Sunday, January 26, 2014

NY Times:"California first-grader barred from distributing candy canes with religious message" and a Rant


     In California, a first grade teacher throws a religious message in the trash. Family is considering a lawsuit, the expected debate rages on. In this case however I have mixed feelings. While the teacher's actions seem harsh and the whole thing could have been handled differently, and better, it could be the teacher was concerned with the class as a whole -- all the students, and was trying to adhere to state and federal rules concerning the promoting of religion. "Jesus is not allowed in the school" the teacher is alleged to have said, and, the teacher is correct.It's fine if this child and his family believe what they believe, but giving a non-Christian this kind of message, well, for myself, it would annoy me. Let's turn this around; just how do you think the majority of parents would react if a child handed out a Pagan themed item? Oh the shit would fly! The parents knew the public school's policy and did their thing anyway.  So in this case, it isn't close to what the Buddhist student in the south (see post below) experienced. Teachers (as an educator, I have sympathy!) are expected to do so much that goes beyond teaching academics, and are always walking that blurry, ever changing line of what's politically and legally correct at the moment. On the other hand, it could be the teacher was a smug atheist asserting their brand of critical thinking and educational correctness.
California first-grader barred from distributing candy canes with religious message- NY Daily News: California first-grader barred from distributing candy canes with religious messages. Robert Tyler, of the Advocates for Faith & Freedom, is threatening legal action against the West Covina Unified School District on behalf of Isaiah Martinez, a 6-year-old who said his teacher threw his gifts to classmates because they contained religious messages. Tyler alleges the boy's teacher said 'Jesus is not allowed at school,' and the district says it tries to maintain 'religious neutrality in the classroom.'
     Somewhat related, many years ago, when I was lead teacher for a pre-K program at a public institution, one of the assistants wanted to do an art project involving the peace symbol. This was during the Gulf War and the emotions and political climate was intense at the time. I liked the project very much but had to say no to it. I told the assistants that it could be misconstrued -- we had some very gung ho families with spouses and family members, parents of students, overseas -- and so to avoid any outrage and hassles with parents and the institution I worked for, I didn't allow it. A couple of days later, I was out of the classroom for meetings, when I returned, I saw that another assistant had given each student a postcard with the American flag splashed over it and pro-war slogans. I was pretty furious; she shrugged and said "We all have our opinions." That was a nasty thing she pulled and wrong, and yep, it pissed off some parents who were anti-war. And, of course, I was the one who got the shit storm. So teachers are often in a no-win situation, trying to please everyone, and follow the rules mandated by the feds, the state, their district or institution, and their principals. And your own beliefs and values often get swallowed up in the dance of trying to do the right thing. Let alone the original thing, which is to teach, not play games.
     And on another tangent, here in Oregon, it was recently voted into law that all schools must have their classes stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance one day a week. Ridiculous and I'm surprised it is legal, hopefully the ACLU will get around to that one. There is the limp disclaimer that those students who find saying the pledge, or at least the "under God" part, may refrain as long as they are respectful. But what about the teachers? They have no choice. One might argue that teachers are at work and being paid and as such, need to follow the rules. Sure. But at what point does the infringement of personal beliefs, (let alone dignity) interfere with the right of the government to tell an individual what to believe, and, regardless of that belief, disseminate political and religious opinion?

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