Immigration and education

Immigration is a hot political topic, lately – specifically dealing with the Latino population, more specifically Mexican immigrants, and even more specifically undocumented Mexican immigrants.

So many people want to do away with immigrants – send them back to their home country to fix their own problems. What if we’re causing some of those problems? Yup, that’s right – the United States is selling our cheap corn to Mexico, and wondering why the 1.3 million Mexican farmers that have been priced out of work are coming up to the States for work.

Oh, and those dirty Mexicans don’t pay taxes, right? They come up here and make all that money, and then give it to their fat families in Mexico and don’t even have to pay taxes… wait, what? You mean that’s wrong, too? Most of them don’t even make minimum wage, but a good portion of them pay taxes, and even file federal returns. Also, most states have sales tax – every time they buy something, like food, they are paying taxes. Do they get tax refunds? Or the same benefits that legal US citizens get? Nope.

Alright, so perhaps I should get to the education connection before I get shoved down off of my soapbox. North Carolina has one of the fastest-growing Latino populations in the country – 393% over ten years from 1990 to 2000, according to the 2000 US Census. I’ll be teaching in North Carolina for at least four years, and have lived here my entire life.

As a teacher, it is illegal for me to ask the immigration status of my students or their families, according to Supreme Court Case Plyler v. Doe.

In the eyes of a school, there is no difference between legal or illegal immigrants. They are entitled to the same education as American citizens.
The 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause does not allow public schools to ask about immigration status. Source.

Personally, I agree with this decision – why should children suffer because of the disagreements of adults?

Also, the Supreme Court says that “sink or swim” education is unconstitutional, according the the case Lau v. Nichols – this means that if a student does not know English, schools and teachers are required to adapt their instruction and/or supplement the student’s learning to help them succeed.

I agree with this, too – ignoring them doesn’t make the problem go away, and creating ignorant citizens makes it worse.

So, why all this ranting? Because I feel that our nation’s views on immigration – illegal or not – are generally founded out of ignorance and misunderstanding, and that most United States citizens cannot be bothered to learn the truth.

I intend to brush up on my weak Spanish over the summer, and hopefully I’ll be conversationally fluent by the time I’m teaching, in a year. And I wish people would stop trying to tell me that I’m wrong because I’m “catering to the illegals”. Would it really hurt to do some research and give some support to our neighbors? Really?

Separation of church (intelligent design) and state (science education)

Flying Spaghetti Monster

I really don’t need to go on about this. You can read a lot of funny, well written, and intelligent posts by visiting Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy Blog, James Randi’s internet home, Skepchick.org, and The Flying Spaghetti Monster site, among others.

I just want to put it simply – religion is not science. I’m not not necessarily saying they’re opposites (though they often are portrayed that way), just that they are not the same thing. The differences are obvious, and I don’t think I need to lay them out for you.

We learn a lot of things in history and science class that aren’t absolute truths. I remember a textbook in high school that said that Spain blew up the USS Maine to start the Spanish-American War. We now know that the Maine blew itself up, tragically, and that Spain had nothing to do with it.

As new discoveries are made, information is changed and the things we teach evolve. There are now 8 planets, not 9. We’ve discovered more moons around Jupiter. The agreed upon model for an atom changed several times when I was growing up. And, yes, along with the information we’re teaching children, we need to say that nothing is absolute – that just because scientific evidence and research supports x theory above all others, now, doesn’t mean that will always be the case.

That’s part of teaching – instilling within your students a love of learning and a thirst for knowledge, and making them realize that “It just is” or “Because I (god?) said so” are wrong answers to any question. I firmly believe that children (and adults) have the ability to think for themselves and things don’t have to be oversimplified for them to understand. Of course some things aren’t developmentally appropriate, but that doesn’t mean the answer to a question should be a lie. When a child asks why something is so, telling them “it just is” is damaging – it sets them up to believe that anything they’re taught “just is”, which we all know is never true.

That being said, perhaps the Big Bang never happened and evolution isn’t really happening. I suppose anything is possible in the realm of all possibility. However, right now there is more evidence (by far) to support those theories, and most scientists agree that they are valid. Thus, they make it into text books and are taught in science class.

If somebody has beef with that, then they can make observations, perform experiments, and pour over research papers to back up whatever mechanism they claim happened, instead. Then they can write their own research papers, submit them for peer review, and start a scientific discussion about their findings. If it turns out that some other explanation has more supporting evidence, then texts will be rewritten, scientists will shift their support, and I will teach it to my students.

Until then, keep your religion out of my classroom. (And my body, my government, my pharmacy, my doctor’s office…)

This post is a part of Blog Against Theocracy 2007 – a chance for those who believe in the separation of church and state in the United States to speak out about how they think that separation has been or is being compromised. Anyone can participate, click the logo for more information and links to other such posts.
Blog Against Theocracy

Separation of church (the Bible) and state (public schools)

“…[when] church and state are separate, the effects are happy, and they do not at all interfere with each other: but where they have been confounded together, no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued.”

Isaac Backus (Baptist Minister), 1773 source

I’ve written about this before, but an article in Time Magazine titled “The case for teaching the Bible” in conjunction with this weekend’s Blog Against Theocracy “blogswarm” makes me think I should give it another go.

I’ll make this as brief as my angry little brain will let me (I’ve lost sleep over this post, trying to figure out how to word things so that I sound informed, intelligent, and reasonable rather than just angry and opinionated).

It appears as though the author of the Time article, David van Biema (Time’s senior religion writer), believes that public schools should offer a class that teaches the Bible as a textbook because it is such an influential text. He cites examples of Bible references in politics, pop culture (a feature of the magazine article not included in the online version), etc, and uses these as evidence of why knowing the Bible is important (so we can understand these references).

In an example of “Bible ignorance,” he talks about a case in which the Supreme Court was forced to overturn a jury’s sentence because they used the Bible, particularly the “eye for an eye” passage, as a resource during deliberation. Van Biema suggests that the fault here could lie with anyone involved “who perhaps hadn’t noticed that in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus rejects the eye-for-an-eye rule.”

Or, perhaps, the fault lies in the fact that the Bible was brought up at all – not that there wasn’t full understanding of the text. Religion has no place in government proceedings, and ignorance of the Bible should not be a disadvantage in those proceedings.

He goes on to mention statistics that support the idea that we are “a nation of biblical illiterates” (George Gallup), because,

“Only half of U.S. adults know the title of even one Gospel. Most can’t name the Bible’s first book. The trend extends even to Evangelicals, only 44% of whose teens could identify a particular quote as coming from the Sermon on the Mount.”

I don’t know where he got the statistics – the mention of George Gallup implies the Gallup Organization (home of the Gallup Poll), yet I couldn’t find that information on their website.

I want to spin this a different way. Perhaps the fact that a seemingly increasing number of United States citizens are ignorant of the religious text is not proof that we need to force schools to offer a Bible course, but that the Bible’s influence is waning. Regardless, the government is not allowed to endorse any religion (hello, first amendment – it’s not just about free speech). These classes, however secular they say they are, endorse one particular religion (the article notes that many such classes focus only on the positive influence of the Bible and ignore its negative influence). I would be less up in arms about a class on world religion that included multiple religious texts as sources, but I still feel that those are classes that should be reserved for college. Partly because I feel that finding teachers who are able to teach multiple religious texts in a balanced manner is difficult, but mostly because I feel like a lot of schools don’t have the resources to support core instruction, let alone a class that focuses on religion.

There is no mandate stating that every school must offer music, art, drama, dance, etc as electives, why should the Bible get special treatment? Schools are fighting for decent teachers and the money to teach students the basics – to add to all this the arguably constitutional elective of a Bible class is ridiculous, unnecessary, and (I believe) unconstitutional.

There is nothing preventing people from studying any text outside of government-funded programs – if you want to learn more about the Bible, there are many ways to do so that don’t involve chiseling away at the already eroded wall of separation between church and state (a wall deemed “absolutely essential in a free society” by Thomas Jefferson).

Read my other post in this series, here.

This post is a part of Blog Against Theocracy 2007 – a chance for those who believe in the separation of church and state in the United States to speak out about how they think that separation has been and/or is being compromised. Anyone can participate, click the logo for more information and links to other such posts.
Blog Against Theocracy

Teaching the Bible?

[Edited at the end.]

God’s Textbook

It’s been a debate for a long time, now, whether the Bible has a place in public schools. Several people agree that it does hold some very rich literature, but others try to push it as a historical resource, as well.

I disagree with both. While some Biblical stories are interesting, I have to say that they are too far-fetched for me. I’d rather read “The Iliad” or “The Odyssey”, Shakespeare, or Dante’s “Divine Comedy”. The Bible’s stories tend to be rather tedious to read, and rely too much on faith to be interesting to me as a nonbeliever. They are also a bit “preachy” at times, as well as repetitive and long-winded.

And as a history text, it is completely awful. There are no reliable resources, and the facts are skewed by religious influences – it was never meant to be a history book. Perhaps the Bible, itself, has made history, which is worthy of studying (the first printed book, the many translations, its affect on different cultures, etc). It was particularly interesting to study in my “History of Books” class my freshman year of college, but we didn’t study the content. History textbooks are inaccurate enough without adding the Bible to the list. Besides, I thought teachers and parents were pushing for more up-to-date history texts, anyway. The Bible was put together centuries ago – talk about outdated!

Even if certain stories do make it into a literature or history class, I think they should be a part of a course of a study, and should not make up the entire class. Most high schools don’t devote entire classes to studying any one particular work or author – the point of high school seems to be to get as much general knowledge as possible into students so they might go off to college and explore the specifics on their own. There simply isn’t time for a “Bible as literature/history” course in high schools. And the monetary resources aren’t there, either – we can barely fund music and art classes, let’s not waste time and money on textbook versions of the Bible and the teachers to teach it. Besides, I’m sure the Quran has some history and literature in it, too, but I don’t see anyone pushing for that to be taught in our schools. One or two stories in a class that focuses on literature in general is okay, but an entire class devoted to it is just ridiculous.

Disagree if you must, but make a good point for your argument.

21 March, 10:39pm EDT – I wanted to respond to Alan’s comment, below. This entry was pretty general, but there are groups (somewhat successfully) trying to get the Bible taught in schools; the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, the Bible Literacy Project, and Bible in the Schools, among others. According the first organization, “The Bible course curriculum has been voted into 373 school districts in 37 states… 190,000 students have already taken our course.” North Carolina is on the list.