Is God Allowed in Public School?

Cassie Lyles

The internet is rife with memes and viral posts blaming the problems in our schools on the fact that God is no longer welcome there.  A simple Google search will reveal plenty of examples. There is even the possibility of a bill being filed in this year’s legislative session requiring two minutes of silence at the beginning of each school day to create space for prayer in school.  (As a side note, this would essentially mean that, over the course of the year, an entire instructional day would be lost in this practice once you add it up.) As a practicing Christian, I am offended at the notion that anyone thinks that God is so small as to be “not allowed” anywhere!  You can’t exactly ban an omnipresent, all powerful being, and you can’t have it both ways. This exaggeration is just another way to try to pretend that Christianity is being discriminated against when what some people are actually wanting is that Christianity should be given priority over other faiths.  It’s almost as if those crying out on this topic conveniently forget the first phrase of the First Amendment which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  

Prayer is allowed in school.  In fact, if a student asks for space to pray, it must be provided for them.  Many Christian students, if they pray at school, are comfortable doing so in the midst of whatever else they may be doing.  Muslim students, on the other hand, often rearrange their prayer times so that they do not interfere with school or simply because they are afraid to request the space and time to conduct their prayers.  In fact, the only student in my ten year career who has ever asked to pray is a student I have right now. Almost every day at the conclusion of last period he asks if I have time for him to pray. He takes off his shoes and faces towards Mecca and prays.  Many times, I take that time to sit quietly at my desk and pray alongside him even if he doesn’t know it. It is a beautiful picture of the religious freedom we have in America, two people quietly practicing their own faith alongside each other and respecting that we do so differently.  

Students may lead prayer amongst themselves.  This happens in spaces like Fellowship of Christian Athletes or other student organized clubs.  When I was in school, we had morning prayer groups and events like “Meet me at the Pole” where students gathered around the flagpole before school and prayed.  The caveat, of course, is that teachers cannot lead students in prayer. This is only right, as young minds are impressionable and should not be swayed by the particular faith of their teacher.  This is a family responsibility. Faith is diverse and there is too big a possibility that a teacher may accidentally or intentionally force their own ideas of faith onto a student. Additionally, there are now standards created for Bible literacy in schools which some schools offer and others do not.  You can check them out here if you want, https://education.ky.gov/curriculum/conpro/socstud/Pages/historical_cultural_influences_of_the_bible.aspx

Next to my desk, I have a bulletin board of pictures and quotes that help remind me that I am human and refocus me in my mission to help students.  Among those words is a prayer that I use to start every day before kids get to my room to remind myself how I want to live each day.

“May God give you Grace never to sell yourself short! 

Grace to risk something big for something good!   

Grace to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth 

and too small for anything but Love!” 

-William Sloane Coffin

Last week these words weren’t enough.  I listened to a 15 year old girl weeping down the hall about a trauma from her childhood that the lesson her class was doing had reawoken in her memory.  I was not supposed to hear her conversation, but she said, “I prayed to God over and over that my mom would come home and He never answered me. I wanted to believe so badly.”  Would two minutes of forced silence at the beginning of each day help her? I think not. I however, sat at my desk for part of my planning quietly praying for her and crying my own eyes out because she’s not the only student carrying these huge traumas and needing so much more help than school can provide.  If we want to help students like this one, we need to be making sure we have as many mental health counselors in school as possible and wrap around services that help in times of homelessness and hunger. Mindfulness programs like the one we have at Fairdale High can also be an amazing help to students to help them acquire coping skills and have a place to de escalate.  

This being said, I am one of many teachers who view teaching as a kind of ministry.  I don’t need to lead my students in prayer, force them to pray, or even say anything about God to daily live out Jesus’s teachings in my words and actions.  I can show them love in action every day. I can care for them and listen when they feel voiceless. I can be the kind word when all they have heard that day is anxiety and tension.  I can give them tools and knowledge to move forward in life. I need the strength that God gives me each day to be able to do that because teaching is a weary, hard calling. God is still in our schools.  It’s just that Christianity is not and should not be forced upon students without their consent.

We Need Funding; Undercounting Hurts Kids

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

The Census is coming! The last census was in 2010 and it is estimated that around one million children were not counted in that year. The census determines funding for all kinds of government services and education is included in that. Undercounting means less funding for students, severely restricting the type of resources they have access to. Here at VOTE, we will be bringing you up-to-date information on the census as well as what you can do to help.

If you’re a JCPS teacher, you hopefully received information from your school to pass out during our Parent-Teacher Conferences. Both the school district and your union will be working to ensure that every possible student is counted. We are also working with a coalition of other organizations that have the best interests of children at heart.

In the coming weeks, you will begin receiving detailed information from the Census Bureau. JCPS teachers will be encouraged to take time to discuss the census with their students. You can win $500 for you and you students if you enter the sweepstakes after using Census Bureau’s Statistics in Schools materials during the Census Bureau’s Statistics in Schools Week from March 2-6. Resources from JCPS are also being provided to help teachers and students understand how the census works.

On April 1, the census will officially be open for responses. Families will be able to answer online for the first time this year. Options for mail and phone are still available, but all families will have access to a link to fill out their census information. If you want to be notified when the link becomes active, you can text COUNTMEIN to 51555 to receive updates from Metro United Way about the census.

Census information is protected by federal law. Your responses, and the responses of your students, are not to be used by the government in a harmful way. It’s important to note that the citizenship question will not be on the census. Families need to respond regardless of citizenship status, which won’t be tied to the census at all. It’s important to help families complete the census as early as possible. From May to July, census takers will begin knocking door-to-door in order to make sure everyone is counted. You will only have your door knocked on if you have NOT completed the census.

Our national union, NEA, is encouraging educators to sign up with the Census Bureau to be census takers. Why? Because our families and communities already trust us. Families that haven’t completed the census yet are more likely to open the door for you, a friendly face they know from school. You can apply to be a census taker using the census website, a position you will be paid for!

Keep up with census updates here on VOTE! All of our census information is compiled on our We COUNT Kentucky page.

The census is vitally important to making sure our schools and children are appropriately funded, as well as other services necessary for our students to be safe and have every opportunity for success.

Please, Stop Using Math as Your Bad Example

Ryan Davis

It’s inevitable.  Every time. I know it’s coming.  I’m listening to a speaker or reading an article about the need for education to make seismic shifts to adapt to changes in society and culture.  I’m nodding along in agreement, but I can feel it about to happen. There’s the call for relevance – yes… the need for student centered – yes… but then… “and we’re still teaching the Pythagorean Theorem.”  

There it is – without fail – the “mathematical anecdote”: a piece of content from math class cited as proof that schools are irrelevant or outdated (e.g. ‘they don’t teach kids taxes, but they spend weeks on systems of equations’ or ‘I had to memorize the quadratic formula, but never…’).  Even owning my own bias and passion for the discipline of mathematics, I would still wager that mathematics is used disproportionately as a negative example in such contexts. It’s like the shoe that keeps dropping. I usually agree with the bigger point being made, but the trope of the “mathematical anecdote” isn’t helping any of us. 

In fairness, I’ll start by acknowledging the culpability of mathematics educators in the overuse of the “mathematical anecdote.”  In general, we have held tighter to our cannon of formulas and skills than other disciplines, especially at the secondary level. We’ve moved perhaps more quickly than other subjects to gamify the content, create flashy activities, and dissect a complex curriculum into discrete skills that look good on administrative checklists.  We’re more likely to overly scaffold work so that student products have forms and symbols that look complex to outside observers, but do not require true depth of thought. We’re more likely to support systems of oppression through test-prep, than we are to acknowledge and advocate against the use of our discipline (even if a bastardized version of it) as a gatekeeper. 

Such moves garner mathematics educators short term praise and recognition that often elevate our stature within the school community but fail to make more transformative shifts, thus failing in any substantive way to address the specific criticism of the “mathematical anecdote.”  Those shortcomings acknowledged, the “mathematical anecdote” is most often used to make a broader point about the state of education as whole. In this, however, the “mathematical anecdote” actually undercuts its own intent of articulating a more transformative vision for schools, and should thus be abandoned.  

The “mathematical anecdote” is usually received with claps or nods of affirmation.  But, such responses are more likely reflections of cultural biases against math or personal anxieties about mathematics than they are positive reactions to a visionary framing of what schools could be. The “mathematical anecdote” serves more to reinforce a shared devaluing mathematics than to inspire support for new ideas.  In other words, it’s not helping make the right point.

Moreover, the “mathematical anecdote” typically affirms a utilitarian epistemology that undermines the deeper value of schools.  It corroborates a belief that the value of knowledge should be judged solely on its ability to produce something, usually for commercial or economic gain.  Yet, the enduring power of educations lies in its ability to inspire awe and wonder, to cultivate beauty in the spirit and the mind, and to unite and empower community.  Schools are not conveyor belts for producing workers, but rather igniters of passions so students can build a world better than we can imagine. The rhetoric of the “mathematical anecdote” obscures this more powerful and important view of schools.

Such rhetoric also reinforces negative conceptions about learning and evokes harmful power dynamics.  The “mathematical anecdote” is usually laced with technical jargon and a tone implying that mathematics is a rarefied subject, accessible only to a select few.  As educators, we should be evangelists for learning not dismissive of certain disciplines or affirming of their inaccessibility.

Most importantly, the “mathematical anecdote” belies the real root of the problem.  It implies that schools have simply identified the wrong body of knowledge to transmit to students, which can be addressed by simply identifying the “right” set of facts and skills to teach.  Of course, that immediately sets up an infinite game of catch up in which schools will always be behind. Actual transformation requires deeper, structural shifts away from a content-transmission model of education and toward empowering pedagogies that begin with students and communities. 

Of course, the point the “mathematical anecdote” seeks to make must still be made, and substituting with examples from other contents would only pose the exact same problems.  So, if you must cite an example, some alternatives:

  • Why are we still organizing days by a rigid bell schedule when we know learning doesn’t happen at or with in a predetermined time slot?
  • Why do we still divide coursework into content areas when we know that jobs and citizenship require an intersectional understanding of the world?
  • Why do our systems and policies still prioritize a content-transmission model of education when such a model is the least empowering to students and the most irrelevant in a digital age? 
  • Why are testing and grading still so central to our assessment of students when their limitations are almost universally acknowledged?

Admittedly, these pack less of a punch. But, they pack the right punch.  In “Don’t Think of An Elephant,” George Lakoff described how shared metaphors actually reinforce beliefs, even when we think we are explicitly negating them.  The use of the “mathematical anecdote” only reinforces traditional and outdated metaphors about schools. Mathematics educators (as all contents) certainly have work to do addressing the more specific critique of how our discipline is currently enacted in schools.  But, we are all in this together and to build a more transformative metaphor for what schools can be, we all have to start by removing the “mathematical anecdote” from our rhetoric. 

On Wednesdays We #WearRed4Ed and Contact Legislators to SUPPORT HB137 – Sports Betting

Today is #WearRed4Ed and Call Legislators Wednesday! 

We are asking that you CALL or EMAIL your legislators to ask that they SUPPORT HB137 – The Sports Betting Bill. You can use one of the following scripts below when you contact legislators. Find your legislators here.

Email:

Dear [Senator or Representative] ________________

Hello my name is ______________ and I am a [your position] and [local affiliate like JCTA] and KEA member living in your district. I’m writing to ask that you SUPPORT HB137. It’s time to put Kentucky first and create revenue using Sports Betting. Kentuckians already spend money on Sports Betting. It’s only right for our Kentucky dollars to stay in Kentucky. This revenue is essential for Kentucky to provide services necessary of state government. 

Thank you for your service!

_______________

Phone Call:

Be prepared to share your name and address. You can leave a message for ALL legislators or just yours. The Legislative Message Line is 1-800-372-7181.

I am calling to leave a message for ALL senators and representatives. I am asking that you SUPPORT HB137 to create new revenue for our commonwealth.

You can also use our Action Network link to contact legislators with just a few clicks!

Armed Officers in Schools

Tia Kurtsinger-Edison

I am extremely concerned over this Bill that seems to be targeted to the policing of black and Brown students.  The current security officer policy leaves it up to the district to determine whether they would like armed officers or not in their schools.  Currently, in JCPS there has been a push to remove police from our schools. We supported more restorative practices, trauma informed care, and mental health professionals.  

As a teacher of color, I understand the data has displayed that black and brown students receive more punitive consequences than white students, and we still have not addressed this issue.  I notice year after year our students are coming to us with this invisible backpack that is heavy, and I personally am not trained to effectively help my students. As a result the disproportionate consequence will continue.  

As a Black parent, I have to question the motive of lawmakers and leadership in education when it comes to the urban district student population.  Our kids do not and have not felt safe around armed police officers. My kids witness on the news and social media the mistreatment of a young black man recent graduate from Central high school and how he was treated when pulled over.  Just last weekend, we saw a man getting beat by LMPD on camera downtown. The district and state does not take the trauma of gun violence seriously. They want to tell us how to feel, when in reality, they should be listening to parents and teachers of color.  Trauma informed practices teaches us that guns can trigger the student suffering, yet we are now forcing them to see this every day. The JCBE policy board just met Tuesday and the discussion was two magazines versus three magazines. Sitting in the audience and listening to it was triggering listening to a table of jcps leadership rationale the use of three magazines by saying what if it jams and then the second one jams.  

Fact is mass school shooting does not  occur in urban school districts; over policing of black and brown students does.  

I support districts having the choice to decide if they want their police officers armed or not.  What is the answer when you have a whole school trained in trauma informed care because the students in the school live in a district that has high frequencies of gun violence, and your training says guns are a trigger are we intentionally triggering those students.  Can the district even identify which students are traumatized by gun violence, and if they can’t then this is all just lip service because they really do not care which students to help. Moreover, this is child neglect by the state and local school district and I will advocate parents to figure out what we need to do to charge the state and district with child neglect.

Again, history tells us that modern day policing grew out of the slave patrols and for decades, to this day, there is often an overlap between police and racist terror groups like the Klan. Only today, many of those racists don’t wear white sheets or blue uniforms, they wear camouflage gear and carry semi-automatic rifles, to which we must ask, “to what end?”. Our survival depends on the answer.

This is institutionalized racism at its best out black and brown children will be the ones to suffer at the hands of officers and who is already afraid of them. I am a teacher, mother, step daughter of Bishop Dennis V. Lyons, and Aunt of JCPS students and I will pull my kids and campaign for our community to pull their kids and we home school until they get this fixed. 

This is not to control a shooter situation it to control our babies with fear and our request is to allow the local district to make the decision of having armed officers in their Schools.

So you want to go to Frankfort

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

We are over a third of the way into the Kentucky 2020 General Assembly and we’ve had multiple members up every week to lobby on behalf of public education in Kentucky. As an educator, you can use personal days in order to attend session in Frankfort to watch or meet with legislators. In addition to Frankfort, you can always contact legislators at home in your district or through phone and email. Speaking directly with elected officials who represent you is the best way to help shape policy that affects public education.

If you find yourself in Frankfort or meeting with a legislator, there’s 10 Golden Rules to follow when it comes to lobbing.

1. POLITICS IS CONSUMER-DRIVEN

Help your legislator understand why your position is important to his or her constituents. Fight where the legislator lives through grassroots organizations at home.

2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Know your stuff. Understand your issue, the bill you support or oppose, and the legislative process before you approach your legislator. Know who the players are, who decides what, and which issues are hot at the moment.

3. INFORMATION IS POWER

The secret is the distribution of information to legislators and their constituents. Be prepared to give the legislator information he or she can use, including what you are hearing from other legislators and from people back home.

4. A LITTLE PROFESSIONALISM GOES A LONG WAY

Be credible, honest and trustworthy. Never threaten, lie or conceal facts. Stay calm — if you lose your cool, you lose the case.

5. BE POSITIVE

Always make your case without being critical of others’ personalities or motives.

6. THERE ARE NO PERMANENT FRIENDS AND NO PERMANENT ENEMIES

Don’t take your traditional friends for granted. Never write off a legislator just because of party affiliation. Don’t make enemies of legislators — you may need them as friends in the future.

7. BUILD A BOND, NOT A GAP

Research things you might have in common with the legislator. Use shared values to create easy, friendly, frequent communication with legislators.

8. BE A PARTNER

Build coalitions and look for allies among other organizations. Be accessible to legislators and other lobbyists if they have questions or need follow-up information. Become known as a reliable resource.

9. ROME WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY

Aim for consensus rather than for a “victory.” Be willing to settle for making progress toward your goal, getting the bill passed, and fine-tuning it in future sessions.

10. STAY COMMITTED

Remember — you are the expert!! You have a compelling, energizing reason to keep fighting until you get what you need.

Be sure to keep up-to-date using our Legislative Action Center. We have a page for bill summaries for legislation that will affect teachers and students. You can even find scripts to use for bills we have highlighted on #WearRed4Ed Wednesdays.

On Wednesdays We #WearRed4Ed and Call to SUPPORT Governor Beshear’s Education First Budget

Today is #WearRed4Ed and Call Legislators Wednesday! 

We are asking that you CALL or EMAIL your legislators to ask that they SUPPORT Governor Beshear’s education first funding. Use one of the following scripts below when you contact legislators.

Email:


Dear [Senator or Representative] ________________

Hello my name is ______________ and I am a [your position] and [local affiliate like JCTA] and KEA member living in your district. I’m writing to ask that you support Governor Beshear’s education first funding. A meaningful increase in the SEEK formula will be integral in supporting the educational opportunities for our students. Giving teachers a one time pay increase will help with the teacher attrition crisis.

Thank you for your service!

[No time to write?  Click here to send an email.]

_______________

Phone Call:

Be prepared to share your name and address. You can leave a message for ALL legislators or just yours.

I am calling to leave a message for ALL senators and representatives. I am asking that you SUPPORT Governor Beshear’s education first funding in the budget and seek new sources of revenue.