January 10, 2008 § 2 Comments

Our children are growing up in an increasingly global society. Is that the reason that people are becoming so extreme about their views? I don’t ever remember a time in my lifetime when we’ve been more divided as a people in this country. It seems like everyone hates everyone else. Or maybe it’s what the media wants us to think so they can keep selling commercials.

I think there will be a breaking point, and it will come soon, when people realize that our differences aren’t that different and that it’s really OK to not be just like everyone else, and it’s really OK to have different beliefs. I hope that breaking point will come because the children today will be better educated than we were.

Of course, hope alone isn’t going to make it happen. It’s going to have to be taught, and if the example I’ve been reading and listening to lately are any indication, intolerance, rather than understanding is what’s being taught.

Luckily, there are students who aren’t falling for it, and because of the global community we live in, it’s easier for their voices to be heard and their stories told than was possible when the traditional media ruled.

I read this speech the other day about Matthew LaClair, who confronted his teacher for speaking about creationism and basically saying that evolution was wrong.

Yes, I realize the site it’s on. But I think it holds valuable messages for everyone. First, one needs to realize that the site this speech is posted on is a tool for promoting atheism. In fact, a lot of the sites that have info about Matthew are atheist sites. I’ll talk more about that in a minute. The first lesson that everyone should learn from this is that you need to know who the source of your information is – or as the old adage goes, don’t believe everything you read.

Being a site that promotes atheism, the stories you read will be slanted toward the “evils” of combining government and religion. In this case, a teacher talking about religion in class. Should the teacher have talked about religion during the course of the school day? It depends. If the teacher is espousing his opinions on religion and not holding an open forum where all views are welcome to be criticized, then, no, the discussion should not take place. This is what it appears happened. As Matthew points out, he did record the class, so there is audio proof of what the teacher said.

I remember when this story broke, and what the media covered wasn’t the fact that the teacher was in the wrong for how he was running his class, they focused instead on the fact that this student did not belong to a “traditional” church, which automatically shed him in a bad light. If the student had been a Christian simply standing up for what was right, would the story have even been run in the media?

At any rate, the student’s religious affiliation shouldn’t have mattered. What should have mattered was that the teacher was wrong. Why would he feel that he had the right to talk about his views on religion? Teachers are supposed to be impartial, especially when discussing these things with students in a classroom. Especially because there may be those in the classroom whose views are different from the teacher.

Case and point, is my second example. I was listening to This American Life this morning on my iPod and was horrified almost to tears at the story in Act 1. Please click on the link and listen to it.

If you don’t have time to listen, here’s the short version: Muslim family moves to suburbia. Sept. 11 happens. Neighbors view them suspiciously even though they had been in the community for a while. On the 1 year anniversary, the school DISTRICT distributes a book “explaining” why 9/11 happened. In it, it says that Muslims brought down the towers, Muslims hate Christians and want to kill anyone who is not Christian. The fourth grade daughter of the family is brought to tears by children, who were previously her friend, tormenting her about being a Muslim. At Christmas that same year, the teacher has her students reading books about Jesus and the meaning of Christmas. She tells the students that candy canes stand for Jesus, and the red represents his blood, and that if you don’t believe in Jesus you’re going to hell. FOURTH GRADERS! I don’t care who you are, you don’t tell fourth graders in a PUBLIC SCHOOL that they’re going to hell.

I’m not saying that teachers shouldn’t talk to students about religion. That is NOT the point of this post. I’m saying that teachers should take the opportunity to EDUCATE students about religion.

I taught 6th grade Social Studies when I first started teaching. Part of the curriculum was discussion of the major religions – Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, Buddhism. I taught in a school that was 98% Hispanic, which means that most of the students were Catholic. Many of these students didn’t even know that Catholicism was a branch of Christianity, let alone that there were people in the world who believed in something other than God and Jesus. But we discussed the religions, and how, even though there are differences, the big 3 – Christianity, Judaism, and Muslim, ALL basically believed in the same God, the God of Abraham.

If more people would just learn this basic fact, I think it would clear up a lot of hate in the world. If educators could detach themselves when they’re teaching and think about the harm they can do by stating opinions as fact, we could make the world a much more tolerant place.

How does this all fit in with my blog, then? Why not use the technology we have to actually hold a dialog with students and teachers in other countries. Let them ask each other questions about religion instead of shutting them down, let them know that having beliefs other than the ones you hold true are OK. It’s OK to be different. Being different leads to better collaboration, leads to a better understanding of why people are the way they are.

Let’s really start using technology to solve the world’s problems.


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§ 2 Responses to Separation

  • Debra says:

    Just so you know, Matt is not an athiest. He does believe, however, that church and state should be separate.

  • Scott says:

    Thanks for the clarification. I should have read more carefully. The post has been changed to reflect what Matt’s beliefs are, per the New York Times article from 12/18/06 – “…Matthew, who was raised in the Ethical Culture Society, a humanist religious and educational group…”

    And just as a clarification in case it wasn’t clear in the original post, I believe that church and state should be separate as well, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with learning about the world religions in a historical context. Religious beliefs do a lot to explain the current situation in the Middle East.

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