Saturday, December 13, 2014

Ohio Schools Must Get Religion

There are some things that Ohio schools can, apparently, do without. The Ohio state school board did vote to scuttle the 5 of 8 rule; this would make schools free to operate without librarians, nurses, and guidance counselors, for starters.

But then-- why would you need a nurse or a guidance counselor when you have religion and business in the house?

Ohio governor John Kasich has a great program in place to improve school-community connections and to bring mentors into the school to help.

Community Connectors provides $10 million in 3-to-1 matching grants that will help give more Ohio students access to role models who can help motivate and inspire them, as well as help them develop skills that lead to success in school and the workplace.

Kasich even has a few words to add himself:

The power of mentorship holds great promise to help us better connect our communities with our schools, and lift up our educators and our kids. We can show them why learning matters, we can teach them about workplace culture and professional etiquette. We can help them appreciate how important good character is to success in life as well as values like hard work, discipline and personal responsibility—all of which can help motivate and inspire them to find their purpose and to reach for the stars."  —  Gov. John R. Kasich

There may be some cranky teachers who want to say, "And what did you think we're teaching them, anyway?" But I'd welcome the backup. I can tell my students that things like showing up every day, on time, are important in the workplace, but hearing it from an actual employer definitely gives the message more weight (I am, after all, "just a teacher" and of doubtful authority).

So, great idea, right? Except it comes with a string or two. Although reportedly not spelled out in the legislation, the grants come with a requirement that schools must partner with a business and with a faith-based group. Nobody is really asking questions about the business requirement for the partnership application, but the faith-based requirement needs some 'splainin'" The Cleveland Plain Dealer went in search of that explanation.

Buddy Harris, senior policy analyst at the Ohio Department of Education, is quoted in the Cleveland Plain Dealer saying that faith-based groups are "clearly at the heart of the vision of the governor." He goes on to allay any concerns about that pesky state-church wall being breached.

"We do not forsee any proseletyzing happening between mentors and students," Harris said. "That's not really what we're seeking."

But Kasich's welcome video for applicants to the program is a little more direct:

"The Good Lord has a purpose for each and every one of them (students) and you're helping them to find it," Kasich said on the video.

So, proseletyzing.

In the interests of transparency, I'll just note that my own relationship with organized religion is long and complicated, and I have some clear feelings about the separation of church and state, not the least of which is that the separation protects the church from the state, not just vice versa.

There are plenty of faith-based groups that do good community work without trying to sell their brand. Their are plenty of groups that use the illusion of faith-basedness as a dodge for fundraising. And there are plenty of faith-based groups who do Good Works only because it gives them an opportunity to spread their particular Word. Not all of these groups are going to provide useful mentoring to young people. We could just take all comers, but that's not going to hold up long (I look forward to the first time the Ohio Alliance of Satan Worshippers tries to get in on the mentoring action. Heck, even an Islamic group is liable to create a stink in the Buckeye State). And as soon as we try to have the conversation about which are which, we will find ourselves discussing how a government agency can evaluate the worthiness of a faith-based group (which must also include an evaluation of the faith on which it's based). Plus the coordination needed if we are going to make sure that we don't have an evangelical Christian mentoring a Jewish student, or a Islamic mentor working with a born-again Christian student. So, also a government agency to record and sort and match the religious faiths of students and mentors? This whole mess is not good for anybody.

Kasich had to know this was an issue-- most of his previous discussions of the program skipped any mention of the faith-based requirement. Ten million dollars is a small stack of money, but it's more than enough to buy a small bureaucratic train wreck.

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