Sunday, February 04, 2001

God in classroom is 'blessing'




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        Carol Britton knows what kind of school she wants for her 10-year-old son.

        “My main concern was the Christian-based atmosphere,” said the West End mom. “He brings that home and takes it everywhere. It's a blessing.”

        Tamara Livingston of Forest Park shopped two years for the right school before she enrolled her daughter in kindergarten and her son in pre-school at the new Otto Armleder Education Center.

        “The academic and Christian values combined can't be beat,” she said. She loves the school so much she volunteers there 10
to 15 hours a week.

        Principal William D. Martin, a soft-spoken former Marine with a long career in inner-city public schools, said he was drawn to the school by “the freedom from unions that pretty much dictate what's done and how it's done,” and by “the idea that it's Christian-based, the idea that we can pray whenever we need to and pray constantly.”

        Sunshine spills through tall, white-trimmed windows at the old Crosley Building, splashing walls freshly painted in cheerful yellow. The former offices of Channel 5 have been turned into classrooms at a cost of about $21 million, donated by the Otto Armleder trust and the Carl H. Lindner family.

        The Academy is a branch of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, where my daughter graduated and my son is enrolled. But the downtown school is different.

        Most students and their families are black, inner-city residents who have fled Cincinnati Public Schools because they care deeply about education and believe that Jesus, the greatest teacher, should not be banned from school property.

        The children I saw all wore neat uniforms and toothy smiles. “Many can't wait to come to school,” said Assistant Principal Susan Miller. And parents — a group stubbornly apathetic in most inner-city public schools — were in the classrooms helping kids study, passing out red and green clay in art class, reading stories aloud in the library.

        The Armleder Academy doesn't take tax money. Families pay what they can and the rest of the $6,610 tuition is covered by privately donated scholarships. It's the kind of gift that changes lives and inspires contagious hope.

        And it makes me wonder: Why are so many people so hostile and afraid of religion playing such a positive role in schools, families and cities?

        Why can't more poor families use their tax dollars, as President Bush suggests, to choose religious schools that are doing such a great job?

        The predictable answer from teacher unions and the ACLU is that religion must be quarantined from public life behind the “wall” that separates church and state.

        But here's a surprise: The Founders never dreamed of such a wall. George Washington wanted to use taxes to support religion directly. So did Patrick Henry.

        John Adams wrote, “Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean Hell.”

        Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that Americans “hold (religion) indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.”

        How things have changed.

        I found these quotes in an online exhibit by the Library of Congress, “Religion and the Founding of the American Republic” (www.loc.gov/exhibits).

        Here's another from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 that created Ohio:

        “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged.”

        I think Carol Britton said the same thing about having God in classrooms: “It's a blessing.”

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call (513) 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.

       



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