Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Today was the last day of school before a fabulous 9-day break for Thanksgiving. Since school in the Delta starts so early (beginning of August) we get a week-long break in the November and another in March instead of the February/April ones that we Northerners are used to. I have to say, it is exciting, though.

The second grade put on a "program" for the school in the afternoon. When I think of Thanksgiving, I don't really feel like it is a religious holiday. Sure, the Pilgrims were escaping religious persecution. But they weren't really celebrating their freedom from the Church of England on Thanksgiving, they were celebrating finally having enough food to eat. Thanksgiving is a day that we can take to reflect on all the things we are lucky to have in our lives. Okay, I guess for a lot of people the thanks is directed at God. But it doesn't have to be, and again, I don't think it is a religious holiday.

But it was at my school. We had a reading from the scripture (I think he said Psalm 100), and then we had a scripted "kid-friendly" explanation of the Lord's Prayer. ("Our father..." "Oh, like my daddy?" "No, Cornesha, it means God. The Bible says he is a father to us all." "Oh, okay." "Our father, who art in heaven..." "Like a painting?" "No, art is an Old English word that means 'is'." "So it is just saying, "God who is in heaven?" "Yeah, like that." etc.) Then we all said the Lord's Prayer together. There were some songs, all but one religious, and then a play.

I thought, okay, this will be about turkeys or Pilgrims or something like that. Nope. It was about 3 kids at an orphanage who are unhappy with their lives and feel like they have nothing to give thanks for at Thanksgiving. Then another kid comes and joins them at the orphanage, and he keeps talking about his Father. Well, the other kids confront him, because if he believes his father will take care of him, why is he at an orphanage? He explains that the Lord is Father to us all, and that we will be taken care of if we believe. The kids convert one by one, and it makes their spirits healthier and they become more polite, so they all get adopted.

Ummm. Separation of church and state? I have so many bigger things to tackle in my job that I try not to be bothered by the things that I can't change. If I was frustrated by administrative glitches, oversights, basic disregard for statutes; the Delta-wide issue of punishment and rewards; the instituntionalized mediocrity; or the blatant disregard of some parents for the interests of their and others' children, I would be stopped dead in my tracks every day. My job is to teach the children. Just teach them. Our classroom is our island, our sanctuary from the craziness. And when that sanctuary is breached, we pick our battles. And then the waters around us are in turmoil -- well, as long as you aren't splashing my island...

Anyhow, teaching effectively won't happen if I alienate myself from the community by opposing "religion" in any way, even if it is appearing in places that I think it should not. But I do firmly believe that everyone should be free to worship as he/she pleases, which also means being able to choose the time and the place. School is neither the time nor the place, because students have to come to school, and have to attend the assembly. If the parents chose a religious school, that's different. But I know for a fact that not all of my students attend church, and that probably means their parents don't either. And I certainly wouldn't want my child's school preaching religion to my child. Debating or discussing multiple religions is fine in high schools, where students can engage in an intellectual debate. But a K-3 elementary school, students are not at the developmental level to be questioning their lessons.


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