358. Sacred Ground

Many parents teach their children to believe some fundamental things. I can’t quite write that all parents do so; some parents don’t give much thought to what their children believe, and others try hard to avoid telling their children what to believe. But conscious instruction is not the only way to influence children’s thinking, so many parents who don’t try to teach their children what to believe end up doing so anyway.
In school, teachers give children information and help them develop skills with which they can find their own information. Teachers also work to help children understand concepts. And as instructors and as children’s models, they influence children’s beliefs. I never preached vegetarianism; I sometimes eat poultry or seafood myself. But after I read Charlotte’s Web to my class, one of my second-graders became a vegetarian. That was in 1983, and last I heard (1990) he was still a vegetarian. Teachers can be powerful influences on children.
Sometimes, some parents have strong convictions about what they want their children to believe, and there is a conflict between home and school. The Scopes trial was a classic example of such a conflict. Did teachers have the right and/or responsibility to teach children about evolution, even if some parents opposed such teaching? Or was that teaching a violation of parents’ right to raise their children according to the principles of their religions?
The issue is not simple, and it manifests itself in many ways. I once objected to having a public school teacher teach my daughter’s class a Christian prayer, and then have the class recite the prayer each morning. There are parents who have religious objections to the celebration of Halloween, which is often celebrated for fun in public schools. Some parents object to any kind of celebration, and some object, with equal vehemence, to the lack thereof. And almost all of them pay taxes, directly or through landlords, to support public schools, whether or not schools teach children what parents want their children taught.
You can probably think of many other aspects of this issue. Some of you deal with it by keeping your children out of public school. Some of you work to counteract whatever influences you don’t like. And some parents don’t think about it much.
My own approach has always been to try to teach in a way that balances respect for people’s convictions and respect for my own. My eight year old friend Ann told me that she asks Buddha to make me able to walk. I’m touched that she thinks of me in her prayers, and I told her so. When she told me that, I did not immediately mention that I am not a Buddhist, although I think she knows that. I think there’s room in this world for Buddhists, Creationists, vegetarians, and
many other people. I think we have a responsibility to try hard not to tread on each other’s sacred ground. But I don’t think it’s simple.

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