community and in schools and communities across lowa began to emerge. Some
even posited that bringing people with strongly held divergent views together
would be highly volatile and laiden with risk. To the knowledge of the
planning team, conference participants, and many people throughout the
nation who have wrestled with this issue, such a conference had never been
Like participants involved in the conference, you will make several
discoveries as you read this monograph. The participants discovered that
when provided an interactive environment, people are comfortable suspending
judgment in order to help each other become aware of the contradictions
and confusions in each other's thoughts. Through dialogue people can go
beyond any one individual's understanding by exploring issues from many
points of view. Considerably more similarities in our beliefs exist than
there are differences. Misinformation, which in many cases has caused misunderstanding,
suspicion, and distrust, can be overcome with education. Gradual progress
in the larger debate concerning the control of public schools is attainable
when views from all sides are respected and addressed. Democratic processes
demonstrate "genius not so much by satisfying all parties as by minimizing
their dissatisfaction." And they discovered people can often live very
well with a situation where they can make their case and yet another view
is implemented so long as the learning process is open and everyone acts
While some issues remain unresolved, a climate of respect, openness,
integrity, inquiry, and willingness to confront in a positive sense has
been created. It is this climate, perhaps more than anything else, that
gives us as people with diverse views the best hope of building a richness
out of our diversity that shapes and nurtures public education.
It is my belief, so clearly stated by M. J. Dolan, that "this monograph
will remain a living document because of the work of conference participants"
(personal communication). Perhaps parts of it will live in your school
and community as issues are addressed and resolutions are forged. Through
greater understanding of differences we can develop in our schools and
communities better working relations and greater sensitivity to all citizens
for the common good of education.
- Boston, J. (1994). In search of common ground. Educational Leadership,
- Fege, A. (1994). A tug of war over tolerance. Educational
Leadership, 51(4), 22-23.
- Haynes, C. (1994). Beyond the culture wars. Educational
Leadership, 51(4), 30-34.
- Hitz, R., & Butterfield, P. (1994). When church meets state. The American School Board Journal, 181(1), 43-44.
- Jones, J. (1993). Targets of the right. The American School
Board Journal, 180(4), 22-29.
- Joseph, J. (1991, Winter). Leadership for America's third century:
The imperatives of a civil society. Phi Kappa Phi, pp. 5-7.
- Kaplan, G. (1994, May). Shotgun wedding: Notes on public education's
encounter with the new Christian Right. Phi Delta Kappan, 75, K1-K12.
- Molnar, A. (1994). Fundamental differences. Educational Leadership,
- Simonds, R. (1994). A plea for the children. Educational
Leadership, 51(4), 12-15.
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