Tuesday, May 24, 2005

On "Framing the Issue"

During the weekend, I wrote a brief piece commenting on the efforts of a Native American lobbying group to have a vestige of colonial law repealed by the legislature. I made an observation that, while the legislature was repealing vestiges of colonial law that were offensive to this particular interest group, perhaps they should take up discussion of the "Anti-aid" Amendment to the Massachusetts COnstitution ---a vestige of one of the most egregious examples religious bigotry in our history.

I was satisfied to leave it at that, since the point was reasonably clear, and quite uncontroversial, I thought. But I received a comment to that post -- I think the comment and my response to it deserve a more open exposure, so here it is:

"worldcitizen said...

Right. The Commonwealth should take money from us taxpayers and give it to sectarian religious schools. Good point. And I definitely see how the current neutral funding situation is pretty much exactly analogous to Native Laws from the 1670's.

Brilliant, brilliant analysis. "

Now, I am as prone to sarcasm as anyone, but sarcasm and arrogance together are, well, unattractive -- I try to avoid using one with the other, it's impolite. But sarcasm, arrogance and IGNORANCE, well that is a deadly combination.

I am compelled to deconstruct "worldcitizen's" comment:

First of all, my brief comment was not analysis, merely an observation. The observation was limited to the fact that the Anti-aid Amendment was enacted by a political party notorious for its religious bigotry, for the singular purpose of thwarting the education of Catholics in their own schools (having been subject to gross bigotry in the protestant-run public schools -- see below). I thought it was equally as worthy of repeal as the Native American Ban.

Moreover, I did not advocate that the Commonwealth "take money from us taxpayers and give it to sectarian schools." That is a conclusion that worldcitizen believes (apparently) would result from a repeal of the Anti-aid Amendment. It has always been the primary manner of "framing the issue" that the opponents of repeal have offered (teachers unions foremost among them -- those bastions of taxpayer protection), and it is a red herring.

So let's put it right out in the open: The repeal of the amendment will not result, per force, in one dime of public money going to sectarian schools. It will permit the legislature to discuss and consider educational choice programs that are otherwise consistent with the First Amendment's separation of church and state, and those programs include vouchers for the children of Massachusetts taxpayers to use any way they can(which is not what I call "taking money from taxpayers and giving it to sectarian schools").

Oh the horrors that would ensue from letting our elected representatives consider such measures!

But more on that in a moment. Since worldcitizen finds my brief comment to have constituted an analogy between "the current neutral funding situation" and Native Laws from the 1670's, I shall offer for him (as it was plain enough to me in the original comment) the analogy that is perfectly apt.

Here are the similarities as I see them:

Here are the dissimilarities:

Perhaps worldcitizen pounces on my theme because he is a member of the educational establishment and is engrossed in Wirzburger v. Galvin, (Boyette v. Galvin, 311 F. Supp. 2d 237 (D. Mass. 2004), appeal docketed, sub nom. Wirzburger v. Galvin, No. 04-1625 (1st Cir., April 29, 2004), the current litigation now under advisement at the First Circuit Court of Appeals in which proponents of vouchers have challenged both the anti-aid amendment and a later-enacted amendment which rendered this putrid provision immune from the citizen petition process. If successful, their case will weaken the anti-aid amendment's impregnable shield against the institution of school vouchers, and hence in worldview's world view, result in the immediate and unalterable ruination of public education as we know it.

But that's up to the legislature to consider and decide, isn't it? Isn't that what legislatures are for? Or do we simply continue to immunize them from being sucked into the debate on such a thorny issue, and allow this vestige of dark cruelty and hatred to inform our statewide educational policy for eternity? How cowardly and wrong.

For those readers who have not been exposed to the events of the times in which the anti-aid amendment was adopted, here is a brief overview, courtesy of Richard Fossey , J.D., Ed.D. and Robert LeBlanc, Ed.D., authors of "Vouchers for Sectarian Schools after Zelman: Will the First Circuit Expose Anti-Catholic Bigotry in the Massachusetts Constitution?" (link here) (quotation marks and footnotes omitted). If you care to scan, I have highlighted the particularly offensive parts.

The Massachusetts anti-aid provision, which was adopted by state voters in 1855, had first been approved by the Massachusetts legislature when it was overwhelmingly dominated by the anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party. According to John R. Mulkern, a professor at Babson College and author of The Know-Nothing Party of Massachusetts: The Rise and Fall of a People’s Movement, Massachusetts state government in the mid-1850s was blatantly anti-Catholic. The Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s "had its roots in the anti-Catholic, anti-foreign Native American movement of the 1840s." The party derived its name from the fact that "its members were sworn to deny knowing anything about its existence," and the party reflected a broad-based hostility toward the Irish that existed in Massachusetts at that time.

In 1854, Mulkern explained, the Know-Nothing Party of Massachusetts swept into power in a landslide election. "Every constitutional state officer, the entire congressional delegation, all forty state senators, and all but 3 of the 379 representatives [of the state legislature] bore the Know-Nothing stamp." In addition, a Know-Nothing candidate won the Massachusetts governor’s office with a 63 percent majority of the vote, carrying all but twenty of the state’s more than 300 towns.

Citing from his book, Mulkern described the anti-Catholic activities of this outrageously bigoted political party. Working together, the Governor and legislature passed legislation mandating "a daily reading of the King James Bible in the public schools (which was offensive to Catholics)," dismissing Irish state workers, banning the teaching of foreign languages in the public schools, and limiting public office to native-born citizens. In addition, the legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment to bar Roman Catholics from holding public office.

In 1854, the Know-Nothing dominated legislature overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting the use of any public money for the benefit of any religious school. The provision was submitted to Massachusetts voters, who passed it by a comfortable margin in 1855. This provision became Article XVIII of the Massachusetts Constitution; and, according to Mulkern, "was based on nativist and anti-Catholic bias and intended to preserve native-born Protestant dominance."

According to Dr. Charles Glenn, a professor at Boston University and author of The Myth of the Common School, anti-Catholic sentiment was a major factor in the development of the common schools in Massachusetts in the mid-1850s. A major goal of these schools, as Glen discussed more fully in his book, was to assimilate Catholic school children into American Protestant culture. In fact, the Boston School Committee made this goal explicit in an 1850 document that stressed the assimilation agenda of the Protestant-dominated school authorities:

"We must open the doors of our school houses and invite and compel them to come in. There is no other hope for them or for us . . . In our Schools they receive moral and religious teaching, powerful enough if possible to keep them in the right path amid the moral darkness which is their daily and domestic walk . . . . unless we can redeem this population in their childhood by moral means, we must control them by force, or support them as paupers at a maturer period of life."

Thus, the Boston School Committee made daily Bible reading a mandatory part of the school day in 1851; and the Know-Nothing-dominated state legislature adopted a law to that effect in 1855. Catholics found this practice offensive, since school authorities used the King James Bible for these daily exercises and not the Catholic approved Douay Bible.

An incident referred to as the "Eliot School Rebellion" illustrates the Protestant dominance of public education in Boston during the 1850s. On March 1859, a teacher at Boston’s Eliot School ordered Thomas Whall, a Catholic school boy, to read the Ten Commandments from the King James Bible. Whall refused, having been admonished by his father not to do so. An assistant to the school principal then stepped into the classroom and informed the class, "Here’s a boy that refuses to repeat the Ten Commandments, and I will whip him till he yields if it takes the whole forenoon." The administrator then beat Whall severely with a rattan stick for half an hour.

At the conclusion of this beating, the Eliot School principal ordered all boys not willing to read from the King James version of the Bible to leave the school, and about 100 Catholic schoolboys were discharged. The following day, three hundred Catholic school boys were discharged from school for the same offense. This then was the environment in which the voters of Massachusetts adopted a constitutional amendment barring any public aid to sectarian schools. ....

There you have it, in a nutshell. I ask you, is this a legacy we should defend?

Of course not. And lest anyone in Massachusetts be concerned that the public coffers are going to be left wide open to the Sisters of Saint McGillicuddy, let us bear in mind that the Massachusetts legislature is 90% Democrats, and the public employee unions are a very powerful lobby-- it took a considerable period of time for charter schools to get a foothold here, and the results have been mostly positive. I think it is a fair conclusion that the expansion of charter schools with the blessing of the legislative leaders is due in large measure to the will of the constituencies involved -- the parents of children who demand alternatives to what hasn't been working, many of them from poorer communities or minority neighborhoods. Who cares what the faith of the people involved is. As long as kids are getting improved access to improved education, and no sectarian teaching is going on, isn't that more important than preserving the public education establishment by means --in part-- of the Know Nothing Amendments?

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?