I heard a political ad yesterday. When the ad proudly proclaimed that this politician was responsible for getting a moment of silence into school, I cried out, “HE’S THE GUY!” Now, I don’t bear him any malice. I forgive him because he knows not what he done did do.
I knew when the moment of silence hit the agenda that it was an attempt to shoehorn state-sponsored prayer in schools. What it became was a joke. Kids would always try to text, talk, goof off, fidget, and do anything but pray. I don’t recall a single student of mine ever actually conscientiously using the moment of silence to offer supplications to the almighty – except for a few times when I asked that the students observe the moment of silence in recognition of a significant disaster. Otherwise, it created a disruption at worst and an annoyance at best.
It’s not like students can’t pray in schools. They can and they do. Thing is, we happen to have a horde of godless heathurns running wild in our schools that don’t give two cares about gettin’ religion once a day after ignoring the Pledge of Allegiance. A moment of silence isn’t going to get them to come to Jesus. In fact, there’s quite a few interpretations on that theme, as I understand them, and there are a number of faiths that don’t even subscribe to the notion of there being anything particularly special about Jesus.
As a teacher, I’ve accommodated the pious of all faiths. I’ve made exceptions in daily routines to allow for Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims (Sunni, Shi’a, and otherwise), Buddhists (Theravada and Mahayana), and even a Zoroastrian to practice their faiths according to the dictates of their beliefs. It’s not hard: it’s just a matter of exercising the same common courtesy normally extended only to Christians and Jews by our legislatures. (By the way… a note to certain high-minded Christians: Jews are *not* just waiting around to hear about Jesus, and then they’ll suddenly flip and become Baptists.)
The people that are most ardent about prayer in schools seem to me to be most ardent about *their* prayer in schools, and not someone else’s. I remember a time back in 1990 when I had an incident in an in-school suspension class.
For the unfamiliar, in-school suspension is a mild form of house arrest at school, typically assigned to students that have made some affront to decency like fighting, cursing at teachers, or getting too many tardies. This day, there was one student in ISS, and I had to cover the class at lunch time. When his lunch arrived from the cafeteria, he refused to eat it. The cafeteria lady took it back and I asked him why he refused it. He said, “I’m Muslim, and Ramadan started yesterday.”
Immediately, I knew it was his month of fasting from dawn until dusk, and knew that this habitually tardy lad had at least some sense of timing, even if it operated across months instead of hours. Be that as it was, I thought nothing of it and carried on supervising his working quietly on homework.
A few minutes later, a principal entered the room and confronted the boy about his refusal to eat lunch. She wanted to know if it was some kind of act of rebellion. He said, “It’s Ramadan, Miss. It’s a month of fasting.”
“What’s that? A ram-a-what? Are you making this up?”
I about had my jaw hit the floor after bouncing off the desk. This kind of stuff got taught in 10th-grade Social Studies in Texas. How could this person have a doctorate in anything from a for-reals university and not know that Muslims observe Ramadan, a month of fasting. But this lady had no clue and was really giving this kid grief. He insisted he was telling the truth and she kept asking him to come clean and admit he was fibbing. I interrupted and said, “Muslims do observe a month of fasting called Ramadan. He’s not trying to cause a disruption. It’s his faith.”
“Well, can he prove he’s Muslim or whatever?”
The kid looked at me, confused as to how to go about proving he was a Muslim. It’s not like they brand their yearlings or the EPA tags them to follow their migratory patterns. I suggested, “Why not recite from the Quran?”
He said, “Bismillah al-Rahman, al-”
She said, “OK, I believe he’s a Muslim. We just don’t want his mom trying to sue us for not letting him eat lunch or anything.”
Now, this was a woman that also professed a desire to have prayer in school. Yet, she had no respect or understanding of faiths other than her own. If I hadn’t been there to speak on behalf of the young man, he would have gotten in deeper trouble, to be compounded by a possible parent protest to the administration. That kind of spectacle was absolutely unnecessary, and completely avoidable to anyone truly interested in understanding and respecting religious pluralism, which is more to the heart of our Founding Fathers’ principles than mandatory state-sponsored prayer.
Which brings me back to this politician… his ad speaks glowingly of his support of the second amendment and uses equally glowing language to support his desecration of the first. What, does he want the right to hold a gun to my head and force me to pray? OK, so I exaggerate there (I hope), but there’s something in there that needs addressing. That is, we don’t fix our schools with prayer in them. We simply do not. Put another way, that moment of silence, along with the mandatory pledge, breaks the schools. They rob the school day of instructional time. They teach that conformity to minimum standards are more important than striving to make choices at one’s own pace.
As a teacher, that moment of silence and daily pledge really grated on my nerves. Schools were better before so-called conservatives took a page out of the totalitarian playbook and decided to force religion and patriotism on us all. I got along much better in my classroom without that moment of silence. So, if you’re a politician in Texas that cares about education, one thing you need to do is junk that moment of silence. If you need someone to give the guys behind it a lesson they’ll not like to forget, I’m your man.