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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Lying is what priests do. The child here was asking if you believed, not whether there was a God.If the child was asking about the latter, then there may be some things to consider.

I just had the same experience from a fellow volunteer following a conversation about something that lead to her saying "God Looks after us" I politely disagreed with her pointing out that God has looked over a lot of terrible things without doing a thing. She was a very sincere person and we had an adult conversation that culminated in a warm good night and understanding. This would not work with a child.

That is really tough for me because I am only one in the family who is an atheist, telling my nieces not to pray would spell trouble.

I would tell the truth but then i am in the UK. My 7 year old daughter's teacher is an atheist and has to teach religious education which has to be mostly Christian. I had spoken to her about RE as I always do. She told me that she is always very careful to say 'This is what Christians believe' and then she mentions other religions and the fact that some people do not believe in any of it.

Having seen questions on Yahoo Answers where American parents have been concerned that their child's teacher was an atheist andwere thinking about moving their child I understand your reticence. Could you not be evasive and say that your opinion is less relevant than her own? You could say that your own standpoint is best kept to yourself because children are encouraged to believe that their teachers know everything and you want to encourage them to come to their own conclusions? A get out without endangering your relationships with parents or feeling that you are contributing to the indoctrination of children?

I am a young person, i guess, and i have asked a similar question to my global teacher in 9th grade. I have noticed her fascination for culture and religion which got me to wonder what she really believed in, if anything at all. I was also fascinated by a coffee mug she had that said "coexist" on it. Where i come from, NO ONE is coexistent. Her response was that being a teacher she tends not to go into the topic of personal life and she says she would be happy to share with me what she believed in when i was no longer in her class and i got to know her better as a friend, not a teacher, which she also says is merely impossible because i will never communicate with her outside of school, and to be a friend with a teacher can be very strange at times.

Keep in mind that the way she phrased the question "do you believe" implies she is aware of the dispute. If she recognises that there are sides and that all the adults in her life might have been wrong or lying, you should have told the truth. Perhaps, more importantly, if all the adults have thus far been lying, it would be good to have one in her life willing to provide real knowledge. In my opinion you should be honest.

I would have answered that little girl with : Which one ?

I think you really dropped the ball on this one.

 

Oh, Daddy.  Shame on you!  There are lots of ways to deal with other than lying to the poor defenseless kid.  I teach 7th & 8th grade social studies in one of the most backwards places in the world.  I had taught there for less than a day when a student asked something about where humans came from.  I answered him as best I could without getting into many details (I studied physical anthropology at the Univ. of N. Carolina.)  Within the hour, I was called into the principal's office so he could ask me, with horror, if it was true that I had talked about evolution in class.  Yes.  The people in this area are total nematodes.  These days, I answer all questions of this nature by saying that that's a personal thing and that they would find my views far more complicated than they were ready to deal with (that part is a lie.)  I don't let them off the hook though if I can help it.  I have learned to dodge the most ignorant troglodytes by asking questions rather than making statements.  I get lots of expressions of Biblical "truths" in class and I seldom let one go without asking a question or two that challenge the drivel.  It's absurdly easy to do that and I just explain that I was only posing questions that encourage the students to think.  Unfortunately, thinking is the last thing these members of the Primordial Baptist Church want their kids to do, still, it's hard to argue that point with the new principal.  She's vaguely religious but she's a Catholic minority in a Baptist enclave so she understands ignorant assholes from a minority viewpoint.  (I once had a student tell me that Obama was a Muslim (they ALL hate Obama; after all, he's BLACK for god's sake!) and I offered that he had long been a member of the United Church of Christ.  He retorted, "Same thing!")  Time to quit.  I've begun nesting parentheses again!  

Well, I would answer honestly, as a teacher. Even though parents' responses can be ridiculous.

As a sixth grader growing up in a pretty uniformly religious community (I was convinced until age eight that most people in the world adhered to my religion!), I don't think it ever would have crossed my mind to ask such a question.  The very fact that this girl asked such a question, I think, indicates a certain level of awareness of religious diversity.  I feel your Santa Claus analogy would hold up better if the question had been 'which god do you believe in', or some such variant.  Her question, though, was deliberately put so that 'no' was a viable answer (and since when did a girl looking sweet become associated with naivite?  she could have a very independant mind, regardless of how sweetly she smiles).  It seems that, at some level, she knows there are people who would answer 'no', and perhaps wants to ask one of them about it. 

As for the idea that you'd be telling her that all the adults in her life have been lying to her, I think you overestimate your own importance, unless are more important in this girl's life than the average social studies teacher.  I think your saying no could perhaps precipitate a bit of (much needed) disquiet and critical thinking, but I hardly think that her whole illusion of God will be dramatically shattered by your personal belief. 

I am reticent to give you an actual yes or no, though my knee-jerk reaction would be an emphatic 'yes!'.  I don't pretend to know the possible repercussions this could have on you professionally, or how it would affect your relationship with your students, or even how important the idea of introducing your students to what you believe to be true is to you.  I defer to the others on these points, and only urge you to not underestimate the intellectual capacity of your kids. 

Just tell her next time "well I'm sure he is out there somewhere"

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