Between Church and State: Religion and Public Education in a Multicultural America

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9780312216368: Between Church and State: Religion and Public Education in a Multicultural America

The relationship of religion and public education is, once again, a burning issue, with renewed debates about school prayer, ways to teach the Bible, and the relationship of religion and science. Though too few people know about it, battles over the proper relationship of religion to public education have gone on in the United States for as long as there have been public schools. At the most basic level, the debates about the relationship are debates about the nature of democratic culture. Who defines the dominant culture of the nation? How are minority rights and traditions protected? How are the deepest, and sometimes most diverse, issues of faith reconciled with the very public and common nature of schooling? How, after all, do we find a way for the school to be the public square where respectful and informed conversation can happen around beliefs which are both deeply held and radically different from individual to individual and sub-group to sub-group? Between Church and State explores these issues in terms of historical context, contemporary public policy debates, and practical steps for educators and other concerned citizens.

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Between Church and State clarifies the historical context of some of America's most controversial educational issues, including classroom prayer, school vouchers, creationism and evolution, sex education, and the teaching of values. James W. Fraser rejects both the liberal idea that "the Christian right is engaged in a campaign to impose God on public schools whose purposes have always been secular" and the conservative idea that, when the Supreme Court banned prayer and Bible reading in the classroom in the '60s, "God was kicked out of the public schools." Countering these high-pitched recriminations, Fraser carefully examines the way that public education in early America "was pressed into service as a new kind of national church, commissioned to carry the common culture and morality of the nation" after the Constitution definitively separated church and state. He describes the fierce debates that arose when public education was called upon to honor the worldviews of Catholic immigrants, freed African Americans, and other ethnic and cultural groups who won battles over their right to respect and inclusion in the nation's common life. And he begins to answer the central question raised by his book--"How should a diverse and democratic society deal with issues of religion in public schools?"--in two important ways. First, his sobering survey of the controversies that have reigned since the earliest days of public education clears the air of "nostalgia for a simpler past that never was." Second, he asserts that "if the United States is to survive and thrive in the twenty-first century, the nation's schools must be places for embracing and building tolerance and a love of diversity." Multiculturalism is more than a buzzword for Fraser; it's a historical and contemporary fact. His book brings it alive--and awakens thoughtful empathy in the reader, the political consequences of which can only be good. --Michael Joseph Gross

From the Publisher:

"Between Church and State is a bold and courageous book that speaks the truth by placing religion in its appropriate historical and cultural spaces in our multicultural society. Fraser's well researched work tells the stories of how different generations of diverse Americans have struggled with the controversial principle of separation of church and state. No longer resigned to let religion be the tool of the conservative right, he has given us permission to include religion in the expression of our cultural identity. Most importantly, he has challenged our democratic society to become more inclusive, respectful, and tolerant of our increasingly diverse citizenry. This book is a must read for all teachers, teacher educators, and policy leaders." --Jacqueline Jordan, Irvine Candler Professor of Urban Education, Emory University

"Fraser's voice speaks with understanding and compassion. This book explores ways in which a democratic society deals with issues of religion in the public schools. Fraser makes the claim that these institutions must be places where tolerance is built and diversity is respected. These values are particularly relevant to all citizens who are willing to engage the social reality of pluralism and who also respect the convictions of religious faith practice." --Joseph C. Williamson, Dean of Religious Life and Dean of the Chapel, Princeton University

"At the core of Fraser's argument is the need for embracing diversity--a position that is reflected in the most progressive versions of multicultural education. Fraser speaks eloquently against the forces of balkanization, separatism, triumphalism, and absolutism that are on the rise throughout the United States. Instead he calls for an ecumenical and democratic culture that is able to move beyond mere tolerance to informed dialogue. This book will do more than touch a partisan nerve, it will force us to sit down and reflect deeply on the most urgent issues that both divide us as a nation and offer us a way to rethink and reunite our communities." --Peter McLaren, Author of Schooling as Ritual Performance, and Professor, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California at Los Angeles

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