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This Again?

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Who would not support a program designed to promote values and positive behaviour in our children?

On the face of it, a benign question. I cannot imagine there are many who would disagree that today’s youth would benefit from some etiquette instruction as well as a recalibration of values. In fact, society as a whole would be positively influenced with a shift in societal values.

The question is: to whom ought it fall to teach these standards?

According to Jannie Blackwell, member of the Philadelphia City Council, the responsibility is the school. And the approach? School prayer, as she stated in a hearing that she convened. “Prayer can promote more virtuous living and may have a positive impact on student behavior in schools,”

Both of these statement may very well be true. Prayer can promote more virtueous living as well as encourage a more positive outlook in general. So can yoga. And other lifestyle activities.

Whose prayer will be the one selected to promote such behavior? I can state without hesitation that hearing a daily prayer “in the name of our Lord and Saviour, JC” would cause me to have a seriously negative outlook.

Which reminds me of a story…(I am a rabbi, after all)

Upon our return from Thanksgiving Break during my junior year of high school, I was greeted by a Christmas tree in my English class. Not only was I shocked to see this flagrant display of religion in a public school classroom, I was floored when asked to contribute, “voluntarily,” to the tinselly decorations of said tree.

When I pointed out to the teacher that the presence of a symbol promoting one particular religion in a public setting was upsetting, she replied that the tree was seasonal rather than religious.
“Which season?” I inquired.
“The holiday season”, came the reply.
“The tree doesn’t represent my holiday. In fact,” I countered, “the tree, though most likely pagen in origin, has come to be imbued with religious meaning.”


This was all news to her.

“You are more than welcome to hang some dreidels on the tree or place a menorah next to it,” she offered.
“Promoting two religions hardly seems like a sensible solution. It is not the place of the public school to promote any religion. Teach about them in a historical, sociological, or literary context? Fine. But the display of religious symbols does none of those things.”
“Well, there is nothing illegal about having a tree,” came the slightly-defensive answer. “You certainly don’t have to contribute to the decorations.”

I had no intention of doing so. Any money I would contribute will be sent to the ACLU in your honour, I silently grumbled.

“I just wanted you to know that if I seem a bit resentful, grouchy, or otherwise out-of-sorts for the next 31 days, it might very well have something to do with your decision to decorate the classroom in such an exclusionary fashion.”

Needless-to-say, I barely passed that class and had to fight my way to take APEnglish the following year.

It doesn’t take much to imagine what Frune Sarah would have been like if forced to pray in school.

What about a non-specific prayer? Or a moment of silence? Or an area designated for those students who desire to pray?
Each one is a respectable attempt to deal with the sectarian nature of prayer. And each one is problematic in its one way.

A non-specific prayer is liturgically unsatisfying to the pray-er.
A moment of silence? In a classroom filled with kids? Unlikely.
And a special area increases the likelihood for bifurcation among the student body.

You feel that it is important for there to be in school? Consider parochial school (day school, etc.).

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. DrPG permalink
    Wednesday, 30 November 2011 1:02 pm

    I agree with your blog. One of the best decisions made during the early days of the United States was the separation of church and state (although Massachusetts kept its established church into the 1830s). While we continually have to struggle to maintain this separation, it prevents a tremendous amount of religious intimidation and discrimination. I have felt a similar offense at overt religious (Christian, in this country) symbols and prayers in what were supposed to be public settings.
    On the other hand, if people feel compelled to do some collective activity, maybe a bit of yoga or coherent breathing might not hurt.

  2. The nudnik permalink
    Wednesday, 30 November 2011 1:16 pm

    “Needless-to-say, I barely passed that class,,,”

    Were you, along with your parents, speaking to the principal about the unethical actions of the teacher?

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Wednesday, 30 November 2011 3:31 pm

      Let me clarify…

      I think that it was my combative nature that made me a difficult student. I do not mean to imply that this incident was in any way related to my less-than-stellar grade.

  3. Vered Harris permalink
    Wednesday, 30 November 2011 2:45 pm

    This topic makes me nuts. Our district’s policy:

    “Items of a secular nature may be used freely throughout the school. Those
    items may include: snowmen snowflakes, stockings, candy canes, Santa, dreidels, colors: blue and silver/white, red and green”

    No mention of pine trees anywhere in the larger policy (allowed or not allowed) at http://www2.bluevalleyk12.org/policies/documents/2450guidelines.pdf Who the heck decided a dreidel is secular? It refers to a NES. Who created the NES? Um, that would be GOD. And stockings and Santa — really — ?? You mean Santa who brings CHRISTMAS presents to the good (Gentile) girls and boys, and would those be CHRISTMAS stockings to which you are referring?

    Blech. Don’t even get me started on the music.

  4. Wednesday, 30 November 2011 4:45 pm

    You lost me with your opener. Values? In public school? Whose values? Remember that some people think it’s ok to steal or kill to get what they want. 10 commandments values? What about the Buddhists or atheists? Public school should teach the three R’s, plus science, history etc. But I agree with your conclusion. If you want your children to pray in school, then private/parochial/day school is the way to go.

  5. DadGiraffe permalink
    Wednesday, 30 November 2011 6:57 pm

    The nudnik (I love that moniker!) asks whether FS spoke to the principal. The prinicpal? If memory serves me correctly, FS addressed the School Board on the separation of Religion and State. On that occasion, I believe the issue may have been religious clubs on campus.

    As readers have discovered, FS is not now…nor has she ever been…a shrinking violet.

    Go FS!

    • Wednesday, 30 November 2011 10:21 pm

      FrumeSarah….a shrinking violet!? Perish the thought….

      SHE ROCKS!!!!!!!

      • Frume Sarah permalink*
        Wednesday, 7 December 2011 4:24 pm

        Thanks, Phyl. And I had forgotten that I addressed the school board. It WAS about religious clubs on campus.

  6. Jen Einstein permalink
    Thursday, 1 December 2011 5:59 am

    Ohhh no! This is a hot topic for me as well! At my last job, it was a rule (after I worked there for quite some time) that all teachers must pray with their class before lunch and nap time!! We were given a little book of prayers to choose from. I approached my boss and told her I was completely uncomfortable praying with the children, especially without notifying their parents first! She was so confused! I continued by telling her that I was proudly Jewish and that if I found out that a teacher was praying with my child (other than Jewish prayer), I would be very angry. I also told her that I was personally uncomfortable saying any of the prayers because they were not from my religion! She responded by saying, “There are much worse things that you can do with a child than pray with them.” She continued by telling me that this rule was not negotiable and that she felt strongly about doing it regardless of what anyone said — even if it meant families finding out and removing their child from the school. If parents want to pray with their child – great. However, its not up to a teacher/school administrator to decide if that should be happening! I feel like its disrespecting many things, including one’s own right to raise their child how they see fit! Needless to say, I quit that job pretty soon after all of that. And I agree — if you want prayer in school, there are schools just for that. Religion and public school are two separate issues and should remain as such.

  7. Thursday, 1 December 2011 8:19 am

    I totally agree with you about the separation of church and state. On this topic I must admit that the French are more efficient and have stricter rules than a lot of other countries.
    I enjoyed the post but also the comments.

  8. Thursday, 1 December 2011 10:24 am

    Oh, so you had Mrs. “Frost” too? Got that was a terrible year. The same thing happened with me. I did go to the principal, who didn’t/couldn’t do anything (although in other respects, he was a quite a good principal). I wrote a petition for people against the tree to get it taken down, but I couldn’t get anyone to sign it. The other Jewish students in the class had no problem with it, which didn’t help my cause at all.

  9. The nudnik permalink
    Thursday, 1 December 2011 10:29 am

    This is the kind of problem my wife and I avoided by enrolling our children in day schools through 12th grade (and in some cases, college as well).

    Having children in day schools causes other issues (beyond tuition)….

  10. the writ and the wrote permalink
    Thursday, 1 December 2011 12:04 pm

    I am Jewish, but I have friends of all religions and faiths and beliefs and backgrounds and what have you. I used to work with someone who was Jewish culturally, but not religiously and he’s one of the best religious school teachers I’ve ever met. That being said, I am not a fan of prayer in schools. Everyone has their own way of praying, whether it’s out loud or silently and I don’t think the classroom is the place to determine how a child should pray. I work at a Jewish day school and they do Shabbat every Friday. The kids that aren’t Jewish love it more than the kids who are Jewish. I would never want my child to be ostracized because they pray silently or out loud or not at all.

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