Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Friendly fire

KSN&C taken to the woodshed over Draud piece

I spent a good deal of last week researching the public utterances of Jon Draud, one of the finalists presently under consideration for Kentucky's next Education Commissioner. In the process I reviewed 993 articles since 1990 either about Jon Draud, written by Draud or where he was quoted. I wrote a cover piece that was favorable to his candidacy. This stood in contrast to my previous assertion that the board should have (and still should) renew their search on a nation-wide basis this spring.

Based on the record, and my own biases, I think Draud should remain in the hunt, while the search goes on. Draud disagrees. He thinks the board should select from among the current finalists.

After my cover piece, I presented a bullet list of Draud-related items along with selected articles and excerpts, which stood by themselves.

During all that review, only one time did my spidey senses go off. It was this quote that did it:
"Furthermore, we have taken God out of our society and our schools. Our
major institutions are afraid to teach values, while many parents have
completely abdicated their responsibilities. Parents frequently do not teach
their children about God and traditional American values, and schools are
forbidden to do so by our court system."

Then I got an email from a - not only a loyal reader - but helpful insider who has cooperated with KSN&C in the past. Sending me his concerns in an email was friendly because it invited a private response. But the issue is legitimate and should be fair game, thus, my response here.

The message had a little vinegar in it.

Jon Draud may be a good guy in many ways. But there is absolutely no place in a
pluralistic society -- and in the public school world -- for a man who wrote [this] as recently as the late 1990's...

He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew he was pandering to the religious right, and demagoging serious issues of personal conviction. Schools are forbidden to teach about God as part of promoting tolerance and respect for different views, and preventing us from becoming a fundamentalist theocracy. These comments horrify and disgust me, and I am startled that you would have quoted them as part of your extensive praise.

If I left the impression that I endorsed every statement in the numerous articles I posted, I didn't.

In fact, I debated whether to include the particular article, and ultimately decided that it was germane and to withhold it would be improper. My opinions aside, I think KSN&C readers have come to look for a balanced approach to the news. At least, I hope so.

There are a few of problems with Draud's statement. I would argue that anyone who thinks God is absent in this society, just isn't paying attention. There is no absence of teaching values in the schools - but there is much public debate about whose values should be taught. I agree that many teachers are afraid to teach about religion and prefer to avoid it, which really causes problems in western civilization courses - where incidently, Christianity doesn't always come across too well. In our Democracy, parents are under no obligation to believe in or teach their children about God at all - and that choice does not make them bad citizens - and their children must not be made to feel "less than" anyone else in the school. Religion, or the absence thereof, is a personal matter under our Constitution.

This kind of issue can be an automatic disqualifier. But in this case, I just don't believe that Draud was advancing any plan that he would try to implement in the schools. Perhaps relying on my personal knowledge of the man, I concluded it was political speak from a moderate Republican who frequently went against his own party. After all, I sat with him in class at Xavier University for a semester. If he wanted to establish a little religion, he had the means and the opportunity; but aparently no desire. And I might add, throughout our history, if any group was likely to feel their religion was specifically disrespected in the public schools - it would be Roman Catholics. The public schools may not have established a particular sect, but we sure established Protestantism. That's just historical fact.

So was Draud pandering to northern Kentucky conservatives? Perhaps. Are my personal biases in the way? I don't think so, but maybe. I took pains to describe my connections to Draud.

On the other side of the argument, it would appear that the Supreme Court under John Roberts is leaning toward government neutrality on questions of religion, a principle which has allowed states to provide reading teachers to low-performing students, even if they attend a religious school. (See Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 2002, and Mitchell v. Helms, 2000.)

I believe schools are better served by Sandra Day-O'Connor's endorsement test. That's the test Draud should use, should he become commissioner, and the issue comes up.

But I think we can count on Draud to continue his focus on providing adequate funding for the schools. That is my hope.

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