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Can God save Philly schools?

By Christine Carlson on Nov 18, 2013 05:25 PM

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania House Education Committee voted to advance House Bill 1728 – the National Motto Display Act – requiring “In God We Trust” to be prominently displayed in classrooms and other areas of public school buildings. At first, this seems to be an issue of church-and-state separation – after all, public schools may not promote a deity. But could this proposed legislation foreshadow the next step in the Commonwealth’s apparent plan to further defund public education?

One doesn’t have to have children in a Philadelphia public school to know that the District’s financial situation is dire. And it’s not just here. All across the state, in areas urban and rural, public school districts are buckling under Gov. Corbett’s education cuts.

Given these circumstances, one would reasonably expect that the House Education Committee would be tirelessly working toward enforcing the Pennsylvania constitution’s requirement to provide “for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.” One might reasonably expect that committee members would be proposing an equitable, transparent funding formula for students across the state -- or even just adequate funding. 

Sadly, that is not the case. Instead, the committee is spending precious time and resources advocating for the installation of a motto of questionable constitutional legitimacy. 

Introduced by Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny, the man who rallied the Pennsylvania legislature to decree 2012 to be the Year of the Bible, the bill upholds “In God We Trust” as our national motto. In supporting this, Saccone refers to the 150th anniversary of 19th-century Pennsylvania Gov. James Pollock’s placement of the words on a two-cent coin and noted in a statement that “our youth need to hear the story of our heritage and learn from positive role models in a time of decaying values.” May I suggest that our current students might find it valuable to be able to look up to our 21st-century legislators for championing their right to a good education and, as a result, a better life now and in the future?

Even more incomprehensible is that requiring installation of this motto is an unfunded mandate. Does this mean that it’s OK for our schools to go without counselors, nurses, security, even paper and textbooks, but still use their severely limited funds and resources to install suitable plaques?

If I believed in conspiracy theories, I would say that this legislation is a brilliant move to further allow the commonwealth to abdicate its responsibility to fund public education. Rather than placing trust in their legislative leadership, the burden is on our ability to trust in God. In the Jerry Falwell tradition of blaming everything from AIDS to 9/11 on the wrath of God, Pennsylvania legislators can now attribute failing schools to a failing obligation to God. Your students’ test results weren’t high enough and your school didn’t make Adequate Yearly Progress? Don’t blame poverty or lack of adequate funding;  blame yourself because you just didn’t trust in God enough. Legislators like Saccone can point to the plaques and say: If you had truly trusted in God, your school would have done much better.

“In God We Trust” is best known for appearing on the back of United States currency. Personally, I’d like to see much more of this motto in our schools, but only when it is found on actual dollars. So, please, send our schools as many “In God We Trust"s as possible – preferably in large denominations. A billion of them should do.

Christine Carlson is a public school parent and the founder of the Greater Center City Neighborhood Schools Coalition. 


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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Comments (26)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 18, 2013 6:56 pm
Excellent point Christine. Even as a Christian person at first reading my thought was, and they didn't have anything else to do? Our schools are absolutely starving and they want to mandate plaques which say "In God We Trust"? Who's paying for those? I'm sure even the Christian teachers would like those dollars spent on paper or books. I agree wholeheartedly in your final statement. Let's not spend non-existent money on plaques; just send the money. The more, the better.
Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on November 18, 2013 7:27 pm
I see a couple of movements going on here simultaneously. Introducing a religious article into a public school is one way to blur the difference between public and sectarian schools, as once happened in the days of school prayer. That makes the issue of vouchers for religious schools less objectionable. It also is a way of reintroducing by indirect means, the idea of praying in school. Ever since the SCOTUS outlawed prayers in public school classrooms, the religious right has never stopped plotting how to get it back in.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on November 18, 2013 9:06 pm
blaspheming heathens! may a host of locusts smite your crops and the nile flood your hearth. put not your faith in mammon, nor the pleasures of this world. oh wicked wicked sinners who have wandered off the path and lost the one true way; a pox on ye all till you see the light and mend your ways. signed, holier than thou p.s. and while you're about it, let's get those pssa scores up too.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on November 18, 2013 10:50 pm
In God they Trust and so maybe he will provide the Philadelphia Schools with full funding. Because the Commonwealth of PA sure as heck will never provide it.
Submitted by Maureen Fratantoni (not verified) on November 19, 2013 11:36 am
I agree. But first they have to believe in God we trust. Then God will give the increase. It is not enough just to have it listed on bills and on plaques. By the way, I do think we should have it on plaques and on our bills to serve as a reminder of what we should be doing. We should put God first in all things. Then you will see the blessings come.
Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on November 19, 2013 12:25 pm
Public education has to be secular. That means no one has the right to impose any religious doctrine on anyone. We are not a theocracy like countries in the Middle East that put people to death for "blasphemy". First it will be the plaques. Then the Ten Commandments. Then just a psalm or two to begin the day. Then..... I repeat, tax supported schools cannot under our national or state constitutions promote any religious doctrine. BTW - Voluntary silent prayer is always allowed. God does not need to be reminded by a plaque that believers trust in Him.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 19, 2013 6:14 pm
Agree tenfold, and is this what we really need to be dwelling on when there is not enough personnel, programs and supplies? I have also heard people say "if we brought God back into the classroom we woudln't have these problems." They don't have good memories: back in the 50's when Bible reading was allowed, that's not what kept order. If you screwed up seriously you were EXPELLED (not given a 3, 5 or 10 day suspension either in house or at home).
Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on November 19, 2013 6:08 pm
The question is: which God should we trust in? Are you sure you trust the right God?
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on November 19, 2013 6:51 pm
I am really open to any God you suggest. The Philadelphia has obviously failed to propiciate the normal Gods and if you have a new one who might take an interest in the students please advise. I would be happy to burn a hecatomb as a sacrifice to a new God who might come through for the School District.
Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on November 19, 2013 8:43 pm
I have a problem with it. First, if we pick a wrong God, there is always a possibility that the right one would get upset, and take away the little that we have. And second, if we overly rely on a God to provide our schools with funding, we might get complacent... Oh, wait, we already did...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 19, 2013 7:33 pm
One needs God in school to tell them what they should be doing? This is a religious POV and public schcools are secular for exactly this reason. There are many people who don't believe in God to begin with. I'm an atheist but like Poogie said, I can put a sign up if "HE" brings us some money. Seriously though it looks trifiling in this day and age.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 19, 2013 6:03 pm
Tell it Poogie! Perfect answer.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 19, 2013 10:51 pm
All of you blasphemous heathens are going to die and burn in an eternal hell. No wonder our world systems are being destroyed and our country is in moral decay. There is only one, true God and if you deny Him; He in turn will deny you in your day of judgment. Wow, if the majority of people think like you, its no wonder this country is cursed.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 19, 2013 10:00 pm
We are only cursed if many people think like you do. You are no different than the Taliban.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 19, 2013 6:50 pm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_national_motto
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 19, 2013 10:24 pm
Yes, God can surely save our schools. God is omnipotent. There is nothing too hard for God.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 20, 2013 8:48 am
We're really talking about schools here, and the only people that can truly save them is us. People destroy things and people can rebuild them. If there is nothing too hard for God then this world would be one heck of a better place, but as they say: "G- helps those who help themseves." When privatizers gut and close our once cherished schools, are we to wait for God to help us? Let's get real here and stay focused.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 20, 2013 8:20 am
HS Teach, picking the right or wrong God (as you obviously understand) is precisely why the sepration of church and state exists for public institutions. For whose who are religiously oriented may I suggest a relgious school for your children that is NOT at my taxpayer expense via vouchers? I've noticed this for years now, creeping religiosity that's publicly funded.There are Islamic schools, Jewish schools, Catholic schools etc. whose purpose is to teach children with that particular religion as a basis, but public schools are for anyone and everyone and we must not confuse the two. Gloria's 2nd post was spot on and more important than people realize: "Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on Mon, 11/18/2013 - 19:31. << "I see a couple of movements going on here simultaneously. Introducing a religious article into a public school is one way to blur the difference between public and sectarian schools, as once happened in the days of school prayer. That makes the issue of vouchers for religious schools less objectionable. It also is a way of reintroducing by indirect means, the idea of praying in school. Ever since the SCOTUS outlawed prayers in public school classrooms, the religious right has never stopped plotting how to get it back in." >>
Submitted by ConcernedRoxParent (not verified) on November 20, 2013 12:04 pm
I say we pick THOR, he can just bash all those in Harrisburg with his hammer ;-) Problem solved.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on November 20, 2013 2:33 pm
I had to read this article twice as I thought my old eyes were deceiving me. I'm still not sure. Religion is the only subject that's TABOO to question, no matter how silly and unscientific their claims. Without any evidence at all, religions get away with damn near anything. The Catholic Church is exhibit A through Z. Having said that, I believe in god and SHE is GOOD !! I am also partial to Zeus and Popeye.
Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on November 20, 2013 4:31 pm
Everybody knows that the only TRUE God is Flying Spaghetti Monster. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster Only she could save our schools with her noodly appendage.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on November 20, 2013 5:10 pm
OK, how about, "I'm still an atheist, thank God." I'd call you sacreligous if I could spell it so I better stick with mean.
Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on November 20, 2013 6:01 pm
I thought mean was your prerogative.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on November 20, 2013 6:15 pm
Don't use big words with me....I do have a dictionary.........somewhere !!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 20, 2013 11:06 pm
Fools

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