A couple of incidents from several years ago.
The first from 2012 when my daughter was in 3rd grade (from my old blog):
Had a little talk with my daughter, Athena. On her recent report card one of the subjects was social studies and the particular topic was something like “governments are needed to provide services…”
So I asked my daughter what they were teaching her about government. She went into an example of a street sweeper and how it needs to be paid for by tax dollars.
This is her “take away” about the purpose of government?
So we had a little chat. I explained to here that the people who created our country wrote down what they thought was the purpose of government and it went something like this:
“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
We spent some time going over what that meant and then I went into some examples: Police, catching “bad guys” who would harm others and, in so doing, deprive them of their rights. This is a good and proper function of government. Courts, allowing people an avenue to resolve disputes without turning them into feuds and shootouts (she came in with “or dagger fights”–that’s my girl). Proper function of government. The military, defending against attacks on America and Americans which would deprive us of our rights. Proper function of government.
Some other things that people want government to do? Not so much.
Look, I get that different people may have different ideas on what the “purpose of government” is, or should be. But this country was founded on the principle I gave. The Constitution was written with enumerated powers that are a pretty good fit to that purpose. And while other folk are certainly at liberty to have different views on the matter, those are matters of philosophy rather than fact and it is not the job of the schools to dictate one true political philosophy and especially not to attempt to override the philosophy of the parents.
Next, in 2015 (6th grade) on the subject of religion. Athena came home to me in tears, upset about what her teacher had said about the religion she believed at the time. (For context, I describe as an “Asatru leaning Agnostic”–I find appeal in the Asatru religion and use it to fill my own innate need for ritual and symbolism. I figure the gods of Asatru don’t care whether I believe or not, only what I do and I can live with that without the hypocrisy of following a religion whose central tenet is belief when I don’t believe.)
This letter I wrote to her teacher explains the incident well enough:
Mr. [Athena’s 5th Grade Teacher],
I just had a talk with Athena that has me somewhat concerned and I’m hoping you can clarify things for me.
If I understand what she was saying (she was upset and teary and can be a bit hard to understand like that) you were discussing a book in class and the comment was made about Thor being from Greek mythology. Athena corrected that. Thor comes from Norse mythology. Athena knows this because she is Asatru. Asatru is a modern revival of historical Germanic paganism. It’s a real, although small, religion. The religion is officially recognized in Iceland and Asatru symbolism is permitted by the military and the VA for use on such things as military dogtags and headstones. (One of a veteran’s benefits is burial at government expense with a headstone also provided by the government.)
Now the concerning part was telling Athena that this was all fake and that Christianity was superior. She already feels isolated by being one of two non-Christians in her class and it does not help to have a figure of authority belittle her beliefs. If Athena misinterpreted what was actually said, please clarify what actually happened.
I have explained to Athena my own belief, as an agnostic. The Universe is a big place with room in it for a god or gods and I don’t know whether he, she, it, or they exist. But, the human animal has a need, bred into our genes, for ritual and symbolism. As a non-believer I think it would be quite hypocritical to find that ritual and symbolism in a system that, at its core, is about belief. You must believe this way. You must accept that premise. Instead, I find my ritual and symbolism in a system that does not care what you believe, but rather what you do. That you are honest, industrious, self-reliant, honorable, and so forth. And so I find Asatru a better fit to my lack of belief than Christianity or other monotheistic religions.
If my daughter goes beyond my lack of belief to actual belief, that is her prerogative. Asatru, at least, is completely at peace with modern science. Modern Asatruar that I know accept that the stories from the Norse Myth are stories told about the Gods and others to explain and inspire, not actual truth. No Asatruar are trying to get the story of Ymir taught in Earth Science class. They are not trying to get the tale of Heimdall and the origin of Thrall, Carl, and Jarl taught in Anthropology class. There is no reason that her belief should conflict to learning the lessons she needs to learn in school. Thus, there is no reason to belittle her belief.
Even if she brings up the subject response should be no more than, “that’s an interesting belief. Other people believe…” if even that.
That said, I’m hoping that all of the above was actually unnecessary and you can explain how Athena misinterpreted something leading to her concern and upset.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing your response soon.
The teacher either “corrected an extreme misunderstanding” or backpedaled furiously. Athena tells me he had a talk with her explaining that he certainly did not mean to belittle her beliefs and, since they were in a “fantasy” segment in their English and were talking about the Avengers movie and Thor he didn’t realize that it was an actual religion in question.
So I didn’t have to go all “papa bear” on him.
Now, as it happened, as Athena has gotten older, she is no longer a believer, following more my “Asatru leaning Agnostic” path and that’s fine.
The point I make here is that once again it is not the school’s job to undermine or override the religious beliefs of children and their parents. Even in cases where the religion directly contradicts the class (the classic example is Young Earth Creationism in biology or Earth science class) there are ways to handle that without belittling the child: “Yes, a lot of people believe that. Scientists, however have come to different conclusions based on their studies and that’s the subject of this class. There’s always the possibility that further study will lead to different conclusions, but this is their best understanding now.”
The legitimate purpose of public schools, if any*, is to teach our children skills. It is not a legitimate purpose to indoctrinate them into particular belief contrary to that of the children’s parents.
*An argument can be made that by their very nature public schools funded by tax dollars are illegitimate. Another argument can be made that at least at the state and local level, education is a valid use of tax dollars. I can see validity from both points of view and it is not my intent to get into that discussion here. We have them and are likely to continue to have them for the foreseeable future. I start from that premise.