To : all Subj: Bible In School I live in a suburb of Rochester, NY: the Town of Greece.
From: Patricia Lange Posted: 17 Jul 94 00:00
To : all
Subj: Bible In School
I live in a suburb of Rochester, NY: the Town of Greece. The
Rochester area contains every religious group you can imagine
and plenty of atheists, but there are certain areas of
concentration. In "my" town, we have an abundance of Catholics
and "Fundamentalists." As an atheist, I keep alert to any
attempt at religious indoctrination in the public schools. So
far I am quite satisfied that my 10-yr. old son is getting an
appropriately secular education here, despite the leanings of
the vast majority of his classmates' parents.
Others are less pleased. I haven't heard many complaints from
the Catholics (and they have their large system of Catholic
schools to turn to here if they're dissatisfied). Shortly
before school let out for the year, for example, I had a newly
ordained Baptist minister insisting to me that Satanists were
proselytizing at my son's school. I assured him I volunteered
there 2 or 3 days a week and there was no truth to this
assertion. He seemed quite convinced that They were Out There
and I was just missing Them. Another group is outraged that
high school students were allowed to watch some "R" rated
moves about the VietNam war in their studies of that period of
history. Actually I agree that the teacher erred in not
getting permission from the parents before showing the film,
but somehow this was turned into a "morals" question instead of
a "common sense" issue.
At our last school board election, a self-proclaimed
creationist was elected. He has asserted his desire to
reintroduce "biblical values" into the public schools.
Yesterday this was a headline in the local paper:
"GREECE PUPIL NOT ALLOWED TO READ BIBLE IN SCHOOL
- BOY'S FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS IN QUESTION."
The article explains that the boy, Kenny Haller, age 7, took
his Bible to his first grade class to read to his classmates.
His teacher told him his choice was inappropriate for the class
segment in question, in which the children were to practice
reading aloud to others. She said she had no problem with him
bringing the book in and reading it during the "free reading"
His mother, insisting her son's rights were violated, took the
issue to the teacher and to the principal without getting
satisfaction (it's unclear what would have satisfied her). Now
she has presented it to the school board at its most recent
meeting and has asked it to set a policy for the district.
Because the teacher and principal were not present, the board
did not act at the time.
One member stated "I have no problem with the young man reading
his Bible on his own time, but it depends if he was given
another directive in class, or how he did it." It's not clear
from the article what the board plans to do next. I hope it's
to gather the facts.
I see this as an issue the "fundamentalists" would LOVE to blow
out of proportion. They claim kids can't pray in school (they
can, of course, as individuals and in silence). They claim
they can be exposed to all sorts of "evil" secular ideas
without being allowed to use "the" tool to counteract them. If
the only tool they accept is the authority of their bible, then
they're right, but it's their own fault if they want to be so
self-limiting. If they taught their kids critical reasoning
skills they'd have a more flexible and useful tool. They're
incapable of seeing that if THEIR magic book is allowed "in" as
authority, others will (should) have the right to insist theirs
be given equal time.
I think the board member quoted in the article got it exactly
right. The boy has already announced he wants to be a church
pastor "when he grows up." If the facts show he read his book
aloud to his classmates with the intent to pursuade or "inform"
them of the truth of its contents, then the teacher had the
duty to step in and stop him. If, though, all he did was plan
to read aloud a few verses to practice his reading skills, she
probably should have allowed it. The board should look into
what actually happened.
A rule permitting the bible to be used during free reading time
or even aloud in a neutral and secular context would be
great. I think it is even important - necessary - for every
educated person to be familiar with the stories and the impact
(positive and negative) they've had on our history and
literature. The book should be read and discussed as
literature along with other writings considered authoritative
by religions around the world. If this principle were stated
as the policy of the schools, maybe teachers would be less
afraid to use religious literature in a secular context. As I
see it, the True Christians then would have one fewer arrow in
their quiverful of supposed persecutions.
What I fear is that the issue will be used by the new,
fundamentalist, board member to foment a conflict which doesn't
exist and to enshrine a "right to read the bible aloud in
school" as a freedom of religion issue regardless of the
classroom context. Pity the poor teacher who gets caught in
the middle of that. When the child starts to proselytise
during class discussion time, is the teacher allowed to let the
others ridicule him or offer other interpretations? Does she
have a duty to present all the other sides? To ignore what's
going on for fear of having some (by definition,
state-sponsored) influence on the outcome?
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank