This article is a twist on an old story. Instead of the Wiccan student being denied his religious freedom, the teacher is chided for not allowing him freedom of expression! It is important to note that the school chose to follow local, state and federal law in this instance, instead of assuming that the teacher is always right. Is this a move towards a more liberal and accepting school system? Is this just another way of taking power away from teachers?
Don’t let them fool you–the public school system is a white-washed Christian organization. Teachers are expected to be moral, but the part they don’t tell you is that they expect those morals to be Christian. I was a public school teacher briefly, and was regularly chided for mentioning my religious orientation, despite the fact that I only ever answered questions my students asked me, and followed the example of my Christian cooperating teacher. She was never chided for saying what she did over Easter weekend, but I was reprimanded when a student who shared my religion knew about what I was doing over Easter weekend. It was all off the books, of course–nothing official came out of it.
But although the school professes to be religiously neutral and the teachers are mostly Christian, the curriculum is void of any religious teaching. Not even educational and academic discussion of the subject. This wasn’t always the case. Our country started with local schools run by typically Protestant people and later Catholic when the Irish disagreed with how their children were being raised. Over the last hundred years, religion has been systematically removed from public school organizations. What we have is a generation of kids growing up who don’t have any role models of religious people in public spaces. The teacher’s religion becomes invisible–an important piece of their identity that is never revealed out of fear of overstepping boundaries, like the teacher in the article.
Because we can’t even talk about religion, certain subjects like history and literature, are stripped of their religious and even spiritual content. Instead of classics like Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, which expresses so much that has become a huge part of our culture, our kids read Salinger and Stienman, and other author’s who express a grim view of society and humanity. Even Greek mythology, a source of sublime human and natural understanding, is confined (read: condemned) to fourth grade curriculum. In history, the pilgrims were demoted to exploreres escaping some vague persecution, without exploring the idea that it is because of their religious story that the US even has freedom of religion. Students don’t know the difference between a woman wearing the Hadith and a man wearing traditional Hindu head wraps. It’s no wonder they are afraid of Muslims.
I am against teachers denying expression of a student’s religion. And I am against a teacher keeping their religious affiliation under wraps. But the teacher doesn’t have a right to enforce their own personal moral code over that of the schools–as an employee of the public, they must abide by the public rules. It’s unfair, but it is the price you pay to teach publicly. We should approach and teach about religion as a viable and academic part of human experience. It is something that can be explored and experienced without being forced upon students.