Longform

Christian Crusade

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After that, however, it was Angel who did most of the talking. She believed, as children do, that much of the family's pain was her fault. Her father drank because she, Angel, had failed him in some way. Even after her father quit his job last June, immolating the family's economic foundation and undermining his own mental stability, Angel clung to her guilt over his alcoholism.

As she released her private sorrows, she began to blossom, Batton says. Angel began to see that the child who struggled to mother her younger brother and sister, and tried to shoulder her own burdens alone, was a caring and courageous person. But Angel's parents, though they struggled briefly to reinforce her progress, remained mired in their own hell. In February, a frightening incident destroyed the family's illusion of healing.

"Things had been going okay, but then my father got depressed and started drinking again," Angel says. One night, she recounts, she was awakened by her mother. "She said she'd overheard my father saying to someone on the phone, `Tonight's a good night to die,' and that my mom wouldn't be around much longer."

After overhearing her husband threaten to kill the whole family, Angel's mother quietly gathered her three children and they slipped out a back window, fleeing to a friend's house to call for help. Police later invaded Angel's house and captured her father asleep in a drunken stupor. (Angel's parents separated permanently afterward and she remains with her mother in Glendale.)

The incident made the six o'clock news, a humiliating experience in Angel's eyes. Worse, the latent savagery of it sent her into a prolonged tailspin. Angel's grades deteriorated and she once again was overwhelmed by anguish and guilt. "I know in my mind that I'm not responsible for my dad's problems, but I still have trouble feeling that way in my heart," she says.

Again, it was Batton who pulled her through. Batton helped Angel to sort out her feelings, understand the limits of her responsibility for what happened, and see how people sometimes make mistakes. Calmed by Batton's reassuring presence, Angel faced the worst crisis of her life without running away or yielding to her fear and anger. In recent weeks she has pulled her grades up and begun to feel hopeful again.

She is back to the business of growing up.

IN THE EYES OF PARENTS like Deborah Burns, the Glendale school psychologists are a threat. Their methods are a potential intrusion into family privacy, and their well-intended meddling may even encourage children to reject their own parents' values, as she sees it.

Burns is a central figure in the upheaval reverberating through the Glendale elementary school district. To her and like-minded parents, the district's vaunted programs may have laudable goals, but they are flawed in conception. "I have a big problem with humanistic values clarification," she says. "It tells the kids, `Your parents are emotional cripples and their values are outdated for today's world so you decide what you want to do.'"

She much prefers the approach taken by private fundamentalist schools such as Grace Lutheran Academy, which her youngest child now attends. There, she says, a no-nonsense teaching staff drills the children on basic skills with an emphasis on memorizing information. She attributes much of her daughter's success there to the school's "very creative" approach to discipline. She recounts an instance in her daughter's fourth-grade class in which the teacher caught a boy shooting baskets into a trash can with wadded-up paper: "`You're pretty good at that,' the teacher said with a smile. `Think you can hit ten out of ten?' The kid made all ten shots.

"`Say, that was pretty good. Now I want you to copy a page out of the dictionary, word for word, for each basket you made,' the teacher told the boy. `You can have until the end of the year to finish the assignment.

"`But you can't have recess until it's done.'"
"I think that's so creative!" Burns says delightedly. "I mean, he learns something while he's doing it . . . it's really a creative approach."

Burns lives with her husband and children in a neighborhood of comfortable homes, one of many newer areas of the city more reminiscent of Southern California than Arizona. Not far away lives ex-Governor Evan Mecham, whose daughter Chris Marsh is among the most vocal dissatisfied parents.

The Burns' neighborhood public school, Horizon Elementary School, gives little evidence of the burgeoning numbers of low-income and minority children that now make up almost 50 percent of district enrollment. Most of the "at-risk" students live nearer the town core, in homes built when Glendale was a little farm center separated from Phoenix by miles of irrigated fields.

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Kathleen Stanton