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POLITICAL CORRECTNESS IN SCHOOLS TURNS THANKSGIVING INTO A TURKEY

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INTRODUCTION: This week across America, families will join together to celebrate Thanksgiving. But your child will most likely never learn the religious roots of this holiday in public school. Has political correctness gone too far in our public schools?

BONNIE ERBE: As a Jewish child forced to sit through Christian prayers in New York City public schools in the 1960s, I praise God (pun intended) that religious worship has been stripped from the public school curriculum.

Any parent who wants a child to learn about the "religious" roots of Thanksgiving can send a child to Sunday or parochial school or teach it at home.

Pure knowledge of the holiday should be bestowed secularly in public school history classes, not forced upon children of various religious or atheistic backgrounds.

Those same Founding Fathers my colleague lauds would shudder at the thought of religious oppression in modern America. And as one who suffered through it, this is exactly the kind of forced worship the Pilgrims fled England to escape.

As far as teaching kids about World Food Day, what could be more innocent and non-objectionable than schools teaching kids about the environment? I find it fascinating that conservatives would, on the one hand, have students pray in school (a highly objectionable prospect to many Christians and non-Christians) yet object to teaching kids to respect and protect the outdoors - something few rational folks would find offensive.

Listen to this program, for example, reported recently in the Boston Globe. Students of Lafayette Regional School in Franconia, N.H., were the Northeast Region winners for Waste Not, an environmental education program and contest for schoolchildren across the United States. The students formed a Green Kids Team that persuaded local officials to expand the town's recycling program. At school, they began a composting program and recycled orange juice cartons and white paper.

Now, teaching kids sex education? While I'm all for it, I understand that parents may desire to teach that to their own children themselves, or not teach them at all.

Even though I applaud schools' efforts in this arena, I agree that parents should be able to opt out for their children, if they so choose. But teaching kids to recycle or to enjoy nature? Any objection would make the Pilgrims shudder.

JOSETTE SHINER: The Thanksgiving story - one of the triumphs of the human spirit over tremendous obstacles - has been a defining story for every generation of Americans. Until now.

In my children's old public school, Thanksgiving is no longer celebrated. This great tradition has been replaced by "World Food Day." This, it was explained, is so that people of other cultures won't feel left out and take offense.

But what about that dramatic story of the Mayflower, of that ragged band of separatists fleeing England in search of religious freedom? What about their tales of faith and endurance, of losing half their people in the first winter, of rations of only five kernels of corn each per day?

What about the awe-inspiring love between these pilgrims and the Native Americans they came to befriend, each overcoming distrust and hatred in favor of peace?

What about the Mayflower Compact that put forward, for the first time, two principles that would become the cornerstones of the constitution: that all men are created equal in the eyes of God and that a government must only govern those who want to be part of it?

Hard work. Delayed gratification. Faith. Humility. Kindness. Selflessness. These are all crucial values that American children need to learn, and each one is demonstrated in the Thanksgiving story.

So why have many schools trashed this holiday along with Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan and Easter? Because the only taboo subject in our public schools today is God.

Instead of traditional notions of right and wrong, children are fed a politically correct feast of self-esteem, environmental activism, AIDS awareness and safe sex. In fact, it is likely your child will leave public school more knowledgeable about condoms and protecting snail darters than about the Ten Commandments, which are the essential building blocks of all Judeo, Christian and Muslim culture.

Historians have long recognized that a culture is sustained through its oral traditions. The stories told around the dinner table and at school are essential in forming the character of a nation. What happens when we deny children the tales of civilization and of America that have been so integral to our greatness as a nation? We begin to be a nation without purpose, without definition, without a common ground.