12. Religion

Even more than we get political views as we grow up, we get religion. We don’t worry that we will burn eternally if we like a candidate our parents don’t, but we’re taught at a very early age whether to believe in a deity, and if so, which one to believe in, how to worship, and whether ours is the only way that leads to salvation, terminal bliss, inner peace, etc.
Most children get a pretty heavy dose of religion before they get to school. Like the pledge of allegiance and various patriotic songs, religion isn’t necessarily understood (“Are father, Richard in Heaven, Howard be thy name”), but is absorbed. Whatever it means, it’s sacred, whatever that means. Parents who are careful not to indoctrinate their children may find that their children are absorbing the indoctrination other children get.
So how does school fit into this? I remember moving to a new town just after I turned seven. Most of the kids in my new school seemed to believe that a fat man slipped down all earth’s chimneys in late December, around Hannukah, and left presents for good kids. I was good, so I wasn’t too concerned. But kids also seemed to believe that long ago, a man was killed, and three days later came back to life. They said that when I died, my soul would come out of my body, and meet this man. I had nightmares about this until my mother assured me that we didn’t believe in that.
Religion, in one way or another, will be in school. The term “voluntary school prayer” is redundant; anyone who thinks we can legislate a deity out of a building must not think that deity has much power. Moments of silence in school happen. The one or two days I was legally required to allow a moment of prayer in school, I was told to ask whether there was anyone who wanted to lead the class in prayer, and whether any children wanted to wait in the hall while this happened. One child asked me, “What’s prayer?” I told the child to speak with her parents about it – the only buck I’ve ever passed, as far as I know.
The immature rebel in me wanted to lead the class in a Hebrew prayer, to make the point about diversity, and then learn and teach prayers in Navajo, Hindi, Swahili, etc., so that children would be exposed to all the options. But the adult rebel in me objected to the whole process. Respect for diversity, when it comes to religion, is close to respect for privacy.
Since children are going to practice and discuss religion in school, whether or not teachers are involved, I think teachers ought to get involved, but very carefully. Each year, I gathered as many people as possible in my classroom to talk about memories of winter. The gathering was scheduled so that Hannukah, Christmas, and Kwanza were not far off, but over the years I heard about solstice rites, Santa Lucia Day, hockey games, the Tournament of Roses Parade, and many more rituals. I think religion was treated with respect, but I also think some children heard a kind of reverence connected with the Tournament of Roses.
This article cries out for a final paragraph which points the way to educational salvation. But no. I’ll allow a moment for you to silently come to your own conclusion.

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