There are millions of students in thousands of schools across the US. With so many kids and schools, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there are always controversial and hot issues when it comes to school. And they're not always "new" debates. Some of the hottest - and oldest - issues at school are:
- Teaching creationism and/or evolution
- School prayer
- The Pledge of Allegiance
Whether you have kids in school now or they're starting soon, it's a good idea to know some things about these hot issues.
Creationism vs. Evolution
This debate is decades old. Remember reading about the "Scopes Monkey Trial," or perhaps you've seen "Inherit the Wind" on TV or at a theater? It's the story of a public high school teacher in Tennessee who was charged with the crime of teaching evolution to his students in biology class. That was in 1925.
Today, 85 years later, the debate hasn't lost much of its edge. Creationism is the theory that a divine being or "creator" made the world and everything and everyone on it. Evolution, on the other hand, teaches that all life started from some sort of organic soup. Eventually, over millions of years, living creatures developed or evolved, including human beings.
Today, the debate in the schools is essentially the same as it was 1925. Beyond the scientific issues, the debate focuses on personal belief and what you want your child to learn about at school. Although many religions now accept some of the science of evolution, some religions insist all life was created by God. Many schools teach both evolution and creationism so students get both sides of the issue. Some teach one or the other.
Do you want your child taught anything about a divine being or God? Do want your child taught that humans evolved by luck or chance? These are some the questions you may want to ask when deciding on a school.
In schools affiliated with a particular religion, like Catholic schools, in-school prayer is expected and desired by parents and students. So, not surprisingly, this controversy is found almost entirely in public schools. And the debate centers on the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
The First Amendment protects your right to practice whatever religion you desire. It also protects your right to practice no religion at all. The Amendment bars the government from establishing or promoting a religion. "Government" means any government - federal, state or local, and that includes public school districts.
As a general rule, students at public schools have a right to pray if they choose to do so. A school can't stop students from praying at the beginning of the school day or when they sit down for lunch. They can do it alone or in groups. They can't be disruptive, though. The school, on the other hand, can't encourage students to pray or "lead" a prayer.
The controversy in recent years involves:
- Prayers at the beginning of school officials' meetings, such as school board meetings. There's no single, clear-cut rule on the issue. In some states, like Delaware, prayers are allowed. In states like Ohio the debate goes on
- Student prayer at school functions. Can a graduation ceremony begin with a prayer when the student body has an election and agrees on it? It depends on where the school is. In Ohio the answer is probably not. In Texas, it's likely the prayer would be allowed
It seems each year there are new stories and lawsuits over prayer in various public school settings. It's a debate that may go on for years to come.