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?
No shit about the worms. A student once asked me what church I went to. I answered, "It depends on where the wedding or funeral is going to be." I thought it was funny. The knuckle-walking parents didn't. I've been labeled an atheist ever since. For three years running, our graduation speaker was one of the local preachers who preached a down-and-dirty christian sermon complete with shouts of "Amen!" from the sheep. Dismissal is a little difficult but they can always find "grounds" if they look hard enough. My saving grace is a)that I'm a very good football coach and b)the system was recently burned by a teacher dismissed for bogus grounds because of unpopular beliefs. My son is a very good lawyer and they know that.
As I read your post I was reminded of the Victor Hugo quote – “There is in every village a torch - the teacher; and an extinguisher- the clergyman”. Although it is not my area of expertise I have observed that when children ask me what I believe or think about a subject, they are more concerned about starting a conversation than getting a direct answer.
If they were to ask me “Do I believe in God” I would ask them what they mean by that. What are their concepts about god? What do they think and why? Explain the difference between the religions and the history of the gods no longer praised. The point is to make them think for themselves. If pushed about your views just say as a teacher you have to stay neutral but that your students’ views are more important in the classroom. Answer the question with a question – “So what do you think?”
Why can't you just say you are an atheist? It will not harm the children and parents have no reason to get angry. There is freedom of religion and opinion, and whatever the outcome there is absolutely nothing noone can do. I think you acted cowardly.
(Also, it's undoubtedly the most ethically correct thing to do.)
Not everyone likes to talk about their (lack of) religious beliefs. It's no one else's business. I can see plenty of reasons for not opening that can of worms in a school setting.
But I do agree that deflecting the question by providing the status-quo answer isn't the ideal way to handle it. Not sure if I'd call it "cowardly" though.
She was asked a question and should provide an accurate answer. At least that's how I think adults should behave towards children, especially teachers.
And seriously, these are 12 year olds. Up until around 40 years ago it was quite common to get married at 15-16. By 12 they are not really children any longer, they are fast becoming teenagers. Time to stop cuddling them and sparing their emotions from reality.
It's not a matter of cuddling the kids too much. The OP wasn't comfortable discussing it in her place of work, which, presumably, was a government-funded school. I certainly don't blame her for not wanting to go down that road.
But like I mentioned in my first post, I think it's important to at least explain WHY you don't want to talk about it.
It was a yes/no question, not a discussion. And yes, it is about cuddling children, since this is lying to avoid potential difficult questions or situation. What else is ok to lie about?
It isn't that cut and dry. There are occasionally real world repercussions for "outing" yourself. I'm sure a good number of people in this community can relate to that. The OP may not feel comfortable dealing with the exposure and hostility that can result from a simple yes/no question.
Ideologically I agree with you, when people ask me what I believe or whether I believe I answer them simply and honestly. I would even do it if I were in the OP's situation. I think it's important to be honest, I think it's important to be direct, and I think that kids can benefit from that, and that parents could come to respect it.
That doesn't mean the OP is willing to suffer through the backlash, and that is a personal choice.
As for what 12 year old's are prepared for... This type of question is a suitable one for children in early adolescence, my very basic education in psychology tells me that the ability for abstract thinking really takes off about that age. That being said, this is not a simple question, and this classroom is not the appropriate forum for it.
Again, it was not a discussion, which I agree might (at least in the "secular" United States) be out of place, but a simple yes/no question to which the OP blatantly lied to avoid potential conflict. There is no law against the non-belief in a deity, even as a teacher in school, and any complaint would be dead in the water. Much ado about nothing would be the most likely outcome. It's clearly on the wrong side of ethics and done solely for the purpose of not pointing out the emperor has no clothes. If kids can't get a straight answer from their teacher, then who should they talk to?
(As a side note, coming from a country with a state religion, state church, and Christianity classes starting in primary school (at least way back when) a teacher answering honestly to such a question might have raised a few complaints which would have gone largely ignored by the admin. Freedom of religion and all that.)
Actually, as a teacher, I have witnessed the manner in which districts terminate teachers for such things. While they cannot overtly fire you for your religious beliefs, they can find other ways to go about the process. It really depends on your district and the influence of the community on the school board. That being said, just informing kids of your belief or lack thereof could be twisted into you trying to influence them to agree with your views. Some students may even use the information against you later on to say that you are scoring them lower on assignments because they do not share your beliefs/non-beliefs. It's the same with political affiliation.
Like Kevin said, this is NOT about "cuddling" the kids. (Do you mean coddling?) It's about getting into a conversation that might make its way back to parents and other teachers who may feel the need to get this teacher in trouble for talking about these subjects with the children. It happens all the time, and teachers lose their jobs. Teachers even lose their jobs just for being atheist in some places.
Yes, coddling, thanks. :)
Firstly, 12 year olds aren't really kids, they are generally either adolescents or about to become so. Secondly, it was not about talking to them about it, just answering honestly to a question. Teachers are supposed to form young minds. Lying to avoid controversy is not a very good lesson to teach. Lastly, I can hardly see losing one's job due to religious affiliation being legal in any but the most particular circumstances (i.e. religiously affiliated institution). It's clearly illegal.