I'm a 6th grade Social Studies teacher. The topic of religion as a part of culture comes up all the time. Today during a discussion of Greek myths, a student (a 12 year-old girl with a sweet smile) asked me if I believed in god. I paused and said, "Well, sure."
I felt that I was having a discussion with a child about Santa or the Easter Bunny. I didn't want to be the one to tell the child that all the adults in her life have been lying to her.
This has been bothering me all day. When this comes up again - I'm sure it will - should I lie as I did today, or should I tell the truth?
Hi Benny, I wish I had a dollar for every 'dumb' book that has been published. I could fill a library with the money derived - of 'good'[ books
I teach in elementary schools, and I have not lied to my students on this topic. Were it in other classes I would answer that the question is off topic. But since you're discussing religion, I think being honest is fine. The whole 'religion is a personal thing' I have always disapproved of. Ones value system make up who we are as humans, IMO religious status is no more private than the clothing or hairdo one chooses.
Tell the truth, I think it's important for kids to experience different opinions while they are young so they keep an open mind in the future, keep Santa a secret though I love that guy.
Lying to children is what got us into this mess in the first place. Are you kidding?
You should most certainly tell the truth, with the obvious explanation that it is an opinion that some disagree with. Children look up to you as not just an educator but as one to "trust" how does their willingness to trust you fit into your deception? I understand why you chose to respond as you did and I also understand the ramifications of telling the truth, that does not mean it is the wrong thing to do.
I understand your predicament.I worked as a therapist for years often with people who were suicidal and had "lost their "faith".When I've been asked I've always told the truth about my beliefs and it has NEVER interfered with my sessions.In fact (and i know its anecdotal) its always reinforced trust which is the imperative issue.
I don't think children are any different from regressed patients in therapy.Honesty and integrity will always prevail
Turning the question around would be a good option. Asking the child if they believed in a god. Followed up with asking why they believed or didn't. The point being you avoid assignment of the atheist tag onto yourself and you force the child to think for themselves. Logic, reasoning, and critical thinking should be administered to our youth as soon as possible.
I can actually answer from the viewpoint of the student! It hasn't really been that long since I was twelve.
I remember having a serious discussion about religion with a teacher when I was ten or eleven or so, but with a complete reversal of your situation. I was the atheist and she was the Christian, and she sat me down and explained to me why she and everyone else in the room was and why I wasn't. The important bit to this anecdote is that I accepted that. Granted, it might have been easier for me because everyone in my community believes in a god and therefore I'm used to not having the same beliefs as my teachers, but children are in fact cabable of empathy, especially towards teachers that they respect as authority figures and as people.
If you're afraid of some sort of clash or backlash, I don't know what you can do about it, but from what I've learned as a student, no kid wants to be lied to by a trusted adult. Especially at such an impressionable age, it might be better to open up a kid's world than to go with the flow.
I can totally see the unintentional harm in being honest. But you don't have to be dishonest in fear of the repercussions of actual honesty. It shouldn't hurt to admit that you're not a christian. However, if she asks what you believe, being a teacher I think the perfect answer would be something along the lines of "I believe in learning about everything." You really cannot go wrong with that.
But as someone mentioned before, that child respects you as an authority figurehead in her life. Do not be dishonest with her, as you would not want her to be dishonest with you.
Obviously everyone has their own viewpoint and answer. That sort of points to an answer of: customize it to each situation.
As someone who has endeavored to be honest while avoiding verbal and/or physical attacks, I try to use the truth while tailoring it to (my perception of) the person's intelligence, viewpoints, and goal.
If you are unsure of the reason for the question and suspect the questioner is religious you could say (if you really did believe at some point in the past) "I believed in god. We should stay on topic though." Note the past tense. The statement is true (if you used to believe) but leaves off your current stance and curtails further questions at that time.
If you know the person is religious and wants to create problems for atheists then it is quite correct to lie to them - you are defending yourself from a veiled attack. If the "sweet" smile is not standard for this student she could have been baiting you. (Yes, I realize this is unlikely - but only unlikely, not impossible.)
If the student is asking this in private and seems troubled, you need to estimate what their goal might be and, if it seems like they might be trying to come to terms with being agnostic or atheist, it might be best to be totally truthful to reassure them that they are not alone.