In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre the national conversational focus has been on gun control, mental health care and how we got to this point.
One recurring theme picked up by many is the downward slide of society in general, the recurrent tragic headlines being but the latest indication of that slide. Many of those who feel our society is falling apart pin the blame on the removal of prayer from our schools.
I am a veteran of both Catholic and public schools. I know about prayer in schools. Don’t be fooled into thinking that there is no prayer in public schools. There’s plenty-it’s just not led by teachers.
Those who demand a return of public prayer in schools are generally Christians. I’ve never heard a Buddhist demand public prayer in schools or a Muslim or a Jew. No, it’s generally people who feel that American society is a Christian society-meaning everyone around them is just like them. And while they may give lip service to non-Christians, they don’t put themselves in a non-Christian’s shoes in the school prayer debate.
Americans come in all religious varieties from atheists to Mormons to Sikhs to Methodists to Wiccans and more. Over 20% of Americans are non-Christian.
Those calling for public prayer don’t seem to think it would be a problem for those that don’t share their faith. They think prayer can be generic and not offend anyone.
I’ve been present at a lot of supposedly "non-denominational” prayers in public settings. Most of them end with "in Jesus’ name,” which makes it a decidedly Christian prayer, despite what came before.
I’m all for prayer, by anyone and everyone, in good times and in bad. In homes, in places of worship, around the restaurant table, sitting in traffic. I just don’t think public prayer belongs in our schools.
I’m not sure if the absence of publicly led school prayer is thought to somehow be tacit approval to the mentally deranged to slaughter our children or if it’s thought that God has abandoned our society because our public school children don’t begin their day in public prayer.
I’m pretty sure that the seriously mentally impaired don’t much know or care whether public school children begin their day in prayer.
And I fervently hope that any higher power is not such a vengeful, hateful presence that she would allow the massacre of first graders because they didn’t start the day with prayer. That possibility is too sad and depressing to contemplate.
The higher power I seek to know is a loving presence-a comforting, wise and forgiving presence that does not strike anyone with lightning bolts, least of all first-graders.
So, while I’m not entirely sure why the "put God back in schools” folks are so sure of themselves, I have been wondering about the expectations we have for our schools. Now the cry is to put yet another responsibility on our schools and teachers.
Now, they should lead prayer.
Role of Schools
I come from a generation that didn’t expect their teachers to do quite so much parenting as they do now. Teachers taught academic subjects. Parents were expected to make sure that children were fed, clothed and delivered to the school with enough sleep and on time and with the motivation to learn what the teacher was teaching.
In 2013, teachers are expected to work toward advanced degrees to protect their jobs. They must master technology, often on their own time, so that they can provide the instant communication parents often demand. They must teach to all levels of ability in their classroom all the time. They are expected to understand medical conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy and cancer and how these affect their students. They are expected to learn how to restrain a student properly if they become a danger to themselves or others.
If they weren’t before, teachers are now expected to regularly practice lockdown procedures with students.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg of teacher expectations.
I am not a teacher. I have known many teachers quite well for many years. And I’ve heard the same lament from them all. The expectations that society puts on teachers have grown over the years. Coincidentally this seems to correspond to the disintegration of the family.
Harsh words for a harsh reality. What else do you call it when children arrive at school hungry, dirty and tired each morning? Homework? Not a chance.
As more children have arrived at American schools in need of the basics that families used to provide, the schools have picked up the slack assuming duties that used to be expected of parents.
Supplemental nutrition for hungry children. Basic hygiene-cleanliness, sleep and health. Safety. Stranger danger. Sex education. Character education. Again, the tip of the iceberg.
Not all children certainly. But enough to have changed the character of American education over the last couple decades.
Now they want teachers to lead prayer.
I may be alone on this, but I think spiritual education is the one child-rearing responsibility that belongs solely to parents and family.
The state should not have a role in determining a child’s spiritual education. That belongs to the parents and family.
No child should be forced to listen to or participate in a prayer directed to a power he and his family does not believe in nor acknowledge.
Let parents handle the spiritual education of their children.
Let teachers teach.