A Re-run: Is God allowed in public schools?
In my last post, Mrs. C. and I got into a discussion on whether or not God is allowed in public schools. This is a subject that I feel very strongly about. I grew up in a lower-middle class Catholic family in Minneapolis. My parents wanted me to go to college, but they didn’t want me to pursue a career based on how much money I could make. That’s one of the reasons I ended up becoming a teacher. I’ve never been one to wear my religion on my sleeve, but I’ve always felt like I’m practicing my faith when I do my job well. One of my earliest posts was on this subject, and I thought my best answer to Mrs. C. would be to do a re-run of that post. Some readers have already seen it, but I think there are a number of people who check into this blog now who didn't when I first started. So like I told Mrs. C., if TV can do re-runs all the time, why can't I do one? Here it is:
IS GOD ALLOWED IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Of all of the myths that are spread by critics of public education, this is the one that I find the most offensive. It is the myth that God is no longer allowed in public schools. In November of 2001, a couple of months after 9/11, I received one of those mass emails that has become so common. It had been forwarded by one of our teachers to everyone on our staff, so please understand the context of my response. This email message, like so many of them, was supposed to be profound, but, because of the way it began, it only managed to anger me. It began by telling about an interview with Billy Graham's daughter, Anne, that had been shown on TV. I am sure that Anne Graham is a wonderful person, but like so many others, when it comes to public education, she doesn't know what she is talking about. I will share with you the beginning of the email, which includes Ms. Graham's statement, and then the reply that I sent.
THE BEGINNING OF THE MASS EMAIL
Billy Graham's daughter was being interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her "How could God let something like this happen?" And Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said "I believe that God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman that He is, I believe that He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand that He leave us alone?"
I want to make it clear that this is not meant as a criticism of anyone for sending along this e-mail message. I have no doubt that anyone doing so had the best of intentions. I'm responding because it contains a message that infuriates me when I hear it, and I've been hearing it for a number of years, now. That is the message that we do not allow God in public schools.
One of the reasons this message angers me so much is because it is frequently used by the people who decide to homeschool their children. If we didn't have so many Warroad kids being homeschooled, we wouldn't be in as much danger every year of losing some of our best young teachers and having to cut programs that benefit kids.
The people who promote this message object to the fact that we do not have prayer at the beginning of our school days, like we did up until the mid-1960s. Everyone knows that the basic reason we don't have that anymore is because we have a separation between church and state in this country. The alternative to this is to have whoever is in power impose their interpretation of their religion on society. If you want to know how this would work just look at the Taliban's policies regarding women in Afghanistan.
Many good people argue that the separation of church and state shouldn't preclude prayer in school. Although I'm not sure they're correct, I don't think they are being unreasonable. But I can also remember the discomfort I felt as one of the few Catholic kids in a predominantly Protestant elementary school in the 1960's when we said a prayer in class that did not include the sign of the cross. It wouldn't bother me now, but when I was that young, it did. I never felt any of that discomfort when I said prayers with my family. I wonder how hard it would be today to come up with a prayer that would not cause some discomfort for some of the kids with all of our various religions. I'm not saying that people who believe we should have prayer at the beginning of our day are definitely wrong, but I am saying that those of us who have reservations about this are not necessarily Godless.
Although I wouldn't feel comfortable leading my first hour class in a prayer, God is very important in my life, and I try to bring that to school with me every day. I think there are many teachers like me in that respect.
Even if we don't have school prayers, that doesn't mean we don't allow God in school. Maybe I'm spiritually confused, but I see God more in the way people go about their everyday affairs than in whether or not they are comfortable with public prayer. When teachers go out of their way to help students, isn't God in our school? When some kid who "gets it" tries to help some kid who doesn't "get it," isn't God in our school? When we saw all that concern and love in our school for Katie Olafson [a sophomore who had been killed in a car accident] and her family last year, wasn't God in our school? When Rick McBride's beeper goes off and he goes running out of school to help out with the volunteer fire department because he wants to help people, isn't God in our school? When we buy frozen food, magazines, candy or candles for ridiculous prices, or when we fork out ten to twenty bucks for raffle tickets that we don't really want because we feel like we should help out kids involved in various activities, isn't God in our school? When special ed. or ESL or Indian ed. teachers come and plead with some crotchety old teacher, like me, for some kid that they care about, isn't God in our school? When Nadine ran her food shelf program last week wasn't God in our school?
We are fortunate in Warroad that most concerned parents who care about their kids send them to our school. They send them to our school because they care about their kids, but also because they care about other people's kids and the community. Am I wrong when I think I see God in many of them? These parents are confident in the values they've instilled in their kids, so they don't keep them home out of fear that they will somehow be corrupted by all the sinners among our students and faculty. It is their kids more than anyone or anything else--teachers, administrators, or all the computers money could buy--that make this school a good place to learn. We see these kids everyday, and we see what they do, and I would bet there are at least some kids like that in every public school in America. So if some people can't see God in our public schools, maybe they better take a better look.