Education: An always divisive issue

An average high school biology book is causing a massive rift in a community in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. The book in question has been used for years, but the school board believes that two pages in the book violate the law. The school board wishes to redact two pages from the book, page 544 and 545, because these pages discuss sexually transmitted diseases, and forms of contraception. This decision stems from a law passed in Arizona 2 years ago, which sets out how schools are to teach the subjects of childbirth and pregnancy. The law requires schools to advocate child birth and adoption over abortion. Arizona’s education department reviewed the book after the law was passed, and found no problems with it. This school board’s decision has caused many supporters and opponents to clash with each other. Members of the school board claim that they are just upholding what is required by law, while others claim that they are violating first amendment rights. The issue was first brought up by a Catholic school board member who was told about the two pages in the book by her son. She claims that Arizona law and her religious rights were violated by the education system. She reached out to Alliance Defending Freedom which is a Christian lobby group which is active in many conservative areas. This is not the only case that this group is involved in; it is also involved in several other issues throughout the state. Textbooks and education have always been a very controversial issue in society. In this case the central issue is whether or not the textbook in question broke the law. It is fairly easy to see, that it in fact, does not break the law. It just gives information about a certain type of drug, and diseases that occur naturally. It makes no type of value judgement on the issue of abortion or sex. It simply supplies the facts like it was designed and intended to do. Throughout history the debate of what schools should teach has always been very divisive. In Holland in the early 20th century a very similar debate played out. The statesman Abraham Kuyper sought to devise away where both secular and religious populations could be appeased. They devised a method in which, the citizens would vote on the school system that they wished to have. Kuyper used similar tactics to the Alliance Defending Freedom, through use of petitions and the attempt to directly influence politics. They could vote for a school system to be either religious or secular. This was a clever way to internalize this controversial issue, and let the decision be had be the population themselves. Furthermore, this method would avoid the toxicity we have seen emerge in these kinds of debates in the United States. People who were once neighbours are turned into ultra hostile opponents. Education is a powerful tool, and there will always be groups vying for control over the power of the mind. Education is a key agent in shaping ones views and beliefs about the world, and since it is in the formative years that the beliefs are shaped it becomes a very important issue to people. People wish to have their beliefs and values passed on, and thus it is why we see these types of debates over education.


One thought on “Education: An always divisive issue

  1. I agree that education is crucial to society and that the subject matter taught in schools can often be highly contested, especially in regards to human sexuality. However there are two main ideas within your blog that I do not agree with. Firstly, I think that the central issue within this argument is not whether the material violates the law, but rather it can be simplified down to the question, who is responsible for the content taught in schools? Parents, whether religious or not, often maintain their own beliefs and values which impact what they think should be taught to their children. Since they know their child best, they often believe they have the right to determine when their child should learn about contentious subjects, and who should teach it to them. It is often argued from a parent’s point of view that matters concerning human sexuality are being taught too early. Therefore, they protest the teaching of such material because they believe they are protecting their children. However, members of the school board believe that they should have control over what gets taught in school because they have a neutral stance and have a better concept of what children should have knowledge about in regards to their age. Finally, the government also believes that it should have a say, as was indicated by the laws in Arizona, but their interests are based on ensuring that the rights of parents have not been violated, and keeping their electorate happy. So I think the focus is not about whether a law was broken but rather who should decide what young children learn in school?
    The second concept that I wanted to engage further with was your idea of how a clear divide between secular and religious schools would help diffuse this controversial debate in the US, as was seen in Holland. However, the issue over what gets taught to young children is still prevalent in Canadian secular schools. For example, parents have the right to remove their children from sexual education classes, and it is often policy within the schools that parents are to be notified when anything related to sexual education will be discussed in class. This means that even secular schools are not void of controversy. In a recent Supreme Court of Canada case, Chamberlain v. Surry School District No 36,a group of parents were protesting the presence of books within a secular first grade classroom which, “promoted tolerance for same sex couple”. So should parents who do not want their children to learn about sexual education at school, for religious reasons or not, only be limited to having their children attend religious schools? Even though they are simply they are trying to do what they believe is in their child’s best interest? That does not seem like a fair solution to me.

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