Monday, January 10, 2011

A Most Troublesome Servant

CLARIFICATION: As I confess at the end of this post, it is not my finest, clearest writing. I wish to clarify that two things I refer to, the program "Rachel's Challenge" and the book The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership by James C. Hunter are not directly connected. The book is not part of the group's presentation.

I am spluttering right now. Somehow a discussion with my mother about my concern regarding an upcoming school presentation by a group called Rachel's Challenge has degenerated into her blaming an Arizona community college for not doing something about the gunman who shot Congresswoman Giffords, her bemoaning the loss of US jobs to foreign countries, implying strongly that it is the fault of the current administration, and her saying the ACLU gives her a pain in the ass.

WTF. Just.....WTF.

I love my mother. But Fox News has alienated me from her. Do you think I have a case? I know that most states have eliminated alienation of affection lawsuits, but geez.

I think Fox News has eliminated her ability to think coherently. I am not joking. She skips around from topic to topic, complaining about stuff or expressing fear.

Thankfully, the one thing she did agree with me on is that simply praying is not going to prevent tragedies like the one in Nebraska or the one in Arizona. Rachel's Challenge is a program aimed at preventing incidents like the Columbine shooting. Presenters came to my son's high school today. I was not impressed with the reports I read of it. You can read a discussion here.

And I was unenthused that the organization founded by the man who wrote and recited this simplistic poem when he testified before Congress was being paid by public school student funds to come talk to my community's students:
Your laws ignore our deepest needs,
Your words are empty air.
You've stripped away our heritage,
You've outlawed simple prayer.

Now gunshots fill our classrooms,
And precious children die.
You seek for answers everywhere,
And ask the question "Why?"

You regulate restrictive laws,
Through legislative creed.
And yet you fail to understand,
That God is what we need!

Darrell Scott, father of Columbine shooting victim Rachel Scott, son of a preacher, is entitled to his opinion.

I get that we have free speech. Yay, free speech!

I get that we have Second Amendment rights.
Though I would prefer that mentally ill people weren't packing heat.

But we also have a little thing I like to call the Establishment clause of the First Amendment.
I hoped the presenter wouldn't try to push his religious beliefs on our kids.

I went to the session this afternoon, and it was a cheery message that focused on inspiring kids to be kind to each other. I didn't see any overt religious message. So my concerns were abated, at least, about that. But then a friend told me that she'd learned the presentation likely cost a few thousand dollars, based on the estimates she'd seen when her own school was considering (but declined) to host the program. I question whether this is the best use of student activity fees. Surely our own teachers could have conveyed a similar message for a lot less.

Still, that's not the thing that's bugging me the most. In the course of my research about Rachel's Challenge, I learned that the local school is using a book for a leadership course that I believe is.....hmm. What do I believe it is? That it's violating the Constitution's prohibition of establishment of religion? I dunno. That it's inappropriate? Yes.

It's entitled The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership by James C. Hunter.

I have only been able to read excerpts so far; I'm hoping to borrow the book in the next day or so and read the whole thing. It's pretty clear from all I've seen that it is rooted in evangelical Christian thought. There are multiple references to Christ as a servant leader. There is one review that particularly piques my interest. Or perhaps a better way to phrase it is to say it causes me concern.

Here's an excerpt of the review written by Jonathan at Goodreads:

PG 120
Throw-away society

No doubt we are a throw-away society and perhaps I am the worst offender in this regard. But I find the use of abortion to support this point to be problematic.

There is a comment here suggests that the decision to have an abortion is as simple and easy as tossing away something unwanted. There are so many points to be made against this that I am not sure where to begin. But I will end here, this is a difficult decision for any person or couple to make. If they are pro-life (that's right folks pro-life people have abortions) or if they are pro-choice, it is a emotional, serious, and tough choice to make. It is even tougher to follow through with. I would be naive if I did not say that there are people who are flipant about this decision but that is extremely rare. The vast majority of people make such a significant decision carefully and thoughtfully.

Perhaps a better example, one that is never touched on very strongly, is the amount of resources that we use compared to our population. Not sure the exact percentages here but in the USA we consume a large portion of the available resources relative to our population. How about those gianormous SUVs we see crusing around the burbs? You know the ones that get about 10 miles to the gallon? I could be wrong here but their sole purpose seems to be to prop up the ego. Is that not wasting resources? The take more material to manufacture, utilize, and maintian than cars 1/2 to 1/3 their size. If the purpose of a vehicle is to get us and our gear from point A to point B AND a smaller vehicle will do the job, then isn't any vehicle larger than that in effect a waste? Is that not simply throwing away resources that could be better used elsewhere? Wouldn't our world be better served by a more wise use of our resources? How about applying servanthood in this context?

PG 153
Smokers blame cigarette companies to their addiction.

For the most part, I have to agree with the book on this one but fact is the cigarette companies deliberately manipulated nicotine levels so as to maxmize the chances for the smokers addiction. Yes, everyone who put that first cigarette in their mouth made that choice freely AND there are plenty of people who struggled with the difficulty of quitting to shake the habit. So we know it can be done. But the fact is, the cigarette companies stacked the deck...or their favor to intentionally addict users and ensure a continued market for their product. They even went so far to create cartoon characters to market their product so as to get young people to smoke. Here again, coupled with nicotine levels intended to produce addiction, they ensure a stable and reliable market for their products and profits. All this while internal documents clearly and directly link their product to cancer and heart diesease. Were it not for these actions, the books point would have been stronger.

If we are talking about being servants here then where is the service in the cigarette companies actions? Where is their responsiblity? There is a subtle message here that corporations are not to blame for the impact of their actions. Why isn't the notion of responsibilty that is applied to individuals also leveled at corporations?

Let me be clear. I like Jesus. He seems like a good person. I like many the things he is reported to have said and done. I'm sure that most of this book gives good examples and principles of leadership. But I wonder if it wouldn't have been better to leave Jesus out of it when teaching in a public school, and to have picked a book that didn't have some of these other issues.

I apologize for the length and rambling nature of this post. It's been written in stops and starts throughout the day. I'm eager to read your comments about all of this! Please share your thoughts, particularly about what you would do or what you think I could do to constructively express concern about this book.


Dana Scott said...


I'm not even sure to whom I am addressing this so I apologize for not even knowing your name. My name is Dana Scott and Rachel Scott, the Columbine victim behind the Rachel's Challenge program, was my younger sister. I work for Rachel's Challenge as a club coach so I help schools to come up with ways to do service projects at their schools and communities to impact others with kindness and compassion.

The only thing I wanted to share with you in writing this is that the leadership book you mentioned is not a part of our program at all. In fact, I had never even heard of it before today. So if a school decided to use it for their club, it was by no means our recommendation or part of the materials we send.

I get "Google" reports of things about RC, which is how I happened upong your blog. Thanks for allowing me to post. Hope you have a good day.

Dana Scott

Kathy Amen said...

My only experience (thankfully) talking with a foxnews "ditto-head" was one of the most nightmarish I've ever had. No reasonable questions were answered and no reason penetrated the "talking points." I think that the 24-hour news cycle in general is bad for citizenship and informed discourse (too much time to fill up) but the foxnews folks deserve a special circle of media hell imho.

secret agent woman said...

My children go to public school where the only sex ed is the required "Abstinence Class" taught by a local preacher. Don't get me started.

If you've not seen this study, I think you'll find it interesting. The upshot is yes, Fox has damaged your mother's ability to think coherently:

Lisa said...

There is so much here so I'm going to stick to one piece. Fox News. First, it has a lock on the market in so many places where people aren't exposed to anyone who doesn't look like them, think like them, worship like them, vote like them or live like them. It reinforces the fear of The Other, whatever that is. It says to people who are already a little afraid of the world because there's so much unknown, that it's right to be afraid. That it's okay to hold certain views. That they're right, good Americans, etc. and anyone who doesn't share their views is bad, dangerous, traitorous, hates America, hates god, etc.

I think it does affect one's ability to process. It's like being put in a dark room with nothing but white noise.

I'm sorry this causes friction between you and your mother.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Dana - thanks for pointing out this distinction. I will edit the post to make that clearer.

Kathy - it is bad news. Get it? Bad news? Ha. I crack me up.

Secret Agent Woman - thanks for the link. Sorry to hear you have to deal with such a school system.

Lisa - thanks for your understanding and sympathy. It is very distressing.

lisleman said...

I had not heard of this school program. From reading you blog which I like and recommend I think I might be slightly more moderate than you. There's a necessary balance to maintain on any religion's influence but their programs can and do help communities.
The Fox News issue could be a whole discussion of it's own. Often people hear only what they want to hear.

Miss Healthypants said...

Wow on the Jesus book! Whatever happened to the separation of church & state?!

And hey, Fox News is the devil. It just is. And that's why I don't talk politics with some of my relatives--they are too brainwashed by "Faux News"!


Anonymous said...

One way to approach your questions, concerns, disapproval about a chosen book is contacting someone on the school board. Another is contacting the ACLU.

I am considering involving the ACLU on an issue going on at my children's public school. In order to make an inquiry, though, I have to complete a form giving my name and the name of my kids (since it is their rights that were violated) and the name of the institution (their school). No phone number to call and make a private, anonymous inquiry, in other words.

My issue involves a team coach (and teacher) promoting a religious organization. My kids want to be on sports teams and don't want to be relegated to the bench of shame for the entire season, so I'm really hesitant to address this in a public way.

I've thought of contacting a local school board member. The member from our district, is, from what I hear, a religiousy type person and so is our school principal. I don't trust that my kids' best interest (their anonymity) will be served. I've considered sending an anonymous letter with a threat to contact the ACLU if the teachers continue with their current practices.

So I'm sitting on a fence right now, considering my options, putting the word out, hoping to find someone on the inside of our local ACLU chapter to give me advice. The last thing I want as a taxpayer is to support the defense of a lawsuit I initiated. But, I'm tired of christians acting like they have full right of way when it comes to influencing my kids.

Sorry for going on so much but wanted to say I get your concerns and to let you know the ideas I am considering.

Fantastic Forrest said...

lisleman - Indeed.
Miss Healthypants - I know, I know! It is just hard to keep my mouth shut.

Anonymous - It is REALLY hard to raise these questions, especially against a person who has power over your child. I am still waiting to hear from the teacher. She is not responding to my calls or emails. :(