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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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!  

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"
Scratch that because truely I feel that children should not be lied too. I hate that people are feeding the younglings lies about god this day and age, but then again the adults do not know any better neither

personally I dont believe in lying to children but also, you are a teacher and I know parents can be crazy. But I feel your pain in this respect.

Tell the truth - or, if it's all you can manage, "take the 5th" - which is what the counselors at my psychiatrid day treatment center do. Yes, a crazy person is dispensing advice. "I'm not allowed to discuss my personal beliefs" is their rote answer "I'm not allowed to discuss my personal beliefs because my salary is partly paid with tax dollars; discussing my personal beliefs would be a violation of the Constitution." ... You will not be surprised to learn that belief is very strong among the mentally ill; after all, the mentally ill are mostly indigent, and religious belief is always strong among the poverty stricken. Belief, alcoholism, drug addiction - do you see an escapist trend? Interesting - 90% or better (me included) smoke, and this extends to the professionals who treat us, the counselors, the nurses, the therapists, even the psychiatrists ... Anyway, I'm the only openly gay and atheistic person at the center. Because X* Psychiatric Day Treatment Center is a madhouse that keeps banker's hours, I'm very popular - it's true! I get Valentine cards, and I've been elected "Client of the Month" 3 times, and even the psychotics rouse themselves from their stupors to say "Hello, Mark" when they see me. "I know you don't believe in God, but I pray for you, anyway" - I hear that all the time ... Well, before I get into my X anecdotes, I'll get back to you. I don't know where you teach. I don't know what the ramifications of coming out as an atheist would be for you as a professional. You have to protect yourself - from the parents of your students. When it comes to Santa, I myself merely smile and nod at the child and hope that the conversation goes no further. I take comfort in the fact that finding out that there was not Santa was the first step on my own journey to atheism. "A magical being who lives in an exotic place and who keeps track of who is naughty and who is nice" - I've heard this crap before!

*We are required to sign an anonymity agreement when we enter the center. I am not Mark Romano at X but Mark Ro.


What if you say something like ... "I believe a lot of people do, what does your Mom and Dad believe?  Why do you feel they believe that?  What do you believe?".  Just ask questions. 

I would not have lied to this girl.  I would keep it 'age appropriate' & 'confessed' that although most Americans DID believe in god, I personally didn't.  Then waited for her comment or next question.  Piece of cake.


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