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"We had 100 percent attendance at our parent conferences," she says proudly. "Why? Because we went to the community. I did a parent conference in the hospital. I even met a dad at Carl's Jr."
Penny Kotterman taught in the Tempe Elementary district with Martin while serving as a teachers' representative for the Arizona Education Association, the state's teachers' union. Now the vice president of the AEA, Kotterman remembers Martin as a hardworking, well-respected educator who was popular among parents--a teacher who knew how to get results.
Many parents requested that their children be placed in Martin's class, recalls Kotterman, who has equally vivid memories of Martin's activities outside the classroom.
"But she was always extremely critical of new teaching techniques," Kotterman says. "Things that I would call 'innovations' she would call 'new-age techniques.' I always remember thinking that she was operating with a good deal of misinformation."
Martin's views seldom were echoed by others within the education establishment, Kotterman adds.
After leaving the classroom, Martin became the co-founder and president of Parents' Foundation for Responsible, Ethical Education (FREE).
In an undated flier mailed to prospective members, Martin wrote that the foundation was launched "to serve as an umbrella for other pockets of resistance . . ." To those who join, she promised to send "materials written by experts in unmasking New Age/Socialist practices" in the classroom.
FREE membership included a free copy of What Are They Teaching Our Children? by Mel and Norma Gabler. For more than two decades, the Gablers have grabbed headlines by making regular treks to Texas Board of Education meetings to challenge the use of any book disparaging creationism--the theory that God created man in his present form--or dealing in depth with the theory of evolution. In 1989, after two decades of debate in which creationists were able to forestall the teaching of evolution, the Texas board finally adopted a requirement that biology textbooks include a section on the theory of evolution.
Another FREE handout implores concerned parents to mobilize in order to rescue their children from "Satan's scheme," which, among other things, calls for man to set up puppet leaders around the world, establish the antichrist and "recruit soldiers for the control and takeover."
The pamphlet goes on to explain that it is "Satan's global plan" to "replace biblical Christianity with a man-made one . . . replace nationalism with globalism . . . prepare man to exist for the good of the state . . . and replace Christianity with the New Age religion as the one unifying world faith."
According to the brochure, social reformers and education pioneers like Robert Owen, who founded the nursery-school movement in Scotland in the early 19th century, and John Dewey, the influential American philosopher and educator, both had a hand in implementing Satan's plan. The pamphlet says both were strong advocates of secular humanism, which many fundamentalists view as an attempt to place man on a par with God.
A section of the FREE pamphlet titled "What Are the Children Learning?" spells out some of the perceived dangers with modern curricula. The pamphlet complains of school texts that make no mention of "church praying in Christian setting"; the absence of traditional families and family roles; "definite feminist postures" in pictures and stories; the depiction of "other" religions and gods; and the censoring of "God's hand in the lives and events of America" in history texts.
The pamphlet lists examples of the "non-directive psychology of choice" rampant in the state's elementary schools. The list, which numbers more than 40 items, includes such pernicious activities as drug education, Arbor Day celebrations, kids' voting, suicide-prevention classes, law education, spelling bees, multicultural education, writing fairs, conflict-resolution classes, sex education and stress-management programs.
After laying out the problems, the FREE pamphlet issues this call to action:
"Reverse the 1963 prayer and Bible ban decision. PRAY! The attitude of the Supreme Court is leaning more to the right now . . . protest in court the unfair treatment of Creation as myth and Evolution as the only viable concept . . . TO SAVE THE CHILD YOU MAY NEED TO REMOVE THE CHILD FROM SCHOOL. THERE ARE GODLY ALTERNATIVES. PRAY!"
The back of the FREE pamphlet lists books that purportedly expose the real agenda of American education. Among the titles are two works by Rousas John Rushdoony, an influential far-right idealogue.
Rushdoony has argued that the Holocaust death toll was grossly inflated "to shock the insensitive" and has called blacks an example of "inferior stock." He has also called for the elimination of public education and has labeled democracy "the great love of the failures and cowards of life."
One-world governments. Shadowy New Age/pagan cabals bent on de-Christianizing a whole generation of American schoolchildren. Some might wonder, what's next? Does Martin expect those ubiquitous black helicopters to appear over Arizona's public schools?
Though many may be tempted to, it would be a mistake to dismiss all of Janet Martin's concerns out of hand. She is, after all, an articulate and educated woman who is as sincere in her beliefs as those who oppose her.
Or at least she was.
Martin has company on all sides of the political spectrum in calling for fundamental school reforms.