Posted in Adams, Jefferson, Public Ed, Quotes

Public Education: Born on the Fourth of July

[This post is from July 4, 2013. I’ve updated it to reflect the current year, updated some links, and made a few other minor changes.]

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.” — John Adams

JOHN ADAMS

The quote above from John Adams, who began his adult life as a school teacher in Massachusetts, is a clear indication of his belief in the importance of a public education system which would educate everyone…by “the whole people” for the benefit of “the whole people.” He also specifically declares that it is to be done at public expense — public funding for public schools.

On the 241st anniversary of the declaration of our nation’s independence it’s worth noting that public education is not something new. It’s one of the basic foundational institutions of our democracy supported by the authors of the nation.

Adams himself was well educated and cared about public education. He made two assertions which would likely dismay “reformers” in their quest to privatize public education. First, as the quote above makes clear…

…the federal government has a clear responsibility for education that includes paying for it.

Second…

That a primary purpose of education is to “raise the lower ranks of society nearer to the higher.”

The public pays for it. The public supports it. The purpose is to equalize the education of the citizenry.

THOMAS JEFFERSON

The education of the citizenry was so important that even Adams’ political rival, Thomas Jefferson, declared in his 1806 State of the Union address that the government should support public education.

…a public institution can alone supply those sciences which though rarely called for are yet necessary to complete the circle, all the parts of which contribute to the improvement of the country and some of them to its preservation.

Jefferson proposed a constitutional amendment to fund public education. When that never materialized he directed his attention

…to his beloved state of Virginia. He developed a comprehensive plan for education which encompassed elementary, secondary, and university levels.

Jefferson believed the elementary school was more important than the university in the plan because, as he said, it was “safer to have the whole people respectfully enlightened than a few in a high state of science and many in ignorance as in Europe” (as cited in Peterson, 1960, p. 241). He had six objectives for primary education to bring about this enlightenment and which highlighted what he hoped would make every person into a productive and informed voter:

  1. “To give every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business;
  2. To enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts, and accounts, in writing;
  3. To improve, by reading, his morals and faculties;
  4. To understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either;
  5. To know his rights; to exercize with order and justice those he retains; to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor, and judgment;
  6. And, in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed.” (as cited in Peterson, 1960, p. 239)

Adams and Jefferson, so often on opposite sides of political arguments, were in accord when it came to supporting public education. The nation needed a publicly funded school system which would educate all. Public education was an institution necessary for the maintenance of our democracy.

WE STILL NEED PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Six years ago Peggy Zugibe, a school board member from New York, wrote

In the 1800s, when our country took in more immigrants and it became more diverse, education reformers saw public education as a means of creating productive citizens, ending poverty and crime and unifying an increasingly diverse population. Those societal goals are as relevant today as they were then.

Those goals are as relevant in 2017 as they were in 2011.

She referred to a publication by the Center on Educational Policy titled Why We Still Need Public Schools.

The publication asserts that public education is expected to…

…fulfill certain public missions that go beyond the purely academic purposes of all schools, public and private.

These public missions can be characterized by six main themes:

  1. To provide universal access to free education
  2. To guarantee equal opportunities for all children
  3. To unify a diverse population
  4. To prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society
  5. To prepare people to become economically self-sufficient
  6. To improve social conditions

Those six missions of public education are as important now as they have been at any time during our nation’s history. Channeling public funds to privately run charters, or to parochial and other private schools through vouchers is not the way to support public education.

IMPROVE PUBLIC EDUCATION

Public schools, supported by public dollars, accept all children. If a charter or private school cannot provide for a wheelchair-bound child’s physical needs the child returns to a public school. If a charter or private school cannot provide for the needs of a child with special academic or behavioral needs the child returns to a public school. Public schools must provide for all children…those with special needs, those of average ability, those who have no home, those who are hungry, and those whose language skills are inadequate to communicate.

We don’t improve our democracy by redirecting public dollars to private and charter schools, many of which do not accept all children.

We need to improve our public schools so they are equipped to provide services to every child by

  • lowering class sizes.
  • providing a well rounded, rich curriculum including the arts, civics and physical education.
  • providing resources including a fully stocked library/media center with qualified librarians.
  • providing social support including qualified counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers.
  • addressing inequities which enrich schools for the wealthy while providing scant resources for schools in high poverty areas.
  • providing developmentally appropriate education (not test driven) beginning in pre-school.
  • respecting and developing professional educators who are paid at comparable rates as others with their education and experience, who have time to adequately plan lessons and collaborate with colleagues, and who are provided with relevant, high quality professional development.
  • providing appropriate services to all students with special physical, academic and language needs as required by the law.
  • providing facilities that are well-maintained and show respect for those who work and go to school there.
  • engaging parents to fully participate in their child’s education.
  • fully funding public schools.

We need to fix our public schools…not close them. On that, I think Adams and Jefferson would agree.

🇺🇸🗽🇺🇸
Posted in Choice, Detroit, Jefferson, JohnGreen, Public Ed, Quotes, Testing, vouchers

Listen to This (Random Quotes) #4

A FOUNDER’S VIEW: USING TAX MONEY TO SUPPORT RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS

Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists

Thomas Jefferson, as many free market conservatives will tell you, was in favor of strong states and a weaker, smaller, federal government. However, on one thing he was firm…the influence of religion on government. The legal gymnastics used which allows tax money to flow from public coffers into religious schools in the form of education vouchers is something Jefferson would have objected to.

We don’t “give vouchers” for other public services. Taxes support local police departments, fire departments, parks, libraries, road commissions, and water services. Federal taxes are used for national parks and military services. There is no widespread call for vouchers in those areas. How far do you think someone would get if they demanded a “voucher” for their portion of tax money that goes towards the public library so that they could buy books from Amazon?

Public education is no different.

From Thomas Jefferson

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State (emphasis added).

PRIVATIZATION: VOUCHERS

School Vouchers: Welfare for the Rich, the Racist, and the Religious Right

Where are all the “failing” public schools in the U.S.? Almost exclusively, America’s “failing” public schools – and by “failing” we mean schools populated by students with low achievement test scores – are in poor and poorly financed school districts. The economic inequity of America is reflected in its public schools, not caused by it. The schools are not failing. The American system of greed has failed the nearly one-fourth of our children who live in poverty. The legislatures of the various states have compounded that failure by underfunding public schools in areas of high poverty. Children who come to school from impoverished backgrounds need more services than other children…and that support is either hit-or-miss, or nonexistent altogether.

From Russ Walsh

So why the push for vouchers? Because vouchers are very good for the rich. If the rich can sell vouchers as the cure for educational inequality, they may be able to get people to ignore the real reason for public education struggles – income inequity.

No matter what they’re called, vouchers won’t improve public schools

From the Austin American-Statesman

As the saying goes, a rose by any other name still smells as sweet.

Similarly, vouchers by any other name still stink.

(LACK OF) SUPPORT FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION

Which Choice Would You Choose?

Why are we spending money on vouchers and charters instead of just fixing the public schools we have? In the following quote, “Option A” is a well-staffed, well-managed, well-maintained, well-funded, public school, something children in wealthy areas get without a second thought.

From Peter Greene

…if we want all students to be able to choose the school in Option A, why not do what it takes to transform every public school into Option A? Option A actually offers more choice, more flexibility, but most of all, more of the things that families actually want. Once upon a time reformsters made noises about charters developing great ideas to create great schools, but we already have a plethora of model public schools– why not use them as a template? Why not muster the sort of “War on Poverty” or “Get To The Moon” or “Endless Battles in Other Countries” willpower we’ve mustered before and direct it toward making all schools great schools?

Detroit parents steered to ‘better’ schools — that don’t actually take Detroit kids

What community of middle-class or upper middle-class white Americans would stand for this sort of treatment? We are closing the very public schools which most need to remain open – those in high-poverty neighborhoods. Support public schools. Fix them. Don’t close them.

From Chalkbeat

“You are receiving this letter because the school your child attends is at risk of being closed by June 30, 2017 due to academic failure for many years…”

TESTING

We enter the darkest days of education.

It’s that time of the year again. Schools all over the country have stopped teaching and learning in order to fulfill the insanity that is standardized testing. In Indiana the standardized tests are used for evaluating students, grading schools and school districts, and evaluating teachers. The tests themselves are barely valid as a student achievement measure. They are completely invalid as a measure of an entire school’s value, the value or a school system, or a teacher’s competence. Time to end this mess.

From Rlratto at Opine I will

…this is institutional child abuse! I have written about this and about how this is the time of year that I am ashamed to be a teacher. We all should be ashamed, when we make these children take these tests to fulfill a political agenda and provide absolutely no valid data that helps children excel.

THEY’RE GIVING US WHAT WE WANT

In this video John Green talks about American health care, and inadvertently (or perhaps not), says something insightful about American politics in general. At 6:57 in the video he says,

From John Green

…because when we allow ourselves to be pandered to, our elected leaders seem more than happy to oblige us.

🚌🚌🚌
Posted in Jefferson, Madison, Religion

Religious Freedom Day, 2017

This year, Martin Luther King Day is also Religious Freedom Day, which commemorates the realization of Thomas Jefferson’s vision of an end to the state-established church in Virginia.

[This is an edited version of a post originally published on January 16, 2015]

THE VIRGINIA STATUTE FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

In 1993 President George H. W. Bush declared January 16 to be Religious Freedom Day. January 16 was the date in 1786 when the Virginia House of Delegates passed Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom. In 1992, on that date, Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder signed the first proclamation to that effect for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom was a revolutionary document. It ended the state-established church in Virginia and guaranteed religious liberty for all.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

In his proclamation, the first President Bush wrote:

“…we do well to acknowledge our debt to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. These two men were instrumental in establishing the American tradition of religious liberty and tolerance. Thomas Jefferson articulated the idea of religious liberty in his 1777 draft Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia…

James Madison later introduced and championed this bill in the Virginia House of Delegates, where it passed in 1786. Following the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787, James Madison led the way in drafting our Bill of Rights.

THE FIRST AMENDMENT

The Virginia Statute became the basis for the First Amendment protection of religious liberty.

Jefferson understood the impact of his Virginia Statute. He understood that many people were against acknowledging religious liberty for everyone. In a column about Religious Freedom Day, Frederick Clarkson wrote:

Thomas Jefferson was well aware that many did not like the Statute, just as they did not like the Constitution and the First Amendment, both of which sought to expand the rights of citizens and deflect claims of churches seeking special consideration.

So before his death, Jefferson sought to get the last word on what it meant. The Statute, he wrote, contained “within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohametan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

Freedom of belief was for everyone — religious and non-religious alike — and, with the passage of the Virginia Statute, and later the First Amendment, it was guaranteed.

Thomas Jefferson considered the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom to be one of the three great accomplishments of his life. He didn’t choose to be remembered as Minister to France for the fledgling nation, or as its first Secretary of State, or as it’s third President. Instead he chose as his life’s three great accomplishments, the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and the founding of the University of Virginia and it was those three things that he wished to be inscribed on his tombstone.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DAY

Religious Freedom Day is a mostly unheralded event in the United States. It was begun through the urging of the First Freedom Center, whose mission is:

The mission of the First Freedom Center is to commemorate and educate about freedom of religion and conscience as proclaimed in Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

Each President, since the first President Bush in 1993, has issued a proclamation on the occasion of the day.

The quest for freedom of belief is as old as humankind, and it’s still ongoing. Recent events have shown us that while human life might be fragile, the conviction of those who would protect the right to free belief is strong.

Americans owe a debt of gratitude to Jefferson, Madison, and to all local, state, and national leaders who have worked diligently to uphold the rights protected under the First Amendment.

President Obama’s 2017 Religious Freedom Day Proclamation includes the following…

If we are to defend religious freedom, we must remember that when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up. At times when some try to divide us along religious lines, it is imperative that we recall the common humanity we share — and reject a politics that seeks to manipulate, prejudice, or bias, and that targets people because of religion. Part of being American means guarding against bigotry and speaking out on behalf of others, no matter their background or belief — whether they are wearing a hijab or a baseball cap, a yarmulke or a cowboy hat.

+++
Posted in AnneFrank, DrSeuss, Franklin, Jefferson, JonStewart, Lincoln, Quotes, Rowling, Wiesel

A Dozen Quotes for the Morning After

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Benjamin Franklin

A lady asked Franklin: “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”. Franklin replied: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Thomas Jefferson

…experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large… [emphasis added]

Abraham Lincoln

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

Arthur O’Shaughnessy

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

J.K. Rowling

But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

John Holt

The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.

Elie Wiesel

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.

Anne Frank

Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.

###
Posted in Adams, Jefferson, Public Ed, Quotes

Public Education: Born on the Fourth of July

This post is from July 4, 2013. I’ve updated it to reflect the current year and made a few other minor changes.

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.” — John Adams

JOHN ADAMS

The quote above from John Adams, who began his adult life as a school teacher in Massachusetts, is a clear indication of his belief in the importance of a public education system which would educate everyone…by “the whole people” for the benefit of “the whole people.” He also specifically declares that it is to be done at public expense — public funding for public schools.

On the 240th anniversary of the declaration of our nation’s independence it’s worth noting that public education is not something new. It’s one of the basic foundational institutions of our democracy supported by the authors of the nation.

Adams himself was well educated and cared about public education. He made two assertions which would likely dismay “reformers” in their quest to privatize public education. First, as the quote above makes clear…

…the federal government has a clear responsibility for education that includes paying for it.

Second…

That a primary purpose of education is to “raise the lower ranks of society nearer to the higher.”

The public pays for it. The public supports it. The purpose is to equalize the education of the citizenry.

THOMAS JEFFERSON

The education of the citizenry was so important that even Adams’ political rival, Thomas Jefferson, declared in his 1806 State of the Union address that the government should support public education.

…a public institution can alone supply those sciences which though rarely called for are yet necessary to complete the circle, all the parts of which contribute to the improvement of the country and some of them to its preservation.

Jefferson proposed a constitutional amendment to fund public education. When that never materialized he directed his attention

…to his beloved state of Virginia. He developed a comprehensive plan for education which encompassed elementary, secondary, and university levels.

Jefferson believed the elementary school was more important than the university in the plan because, as he said, it was “safer to have the whole people respectfully enlightened than a few in a high state of science and many in ignorance as in Europe” (as cited in Peterson, 1960, p. 241). He had six objectives for primary education to bring about this enlightenment and which highlighted what he hoped would make every person into a productive and informed voter:

  1. “To give every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business;
  2. To enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts, and accounts, in writing;
  3. To improve, by reading, his morals and faculties;
  4. To understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either;
  5. To know his rights; to exercize with order and justice those he retains; to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor, and judgment;
  6. And, in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed.” (as cited in Peterson, 1960, p. 239)

Adams and Jefferson, so often on opposite sides of political arguments, were in accord when it came to supporting public education. The nation needed a publicly funded school system which would educate all. Public education was an institution necessary for the maintenance of our democracy.

WE STILL NEED PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Five years ago Peggy Zugibe, a school board member from New York, wrote

In the 1800s, when our country took in more immigrants and it became more diverse, education reformers saw public education as a means of creating productive citizens, ending poverty and crime and unifying an increasingly diverse population. Those societal goals are as relevant today as they were then.

Those goals are as relevant in 2016 as they were in 2011.

She referred to a publication by the Center on Educational Policy titled Why We Still Need Public Schools.

The publication asserts that public education is expected to…

fulfill certain public missions that go beyond the purely academic purposes of all schools, public and private.

These public missions can be characterized by six main themes:

  1. To provide universal access to free education
  2. To guarantee equal opportunities for all children
  3. To unify a diverse population
  4. To prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society
  5. To prepare people to become economically self-sufficient
  6. To improve social conditions

Those six missions of public education are as important now as they have been at any time during our nation’s history. Channeling public funds to privately run charters, or to parochial and other private schools through vouchers is not the way to support public education.

IMPROVE PUBLIC EDUCATION

Public schools, supported by public dollars, accept all children. If a charter or private school cannot provide for a wheelchair-bound child’s physical needs the child returns to a public school. If a charter or private school cannot provide for the needs of a child with special academic needs the child returns to a public school. Public schools must provide for all children…those with special needs, those of average ability, those who have no home, those who are hungry, and those whose language skills are inadequate to communicate.

We don’t improve our democracy by redirecting public dollars to private and charter schools, many of which do not accept all children.

We need to improve our public schools so they are equipped to provide services to every child by

  • lowering class sizes.
  • providing a well rounded, rich curriculum including the arts, civics and physical education.
  • providing resources including a fully stocked library/media center with qualified librarians.
  • providing social support including qualified counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers.
  • addressing inequities which enrich schools for the wealthy while providing scant resources for schools in high poverty areas.
  • providing developmentally appropriate education (not test driven) beginning in pre-school.
  • respecting and developing professional educators who are paid at comparable rates as others with their education and experience, who have time to adequately plan lessons and collaborate with colleagues, and who are provided with relevant, high quality professional development.
  • providing appropriate services to all students with special physical, academic and language needs as required by the law.
  • providing facilities that are well-maintained and show respect for those who work and go to school there.
  • engaging parents to fully participate in their child’s education.
  • fully funding public schools.

We need to fix our public schools…not close them. On that, I think Adams and Jefferson would agree.

###
Posted in Jefferson, Religion

Religious Freedom Day, 2016

JANUARY 16, 1786

Today is Religious Freedom Day.

National Religious Freedom Day commemorates the January 16, 1786 adoption of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom by the Virginia General Assembly. The statute was written by Thomas Jefferson and is the basis for the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

REDEFINING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

The Religious Right has worked hard in the last few decades to redefine the term, “Religious Freedom.” In the U.S. today we have governors, politicians, and public officials supporting attempts to discriminate based on religious beliefs. We have candidates for public office promising to limit the immigration of certain religious groups. We have religious organizations which seek to limit the rights of their employees. In other words, the attempt has been made to define Religious Freedom in such a way as to coerce and manipulate the rights of others.

Rob Boston, Director of Communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has written,

The term religious freedom means the right to make decisions about theology for yourself. It’s the right to worship God – or not to worship at all – as you see fit…

…It’s not the right to tell other people what to do. It’s not the right to make decisions for others. It’s not the right to use the power of government to impose your theology on anyone else.

…Somehow the actions of others are seen as a threat to someone else’s religious liberty.

Thus, an employee’s decision to use birth control becomes a threat to her boss’s religious freedom. An expectation that young children will learn about evolution in a public school endangers the religious freedom of an evolution-denying family in that district. A woman who shows up at a pharmacy and expects the pharmacist to do his job by giving her the medication her doctor has prescribed is threatening the pharmacist’s religious freedom. A same-sex couple’s decision to get legally married somehow threatens the religious liberty of a person across town who doesn’t even know them.

…Unless the actions in question involve busting down church doors, thrashing the implements of worship, and threatening the people inside, very little of what one person does affects the religious liberty of another.

Religious freedom does not mean that you can prevent me from doing something that offends your religious beliefs if my action doesn’t harm you. Believe what you choose…and let me believe what I choose.

TWENTY GODS OR NO GOD

Jefferson understood the impact of his Virginia Statute. He understood that many people were against acknowledging religious liberty for everyone. In a column about Religious Freedom Day, Frederick Clarkson wrote:

Thomas Jefferson was well aware that many did not like the Statute, just as they did not like the Constitution and the First Amendment, both of which sought to expand the rights of citizens and deflect claims of churches seeking special consideration.

So before his death, Jefferson sought to get the last word on what it meant. The Statute, he wrote, contained “within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohametan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

In his own words he reminds us that the first amendment protects all citizens’ religious expression no matter who they are, or what their religion might be. The only restriction is that which is “injurious to others.

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DAY, 2016

President Obama’s 2016 Religious Freedom Day Proclamation includes the following…

When the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was adopted on January 16, 1786, it formed a blueprint for what would become the basis for the protection of religious liberty enshrined in our Constitution. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the statute proclaims that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” The First Amendment prohibits Government from establishing religion, and it protects the free exercise of every faith. Our Government does not sponsor a religion, nor does it pressure anyone to practice a particular faith, or any faith at all. The United States stands for the protection of equal rights for all people to practice their faith freely, without fear or coercion, and as Americans, we understand that when people of all religions are accepted and are full and equal members of our society, we are all stronger and freer.

###
Posted in Jefferson, Madison, Religion

Religious Freedom Day, 2015

In 1993 President George H. W. Bush declared January 16 to be Religious Freedom Day. January 16 was the date in 1786 when the Virginia House of Delegates passed Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom. In 1992, on that date, Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder signed the first proclamation to that effect for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom was a revolutionary document. It ended the state-established church in Virginia and guaranteed religious liberty for all.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

In his proclamation, the first President Bush wrote:

“…we do well to acknowledge our debt to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. These two men were instrumental in establishing the American tradition of religious liberty and tolerance. Thomas Jefferson articulated the idea of religious liberty in his 1777 draft Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia…

James Madison later introduced and championed this bill in the Virginia House of Delegates, where it passed in 1786. Following the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787, James Madison led the way in drafting our Bill of Rights.

The Virginia Statute became the basis for the First Amendment protection of religious liberty.

Jefferson understood the impact of his Virginia Statute. He understood that many people were against acknowledging religious liberty for everyone. In a column about Religious Freedom Day, Frederick Clarkson wrote:

Thomas Jefferson was well aware that many did not like the Statute, just as they did not like the Constitution and the First Amendment, both of which sought to expand the rights of citizens and deflect claims of churches seeking special consideration.

So before his death, Jefferson sought to get the last word on what it meant. The Statute, he wrote, contained “within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohametan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

Freedom of belief was for everyone — religious and non-religious alike — and, with the passage of the Virginia Statute, and later the First Amendment, it was guaranteed.

Thomas Jefferson considered the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom to be one of the three great accomplishments of his life. He didn’t choose to be remembered as Minister to France for the fledgling nation, or as its first Secretary of State, or as it’s third President. Instead he chose as his life’s three great accomplishments, the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and the founding of the University of Virginia and it was those three things that he wished to be inscribed on his tombstone.

Religious Freedom Day is a mostly unheralded event in the United States. It was begun through the urging of the First Freedom Center, whose mission is:

The mission of the First Freedom Center is to commemorate and educate about freedom of religion and conscience as proclaimed in Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

Each President, since the first President Bush in 1993, has issued a proclamation on the occasion of the day.

The quest for freedom of belief is as old as humankind, and it’s still ongoing. Recent events have shown us that while human life might be fragile, the conviction of those who would protect the right to free belief is strong.

Americans owe a debt of gratitude to Jefferson, Madison, and to all local, state, and national leaders who have worked diligently to uphold the rights protected under the First Amendment.

President Obama’s 2015 Religious Freedom Day Proclamation includes the following…

[The First Amendment] protects the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose, to change their faith, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free from persecution and fear. This religious freedom allows faith to flourish, and our Union is stronger because a vast array of religious communities coexist peacefully with mutual respect for one another. Since the age of Jefferson and Madison, brave women and men of faith have challenged our conscience; today, our Nation continues to be shaped by people of every religion and of no religion, bringing us closer to our founding ideals. As heirs to this proud legacy of liberty, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to safeguard these freedoms.

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The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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