By JOHN GUSTY
South Cheatham is made up of some amazing families and individuals. If just half of them took the time to make their voices heard, our school system could be radically different. It could belong to us again, instead of belonging to The State and Federal Government. You’d have happier teachers. Teachers who could actually teach and discipline the way generations prior were taught and disciplined. You’d have more engaged parents. Benefitting most of all would be the students.
Unfortunately what exists today is a system that nurtures frustrated teachers, produces a marginal-at-best curriculum and spends way too much time and money chasing ever-changing Federal & State standards that must be adhered to because of funding dollars accepted. Have you ever wondered why a coffee shop or auto garage can exist and thrive based solely on their customer base… but a school can’t? And a school has a built-in, guaranteed customer base. Yet we as parents/customers have to supply our own paper, pencils and paper towels.
Removing all State and Federal government from the equation would be ideal. Returning the schools to the local communities would be a beautiful thing. And maybe someday we will collectively wise up and do so. Until then… we are forced to deal with things like 6 board members and a few lawyers making legal agreements with a radical lawyer conglomerate (The ACLU) that violate our 1st Amendment rights. The purpose of this article is not to rehash the ACLU agreement. If you are not educated on that subject… do yourself a favor and do so.
What I’d like to focus on is the following: The agreement that was made has already radically changed the county that we live in. As I’ve stated before, this topic deserved a “stop-everything-you’re-doing” front-n-center countywide discussion or vote before ANY agreement of this magnitude was decided upon.
That did not happen. And we let it happen. And it was PERFECTLY LEGITIMATE for a parent to speak out about this decision and the scenario it has created. I’d like to point out that to this day, I have not met one single parent that agrees with the ACLU agreement. I have encountered several who misunderstood the topic. Some thought it had to do with TEACHING religious doctrine in schools. It has nothing to do with teaching anything religious. That wasn’t happening anywhere. It has to do solely with identifying yourself religiously or mentioning religion in ANY way. As an INDIVIDUAL. That is key to understand. “Individual” vs. “Curriculum” are two very different things. “Individual” is a fundamental 1st Amendment right.
Last September I read a letter in The South Cheatham Advocate from a brave student named Angelina Swain who wrote passionately about her Youth Pastor not being able to eat lunch with her and her friends anymore. Her principal understood that under this new agreement… no one having anything to do with a church is allowed on school grounds anymore. That upset Ms. Swain. As it should have.
It upset me too. This was intentional social engineering coming home to roost in Cheatham County. My home. Our home. As I discussed this amongst friends and neighbors, I was surprised by how many people were unaware this ACLU agreement had even taken place. I’m talking about people who were otherwise VERY aware, engaged and involved in the community. How could so many of us have missed what the School Board did?
Because so many were unaware, I was inspired to write a summary and timeline of what happened. First I talked with Dr. Webb, several board members, teachers and principals. I did my research. I then submitted it as a “Letter to the Editor” to my local paper. As a result, myself AND the paper were both served with letters from the Board Attorney.
This was my first time dealing with the School Board. So I was a bit shocked. I had done my research. Talked with the appropriate individuals. Even spoke at the next School Board meeting. All the while… being polite and respectful. Why the lawyer chest-puffing?
Surely this was not the dynamic The Board desired between itself and the parents? Right? I even showed up and spoke at the next couple of Board meetings expressing this very thing. Still… The Board was absolutely silent to me. And to The South Cheatham Advocate.
In November of last year, Tammie Lavender (my 6th Dist Board Rep) took the bold step of requesting the Board Attorney (Larry Woods) attend that month’s workshop. He did. And everyone in attendance was witness to his behavior. It was even written about in The Tennessean. Surely The Board was not proud of this? Still… The Board neither acknowledged what had happened, or had anything to say to me.
Individually, board members Greg Horton, William Johnson and Tammie Lavender reacted, as one would hope an elected official would. All three have my respect. All three have offered words of encouragement and have been productive to interact with.
The Board can speak via the Chair (Diane Proffitt) the Director, or the two combined. As of this writing, based on what I’ve experienced… I am left to assume that The Board officially finds no fault or offense in the way The Board Attorney (Larry Woods) has handled things between myself or the paper that printed my letter. Or the behavior exhibited in the Nov. 2011 work session.
Was it wishful thinking to expect some sort of response (publicly or privately) from The Board in regards to what has transpired?
Furthermore: there has yet to be any written policy regarding the restrictions put upon the students, teachers and staff. Principals were left to interpret the verbal mandate of The Board Attorney (Larry Woods) as policy. The constitutionality of which was so shaky that it was challenged, in writing last Oct. by The Alliance Defense Fund.
As we approach graduation, my hope is the following: Many are under the understanding that prayer or the mention of scripture cannot be included in any graduation speech.
I encourage ALL students to understand that it is your 1st Amendment CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to pray, cite scripture, movie quotes or Justin Beiber lyrics (should you be so inspired) in any speech that you give. NO ONE can tell you otherwise. And there are lawyers waiting to defend you should anyone try and intimidate you from doing so in any way.
I encourage the parents of any graduate giving a speech, to stress this fundamental freedom that we all share. Encourage them to give whatever speech they want.
Because they can.
The state of New York recently BANNED the use of words like “dinosaur” because it offended evolutionists, “Halloween” because it offends non-pagans and “birthday” because it offends Jehovah Witnesses. This is exactly where this kind of stuff leads. Would you have thought, even 5 years ago, that you would NEVER AGAIN attend your child’s Christmas program at school? Well… you can’t anymore. Thanks to things like this going unchecked.
So again… as graduation approaches… my hope is that the students understand how much power they have at their graduation ceremonies. Give the speeches that YOU want to give. NO ONE can tell you otherwise. Test them on this. Let them try and cut off your mic. Let them try and cut the power. Can you imagine the support you’d have? The immediate public backlash against whoever tried to silence you would be intense. You’d be local heroes.
The students are in a powerful position. One that teachers and even parents simply are not. The students are untouchable in this realm. The moment a Cheatham County student is prevented from exercising their 1st Amendment rights… trust me… you’ll make national news.
This isn’t a “Christian” thing. Although it’s made out to be. This is a freedom thing. The same freedom that allows Christians to be Christian ALSO allows atheists to be atheists.
What a beautiful thing it would be to see the students of Cheatham County tell The ACLU “Not in my school. Not in my city. Not in my county.”
Because they can.