Monday, March 27, 2006

Sunday Sermon: Religion----You Can't Escape It

Sometimes I participate in a teacher’s forum at the A to Z Teacher site. Of all the teacher forums I have found it to be fairly active and current. Recently a thread began concerning a high school that had a picture of Jesus posted in the front hall of the school. Apparently the picture was placed there by the principal. Read through the entire thread here. The responses are pretty interesting. The thread eventually gets off the topic a bit and turns to Bibles in the classroom and wearing religious symbols.

I believe the placement of a picture of Jesus in the front hall of a public school sends a strong message to all members of the school community and visitors alike. I believe it could be interpreted to send a message of exclusion to faiths other than Christianity. The picture should come down or, at the very least, other pictures should go up from other faiths that are represented at the school.

It seems to me that if you choose to be religious you are choosing to live a certain way. I would expect a religious person to be religious at all times. I don’t leave my religion in the car when I arrive at school. It goes in the building with me along with my purse, keys, and bag full of “stuff” I never got to the night before.

Religion is not something you bring out on ‘your’ particular Sabbath only to pack it away until you are having a desperate moment. We should live our beliefs everyday and all day long. We should allow others to see our walk with God, Allah, etc. That being said there is a difference in living the life and putting it out there for shock value.

At the beginning of the year I introduce myself to students. I share things about my family, growing up, and I tell students I’m a Christian and attend a Baptist church. I know that from that moment on I’m watched to see if I walk the walk and talk the talk. By revealing I am a Christian I have provided students with a set of expectations concerning how they will be treated in my classroom. Here’s the important thing though….many people bash Christians saying that we are out to convert everyone. I won’t disagree. I do believe in the “Great Commission”, however, I don’t proselytize to a captive audience and would never think of doing so. The way I live my daily life is a witness to my faith and is my constant testimony.

With every job I have ever had I have made it known I was a Christian. One of the law firms I worked for in my former career was Jewish. Both partners had grown up on the Lower Eastside of New York and they were as much Yankees as I was a grits eatin’ Christian from the Deep South. They walked their walk and I walked mine. I respected their traditions and they respected mine. It was truly a learning experience for all of us. We approached our differences with tolerance, interest, and most importantly a sense of humor. We also agreed sometimes to disagree.

I have a few Bibles in my independent reading library along with books on Jewish culture and holidays. I have books regarding other world religions too along with the Koran. They are all used. One of the responses on the AtoZ thread mentioned that as a parent they wouldn’t want their child introduced to other religions or symbols. That is their job as a parent. Well, I agree and disagree. Once students get into middle grades they begin studying world religions. They will learn the symbols and they will learn the basic beliefs of the religion. Prejudice stems from ignorance. By learning about different faiths we are able to understand the differences. It doesn’t mean that anyone will be converted.

History teachers cannot escape religion. I cannot teach students about Native American tribes without discussing their religion. Religion is one of the ingredients that make a group of people a civilization along with a political system and an educational system. When we discuss various beliefs and ceremonies we discuss the difference between the lower case “g” and the upper case “G” used with the word god in their textbook.

During our discussion of exploration I must explain what a Catholic is, who the Pope is, and that Christianity is made up of many different denominations. Nine year old children, even those that are well churched simply don’t realize that a Methodist and an Episcopalian are both members of the Christian faith. They have to be told this. The Line of Demarcation was set by the Pope to end squabbling between Spain and Portugal concerning which lands they could claim in the New World. I have to set the stage and provide information to students concerning who this Pope guy is and why is he allowed to tell two countries what to do. Religion comes into the discussion during our unit on colonization. We usually complete a matrix or classification chart detailing all thirteen colonies concerning the type of colony, who settled the colony, and for what reason. Seeking religious freedom was a prime reason for the settlement of the majority of the original colonies.

Getting back to the original premise behind the thread at AtoZ and this post I attempted to find something about the high school and the picture of Jesus but I didn’t. I find it hard to believe that a principal would do something that clearly could result in a media fiasco.

In the end religion is not an evil thing to invade a classroom. It depends on how it is presented, the purpose for that presentation, and if other points of view are considered.

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