I'm doing some informal research for a presentation I am giving at a conference for soon-to-be teachers this Friday. My presentation is on creating respect for religious diversity in the classroom. If any of you have personal stories about:I remembered an experience and then another (and another and another--I'm feeling a little e-chatty, as you can maybe tell) and sent him the following:
a) A time during your school years in which a teacher/school official was not respectful of your religious beliefs, or said or did something that made you feel marginalized for your religion,
b) A time during your school years in which a teacher WAS respectful of your religious beliefs, and how that impacted you,
Would you be willing to share them with me, so I can use them as examples in my presentation? I won't use your name, or any identifying details, just the story. Also, this isn't meant as an opportunity to complain about persecution; rather, I'm hoping to use these experiences to help create awareness among my fellow prospective teachers of the issues that might arise in the classroom for their students who are religiously devout.
In 11th grade American history class, my large, loud, and frank-faced sort of teacher began his lesson about the Mormons by saying these words: "Now, Joseph Smith was a crazy man. I mean--a crazy man. He thought he saw angels, got these gold plates, starting testifying. He was a crazy man." I, of course, am sitting there, 17 years old, wondering how on earth he could have taught me and two or three of my older siblings and not known that I was Mormon. Also, I was sitting there wondering what on earth I would say in this moment. I felt like I should say something--something--but I also felt like I was pressed up against a wall. I mostly wanted to cry. I finally raised my hand and said something like, "Mr. K? I want you to know that I'm a Mormon and Joseph Smith is important to me, and I believe he is a prophet, so please don't speak about him that way." I was, of course, beginning to cry from the sheer intensity and awfulness and something of the moment. My teacher stared at me from his lean against the front chalkboard and sort of sputtered. "Oh, yeah, no. I didn't say he WAS crazy. I said other people thought he was crazy. Didn't I? Didn't I say that?" He turned to one of my classmates for confirmation; she shook her head, no. He vaguely apologized, I remember, but that's all I remember. I zoned out for the rest of class, staring at my desk and wondering why that moment had been so awful. I was glad I'd taken a stand and was feeling embarrassed it had made me cry, but I was feeling sad that I'd had to take a stand at all. In a safe place like history class, no less.You? Team, you? What have been some of these moments--good and bad--for you?
Also, a related but more subtle moment. I was in driver's ed one day, in the driving car I shared with three classmates and my driver's ed instructor. We were talking about physical intimacy, unusually and for one moment, and I was trying to say something strong and clear but cool about my thoughts about physical intimacy, my decision to be abstinent before marriage and to stay well within romantic boundaries before then. And my teacher turned around, looked at me with wry, self-satisfied sort of irony, and said, "Sarah, are you saying that you're a prude?" He wasn't joking, kind of. And I felt stupid. And I wondered why I wasn't getting support for this (a) hugely important and (b) (I thought) hugely valuable decision of mine (growing, among other things, out of my religious convictions) from a teacher.
And a third, totally third-hand story. I've heard of teachers who, for fear of the law or social repercussions, wouldn't let students list their own religious rites as some of the most important moments of their lives on those "get to know me" posters that kids sometimes make. They weren't allowed, absurdly, to put up pictures of them in baptismal dresses or christening dresses or confirmation clothes or bar mitzvah attire to hang on their posters on the wall. This is ridiculous.
Also--one more (a good one): my brother's great friend from high school was Sikh, and he received his turban (apparently, a very important ceremony in the life of a Sikh man) during his senior year of high school. They let him wear his turban and not his graduation cap during his graduation ceremony, and we loved seeing him up there with his red turban (the color of the graduation caps, probably not coincidentally) with his '07 tassle swinging from the back of his turban. That was a triumphant religious diversity moment I thought.
P.S. It's 11:45 pm. My goal is 12:20. Let's see if I can make it happen.