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Carroll County Times
Carroll County Times Opinion

Chris Roemer: Students should learn tolerance, but not be told what to value | COMMENTARY

I’ve been considering the concerns some parents have expressed about the new state health curriculum, and would like to make a suggestion to those needing to decide what to do about it here in Carroll County. Before making any decisions, ask yourselves: What is the curriculum attempting to accomplish?

Is the curriculum’s goal to teach students to treat all people with respect and dignity, regardless of their values or lifestyle choices?

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Or is it to teach students to “celebrate” any lifestyle choice a student may make?

The components of the curriculum causing the greatest concern deal with issues about which there is little consensus. That is no surprise, since students who attend public schools come from a wide variety of homes with diverse opinions concerning those issues.

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What is considered moral and ethical behavior by some, conflicts with the deeply held convictions of others.

In such an environment, what is the proper role of government?

Recently, a public-school football coach made the news for his practice of praying on the 50-yard line after games. Whether this coach has the right to engage in this practice is the central issue in a case being heard by the Supreme Court. The argument against the coach is that his behavior is coercive. That is, given that the coach is in a position of authority over students, he should be forbidden to pray on the field because his players may feel compelled to pray with him, and even to adopt his religious beliefs.

Paul Waldman, in his April 26 Washington Post column, put it this way. “Some students on the team reported that they felt compelled to participate, which is completely unsurprising. If you were trying for a starting spot and your visibly devout coach was leading postgame prayers, of course you’d conclude that taking a knee for Jesus within the coach’s view would keep you in his good graces.”

If you accept this argument as valid, should you not then be concerned that it is coercive to place children in a captive classroom setting and expose them to a set of beliefs the state determines to be appropriate?

Ah, but you say one set of values is based on religious teaching while the other is purely secular. I’m not sure why that matters. Values are values. What difference does their source make when you’re concerned about the coercion of children? Should secularism serve as a shield enabling government to teach whatever it likes in state-run schools?

Besides, many people are as fervent in their secular beliefs as the most ardent adherents of any religion. Today’s secular dogma is as fully developed and comprehensive as that of any religion.

Surely, parents who raise their children on a set of secular precepts would resent a curriculum that mandates their children be taught values centered on religious doctrine. Why aren’t the concerns of parents who raise their children based a set of religious precepts equally valid?

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There was a time when children were taught tolerance, a concept that required everyone to accept the rights of others to believe as they wish, and that we should treat each other with respect and dignity, regardless of our differences.

Somewhere along the line, the word “tolerance” was replaced with the word “value.” The requirement now is that everyone must “value” and “celebrate” each person’s personal choices. Anyone who doesn’t is said to be a hate monger.

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There is a world of difference between teaching students they should respect the right of all people to choose for themselves how to live their lives and insisting students must “celebrate” whatever choice any individual student chooses to make.

If I understand correctly, parents are concerned the state’s health curriculum requires children to “value” lifestyles and personal choices that are at odds with what their parents are teaching them at home. If so, the state has taken it upon itself to substitute its judgment for that of parents.

Government should be very careful when imposing values on students who come from all walks of life. Because public schools are so diverse, the state really should not be in the business of telling students what to believe, what to value, and what to celebrate.

That said, a diverse student population does demand students learn tolerance. All students must treat each other with respect and dignity, even when someone’s values or lifestyle choices conflict with their own. If the new state-mandated curriculum does no more than that, it should be embraced by all, but if it goes beyond that, it should be rejected as an abuse of government authority.

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The government does not have the authority to require children to abandon their convictions, religious or otherwise, in order to conform to a set of beliefs mandated by the state.

There was a time when there was significant overlap between the personal values held by most Americans and those by which government institutions, like schools, were run. Those days are gone, but that does not mean the values championed by the state supersede those held by children and their families.

Chris Roemer is a retired banker and educator who resides in Finksburg. He can be contacted at chrisroemer1960@gmail.com


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