"Public Schools--Why We Don't Fight More," a Commentary by Charles C. Haynes

February 7, 2007

Author: Charles C. Haynes

Source: Statesman Journal/Gannett News Service


Americans aren’t shy about invoking their First Amendment rights - especially over issues of religion and values in public schools.

Over one 10-day period in January, I heard from Wiccans in North Carolina upset about school Internet filters filtering out information on the Wicca belief system; a student in Florida challenging a school speech code; a teacher in Utah worried about school censorship of a religious T-shirt; and a California parent concerned about the accuracy of religious material used to teach Thanksgiving.

It’s no surprise that public schools are the arena of choice for Americans who want to be heard. After all, public schools are seen by many as a microcosm of our public square, an arena where we debate and define who we are as a people.

But if we fight so much, does that make public schools bad or good for the nation? Do they divide us into warring factions - or are they places where we learn to address our deep differences?

In response: I don’t see these conflicts as an indictment of public education. Instead, I view them as a reflection of our larger culture wars. Because the First Amendment applies to public schools (as it does not to private and religious schools), parents, students and others often see school clashes as a testing ground for asserting First Amendment rights.