December 9, 2005

"Does it surprise me in Madison? No."

So said Ruth Anne Schoer, speaking of the decision to cancel a field trip for third graders here at Chavez Elementary School that would have involved, as in past years, ringing bells to collect money for her organization, the Salvation Army. This year, a parent complained about school children helping a religion-based charity, and the school administration chose to avoid the controversy:
Schoer said bell ringing is something that's very easy for kids to do, and they get a big kick out of doing it, especially when people fold up dollar bills to put into the red kettles.

"It's pretty exciting to a little kid when someone puts a $1 bill in, and when it's a $10 bill, they feel it's the best thing in the world," she said.

Schoer said it's disappointing that people believe the Salvation Army, founded by a Methodist minister in England in 1865, is simply a religious organization.

"All of the money we raise goes to feed, shelter and clothe people," she said. "It doesn't go to promote religion."

The word "volunteer" is just that when it comes to bell ringing, Schoer said.

"I don't want to attack the person who won't allow kids to do this," she said. "We don't want anyone to be forced to do it, but it would be nice for kids to have the right to ring a bell if they want to."
Lots of students in the Madison school district volunteer for the bell-ringing, but this is usually done on an individual sign-up basis. For these third graders, the teachers made the decision to volunteer for the entire class, and that really does present a special problem, so the parent who complained should not be demonized. But rather than give up on a valuable and rewarding experience, the school ought to just structure things differently, with a choice of activities, and let the children, with their parents' help, decide what they would like to do.

24 comments:

Palladian said...

Is this the same school that thought it acceptable to compel students to send "Withdraw the troops now!" letters to the President? Do they only fix thing when someone catches them?

Coco said...

I think ringing bells for the Salvation Army is a great thing for kids or anyone else to do - I have done it many times with my family.

I would also never personally object to my kid's public school taking the class to participate in such an activity.

However, I could certainly understand someone else opposing such an idea. Regardless of one's own personal perception of the Salvation Army, they certainly do conceive of themselves as a religious group. No doubt about it.

Jacques Cuze said...

I think that teacher should be fired for signing the kids up to do charity work for a religious organization. Just like Deb Mayer was fired for discussing peach protests in class and answering questions.

Both teachers show a shocking disregard for the sensitivity of our children.

Admittedly one teacher was violating the separation of church and state, but worse, the other teacher, a parent of an overseas sailor, was discussing peaceful alternatives to war just prior to our debacle in Iraq commenced.

Community Service, Charity, Compassion, Mediation, Making the World a Better Place, these topics have no place in school

Jacques Cuze said...

And it's one thing to throw tomatoes, but peaches!

This smiley :) is for XML.

Ann Althouse said...

Palladian: The letter-writing problem occured at Frank Allis Elementary School. This is Chavez. Third graders in both cases.

Simon said...

"Admittedly one teacher was violating the separation of church and state, but worse, the other teacher, a parent of an overseas sailor, was discussing peaceful alternatives to war just prior to our debacle in Iraq commenced.
"

Or, spun another way, the latter was fired for advocating leaving a brutal dictatorship in situ, for telling children that it's okay to look the other way when someone is suffering. "Peace" - sounds nice, doesn't it? Who could be against "peace"? Well, when "peace" actually means "do nothing", I would rather teach my children to help the kid in their class being attacked by bullies, not wring their hands about whether they have any right to help the victim or to kowtow to the wishes of other children in the class to whom the bullies distribute the extracted lunch money. "What would France do?" is not a policy.

She has, to praraphrase Justice Holmes, a constitutional right to free speech, but she does not have a constitutional right to be a teachert.

me said...

I've personally never thought of the Salvation Army as having any particular religious bent; I did the bell ringing with my son a few times when he was a boy scout. They provide services to whoever needs it (regardless of religion).

I have a very strict view of the Establishment Clause. No Church of England.

Why parents don't just opt out, when other kids could be doing a good thing.

Joe Baby said...

These schools ever get around to do a bit of schooling?

Simon said...

"I have a very strict view of the Establishment Clause. No Church of England."

I tend to agree, although I am intrigued (if not pursuaded) by Justice Thomas' view that the establishment clause is unincorporable insofar as it was intended to protect the states against a federal establishment, permitting the states to individually establish if they so desired. See his concurrences in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Asshole, 542 U.S. 1 (2001) and Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. ___ (2005).

EddieP said...

Parent protest? Send the kid home, let the parent do something different with them.

Robert said...

This is the kind of behavior that we have to inculcate in our kids. It isn't something to prohibit!

More on the subject here.

nunzio said...

I suppose the schoolchildren will not be off on Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (or Dr., PhD of theology, Martin Luther King for those who try to whitewash his religiosity) because it seems that honoring a religious person whose religiously-motivated work contributed to the benefit of all of our society Establishes a Religion.

As an atheist, I find this worry about establishing a religion silly. They only thing we've established, as that we're idiots about this stuff.

As soon as the consciousness of those in San Francisco is raised to the point that they realize their town is named after a Saint, maybe they will rename it, or else move to Oakland.

Paul said...

Your advice is right. There is much to be learned by this and so many other real-life situations students are introduced to; helping people by helping Ms. Schoer is not a bad way to learn a lesson.
I agree that a parent who objects should be allowed to hold her child out. I have vague remembrances of being forced to do extracurricular activities I did not want to do. Such choice was not a matter it seemed, for any but the teacher.
I don't know, the times they are achanging but there should be some way from ending with a sterile environment, lifeless. I hope in the end our courts keep learning in the forefront and sensitivities second.

Aaron said...

Prof A - how does giving a choice of activities avoid having a public school be seen as endorsing religion if one of the choices is the Salvation Army. If someone has a problem with state endorsement of Religion to the extent that ringing bells is a no-no - the fact that it is one of many possible activities doesn't seem to solve the problem. Can you have one afterschool club for bible study as long as there is choice and it is voluntary? I actually don't know and assume you know the thinking on this in a Conlaw context. - Or anyone else who knows why that is an acceptible course of action if ProfA is busy drinking this Friday night.

Troy said...

I'd wager this kids parents do nothing to help anybody. Separate church and state by all means, but these parents still need to dislodge the corn cob from their tail pipes.

Simon said...

"As soon as the consciousness of those in San Francisco is raised to the point that they realize their town is named after a Saint, maybe they will rename it, or else move to Oakland."

Not to mention San Fernando, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Mateo, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Santa Gabriel, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara...

Shit - we'd better start renaming cities before someone gets exposed to religion! Somewhere in the vicinity of twenty million poor americans in california are suffering under the theocratic oppression of living in towns named after saints! Won't somebody please think of the children? What if they start asking what these "mission" things were, why the early settlers came to the area? I think we've found a new crusade to keep Michael Newdow occupied: "not only does my daughter have to go to a school where she might not be hermetically sealed against religion, not only do I have to spend money proclaiming trust in a God I do not believe in, but I have to do so while living in a city named after a catholic saint!"

What makes me amused (as an agnostic, no less) more than anything else, is the sheer faith in the power of the Word of God displayed by these militant atheist assholes. They really do seem to be terrified that the Word of God is so powerful that if a child is exposed to itin a public setting, even in the abstract, they will immediately and unquestioningly drop to their knees and give their life to Christ. Without that level of faith, it's hard to understand why they're so concerned to keep such tight control over the religious messages their children (and indeed, full-grown adults) are exposed to in the public square.

Goatwhacker said...

I think the Salvation Army is great, they're the most active charity in my town and the charity to which I contribute the most. They are clearly religious though and this teacher was out of line signing up the whole class as "volunteers".

Peach protests? My reasoning may be fuzzy but they're the pits and kinda fruity.

downtownlad said...

Hooray for the parent who objected to this. I find the Salvation Army to be one of the more objectionable "charities" out there. With one hand they claim to help the poor and the needy, but then on the other hand, they are actively demonizing gays and lesbians and discriminating against them in employment matters. Sorry - but there are about 10,000 other charities I'd give to beforehand.

Shouldn't schools be teaching academics? Charity should be taught at home.

Ross said...

I find myself ambivalent about the merits of the question, but is the "one complaint" rule really a guideline to follow?

In my work, I deal with a lot of complaints. I try to listen respectfully to see if people have a point. I try to explain why things are the way they are. I try to find ways to make people whole. I rarely actually have to back down and fall on the sword, though that does happen.

Yes, the Salvation Army is a religious group, but if you're going to get kids involved in community service (and character education is a reasonable idea), it turns that nearly every private group is either religious or political in nature.

In my town -- as in many, I'd hazard -- the homeless shelter is run by an evangelical group. If you're just Joe Do-Gooder who wants to help the homeless by working the soup line, you are inevitably going to be in thick with the Christians.

I dunno, aren't there constitutional decisions relating to "secular purpose"?

When the kids are older, it's easy to let them choose what they should do, but 3rd-graders are, um, young. If you asked them -- even the Wiccans' kid -- if they wanted to ring bells to help the poor, I'm guessing they'd universally agree. I'm pretty sure that would not be an endorsement of hard-shell attitudes toward homosexuals.

Pancho said...

The Salvation Army is the only national charitable organization I will contribute to. Read the financial statements of the others and compare them to the Salvation Army's percentages of how the donations are actually spent.

They do great good and yes they were founded by a religous group. If the Gays and Lesbians or Athetists, Inc. want to found a similar organization great....do it, if they are as efficient and beneficial as the Salvation Army I'd be glad to donate and have my kid go an ring their bell.

Mike said...

This was an easy case. It shouldn't have happened. If anything, alternatives should have been supplied. This was a religious organization with which the teacher was affiliated. It's hard to imagine a child objecting--after all, that's why we have parents.

As much good as they might do--like the Boy Scouts--they are certainly not a secular organization nor do they even try to hide it.

Shouldn't have happened. Easy case.

knoxgirl said...

downtownlad said: "Hooray for the parent who objected to this. I find the Salvation Army to be one of the more objectionable "charities" out there."

Look: I'm totally for equal gay rights (and gay marriage, and gay adoption...) but this is a bit myopic. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. When you get all hostile toward an organization like the Salvation Army that's what turns people off to the gay cause!

Ann Althouse said...

Aaron: "how does giving a choice of activities avoid having a public school be seen as endorsing religion if one of the choices is the Salvation Army. If someone has a problem with state endorsement of Religion to the extent that ringing bells is a no-no - the fact that it is one of many possible activities doesn't seem to solve the problem. Can you have one afterschool club for bible study as long as there is choice and it is voluntary?"

As to your last question, there happens to be a Supreme Court case directly on point. Here. In fact, in that case, the school was told it wasn't even permitted to exclude the Bible study club, where the school was motivated by the desire to avoid the appearance of endorsement. The Court said it showed an impermissible hostility to the religious viewpoint. The fact is that putting the choice in the hands of the individual makes all the difference. Where is the endorsement, when there is a choice? I don't think a simple opt-out or even an opt-in is enough. There should be a range of choices, defined in a neutral way, not excluding religion. The kids could be required to select some public service work, and Salvation Army bell-rining could be one of them.

AlaskaJack said...

The message conveyed to the third grade children from this episode is that charity and compassion equals religion. Are the secular fundamentalists really comfortable with this??