Restoring the Trust

Religious Concerns Watch - September 2001

When people ask me whether I see public education is moving more to the left or the right politically, I have to tell them it depends on which district you're in. One school district last year proposed ending all noncurricular clubs just so they would not have to allow the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to participate in campus activities. Down the road another school district was considering a similar proposal, but this time it was to keep a gay-straight alliance from forming a club on campus.

Some school districts clearly lean too far to the left, but others too far to the right. Perhaps it would be best if it did not lean at all. While we may each wish our local school district would advocate those political and philosophical preferences we support, don't we all have more to gain by sustaining an academic environment that is fair to the differences in our culture? Where I've done BridgeBuilders work we consistently find that 85-90% of the community can find solid agreement on that pursuit.

Unfortunately interest groups on both the left and the right continue to foster the idea that public schools do not treat their point of view fairly and their constant accusations erode the public trust in education. For public education to thrive in the future we must make efforts to restore the trust that no one will use the vast resources of public education to indoctrinate students to their own personal preference. While this is rarely the case, many parents are afraid that educators will undermine the values they seek to instill in their children.

In the current climate it is important for every district to proactively reach out to their communities and rebuild the trust with staff and parents alike. While it may seem unfair that educators have to take the time to do so, the benefits of restoring the public trust are well worth the effort. Not only does it alleviate unneeded tension, but it also models for students how citizens with diverse viewpoints can find enough common ground to work together productively.

Through staff development, community forums, common ground task forces, new policies and a greater awareness of how to treat opposing viewpoints fairly, many school districts have already tapped a deeper vein of community good will and cooperation.

 Wayne Jacobsen, President
BridgeBuilders

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Worldviews Education Watch (WEW) is a free service provided by BridgeBuilders offering the latest information on religious liberty and public education drawn from court cases, policies and current events. It will also share examples of successful partnerships and cooperation between public schools and faith communities.

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