Academic journal article Childhood Education

Understanding Political-Religious Resistance and Pressure

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Understanding Political-Religious Resistance and Pressure

Article excerpt

The current contentious climate surrounding school reform efforts is a product of broad social discontent, global economic upheaval, debates about multiculturalism and values, and fundamentalist religious and political entrenchment. Those working toward school change too often ignore these factors and instead focus more narrowly on academic programs, instructional materials, innovative technology, measurable outcomes and disciplinary structures. Advocates for change must understand the pivotal role of political and religious resistance and pressure if they are to improve education.

Social and political discontent historically has accompanied education reform. The school change process in the 1990s, however, is dramatically different. First, media sensationalism often reduces complex curriculum issues to sound bites and judgments based on isolated incidents. Second, philosophical and theological reflection is denigrated in favor of inflammatory rhetoric and apocalyptic threats, leading many educators to retreat from public discourse. Third, moral and spiritual bankruptcy pervades the culture. Personal greed, senseless violence and calculated revenge too often are more prevalent than concern, commitment and caring.

If educators hope to improve society and ameliorate injustice, they must be willing to engage these issues and move beyond merely transmitting information. Students need help understanding the complexities of the postmodern technological global society.

Political-Religious Polarities

In the U.S., the highly charged conservative political-religious atmosphere has polarized communities and terrorized educators. This atmosphere is characterized by an intimate relationship between the radical political right and fundamentalist religious groups, and by the political left's antagonism toward these religious alliances and resistance to theological sensibilities.

Local school board campaigns, letters to the editor, church newsletters and media reports across the nation are filled with accusations and threats. The following exchange of letters in a newspaper forum is indicative of this tension:

In this land of ours, we take pride in saying that we have freedom of religion. However, when religious organizations get into the business of making laws, I believe it is time to establish the concept that we in America should also have "Freedom From Religion!" Make no mistake, these are dangerous waters. (Ruiz, 1994, p. 8)

A response followed that attacked this position by naming education programs responsible for the anti-religion ideology:

While "Religious Right Bigots" are being assailed, the religious left zealots are preaching their religion of immorality, situation ethics, outcomes-based education, sex education without moral values, school-based clinics promoting birth control and abortion, euthanasia, child rights and on and on. They want freedom from religion from the religious right while they claim a constitutional right to spout their religion. Make no mistake, these are dangerous waters! (Martin, 1994, p. 7)

These letters illustrate the steady barrage of confrontations over differences in religion, political ideology, school curriculum, social programs and school change. Often, the attackers use ad hominem arguments, broad generalizations and apocalyptic warnings, making it difficult to sort out the arguments or clarify the rhetoric.

Educators who ignore this political-religious phenomenon, either from naivete or neglect, may find that tremendous conflict or, at least, paralysis will result in their communities (Marzano, 1994). Those proposing curricular change and innovative practices should expect political-religious interest groups to attack programs they oppose and demand changes that fit their ideology. We must recognize that education wars are raging. The right is waging a holy war to save the soul of a Judeo-Christian nation that it considers to have fallen into the quagmire of sin and idolatry. …

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