Unsettled: Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school-sponsored prayer at high school football games violates the separation of church and state. Think that decision resolved the thorny matter? Not so, reports Pamela Colloff in the November issue of Texas Monthly: Santa Fe, Texas, where the case originated, remains bitterly divided in the wake of the court’s ruling. Prayer proponents even tried to circumvent the ruling in September, when the Santa Fe Indians played the Hitchcock Bulldogs. At the game, as the Fighting Indians took the field, several hundred parents and students bowed their heads and recited the Lord’s Prayer.
As Colloff finds when she visits Santa Fe, many residents agree with Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who, in his dissent, wrote that the majority opinion “bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.” School board member John Couch tells Colloff: “The people who filed this suit, like many left-wing organizations in this country, wanted to make the word Jesus taboo and take away our children’s right to pray. And we refused to stand for that.”
Meanwhile, Eric and Donna Nevelow, parents of 14-year-old Phillip, who happens to be the only Jewish student in the school district, recently filed their own lawsuit alleging that the district turned its back when their son was taunted by other students. “We would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to realize that what was happening to our son was a direct result of what was going on with the school district,” Donna Nevelow tells Colloff. “A debate was raging over religion, and our son became the punching bag.”
Alive And Well: Since it was founded a decade ago by Princeton student Wendy Kopp, Teach for America has placed more than 6,000 college graduates in needy classrooms all across the country. Kopp, now 33, has raised $76 million for the thriving nonprofit, and by 2004 she hopes to place more than 2,000 teachers a year. Teach for America, it seems, is here to stay, but as Jodi Wilgoren reports in the New York Times’ November 12 “Education Life” supplement, some educators haven’t stopped raising questions about the effectiveness of its teachers.
“We don’t have Doctors for America,” one education professor tells Wilgoren. “There are places that are desperate for legal advice; we don’t send bright young graduates into the legal clinics.” Another critic accuses Teach for America of demeaning the teaching profession by promoting “teaching as volunteer work.”
Kopp has heard it all before and insists she never set out to revolutionize teacher training. Indeed, she sees her organization as more of “a movement for social justice” than a model for teacher education. Still, she points to statistics showing that 40 percent of Teach for America alumni are still teaching, and an additional 20 percent remain in education.
Wilgoren paints Kopp as a driven workaholic who “relentlessly attacks projects, pushing for constant improvement. She looked at 120 apartments before buying one.” Interestingly, Kopp, who has never been a teacher, says: “I think Teach for America has suffered from the fact that I did not teach, in a major way. I also think, if I had taught, I wouldn’t have started Teach for America.”