Opinion: Democracy means writing our story together

By JANET WARD

Published: 09-13-2023 6:00 AM

Janet Ward lives in Contoocook.

Every one of us comes into the world without an instruction booklet. We arrive naked and alone without any information about where we came from or how we are to survive. Lucky for us there were other human beings around at our birth who cared for us so that we are here today.

No one knows for certain whether a Creator God exists. No one, not even the most brilliant scientist, philosopher or religious leader, knows for certain why human beings exist or what we are supposed to do now that we are here on this singular planet in a universe whose extent and origin is not definitely known. One thing that is certain is that we are in this situation together.

Together we must write a story that sets forth a good and just way to live on planet Earth.

Thomas Paine shared his understanding of how human societies and governments came into existence in his January 10, 1776, pamphlet “Common Sense,” noting “…the strength of one man is so unequal to his wants, and his mind so unfitted for perpetual solitude, that he is soon obliged to seek assistance and relief of another, who in his turn requires the same. Four or five would be able to raise a tolerable dwelling in the midst of a wilderness, but one man might labor out the common period of life without accomplishing anything; when he felled his timber, he could not remove it, nor erect it after it was removed….”

As for “the divine right of kings,” one human being’s authority to rule over other human beings, Paine writes that “Mankind being originally equals in the order of creation, the equality could only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance…” “In the early ages of the world…there were no kings or subjects.”

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Our Declaration of Independence reflects these facts and states that each of us has the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Amendment I of the Constitution of the United States specifically protected each citizen’s right to their own religious beliefs or none — “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

At this moment, however, our New Hampshire commissioner of education, our state Board of Education, our governor, and some members of our Legislature believe that you and I should pay taxes to support the private often religious education of students, through a school voucher system. This school voucher law requires us to pay taxes to support vouchers even though you and I have no oversight or effective input into what is being taught in these private, religious or homeschool settings. We are being forced to pay for something that we have not been able to review, which we may believe is wrong, not true, or which might be damaging to children. We simply do not know what is being taught using our tax dollars.

We do know that NH Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, a defender of school vouchers, worked for a decade as a fundraising board member and chair of the Business Task Force at Patrick Henry College, a four-year Christian fundamentalist college that requires board members to commit to the college’s Statement of Faith. This statement says that “There is one God, eternally existent in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…. the Bible in its entirety…is the inspired Word of God…the only infallible and sufficient authority for faith and Christian living; …Satan exists as a personal malevolent being.”

Why have I shared this information with you? It is because democracy means writing our story together. It means ensuring that we educate young citizens in public schools that are open to everyone using a curriculum that is available for all citizens and taxpayers to review. School vouchers make such transparency impossible.

Soon the commissioner of education and state Board of Education will be making decisions on revisions to the 306 Administrative Rules with which all public schools must comply. (For details on 306 rule changes, visit the nonpartisan Reaching Higher NH website.) Unless you have been carefully following the revision process, you would not understand how these changes would seriously undermine public schools by setting up conditions for the state to outsource instruction to private companies and remove public oversight.

On Thursday, Sept.14, at 10 a.m. at Granite State College (25 Hall St., Concord) members of the NH State Board of Education and the commissioner of education need to hear what you think about the proposed Learn Everywhere financial literacy course offered by a non-accredited institution, PragerU, as well as the dangerous proposed changes to the 306 Rules.

Make your voice heard during the 10 a.m. public comment period or by sending an email to the commissioner’s office.

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