Readers Blog: goJefferson

Busting Heads for Character Ed?

Does your school district have a Character Education program?

Five school districts in the Jefferson County area - Jefferson, Fort Atkinson, Palmyra, Milton and Whitewater – planned to hold school assemblies on March 23 and 24. The students were to watch "The Power Team," a group of body-building athletes who present a message of positive character traits, giving advice on morality, drug abuse, teen pregnancy and violence.

Sounds boring? It’s actually quite a show. It might also include ramming their heads through blocks of ice, smashing stacks of flaming cement blocks, swinging large broad-swords, exploding soda cans in their bare hands, ripping telephone books, breaking baseball bats, and bending steel bars in their teeth.

Yes, I’m sure the kids would love it. If we asked, they’d also love Twinkies and Coke for lunch and ideally the assembly should keep them out of class all day.

But like the junk food, what else would they get with the message? The show would have an amplified sound track playing only Christian rock and rap music. Why? The Power Team is also a team of ordained ministers! They were lured to the schools by the efforts of Faith Community Church in Fort Atkinson.

On the same days as the planned school assemblies, as well as the weekend, the Church rented the facilities at Fort High School at night. There, the Power Team will lead a five-day series of evening revival meetings, featuring the same circus stunts mixed with tent-show evangelizing. The Power Team’s primary goal and business, as stated on their web site and in their literature, is to boost attendance at churches. They are a marketing firm for their brand of religion.

As you might be able to tell by this point, I was no fan of the Power Team.

I created a web page describing what I found in a few hours of research on the web, with links to video clips on YouTube, links to other news stories, and more.  (Link below.)

In other communities, controversy has erupted after Power Team assemblies. Many people didn’t like linking positive values with cartoon testosterone as if “might makes right”. Some didn’t like the blatant promotion of religion in public schools. They use a “scared straight” approach with tales of incest, abortion, suicide and murder. (Read the news stories.) Others didn’t like the way they promoted the evening religious events, either with verbal invitations or paper literature.

I spoke once during public participation at a school board meeting. I sent emails to school board members in all five districts.

And amazingly, all five districts cancelled their planned assemblies a week later.

I can't help but wonder if the Power Team plans assemblies in other schools in SE Wisconsin. 

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Talkbacks

jfoust | Feb. 1, 2007 at 5:47 p.m. (report)

34022 When I researched the Power Team's message, as shown on my web site, I found many instances where they relished the opportunity to promote religion and their evening revival meetings. Even in my own district, the high school principal told me that he well-understood that the group would spend "about two minutes" inviting the kids to the evening meetings. Yet this principal had also asked the Power Team not to conduct a religious program. Again, read my site. I explain many other instances of this sort of "negative option" that admins would need to follow in order to eliminate the risk that the Power Team would promote their religious meetings during the assembly. Where does the line get crossed? Is personal testimony OK? Or promoting their upcoming movie, "Born Again: The Power Team Movie"? Or inviting kids to the evening meetings? Or telling "scared straight" sorts of stories with messages that may not square with established district policies on character education or sex education?

This isn't something I invented. It's the policy at most public schools, if not all. These admins were doing their job.

By no means have I sought to remove positive character education messages from the schools. The Jefferson School District is a leader in this realm. I have supported their efforts in many tangible ways.

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GoTeam | Feb. 1, 2007 at 1:33 p.m. (report)

While I agree with you that public schools should not promote religion, it does not seem that that is the case here. The Power Team is a religious-based organization, but have clearly indicated that within the school assemblies they do not in ANY way mention their beliefs or even the name of the sponsoring church, only their messages of staying away from drugs, responding to peer pressure, accademic achievement, and many other positive messages that children and teenagers need to hear. Your arguement that this is a recruiting effort or "bait-and-switch" advertising technique is unfounded, as evidenced by the hundreds of assemblies this organization has conducted and the fact that they have held their word in each.

As for educational qualifications, over 20 years of experience conducting these assemblies that encourage positive behavior and life choices indicates that these people are knowledgable in their field. Endorsements by Governors, the House of Representatives, and the President of the United States indicates that the message they are bringing is a positive one for our youth to hear, that will further their futures.

I am curious why you have personally decided to take up the cause to remove such positive messages as self-esteem and drug-free living from our children simply because the organization that sponsors it is faith-based. It speaks volumes that you would be willing to remove an opportunity for thousands of Wisconsin's youth to hear encouragement that good choices can be made, simply because personally you do not agree with the beliefs of the sponsoring organization.

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ChateauDweller | Feb. 1, 2007 at 10:54 a.m. (report)

I'm trying to be fair here, but it appears that the only reason you were against this is because the group is associated with religion.

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jfoust | Jan. 31, 2007 at 3:45 p.m. (report)

34022 Like it or not, the public schools do have policies against the promotion of religion. I think this is based on the fundamental notion of respect for what families and their children choose to believe and teach at home. Out of the same respect, they very carefully formulate their curriculum when it comes to discussing sensitive issues like health and values. The Power Team does not have educational qualifications. They have big biceps and a CD player and a smoke machine.

I am sure that administrators would not want to bear the complaints from believers and non-believers alike if their kids reported that during an assembly that morning, they were invited to attend a revival meeting hosted by a local church. As such, I think it's bait-and-switch advertising. Admins don't care for advertising, either.

I imagine the admins would not like having to give every other religious or non-religious leader the same opportunity to invite the kids to their respective performance / tent show / church service.

"Moral relativism"? Precisely. I don't want mush poured into
kid's brains. I don't think all character education messages should
be considered equally valid, just because someone claims their message is "positive". Are these just code words or are there actual concepts behind them? Until we examine exactly how and what performers/educators are doing, we can't begin to assess. I can see what the Power Team emphasizes: Is there no hypocrisy in smashing stuff while reassuring the kids that "might doesn't make right"?

The Jefferson School District has expended great efforts to promote Character Education. Last summer they even hosted a conference about it in Waukesha that attracted educators and speakers from all over the nation.

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ChateauDweller | Jan. 31, 2007 at 1:57 p.m. (report)

I did just read your website, and theirs. I do not understand what the big deal is. If using special effects and stunts engages the kids-fine. There is a lot more mush that is fed into kids' brains in public schools and just "if you like what you saw here, check us out tonight." No child will become a bible thumper from attending the show. At most, the kids will tell their parents about it and the family might choose to attend that night. But that is the parents' choice to attend or have their child attend.

I am trying to be very careful and respectful here, so correct me if I am wrong... But it seems like you are more concerned about this group because they are associated with religion and therefore inappropriate in schools rather than they do no have a good secular message.

Personally, if I was the principal, I probably would not invite them to perform. Not because of what they say, how they say it, or their presumed intentions, but because there is a very vocal faction that believes we have banned faith and morals from public life. I would be afraid of a campaign like yours where you obviously were successful.

In simpler terms, I hate the knee-jerk reactions from some people that anything that has a religious flavor is bad. I for one am not religious at all, nor do I believe in some of the Christian fundamentalist ideas, but I do see the value of a program, sponsored by a church to teach values/morals in an exciting way.

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