Gentleman's Agreement

Fine words and policies are wonderful. Unless there's a secret subtext, with a different set of dos and don'ts.

If Rabbi Avi Schulman has one regret, it's that he signed excuses for two ninth-graders who rushed up to him after religious school at Congregation Beth El, saying they had to have them for school the next day. "I agreed to write a note, albeit with great reservations," Schulman says. "I felt very disturbed that their principal was even requesting something like this. I regret in hindsight that I didn't add a note that this wasn't needed."

Schulman, in his sixth year at the 315-family Congregation Beth El, credits Goldstein and Levy with presenting what he calls "communal concerns" to the Fort Bend trustees. He has seen progress by the district, which he says is due in no small part to "agitation on the part of the Jewish community."

Hillary Goldstein  says the ordeal has taught her child to speak out.
Deron Neblett
Hillary Goldstein says the ordeal has taught her child to speak out.
Fort Bend Superintendent Don Hooper wants to see prayer back in schools.
Deron Neblett
Fort Bend Superintendent Don Hooper wants to see prayer back in schools.

Goldstein says that when she first came to Fort Bend and started raising questions, some people who'd lived here a long time urged her not to rock the boat. Now, she says, many people have told her they've accepted things as they were, but they recognize that this is wrong.

"This is not just persecution of the Jews, but of anyone who doesn't conform," she says.

As a Jew, she says, she has a responsibility to speak up when she sees any wrongs. And if she and others don't speak up, it'll just be the same old same old. Her daughter has learned that lesson at a young age. "She's a toughie. She's not a little wuss. She'll tell them she's Jewish," her mother says proudly.

There's a fine line between being a role model and a steamroller. Open your yearbook, see a full page devoted to See You at the Pole -- what does that tell you about the "right" things to do? Know that your teacher is one of the co-sponsors of the school prayer club -- are you going to speak up about your disagreement with that, thereby drawing what's sure to be negative attention to yourself? Most adults wouldn't. As Goldstein puts it: "Kids don't want the grief."

And let's be very clear about this. This isn't just an issue of Jews versus Christians, although the Jews have been taking it in the keister lately in Fort Bend. On a larger scale, this is all about elevating a certain kind of Christianity that, like the Crusades of old, doesn't care who it tramples while on its holy march to glory. Teachers bending the rules only encourage students to do the same, only encourage them to adopt the same type of judgmental, self-righteous, so-called right way that can only find others wanting.

When Superintendent Hooper had finished reading out his statement, half the room emptied. A teacher who'd just gone up to the podium to discuss her education program protested lightheartedly, "Oh, and I thought all you people were here to hear about the positive things we're doing."

Absolutely, in the best of all possible worlds, that's what a packed-to-overflowing school board meeting should be for: to hear of the great achievements, the successes, the visions for the future.

Instead, we were there because some teachers and students persist in circumventing the law, apparently believing their school district allows, perhaps encourages, them to do this. No good citizenship awards for these folks.

If educators feel a call to witness to the Lord as they teach, there is a special place for them. It's called parochial school. These places are open to kids too, by the way.

But if you want to teach in public school, if you want to go to public school, then leave the evangelizing at the door. Sure, pray to God -- silently -- all you want. But keep it right there, right between you and your God. It's one of those A, B conversations. And maybe all the rest of us can see our way out of this mess.

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