Lesson Plan for the Nation; Let Students Read Constitutional Documents

Article excerpt

Byline: Nat Hentoff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

At the Stevens Creek public school in Cupertino, California, fifth-grade teacher Steve Williams, an evangelical Christian, has had his American history lesson plans - and supplementary original documents that led to the forming of the Constitution - rejected by the principal, lest he "proselytize" his students to become Christians. The documents mention God.

As a history teacher, Mr. Williams - like other teachers in the school district - gives his students curriculum-related handouts to supplement the district's fifth-grade history textbook, "A New Nation: Adventures in Time and Place." Among the handouts are excerpts of original documents from the years during which our Constitution was being formed, as we became a free, independent nation.

Among those documents are: Samuel Adams' "The Rights of the Colonists"; excerpts from George Washington's prayer journal and John Adams' diary; as well as excerpts from the Declaration of Independence - all documents that mention God. At a time when the fundamental principles of our history are taught superficially in our schools, Mr. Williams should be commended.

In having his students examine these documents, Mr. Williams explains the historical role of religion in our nation's founding and the reason for the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. That provision forbids the government from preferring one religion over any other, thereby preventing the state from interfering with the practice of religion or adherence to no religion at all.

However, at the Stevens Creek Elementary School, Mr. Williams is the only teacher required by the principal, Patricia Vidmar, to submit, in advance, all his lesson plans and supplemental handouts for review so the principal can see if they contain any religious content. (According to Mr. Williams, only about 5 percent of his handouts have references to God or to Christianity.) Since May 19, 2004, Ms. Vidmar has rejected all of Mr. Williams' proposed lesson plans and original founding documents where God or Christianity are mentioned in them.

Before this edict from the principal, Mr. Williams taught his students lessons in the origins of such religious holidays in America as Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan and the Chinese New Year. But in April, the principal ordered him not to teach a lesson about the origins of Easter because it is a Christian holiday.

Mr. Williams has made it clear to the principal that he understands, and agrees, that he must not try to convert his students to Christian belief in the classroom. …