These are the kinds of incidences that make me worry about next year:
1. When I stop by to sign her out for doctor's appointments, etc...I notice that the principal's office is decorated with religious claptrap. So I certainly don't feel that she'll be open to my concerns about the following:
2. Around Thanksgiving, I picked her up from school, and she was near tears. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me that they had drawn hand turkeys (you know...where the thumb is the head and the fingers are the tail feathers). On each feather, they were told to write something that they were thankful for. My girl had written things like "mom", "dad", "the earth". Real things. Then one of her "friends" told her that if she didn't write "Jesus" on one of her feathers, then GOD WOULD EAT HER. She was so terrified that she erased "earth" and wrote "Jesus". She was quietly crying on the way home. I was livid, but tried to calmly explain that religious people sometimes get carried away. Of course, I assured her that nobody was going to eat her...least of all an imaginary god. Then we changed the turkey.
3. Her reading teacher, who apparently also taught a few "science" lessons, showed a video in class. It was supposed to be about space, the solar system...all that good stuff. My daughter is very interested in space, so she was excited. She came home telling us all about the video....and, in particular, one part about a glowing rock in space where we all go when we die. What?! At this point, I wanted to go have a talk with the teachers...but we're very worried about making our daughter a target of religious discrimination, so we decided to let it go. We thought maybe the teacher had selected that video in a hurry from YouTube, and hadn't watched it all before showing it to the class. We talked to our daughter about it again, but left it at that.
4. Then the same teacher told the entire class, a few weeks later, that when you're sick you should pray to God to make you better. Groan. Another talk.
Among her classmates, of course, she's been hearing the usual talk about Jesus. She rarely mentions it, except in passing. BUT, while cleaning out my car last weekend, I glanced through a notebook that I keep in there for her to scribble in. On one page was a Cupid heart...with "GSES" written above it. Don't know when she did it (and the spelling is flat-out hilarious)...but it would seem that the noise she's hearing at school is seeping in. Of course, she also draw pictures of unicorns and stuff...but she believes those are real, too (and since there's no harm in unicorns, or the tooth fairy, we let her. Religion is another thing altogether).
Our tactic has been to discuss it occasionally and to welcome her questions, but otherwise to treat it as a non-issue. That may not be the best way. We want to behave as though we're tolerant of others' beliefs for now, because we don't want her declaring intellectual war on her classmates and teachers...especially since she's just not equipped to fight those battles at age 7 (and her classmates are no doubt armed with Sunday school dogma). We don't want her to be a social pariah...or for her teachers to be prejudiced against her because she comes from a family of atheists.
I've seriously considered taking her out and homeschooling her...
What do you all do when this stuff happens?
Oh man. This sucks. I totally feel for you. When my daughter was in kindergarten, she had a little girl in her class tell her that she's going to burn in hell and get eaten by the devil because she doesn't believe in god. When she came home terrified, my husband and I sat her down and had a nice, thoughtful discussion about how some people are taught to believe in god out of fear, and that was all silliness and nonsense and that NOONE was going to eat her, nor would she burn in hell (as it is not real). The next morning I took our daughter to school and had a chat with the teacher who explained that she couldn't get involved in these types of discussions, and that it was just playground chatter. I then told her that if my child came home with another one of these very negative experiences, that I would bypass the teacher and go straight to the principal. When Eva got home from school that day, she said that the teacher had a talk to the class about scaring other kids (we have a mixed community of many faiths, so this kid would be offensive to the Jain families and the Jewish families and the other non-fundy families, not just us atheists) and it was the last we heard of the topic. I would reccommend speaking to the teacher directly, and if she doesn't budge, keep moving forward. Not only will they (hopefully) stop this nonsence, it will teach your daughter not to back down over her prinicples and to stand up for what is right.
Thanks, Melody. It makes me feel much better to know others have dealt with this (and survived!). Funny...my daughter's name is Ava....and her best friend is Eva!
I've decided to discuss it quite a bit this summer, to refresh her understanding of our non-belief system. We'll be hitting the science books hard, too. Proper science, without glowing rocks in the sky with dead people mucking about. Then, when school starts up again...if we encounter more of this, I will bite the bullet and talk to the teacher. I'm just SO worried that she'll be treated differently (badly) if her teachers know. Or that she'll face bullying from her classmates. For myself, I openly declare my atheism...I feel it's a duty, honestly. But I can't be there all day to help her defend what she doesn't really understand...so I almost want to hide it from her school. It's frightening.
Christianity (though with all its varied flavors) is the only religion you see here (though I know all of 2 Jews in town)...and nobody stops to think about whether a prayer at the pep rally, etc. might offend someone. In fact, they'd be even more likely to do it if they though it would offend someone. I can't count on the principal, who has crosses and biblical quotes all over her office, to back me up if the teachers persist.
If you can cultivate a type of "we are not alone" feeling, I have found that helps, too. Right now, we are the only atheists (that I know of) in our smaller town, but I will point out other free-thinkers who I know she admires (mythbusters, anyone?) and she really digs the They Might Be Giants "Science is Real" album. It has a good critical thinking vibe and some pretty cool songs, to boot. ;)
As for the principal, I am at a loss for words. Before I had the chutzpah to speak out to other parents about our atheism, I was afraid of her being ostracized, too. Granted, Eva has lost a few friends, and some parents are absolute arseholes to us at school functions, but the majority of the community doesn't seem to care one way or another what we believe (or don't believe as is the case). They are able to see with their own eyes that we are a good family, and Eva's a great kid (with an amazing moral code for a heathen!). Keep up the good works and I'm sure your Ava will see things for what they are and make decisions based on the lessons you were able to teach her.
That's a good point...surely, eventually, the teachers, etc. would recognize that our disbelief doesn't translate into moral decrepitude. ;)
My husband is a biologist (teaches evolution, of all things, at a nearby university...you should see their faces when he tells them THAT. <smirk>), and I have a graduate degree in biology, too (though it's not my day job)...so science reigns in our household. We have a group of friends from my husband's department who are also atheists...though unfortunately none of their kids go to Ava's school. One is just a couple of years younger...we need to start hanging out with them more.
We often laugh that, for our own sakes, we'd RATHER out ourselves at her school...so that maybe the ultra-religious parents would forbid their kids to associate with her...then we'd never have to put up with their drivel at sleepovers, etc. But when I think of her being snubbed by her favorite little pals (whose degree of churchiness I don't really know), it makes me cringe. But maybe I'm not giving them enough credit...sounds like your situation is quite similar to ours. Our townsfolk might surprise me. ;)
And I'm off to get that album! Thanks! :)
I did what you did, explained about why people act mean and nutso as well as tell them how we believe. I left the door open for them to believe as they wished. We did end up homeschooling but only because the kids begged me not because we didn't like the religious agenda of the vast amount of people around us.
Homeschooling is great btw!
Thanks! My girl really wants to be homeschooled, too...but I think it's because she envisions non-stop playtime. ;) Still...it's an option, and the more I fret over this school issue, the more I'm tempted.
I've told her she's free to believe what she wants...but that I want her make a decision based on logic, not intimidation or fear. She doesn't really get that, either...she likes to think she understands plenty, and never wants to admit that her friends influence her thinking. But she's only human...and little humans are so impressionable!
But if she gets sucked into attending church with a friend, etc....I don't know what we'll do. I can't support it, even if I can bring myself to allow it, if that makes sense.
My son is six and i'm sure we will get similar questions. I think we are fortunate in the fact that he goes to a school that teaches all creation myths. American Indian, Greek Gods fit under the same idea as religion.
Why not share some of these other creation myths with your child? It's great fun. But I guess the real thing that would concern me is not so much her friends but the teacher. You have every single right to stand up to her but that decision will come with consequences.
I hope you let us know what happens.
Robert, that IS so lucky....sounds like a great school. And I like your idea. I had originally planned to do just that: read stories from different mythologies to her, and include the local mythology as well, so she'd be familiar with it, but in sort of a 'stories with a moral' context...not something to be taken literally. And avoiding the scary stuff. We read a few Christian stories before she started kindergarten, and we brush up on the Christmas story each December, so she won't be utterly confused. But I've never read any of the others...the Native American stuff would be fascinating for all of us! Hopefully it will give her an anchor to perspective, when she hears religious talk among her friends.
So has your son started school? I'd be really interested in hearing his reaction to all of the stories...and his religious classmates', too.
Yes, the teacher is a huge concern...if she has no qualms about making statements like that (or showing crazy videos about heaven as a glowing rock in space), then that tells me a lot about the culture of the school itself (though no more than the principal's churchy office decorations, I guess). Then, her authority + the peer pressure from classmates. Worry, worry, worry! I'll have to tackle it if it happens again next year...but it's not going to be pretty. Sigh.
Wow! I think I would have talked the teacher immedietly. And I would voice my concerns about the religious paraphernalia on the door of the principal's office to the school board (even if I did it in an anonymous letter). My husband, daughters and I are moving to San Antonio this summer (3 more weeks actually) and I am worried about this kind of thing happening to us as well. My husband and I have already decided to take a stand against this kind of silliness. Teachers showing videos of magic lights in the sky? Praying to make sickness go away. Ugh. I feel for you. I wish I had better advice, but other than offering a shoulder to lean on, I'm at a loss. (Other than to repeat what people have already said here - speak up! Talk to the teachers go over their heads, and keep encouraging your daughter to not believe in fairy tales.)