Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Lordy lordy

I've always kind of wanted to smack people who wail about prayer being illegal in public schools. Any time I venture into right-wing blogania, I run into folks who think that it's time we put god back in schools, where he belongs, so that people quit shooting each other and copying homework and all that stuff.

Well, I would like to inform each and every one of those people that (at least at my school) they have gotten their wish.

At the (endless) inservices held before school officially opened its doors to the students, I quickly figured out that my school had a strong contingent of what a friend of mine likes to call jeezers. My principal casually threw the words "I'll pray on that" around and was answered by a chorus of amens. I was feeling less and less comfortable when the bomb finally dropped. My principal asked us to all join hands. I thought it would be another one of those hokey team-building exercises. Nope. She nodded towards a teacher who was firmly in the jeezer camp and next thing I knew, all heads were bowed and my jaw was on the floor. I might have been able to (grudgingly) deal with it, had it been an interfaith-y sort of positive feel-good thing. It wasn't. It started with an "Our heavenly father" and ended with an "In Jesus' name we pray, amen," and blessed everything you can think of in between.

So, yes, I can tell you with 100% certainty that there is indeed prayer in public schools. Or at least one public school.

What gets me is the sheer in-your-face nature of it all. Prayer is brought up frequently. Everyone is, apparently, praying for and about everything. One of the teachers brought up, at a meeting for the entire faculty and support staff of our school, that she had anointed her classroom's desks with oil and prayed over them to drive out the devils. This statement was received as it were as normal as her discussing how to covering a bulletin board, with approval and encouragement. Our principal talks about having faith and doing great works in the name of our faith. Our faith. Because everyone at our school is apparently under the same umbrella of faith. Even the Hindus, new-agers, agnostics, and atheists.

It's not something I've discussed amongst the general faculty of my school (nor will I ever do so), but publicly, I am an avowed atheist. I guess I would describe myself as a political atheist. Having grown up Pentecostal and then running off, joining, and eventually leaving a cult, I am officially Done With Religion. I am also pretty done with spirituality, to tell you the truth. The only thing along those lines I really have any interest in are some of the folk traditions of marginalized groups (voudoun/voodoo, for example), but interest does not necessarily equal faith. I have to admit, though, that I was sorely tempted to wave the red flag in front of the bull. I have some voodoo oils in my possession. Jeezers aren't the only ones who anoint things with oils. It was so very tempting to casually inform the group that I, too, had performed rites in my classroom. I don't think that anyone I have in mind as I'm writing this would fail to see what I'm saying here. When people say they want god and religion and prayer in public schools, they invariably mean their god, religion, and prayer. I know that's what my mother means, at least. She told me I was being religiously intolerant and not respecting diversity. It's funny when the jeezers start to learn that vocabulary. It's even funnier how when a jeezer is shouting about being marginalized, it's usually because someone is refusing to allow them to shove religion in their face.

It isn't just on the school level, though. At an inservice for the several hundred teachers in my region (the district is zoned into internal regions), there was an amen corner. One of the presenters outright asked the assembly, "I know religion isn't supposed to be for schools, but can I get a praise the lord?" She certainly got it. People high up in the district's administration were present, watching, and participating.

I could complain. I am within my legal rights to complain, though anyone who knows me knows I don't care much about legal anything. They can't fire me for complaining. Not exactly, at least. I can, however, have my classroom scrutinized with a more critical eye. I can have increased visits to my class for observation. I can face the seething resentment of my colleagues for forcing the issue and making everyone stop something that is painfully uncomfortable to me but joyously positive for them. I'm very angry to be pushed into a position where I am expected to participate in a religious expression. I feel that my colleagues are genuinely well-intentioned, but it upsets me that a group of educated adults could behave so inappropriately in a workplace, especially in an environment that is meant to be accessible to people from all cultures and backgrounds. It also upsets me that I would be taken more seriously if I were a member of another faith with enough numbers behind it to lend an air of legitimacy to my complaint. A Muslim could raise a complaint based on how practicing another faith's rites is against their own faith. I, however, would just be seen as someone who has something against religion. Public education pays an enormous amount of lip-service to diversity these days, but I'm not seeing it.


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