Faith and politics mix in fascinating and sometimes fruitful ways. People of religious faith can bring moral uplift into the sometimes tawdry world of politics, and people of political faith can bring passion and conviction to social causes. But there is something about politics that is on guard against the ways of faith. It’s not just that our tradition separates church from state. If “faith” implies an unquestioning, deeply held belief, that can be a liability in the practical world. “Articles of faith” can get one into trouble in politics.
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It is an article of faith, for example, among many who discuss public education today that the blame for failing schools can be put mostly on ill-prepared and unskilled teachers. Much of the public and many of the state’s top political leaders seem to think the colleges producing tomorrow’s teachers are almost beyond hope. We sent Associate Editor Carol Gerwin, who is a sharp and relentless questioner, into the nation’s oldest public teacher-preparation program to see what becoming a teacher is really like these days. I doubt that Framingham State College would give Carol’s report their imprimatur–all is not well in this or any other ed school. But all is not lost, either. Teacher programs are responding to outside pressures for higher standards and more accountability. The question is, why are ed school professors on the whole still so resistant to change? And why did it take so long for the state to start demanding better teacher programs? Good questions, and as the reader will see, we don’t attempt to offer pat answers.
In a more literal sense, we have filled this issue of CommonWealth with articles of faith. Michael Jonas questions a few widely held assumptions about Cardinal Bernard Law and the Catholic Church in state politics (See “Cardinal Law’s Challenge“, CW, Winter 1999). And David O’Brien reviews Thomas O’Connor’s book Boston Catholics (See “Catholic Contributions“, CW, Winter 1999). The Catholic Church may not be what it used to be, but if we didn’t think it was still one of the most important stories in Massachusetts we wouldn’t be writing about it.
The themes of education and religion come together in our conversation with Rev. Eugene Rivers and Wendy Kaminer. As other states begin to experiment with voucher programs that allow public funds to be used for parochial schooling, the idea is returning to Massachusetts politics (the church-state questions have been debated off and on here since the mid-1800s). Rivers and Kaminer are not of like minds on this (or on much of anything), but their conversation (See “Conversation
, Winter 1999) is lively and, I would say, educational.