Thursday, June 17, 2010

Zero Tolerance in Schools, except for the Police

Every day, I drive past a junior high school in my neighborhood. Every day that school is in session, there is a police car parked outside of the school. I mentioned this to my students at a local university last semester. It bothers me. They took it to be completely normal to have police present at schools.

Most of these students grew up in rural towns across Nebraska and Iowa. Why do taxpayers pay to have police present in schools? Is there no such thing as discipline anymore? In Nebraska, no student can ever be really expelled from a K-12 public school program. That is the problem.

Today I read this:

Mom: R.I. School Bans 8-Year-Old Son's Patriotic Hat With Army Figures

Published June 17, 2010


The hat 8-year-old David Morales designed for a school project in R.I.


A Rhode Island mother says her 8-year-old son's school would not let him wear a patriotic hat she says he designed for a project to honor Army troops because the school thought it was inappropriate.

Christan Morales says her son David was assigned to make a crazy hat for his second grade class at the Tiogue School in Coventry, R.I. Morales said her son came up with an idea to glue small plastic Army figures to a camouflage hat with an American flag.

Morales said the principal at David's school called her to say the hat wasn't appropriate because it had guns, which violated a school ban on weapons and toy weapons.

“We don’t advocate having any concept of weapons in the school,” Kenneth DiPietro, superintendent of Coventry Public Schools, told

“(David’s) military theme was all welcomed. The only issue was the weapons displayed on the hat.”

DiPietro said the intent of the principal was to allow the child the full expression of depicting the theme, but to help him find a way to express it without the presentation of weapons. He said the principal decided there were alternative ways to represent his theme.

“The principal’s concern was not the theme, not the patriotism and not the soldiers,” said DiPietro. “She worked with family to come up with alternatives so the child’s rights and patriotism was protected.”

Christan Morales has not returned’s request for comment.

After the incident, David’s father requested a copy of Coventry Public Schools’ zero-tolerance policy for weapons and depictions of weapons, DiPietro said.

DiPietro said the school hopes to learn from this incident and spend time deciding whether there should be a different strategy for handling such issues in the future.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

When my son was in kindergarten, he was sent to the principal's office of his Catholic school for making a gun with his index finder and thumb. Today when we talked about it again, 4 years later, he said, "I was saying hi to a gal," winked, made the gesture with his hand and made a clicking sound with his teeth. Then he told me that wasn't true, he really did make a gun with his hand.

A gun with his hand. The very idea that finger guns are unacceptable is a bit excessive. Why can't boys play cops and robbers, or cowboys and Indians, or galactic invaders? So the boy in Rhode Island wanted to honor the military, but the squishy members of the teachers' union can't handle normal discipline. Call in the Cops.

Is anyone else concerned we are on a slippery slope to a police state? If young people in their 20's now feel comfortable with daily police presence in school, what else will the tolerate?

I have no answers, but I see writing on the wall.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Wearing a Rosary in a Public School

I am interested in this particular case because of the symbols I have seen on my students.

As a teacher for more than 25 years in junior high to college courses, I have seen students wear every kind of religious symbol:
pentagrams, yin/yang, demons, skull and cross bones, Hindu gods and goddesses, Buddha, crosses, crucifixes, stars of David, you name it.

When I was teaching at a community college, a student reached out to grab the Miraculous Medal, Sacred Heart Medal, and Crucifix that hung on the chain around my neck, and asked me what they do. She was a self-described voodoo priestess. I told her that they reminded me to pray for those I love, and remember the dead in my prayers. She nodded and said she could help me talk to them if I wanted to. Spooky and weird were the only thoughts that came to mind. When I arrived home I washed my medals with Holy Water.

The young boy in the most current story is not a model student. His family is troubled. But someone gave him a plastic rosary during his time of grief and he wants to wear it. Why not?

Walk into Kohl's, J.C. Penny, Target, Walmart, or any other clothing store and find multiple examples of clothing that uses symbols from eastern religions, or the satanic. This clothing is popular. It sells. Why not allow a Christian or Catholic symbol? Apparently because these symbols are deemed oppressive or political.

One of the things I find strange is that Americans have so little understanding of the symbols they wear, on clothing or tattoos. Buddhism reveres as its highest honor for the dead, the practice of Sky Burial. Sky Burial means that the deceased is left on a mountainside to be eaten by vultures, returning the body to nature through the feeding of predatory birds. Is this what Americans imagine as they learn to meditate? It is after all, the highest calling of Buddhists.

When they see the image of Krishna on a yoga mat or shirt, do they realize, "Krishna loved to play the flute and to seduce the village girls. Krishna is the eighth incarnation of lord Vishnu and was born in the Dvarpara Yuga as the "dark one". Krishna is the embodiment of love and divine joy, that destroys all pain and sin. Krishna is the protector of sacred utterances and cows. Krishna is a trickster and lover, an instigator of all forms of knowledge and born to establish the religion of love." (

Probably not. When they wear the yin/yang symbols do they understand:

"The yin-yang symbol and concept of the Zhou period reach into family and gender relations. Yin is female and yang is male. They fit together as two parts of a whole.

From a philosophical standpoint practitioners of Zen Yoga see yin-yang as a flow.

The Yin/Yang symbol is one of the oldest and best-known life symbols in the world, but few understand its full meaning. It represents one of the most fundamental and profound theories of ancient Taoist philosophy. At its heart are the two poles of existence, which are opposite but complementary. The light, white Yang moving up blends into the dark, black Yin moving down. Yin and Yang are dependent opposing forces that flow in a natural cycle, always seeking balance. Though they are opposing, they are not in opposition to one another. As part of the Tao, they are merely two aspects of a single reality. Each contains the seed of the other, which is why we see a black spot of Yin in the white Yang and vice versa. They do not merely replace each other but actually become each other through the constant flow of the universe." (

These religious symbols have become pervasive in fashion, along with the Jolly Roger. I recently saw my little nephew wearing a shirt that said, "Jesus is my Superhero!" I thought that was much cuter than the neighbor girl who was wearing a pink, sparkly, t-shirt with a skull and crossbones.

Clearly, we need to be more tolerant of Christian symbols. Particularly as fashion presents us with the symbols of so many other faiths. Goose, Gander, get it?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Charlie Brown Gets an Egg? Holy, Happy Easter!

It's a little late for this Easter theme, but since no one reads my blog I can only assume that maybe by next Easter it will be relevant.

Thoughts on Humility and Self Esteem

This was a busy Holy Week for my small family. We were invited to participate in the Washing of the Feet at our parish. That meant the Archbishop of Omaha, Eldon Curtis, would be seeing my icky toes and my husband’s bunions. My son, who makes his First Communion later this spring, was balking a bit at having to cut his toenails, but was otherwise looking forward to that Holy Thursday Mass.

When we were asked, our first response was, “Thank you. We are much honored to be asked, but we don’t feel comfortable participating. We will find someone else to take our place.” We tried 6 or 7 families with no luck.

I don’t really believe women should be on the altar for this event. In taking the place of the Apostles, I prefer a more literal interpretation. I also think that women should wear skirts, and all should be as dressed-up as possible when attending Mass in general, but especially when on the altar. Does a woman dare wear toenail polish to get her feet washed, or is that too much of a symbol of decadence and tartiness? The weather was too cool that night for me to leave my home without stockings, so I opted for the most formal pants I could muster. My men wore suits.

Looking around at the others who would have their feet washed, my sense of unworthiness escalated. A WWII veteran, a Holy woman who volunteers for everything in spite of her constant battles with cancer, a young family who would enter the church in full at the Easter Vigil… Why were we there?

Sitting in the front row of pews, I didn’t have to look at anyone who would witness this beautiful reenactment of Jesus’ teaching about the meaning of service. I was grateful for that. And then we walked up to sit on the benches and remove our socks and shoes.

At that moment, I finally stopped thinking about me. The small child across from me was smiling and swinging her little legs. We held hands as we waited for our turn. The water was surprisingly warm. Archbishop Curtis was gentle as he poured the water and dried it with a towel. He smiled at my son in a way that suggested hopes for a vocation to the priesthood. I shed a tear of gratitude as I replaced my socks and shoes.

The lesson in humility may have been lost on my young son. As we knelt at our pew, he said, “Mommy, I want to do that again.” Maybe he will someday. Maybe he will do the washing.

My mentally handicapped brother who lives with us had an infected ankle that took about a month of treatment to heal. During that month, every morning and every night, I would be sure he took his medicine, rub his ankle and foot with antibiotic ointment, and wrap it with an ace bandage. I was so proud of the gentle service I provided to my brother. I imagined the scoreboard of heaven tallying every little kindness. I was racking up the points.

Then it was my turn to be served. Publicly. By the Archbishop. In the Cathedral. In front of my family and friends. In front of people who don’t like me very much. In front of people I don’t like. In front of people who might be thinking ugly thoughts about me and my family. With my icky toes out there for all to see. All my pride in what I do for others dissolved in the face of what Jesus has done for me.

I don’t know that I can maintain that pervasive sense of humility in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. Perhaps the fact that I’m writing about this now is a sure sign that I can’t, or won’t. I do recommend that everyone should be served in that manner at least once in their lives. It is in receiving service that we understand the value of any service we give to others.

Good Friday gave my family an opportunity to continue this recognition of our own foolish pride. We attended the Stations of the Cross, followed by confession. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is another way to be served and recognize how our pride diminishes the good we do. I returned from those services with my family and spoke to my husband. “I love being Catholic. I am so happy that we have had this chance to fall in love with our faith.” He didn’t want to talk about it for fear that he would lose the lesson. We were silent.

Of course, Holy Week is the preparation time for Easter. My sister is getting married next month, so we were having a shower at our house for her on Easter Sunday. When the day arrived, the food was laid on the table, the guests arrived, children played and hunted eggs, balloons were tossed about, cocktails were sipped, the Masters golf tournament was won and lost. And conversations were shared.

“I bought a book for Sara for Easter. My older girls read it to her and came running to tell me. They’ve re-written the story. When the Easter Beagle comes in the video, Charlie Brown is last and he doesn’t get an Easter Egg. But the self-esteem police have re-written the story. Charlie Brown gets an Egg!” one of my sisters said as we chatted.

If Charlie Brown gets an egg, what do children learn? Do they learn that we should love and serve others, even if there is nothing in it for us? Do they learn that the love of the Easter Beagle is gift enough? What does it teach us if Charlie Brown doesn’t get the egg? What do we learn when he does?

The honor of being included in the Washing of the Feet means more than just getting the egg. Serving others is quintessential to being a Christian. The Easter Beagle serves in giving eggs and in giving his love to Charlie Brown no matter what. But Charlie Brown as the Everyman loses an opportunity to do more and be more if in being served (an Egg) doesn’t have the chance to serve in return (loving Snoopy even without the gift).

Serving and being served. It is very easy when serving others to feel that one is powerful and necessary. The feeling of being needed is much harder to understand when one is receiving service from others. If Charlie Brown gets the egg, Snoopy and Charlie lose the deeper lesson.