Monday, August 22, 2011

I Am Not A Priest

Photo: Stephen Poff, Flickr Creative Commons

I had a kid ask me today why they took religion out of schools.

I'm the wrong person to ask this. I am strongly secular and I'm far from a fair representation of the average beliefs of my community. This isn't an easy question for me to answer, so I answered as reasonably as I could. "It's a matter of common decency."

Of course I didn't leave it there. That could be easily misinterpreted. Despite my lack of religion, and my frequent suspicion of religious people in positions of power, I am not anti-religion. I went on to use the example of unnamed students I had taught in the past who were Hindu. I asked what they think it would have felt like to be that student having their teacher, a person in a position of authority, leading the entire class in a Christian prayer when they were raised as something other than a Christian. Then I told the kids to reverse that scenario. What if they were the only Christian in a class where the Hindu teacher led a Hindu ritual they didn't agree with. It's the same concept.

I'm not sure how many of them really understood. They're smart kids, but 14-year-olds aren't exactly good at putting themselves in other people's shoes. That usually comes later in the development of the human mind, although listening to politics, I'm not sure it ever comes for many people.

Of course, these kids were far from spewing the idiocy I often hear when people talk about religion in the schools. The first kid was genuinely confused and they probably aren't hearing any rational arguments about the issue at home. I hear all the time from average people here that God was taken out of schools, and this just isn't true. The real fact is that, at least in this state, the only restriction is that people in positions of authority cannot advocate religion or require students to pray. This is a good thing, even if you just go back to my original argument about common decency and the lone Hindu kid. It's intimidating for kids and teachers should never intentionally single a kid out for being different. Anyone who remembers middle school knows why. Even if a teacher isn't intentionally proselytizing, it very likely comes across that way to the kid. It's not a fair theological fight. That doesn't mean students can't practice their beliefs in school. Students are allowed to pray. Students are allowed to discuss religion. They can form religious clubs that meet during the school day. There's even a state-mandated moment of silence that was created by the government to give these kids a chance to pray. Actually, it was meant to be a stiff finger to the court's ruling preventing them from forcing their students to pray, but whatever.

In other words, God was never taken out of the schools. We just aren't allowed to shove him down your kids' throats. If they want to shove it down their own throats, we're happy to let them. It's just not my job.


Julie said...

I'm too far gone to remember what I thought about religion at that age, but it seems that's about when I became super annoying and started questioning everything so I can see why they were asking. Thanks for responding rationally. Oh, how I wish more people were moderate and rational.

CjW said...

Yeah... I think it is a good thing authority figures can't spout religion in a classroom. Too many stupid people out there who fit their religion to their opinions/lifestyle instead of sticking to anything written in religious texts. I would rather warp my child's mind with my own skewed opinion instead someone else doing that for me.

Courtney said...

I get really tired of hearing some religious people play the victim about things like this. You're right -- religion hasn't been taken out of anything; we just try to make public schools a more inclusive place for students of all religions. People who take personal offense to that are ridiculous, and I know plenty of otherwise rational people who do that, including my own parents.

Besides, if you need Christianity to be reflected in every single thing the government does, what does that say about you? Are you that insecure in your own faith that you need it constantly reinforced through dumb things like the Pledge of Allegiance?

Mickey said...

Word, brotha.