Understanding the Pursuit of Happiness this Independence Day

American Flag (cropped)By Eric Buehrer 

With Independence Day coming next week, it would be good to discuss with your family and students an often-misunderstood term in the Declaration of Independence.

The “pursuit of happiness” today in popular culture is not the kind of happiness America’s founders declared as an inalienable right. If we are to have a flourishing society in the twenty-first century, we must raise a generation that knows what it truly means to pursue happiness.

When the Founders referred to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, they were not advocating a license to simply pursue pleasure. It was understood to be the pursuit of a virtuous (morally upright) life under the authority of God.

The Pursuit of Virtue

The Founders understood true happiness was the result of living a virtuous life. Therefore, in order to pursue happiness one must pursue virtue. Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration of Independence, later wrote, “Virtue [is] the foundation of happiness.”

Benjamin Franklin, who assisted Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence wrote:

“I believe [God] is pleased and delights in the Happiness of those he created; and since without Virtue Man can have no Happiness in this World, I firmly believe he delights to see me Virtuous, because he is pleas’d when he sees me Happy.”

The Founders were also greatly influenced by Christian philosopher John Locke. He wrote of “the necessity of pursing happiness [as] the foundation of liberty” and explained that God “joined virtue and public happiness together, and made the practice thereof necessary to the preservation of society.”

To act on the Founders wisdom, we must return to the formula they outlined in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787:

“Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

While public schools cannot establish any particular religion, they need to educate students in the important principles that religion brings to society in helping its citizens live virtuous and fulfilling lives.

When the Founders wrote about “religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind,” they were referring to the three key elements for a virtuous and flourishing society — thus, a happy society. This Independence Day is a great opportunity to remind ourselves that to pursue happiness we must pursue virtue.

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Eric Buehrer is the president of Gateways to Better Education and author of the professional development seminar, Faith, Freedom & Public Schools: Addressing the Bible and Christianity without Mixing Church and State. To bring the seminar to your community, call (800) 929-1163 or email kim@gtbe.org

 

New Jersey School Board Stands by “Under God” Flag

The East Hanover (New Jersey) Board of Education decided against removing the “One Nation Under God” flags from East Hanover Middle School and the Frank J. Smith Elementary School. This came in response to a letter from the atheist group, Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), asking for the removal of the two flags that fly below the American flags.

It is worth noting that FFRF isn’t just against the display of “One Nation Under God” on a flag. It also opposes the phrase being in the Pledge of Allegiance, as well.

This isn’t the first time “under God” has come under attack in New Jersey. In 2015, the Superior Court of New Jersey found in favor of keeping “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance after being challenged by atheists. In American Humanist Association v. Matawan–Aberdeen Regional School District the Court gave this inspiring statement:

“Over and over, from the writings of the founders of the Constitutions of both the United States and the State of New Jersey, emerges a faith in, and a reliance and even dependency upon God to help secure the blessings of liberties and freedom attendant upon good governance….

“[T]he founders of our present 1947 New Jersey Constitution saw fit to preface that document by expressing the gratitude of the people of this state ‘to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy,’ and the hope that God would ‘bless[ ]…our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations.’ The preamble to the 1947 Constitution is identical to the preamble to the Constitution of 1844.

“Indeed, the New Jersey Constitution, in various permutations since 1776, has made explicit references to ‘Almighty God.’ Under plaintiffs’ reasoning, the very Constitution under which plaintiffs seek redress for perceived atheistic marginalization could itself be deemed unconstitutional, an absurd proposition which plaintiffs do not and cannot advance here. (Emphasis added)

“…Moreover, the words ‘under God’ are now as interwoven through the fabric of the Pledge of Allegiance as the threads of red, white, and blue into the fabric of the flag to which the pledge is recited. As a matter of historical tradition, the words “under God” can no more be expunged from the national consciousness than the words “In God We Trust” from every coin in the land, than the words “so help me God” from every presidential oath since 1789, or than the prayer that has opened every congressional session of legislative business since 1787.” (For more information, visit The Becket Fund.)

Maybe the East Hanover schools should begin posting — in every classroom — the preamble to the New Jersey Constitution as a civics lesson:

“We, the people of the State of New Jersey, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”

Or, they could just summarize it with the words “one nation under God.” Either way, teachers need to instruct their students on why “under God” is so important to our nation, their state, and their own lives. (Read my blog on this.)

As students grow into adulthood they will not defend what they do not cherish, and they will not cherish what they do not understand.

Easter in Your Classroom

By Eric Buehrer

Easter is coming soon (April 16). How can public school educators teach about its religious aspects? Well, as I’ve written about Christmas, you can teach all about the religious nature of a holiday as long as it’s done academically and objectively-not devotionally.
Besides its religious value for Christians, the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus has historical and cultural relevance for non-Christians. Teaching students the New Testament story has academic value.

Academically Expected

Some states provide educators with detailed standards for what students should learn about the Bible and Christianity. For example, in California, sixth grade students are expected to:

“Note the origins of Christianity in the Jewish Messianic prophecies, the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament, and the contribution of St. Paul the Apostle to the definition and spread of Christian beliefs (e.g., belief in the Trinity, resurrection, salvation).”

The new California History-Social Science framework (adopted in July 2016) also adds that students should learn that “Jesus shared the Jewish belief in one God, but he added the promise of eternal salvation to those who believe in him as their savior.” (See page 14, line 272)

In Massachusetts, seventh grade students are expected to:

“Describe the origins of Christianity and its central features. A. Monotheism; B. the belief in Jesus as the Messiah and God’s son who redeemed humans from sin; C. the concept of salvation; D. belief in the Old and New Testament; E. the lives and teachings of Jesus and Saint Paul.”

As part of World History, states across the country expect students to learn about the teachings and beliefs of Christianity. Of course, the death and resurrection of Jesus is the central teaching of Christianity.

The Easter Story and Commonly Used Terms

Several terms we use in literature and conversation come from the Easter story. We talk about somebody being a Judas – that is, a traitor. To suffer under something is referred to as “your cross to bear.” To be criticized unfairly and persistently is sometimes referred to as being “crucified.” An action or relationship that ruins someone is referred to as “the kiss of death.” To disassociate from someone or something can be referred to as “washing my hands of this.” A person who refuses to believe something until shown proof can be referred to as “a doubting Thomas.”

Cultural & Historical Connections

Teachers can help students make cultural connections, whether it’s history, literature, art, or social movements.

Last Supper

Leonardo de Vinci painted his idea of The Last Supper. The legends of King Arthur refer to the quest for the “Holy Grail” — the cup or plate used by Jesus during the Last Supper which supposedly holds magical powers.William-Shakespeare

William Shakespeare assumed that those who attended his plays knew the stories in the Bible. He made hundreds of references to the Bible. For example, in his play King Richard the Second, the king says: “So Judas did to Christ: but he, in twelve, found truth in all but one; I, in twelve thousand, none. God save the king! Will no man say, amen?”

Abraham_Lincoln_head_on_shoulders_photo_portraitDuring the Civil War, a popular song was entitled “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It is still well known across the country today. You may recognize its stirring chorus, “Glory, glory, hallelujah! His truth is marching on.” It reflects a spiritually-motivated desire to end slavery and references the sacrifice of Jesus as an example to live by. For example, one verse reads: “In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me: As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, While God is marching on.” A later version changed the words to “let us live to make men free.”

494px-Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTSIn 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed for his civil rights actions. Some people called him an extremist-being too bold and going too far in his activities. He wrote a response, entitled “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” He used the Bible to explain the importance of being extreme for goodness. He used the death of Jesus as an example:

“In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime-the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

J.TolkienR.R. Tolkien was an English author who wrote The Lord of the Rings. He was a Christian and used biblical allusions in his writing. For example, Gandolf’s dramatic fight against the giant demonic figure Balrog of Moria illustrates the battle between good and evil. Gandolf sacrifices himself to save his friends, but later is “resurrected” in robes of white and appears to Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas in a forest. 

Ben Myers lists twenty-five of his favorite pieces of literature that use Christ imagery. These include Don Quixote, Jim in Huckleberry Finn, Billy Bud, Jim Casey in The Grapes of Wrath, Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea, and Simon in Lord of the Flies

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

Terminology It may be helpful to use the term “recognizing Easter” rather than “celebrating Easter.” Using the word “celebrate” may cause some people to feel that you are promoting religious participation in the holiday. There is a difference between “participating” in the holiday in a devotional manner and “recognizing” the holiday in an engaging academic manner. It is also best to teach about Easter using words of attribution such as: “Christians believe…;” “The Bible says…;” “Martin Luther King, Jr., referenced the crucifixion when he wrote…;” and so forth.

Reading the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus to students is permissible to help students gain a basic academic familiarity with a person who has influenced so many people throughout history in government, art, literature, music, and social movements. Presented with an eye toward education, not endorsement or devotion, recognizing the religious aspects of Easter is a legitimate academic activity.

Alliance Defending Freedom – What Can Be Done in Public Schools Regarding Religious Holidays

Literary Christ Figures (Power Point used in South Plantation High School – Plantation, FL)

How to Identify a Christ Figure in Literature (from Mill Valley School District – Mill Valley, CA)

Easter Card coverGive “Bunny Goes to School” to educators you know. It is an eight-page booklet designed to look like a greeting card. It uses a humorous story to explain what can legally be done at Easter. It includes a model policy, quotes from court cases, and lesson plan ideas.

 

 

Students need to understand teachers’ freedom to teach about religion

By Nixie Laremore

Teachers aren’t the only ones who have erroneous thinking about the so-called “separation of church and state;” many students, too, think that classrooms must be “religion-free zones.”      

When I was assigned to substitute-teach a high school American Literature class, the students were reading Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Finally, I would be able to really teach a class and not just babysit in the teacher’s absence! Previously, I taught American Literature and The Scarlet Letter at a Christian school in Pennsylvania. Hawthorne’s compelling portrayals of poisonous hidden guilt and revenge as compared to rejuvenating open confession and forgiveness were still vivid in my mind. Although I was now substituting in public schools, I knew I could and would discuss these overtly religious themes of the book during class. I knew I could because any topic inherent in literature- however controversial- may be objectively discussed. I knew I would because to intentionally NOT discuss such valuable life topics would be a huge disservice to the students and would be rooted only in fear. I wasn’t afraid. Besides, I couldn’t imagine getting any pushback from the students or the faculty. As a substitute, I would be lucky if anyone paid any attention at all to what I said in the classroom.  

After a quick review, I mentioned that Hawthorne’s writings contained many references to the Bible. Specifically, I told the class I wanted to explore the many alleged similarities between Hester in The Scarlet Letter and Queen Esther in the Bible. “First, notice how their names sound similar!  Are there other similarities perhaps Hawthorne wanted us to notice?  Does anyone in the class know the story of Esther from the Bible to help us start comparing the two?” I asked. Immediately, a young man in the middle of the classroom raised his hand. “You do know this is a public school, right? Maybe because you’re a substitute you don’t know this, but I am pretty sure you are not allowed to be talking about the Bible in a public school classroom.”

“Your assumption that talking about the Bible is not allowed in public schools is very common, but it is also very wrong. You are mistaken,” I responded. “The facts are that teachers and students may talk about the Bible in any classroom, especially when the Bible is connected to the study at hand…like in our study of The Scarlet Letter.” Have you checked your facts regarding academic and religious freedom in public schools? Are you confident when teaching about the Bible, or are you silently obeying assumed restrictions? 

Not only is the Bible an appropriate part of the study of literature, but the Bible is also appropriate in the study of art, music, science, government, history, language, and culture. You are free to objectively teach about how the Bible intersects with these disciplines, and in most cases, your state’s academic standards direct you to do so.

Nixie Laremore conducts professional development seminars around the country for Gateways to Better Education .

For more help on this topic visit:

The Free Speech and Academic Freedom of Teachers in Public Schools

Teachers’ Rights on Public School Campuses

FAQ’s Regarding Religious Freedom in Public Schools

Graduation Prayers in Public Schools

Sample Board Policy re: Religious Expression in Public Schools

California State Board to Rewrite History

The California Department of Education is close to approving a politically correct, but historically incorrect, teaching of history for public school children. On July 13 and 14 State Board of Education members will vote to accept or reject recommended changes to the state’s History-Social Science Framework. It is vital that parents, educators, and concerned citizens write letters to the board and attend the board meeting voicing their concerns.

California’s Department of Education publishes content standards and what it calls the “framework.” Think of the framework as the overview or explanation for what topics are important to learn at each grade level. The content standards then provide specific bullet points of what students should learn.

While the content standards will, for now, remain, a committee has drafted recommended changes to the current framework published in 2005. The framework’s writers want the proposed framework to be used by educators when teaching and by textbook publishers when creating new textbooks.

Gateways to Better Education reviewed the proposed changes and wrote a report pointing out problems and recommending improvements. Thirty-three educators, school board members, and professors joined in endorsing Gateways’ recommendations and in urging the State Board of Education to reject the proposed framework because of its historical inaccuracies, censorship, and bias.

SIGN OUR PETITION

Please add your name to our petition which we will present to the California State Board of Education: CLICK HERE

Click on the link to download “Concerns about the Proposed History-Social Science Framework.”

To write letters to each board member, CLICK HERE for their names and addresses.

SBE Meeting Date: July 13-14

Time: The SBE meeting begins at 8:30am. Sign ups to make public comment begins at 8am.

Location: State Board of Education, Room 1101, 1430 N Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.

SBE meeting agenda will be posted online on June 30. For details, visit: http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/ag/ag/index.asp

Including a Christian Worldview in the Classroom

Students will not seek to preserve what they do not cherish, and they will not cherish what they do not understand. Sadly, in too many cases American students are not given the kind of education that inspires them to cherish America’s Christian heritage.

It is vital that each generation re-fill its tank with the cultural fuel necessary to keep running. The current generation is running on the fuel put in the tank so long ago by previous generations that they think no fuel is necessary. Students grow up taking for granted that their cultural “car” is running and have no idea that it requires a continual re-filling of the tank. Even worse, many of their teachers think they cannot re-fuel the tank and some even think it is a bad idea to re-fuel it at all.

Glasses-with-BibleAcademic Viewpoint Bias

The exclusion of a Christian worldview from the curriculum is not just limited to lessons on the history of Christianity. There is the often-unnoticed problem of excluding a Christian worldview from an academic topic. A worldview is the way in which you look at the world, not merely the bits of information you learn about the world. Regarding history textbooks for example, in his book, Religion and American Education, Warren Nord points out: “More important than the particular religious topics discussed or not discussed, and the relative amount of space they receive, is the worldview within which the historian works.”

He illustrates this by referencing a textbook account of the Hebrews from their Egyptian enslavement to the divided kingdom. All the names and dates are correct, as is the order of events. The problem Nord draws attention to is that the textbook left out “what is most important to the scriptural version: the role of God in shaping history. The meaning of the story is completely lost in the textbook; it becomes, in effect, a different story.”

Nord shows that this is a problem across the curriculum. For instance, economics is taught with the assumption that there is only a secular way to think about money. The topic of economics involves our beliefs about human nature, materialism, consumerism, social values, and charity. Yet, typically, students are taught that economic decisions only involve cost-benefit analysis, supply and demand, and fulfillment of personal gratification.

Home economics is another academic subject which Nord points out is most often taught as though secularism is the only perspective worth learning. After reviewing eight home economics textbooks, he writes:

“Each follows the same pattern, beginning with one or several chapters defining human nature, values, and decision making before moving on to discussions of dating, marriage, abortion, child rearing, the family, and what I take to be more traditional home economics fare. Needless to say, religion has had a great deal to say about such things, though one would never guess it from reading these books. …None of the books even hints that there are religious conceptions of human nature, values, or decision making that may differ in significant ways from the views presented.” 

In most science classes, of course, evolution reigns as the only view worth studying. But there are other worldview issues at stake. Nord points out that science classes approach life from a particular perspective and lead students to assume that the scientific perspective explains all that is real. He states, “In spite of the reservations of some scientists, science is typically taught as fully adequate to explain nature.” He points out, however, that science looks only at causes, not purposes; and that its version of reality has no place for God’s intervention.

Science has affected the way history and social studies are taught in that life is seen as merely the result of cause and effect. With such an approach moral demands are not made from an eternal God. There is no Storyteller behind the story of history. Religion may be fine for some, it is thought, but it is only the manifestation of mankind’s need for fulfillment. Everything, including the yearning of our souls, can be explained naturally.

Public schools should not proselytize and this is not a call for public schools to act like Christian schools. However, there are other explanations of reality besides a purely secular worldview. Because the Bible has, in fact, impacted the way our society looks at nature, life, human relationships, history, economics, decision making, the family, government, our concepts of human rights, and other topics addressed across the curriculum, it is academically legitimate to teach about the influence of a Christian worldview.

 

 

 

Students defy the ACLU and say “God bless America”

Glenview ElementaryThe ACLU has called for an end to a New Jersey elementary school’s tradition, since 9/11, of having students say “God bless America” after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, claiming it is unconstitutional.

School district officials were intimidated by the threat of legal action and have decided to no longer initiate the tradition. However, to their credit students at the school continue to say it.

Having students say the words “God bless America” as a patriotic expression is rooted in America’s heritage and civic culture. Imagine if the students were taught to recite the preamble to the New Jersey Constitution:

“We, the people of the State of New Jersey, [are] grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy…”

Glenview Elementary School principal, Sam Sassano, stood up for students’ right to say “God bless America.” He explained, “I recognize everyone’s Freedom of Speech right. Many parents have expressed that they want their child to continue to state ‘God bless America.’ I do not feel I have the authority to forbid this and have assured parents that is their right.”

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would be proud of the students. In a recent speech he gave in Louisiana, Associated Press reported:

He told the audience at Archbishop Rummel High School that there is “no place” in the country’s constitutional traditions for the idea that the state must be neutral between religion and its absence.

“To tell you the truth there is no place for that in our constitutional tradition. Where did that come from?” he said. “To be sure, you can’t favor one denomination over another but can’t favor religion over non-religion?”

The news of students exercising their right of free speech — especially regarding what some consider too religious — is timely. The President will soon be proclaiming January 16 as Religious Freedom Day (as every President has since 1993). I recommend school leaders and educators use the occasion to teach students a civics lesson about their religious freedom at school.

You can help your local schools do that by simply recommending they show students a 3-minute video produced by the Buncombe County (North Carolina) School District. With the help of students, teachers, and the Campbell-Shatley Law Firm, Buncombe County Schools produced The Three R’s of Religion in Schools. It explains the U.S. Department of Education’s guidelines on students’ and teachers’ religious freedom.

The Three Rs Video Image

 

A Gift for Teacher

Christmas Santa Full body (facing left)A Christmas tale by Eric Buehrer

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the kids were all in bed. Mom, a teacher at the local elementary school, went downstairs to finish wrapping gifts under the big pine tree the family got from Mr. Cheever’s Christmas tree lot. Just as she finished putting the last red bow on the last red box, she heard the scrape, scrape, scraping of something in the chimney. No sooner had she turned around when down the chimney came Santa with a bound.

“Oh,” he said with surprise. “I’m usually pretty good at not being seen.” Then he laughed a big, round laugh and put down his bag.

“Let’s see,” he muttered to himself as he pulled out a list of what to place under the tree. “Oh, yes.” He cleared his throat. “You’ve all been very good this year. Especially you…even with Tommy Wigglebottom in your class. You’ve been a wonderful teacher!”

“Thank you,” she said as he pulled brightly colored presents from his bag.

Quick as a flash, he was done with his deed. He looked at his list for one last read. Then he made a “har-umph” sound to himself and got a puzzled look on his face. “There is one more thing…”

“Yes?” said the teacher.

“Why haven’t I heard any singing at school?” Santa asked with a sorrowful look.

“Singing? Why, we’ve been singing. Haven’t you heard the children’s rendition of Frosty the Snowman and Jingle Bells? I know it’s a long way to the North Pole but I would think you have some way of tuning this sort of thing in.”

“I mean Christmas carols,” said Santa. “Where are the carols?”

Christmas Choir 01 (Hi Contrast)“Oh, I loved to sing carols when I was a child in school. But, we can’t sing those now,” she said as she shook her head. “I teach in a public school.” She was surprised that Santa didn’t already know this since he knew about Tommy Wigglebottom.

“Of course you are in the public schools. But Christmas is Christmas no matter where you are. And if you’re concerned about the law, well, have no fear. Don’t you know about the Federal Appeals Court ruling in Florey v. Sioux Falls School District? It ruled that the school district’s policy is fine and students may sing religious Christmas carols!”

The teacher had never heard this before and was quite surprised. “What about the separation of church and state?”

“It doesn’t apply,” said Santa. “The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that singing Christmas carols does not violate the Constitution if the purpose is the ‘advancement of the student’s knowledge of society’s cultural and religious heritage.’ I just wish I could hear them singing real Christmas songs.

“And while I’m thinking about it, why haven’t you told the children the real Christmas story?” he asked.

Christmas Nativity (hi contrast)“You mean about the baby Jesus?” the teacher asked in disbelief.

“Is there another Christmas story that I’m not aware of?” Santa said with an impatient twitch of his mustache.

“But, we can’t promote religion in the public school,” she retorted.

“Who’s promoting?” said Santa. “You’re teaching about your culture. May I remind you of the Florey case in which the Court ruled that as long as education about the religious holiday is ‘presented in a prudent and objective manner and as a traditional part of the cultural and religious heritage,’ it is permitted.”

By now the teacher was quite confused. She had never heard this before. She always assumed that recognizing the religious aspects of Christmas at school was off limits.

“We can’t even call Christmas by its name. We have to call it ‘Winter Break,’” she said with regret in her voice.

“A tragedy of modern times,” Santa said with a sigh. “And it’s not even consistent with other public practices. The Supreme Court acknowledged in Lynch v. Donnelly that ‘Executive Orders and other official announcements of Presidents and of the Congress have proclaimed both Christmas and Thanksgiving National Holidays in religious terms. And, by Acts of Congress, it has long been the practice that federal employees are released from duties on these National Holidays, while being paid from the same public revenues that provide the compensation of the Chaplain of the Senate and the House and military services. Thus, it is clear that Government has long recognized—indeed it has subsidized— holidays with religious significance.’ ”

Santa added, “The Lynch case dealt with the public display of a nativity scene, which the Court said didn’t violate the Constitution. And, in its ruling the justices actually assumed public school children are singing traditional Christmas carols. The Court wrote, “To forbid the use of this one passive symbol while hymns and carols are sung and played in public places including schools, and while Congress and state legislatures open public sessions with prayers, would be an overreaction contrary to this Nation’s history and this Court’s holdings.” (emphasis added)

“How is it that you know so much about United States law?” asked the astonished teacher.

Christmas Santa Head (hi contrast)“I’ve been around a long time,” he replied. “And I’m saddened to see so many children think that Christmas is just about getting video games and toys. For that matter, it’s not just about ‘Love’ either. It’s about the baby Jesus as a gift from God. When I give gifts it is only to remind people of The Gift from God to all of us. I guess I just want kids to turn off the TV and look up from their smart phones long enough to realize that there are deeper things in life—things that we carry with us from generation to generation. We have a culture with deep roots and I want to give children a little depth…then they can go back to the TV if they must.” Santa scooped up his bag, and then added, “I guess I’ve given you the best gift I possibly could. I’ve given you freedom.”

“What do you mean?” the teacher asked.

“For years you’ve lived under the burden of self-imposed censorship about Christmas. You placed a gag order over your own mouth. Now you can be free from that! You can give to your students what you had as a child in school.” He turned and started up the chimney. With a jolly chuckle, he said as he went, “Like the baby Jesus said when he grew up, ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.’”

 

President’s Thanksgiving Proclamation Misses the Mark

President Obama has issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation for 2015. If his proclamation was our only instruction about Thanksgiving, we would think it is just about “generosity and partnership” rooted in the cooperation between the Pilgrims and Native Americans. He does make a brief mention of George Washington’s reference to God in his proclamation, and he reminds us that Lincoln called on Americans to “‘commend to [God’s] tender care’ those most affected by the violence of the time – widows and orphans…”

Unfortunately, he refocuses Thanksgiving to be a time of “lifting one another up, enjoying time with those around us, and appreciating all that we have” – including “cheering on our favorite sports teams.” He confuses what people do on the holiday with why we, as a nation, have the holiday.

To be reminded of what Thanksgiving is about, we can look to Thanksgiving proclamations from previous presidents. This isn’t about political sides. Both Democrats and Republicans have historically maintained a proper focus for Thanksgiving. 

In his 1977 proclamation Jimmy Carter reminded the nation:

“Upon learning of the American victory at Saratoga in 1777, Samuel Adams composed the first National Thanksgiving proclamation, and the Continental Congress called upon the governors of every state to designate a day when all Americans could join together and express their gratitude for God’s providence ‘with united hearts.’ By their actions they extended a revered regional custom into a national tradition.”

And Carter called on “all Americans to gather on that day with their families and neighbors in their homes and in their houses of worship to give thanks for the blessings Almighty God has bestowed upon us.”

In contrast, President Obama has asked Americans to “express our gratitude by welcoming others to our celebrations and recognize those who volunteer today to ensure a dinner is possible for those who might have gone without.” To be fair, he did ask us to “give thanks for all we have received this past year” but was careful not to offend anyone by suggesting to whom we should direct that thanks.

In his 1996 proclamation, Bill Clinton did not mince words when he reminded Americans what the Day is for and to whom we should direct our thankfulness:

“Let us now, this Thanksgiving Day, reawaken ourselves and our neighbors and our communities to the genius of our founders in daring to build the world’s first constitutional democracy on the foundation of trust and thanks to God. Out of our right and proper rejoicing on Thanksgiving Day, let us give our own thanks to God and reaffirm our love of family, neighbor, and community.”

However, when it comes to the most inspiring Thanksgiving proclamation, my personal favorite is Ronald Reagan’s 1985 proclamation in which he reminded Americans:

“…this treasured custom derives from our Judeo-Christian heritage. ‘Unto Thee, O God, do we give thanks,’ the Psalmist sang, praising God not only for the ‘wondrous works’ of His creation, but for loving guidance and deliverance from dangers….Let us thank God for our families, friends, and neighbors, and for the joy of this very festival we celebrate in His name.”

All I can say to that is, “Amen.”

Resources:

2015 Thanksgiving Proclamation

Excerpts from Past President’s Thanksgiving Proclamations

All Thanksgiving Proclamations from 1778 to 2012

When to Remove Your Child from an Activity at School

As the new school year begins, you may be concerned about books, topics, or activities your child might encounter in class. If you face such a concern this school how do you know if you should remove your child from something in class? Here are five questions you can ask yourself when thinking about opting your child out of a lesson at school. 

1. Is the activity truly that bad?

A very upset mother once called me concerning what her daughter was being told to read in class. The book was about Native American spiritual beliefs. The mother had already gone to the superintendent of the school district and told him to have the book removed or she would see to his dismissal.

I asked her three questions. First, in what course was the book used? Second, how old was her daughter? Third, had the mother read the book? To my astonishment, she answered that the book was used in an elective course on mythology; her daughter was a senior in high school; and, no, the mother had never read the book, but she felt the cover looked spooky. Obviously, she was overreacting. I explained how, since the daughter was certainly old enough, she could use the book as a teaching tool to discuss their family’s religious faith in comparison to Native American spiritual beliefs. I pointed out that this could actually be an opportunity from God to strengthen the girl’s faith, not an invitation from Satan to abandon it.

There are times when an educator may expose children to an inappropriate subject or handle a legitimate topic so poorly that you feel the need to remove your child from it. You know your child better than anyone and will need to make that decision. My advice is to get as much information as you can before making your decision.

2. How emphatically will it be taught?

You need to determine how strongly the teacher will promote a particular value. It is good to learn about the ideas and beliefs of others. However, sometimes a teacher’s opinion is taught as the proper way to think when, in fact, it is in conflict with your family’s beliefs. This is when action might be taken. However, your action might be to teach your child discernment rather than remove him from having to listen to the teacher.

For example, after visiting with our daughter’s health teacher, Kim and I realized the teacher would be briefly talking about abortion and we had a hunch she was pro-abortion. However, from our conversation, we also felt that the teacher would not push her values on students. We talked about this with our daughter-predicting that the topic would come up and asking her to watch for it. It became somewhat of a game for her as she came home each day to report what was said in class. Rather than shield her from the topic, we prepared her to be discerning.

3. Will the lesson last a long time?

If the subject in question is addressed only briefly, it may not be a concern to you. Find out how long your child will be exposed to it.

4. Is it having a demonstrated effect on my child?

Does your child seem upset? Has he changed what he believes about a subject that you consider a core value of your family? List actual behaviors, attitudes, or beliefs you think might be linked to a particular classroom lesson, or that you fear my arise because of a lesson that will be taught.

Is it possible that your fears of what may happen due to the program are exaggerated? Certainly, young children may be affected more by something than older, more independent children. It may be helpful to share your concerns with your spouse or a friend to see if they also see a potential problem. 

5. Can I teach my child to be discerning in this situation?

Webster’s dictionary defines the word discern as meaning to perceive something hidden or obscure and to perceive differences. Depending on the topic and the age of your child, you can help him be discerning rather than simply accept what is taught in class. To teach your child discernment, you will need to teach him what to look for.

In college, I took an astronomy course that met in a planetarium because part of the course involved learning to observe the constellations. The instructor would display the stars on the ceiling and point out various constellations. Only by knowing what to look for could we see a pattern of stars emerge from the night sky filled with little dots of light. Once I knew what to look for, spotting a constellation became easier. 

Being concerned about what your child might be exposed to is natural and healthy. But overreacting isn’t productive for your child’s development or for your relationship with your child’s teacher. You may find it helpful to use the decision grid below:

5 Key Questions Not at All Very Little Somewhat Very Much
  1. Is the activity or lesson truly that bad?
  2. How emphatically is it taught?
  3. Will the lesson last a long time?
  4. Is it having an effect on my child?
  5. Can I teach my child discernment?