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?

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As a former teacher in a very conservative (read Republican) school district in the American South, I can tell you without any doubt that any teacher who publicly declared that he or she was atheist would have been in deep trouble.

I doubt if I would have had my contract renewed.  A reason, other than religious, would have been found to terminate my employment.  I would have been better off if I had committed adultery.

Erm, ask a question from the syllabus back, a really hard one.

Can't answer the question huh? Pay more attention in class instead of asking questions not related to the subject >./p>

And then the kid cries.

Oh just kidding. Say that last part in a funny voice & the kid probably won't cry

in these situations, i think it would be good, as nelson said before, just telling them that you are not going to discuss you personal beliefs about religion. then, only if the kids insist, you should tell them what you really think about god's question.
it is not only a matter of lying or not when you have to manage a situation like this one: if those children have very religious parents, i think that they could even find a way to sue you, for example claiming that, as a teacher, you mean to influence negatively their kids in their religious beliefs, or something like that.

I've taught high school English for 14 years and this is a sensitive area. When I student taught, I asked my cooperating teacher how I should handle this. She advised not to make broad statements in class, but if a student approached me privately, I should be honest because the kids who struggle with faith need role models too. Many of my students figure out my lack of belief based on how I approach different topics. When I've been asked point blank in class, I fall on the "you know I can't answer that question, just like I can't tell you who I vote for". This usually ends it. Although I think all religions are absurd, I do maintain a respectful attitude towards the topic in class as I try to do with most subjects. This way all students, believers and non-believers, feel comfortable. Surprising, this has led to a number of conversations over the years among students about their own beliefs and non-beliefs. We all learn and benefit from open dialogue. I just don't initiate it in class and make sure I monitor the respect level and keep it connected with the curriculum of course!

 

She advised not to make broad statements in class, but if a student approached me privately, I should be honest because the kids who struggle with faith need role models too ... When I've been asked point blank in class, I fall on the "you know I can't answer that question, just like I can't tell you who I vote for"

That seems pretty reasonable. I would have to agree with other posters, though, that there has to be a degree of realpolitik about this whole thing. My views are affected by being a lifelong resident of the South, however, and perhaps there are a few places in the US where one can be honest privately and not have some mysterious reason for termination come up sometime later.

The safest thing is probably to deflect the question. If I were in that situation, I don't think I could lie to the kid (kids hear enough bullshit from adults already) but in a country that is litigation-crazy and also asks the near-impossible from teachers while devaluing them at the same time, divulging such a potential time bomb just doesn't seem wise.

Well, the question is whether YOU believe in god not whether god exists. You could say no to the one question and defer the other.

I believe in god as a historical & cultural artifact that has influenced society in profound ways throughout history. Is he/it real? Fuck no!

The other response it to refer her to her parents. It's need your responsibility or even prerogative as a public school teacher to tell her whether god exists or not; separation of religion and state and all that.

Interesting how it's ok to talk to kids about religion when they are young but we somehow think that it is bad to tell them how 10% to 20% feel and think about the subject. Why is one better than the other?

If a child inquires about your personal beliefs, you should take the secular route and choose not to discuss such matters in school. Children at this age are frankly too immature to handle what is candid; a child needs something to believe in. The inquiry of existence is not within a child's mental capacity, and should thus remain out of the child's psyche.

Blatantly untrue.

I was in sixth grade about four years ago; I still vividly recall how I thought and how I acted. I can honestly say that I was too immature to handle the truth and that tender age.

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