Thursday, December 23, 2004


I was sad to see that the Papillion-LaVista school board fired a 24-year-old math teacher this week because he persisted in talking about his faith in Jesus Christ during class time. He was praying for and with kids in the halls, raising questions that relate to a grander view of life than just what the five senses can take in from the material world, and trying to address the kids’ ‘’issues and worries’’ as real people, not just fork over the math lessons like a robot.

Robert Ziegler, a native of Riverton, Neb., talked about faith matters in class, encouraged the kids to think spiritually, and wrote searching questions on the board periodically, such as, ‘’What inspires you to love people?’’ and ‘’If you were to die today, what would you put on your tombstone, and why?’’

Apparently, some number of students and at least one parent complained. Ziegler was warned to stop, but didn’t. The fear of a lawsuit prompted the dismissal, even though character witnesses called him ‘’marvelous,’’ ‘’honest,’’ ‘’candid’’ and ‘’capable.’’ It’s especially sad when you know how many employees are accused of so, so, so much worse stuff, but don’t lose their jobs. I’m thinking of one who hit a kid when mine were in grade school, and another who kept touching the girls improperly in middle school. Both were reassigned to jobs with minimal student contact, not fired. It’s a sad commentary indeed.

Well, I wouldn’t have fired him. I would have redirected his zeal to sponsoring the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or a Bible Club after school hours. Then when kids volunteered to put themselves under his influence and guidance, nobody would have gotten upset and the kids who wanted his input would have gained immeasurably.

But nooooo. He’s canned. The school board has a right to interpret their own policies any way they’d like. If they choose to expunge freedom of speech and religious expression among their employees, and to censor someone who’s trying to help kids learn how to have good character and do what’s right, that’s their choice.

But I’m excited. Because now we have an opportunity to make them be consistent.

And that means they now have to censor, expunge and ban all of the following because THEY intrude on the religious sensitivities of the PARENTS and TAXPAYERS:

-- Halloween.
-- Ham from the lunchroom.
-- All offensive, negative content in schoolbooks that could encourage wrongful behavior in kids that violate their upbringing. I’m thinking of books like Maya Angelou’s autobiography, which is often taught, and is one of the coarsest, most repulsive selections for secondary students I can imagine.
-- All teachings, symbols and practices of Eastern mystery religions, including meditation, yoga, yin-yang, visualization, centering. . . .
-- The Gay-Straight Alliance or other pro-homosexual clubs, activities, counseling, posters, pro-homosexual content in textbooks, library books, movies and other curriculum, the gay prom . . . you get the idea. If a few students and one parent can get rid of Mr. Ziegler for what he said, then since the vast majority of students and parents are Christian or Jewish, and active homosexuality violates Biblical standards of morality and propriety, it all must go.
-- All references to out-of-wedlock sexuality, since that also violates Christian tenets of behavior. There goes a significant chunk of the English curriculum, many library books, much of the health curriculum. . . .
-- All coarse language. There go a lot of staffers’ jobs, the locker rooms . . . and maybe the teachers’ lounges! Just kidding. But let’s be honest: my kids report that the TEACHERS are the ones using dirty words many times, not the students.

Come on, now. Censorship is not what we want. We need to outthink the thought police. I say give Mr. Ziegler his job back, tell him to cool it, and allow any kids who want to to opt into another math class if they wish – that’s a big high school, after all. Let’s be who we are – free people, with free speech – and try to learn from one another, not shut one another up.



News that a state employee is accused of embezzling big bucks from an obscure fund prompted me to call once again for spot-check investigative audits of state aid to education.

It’s incomprehensible to me that Nebraska taxpayers are expected to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars every year that undergo only minimal, perfunctory, pro forma audits by the hometown accountants whose brothers-in-law are probably the school superintendents. That’s not a slam against accountants by any means – just the reality of the situation.

A reader accused me of bashing schools because of this call. He said monetary dishonesty doesn’t happen in Nebraska public schools, suggesting that school employees wouldn’t get very far if they went to the local bank with a check from school accounts made out to themselves for over $100,000.

No! Duh! But that’s not how embezzlement happens. And his claim that it doesn’t happen, because school employees are supposedly so lily-white honest, is ridiculous, too. A check of ‘’school embezzlement’’ on a search engine turned up more than 300,000 items.

Here’s what I wrote in my ‘’Show ‘n’ Tell for Parents’’ series explaining how money fraud usually takes place:

The vast majority of people who handle taxpayer dollars in schools and education-related government agencies are honest. But billions of dollars have been spent on public education in this country. It takes only a few rotten apples to make a real dent in such a big barrel. And yes, fraud, forgery, embezzlement and other crimes of financial corruption do, indeed, take place in school settings every day.

It can range from millions of dollars to petty cash, and from household names such as gubernatorial candidates to the lowliest of penny-ante school bookkeepers in obscure towns.

Often, a person with authority over a district’s checkbook is not being held properly accountable to an authority figure, and succumbs to the temptation to “cook the books” to siphon off money for himself. Perhaps a bookkeeper will make the recordkeeping so convoluted that no one can figure out when a few pennies are missing here and there, ‘til it adds up to a substantial sum. Cases all over have involved secret bank accounts, fake post-office boxes, accounts set up for vendors that don’t exist, and plain old shoddy bookkeeping practices so that cash from lunch receipts, student activities and even vending machines winds up in sticky fingers, not for kids.

Elaborate schemes that amount to criminal conspiracies have been exposed, too, in which enrollment is deliberately overstated to pad tax revenues, there’s bid-rigging and deliberate overpayment to employees’ relatives’ businesses, and lavish gifts, gourmet meals, and trips to destinations like Las Vegas are shared with fellow employees as hush money.

The answer: more audits and tighter accountability.

Homework: Fraud cases are often reported in www.edweek.org


Go Big Ed will resume publication on Monday, Jan. 3. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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