Moral development

When to Remove Your Child from an Activity at School

As the new school year begins, you may be concerned about books, topics, or activities your child might encounter in class. If you face such a concern this school how do you know if you should remove your child from something in class? Here are five questions you can ask yourself when thinking about opting your child out of a lesson at school. 

1. Is the activity truly that bad?

A very upset mother once called me concerning what her daughter was being told to read in class. The book was about Native American spiritual beliefs. The mother had already gone to the superintendent of the school district and told him to have the book removed or she would see to his dismissal.

I asked her three questions. First, in what course was the book used? Second, how old was her daughter? Third, had the mother read the book? To my astonishment, she answered that the book was used in an elective course on mythology; her daughter was a senior in high school; and, no, the mother had never read the book, but she felt the cover looked spooky. Obviously, she was overreacting. I explained how, since the daughter was certainly old enough, she could use the book as a teaching tool to discuss their family's religious faith in comparison to Native American spiritual beliefs. I pointed out that this could actually be an opportunity from God to strengthen the girl's faith, not an invitation from Satan to abandon it.

There are times when an educator may expose children to an inappropriate subject or handle a legitimate topic so poorly that you feel the need to remove your child from it. You know your child better than anyone and will need to make that decision. My advice is to get as much information as you can before making your decision.

2. How emphatically will it be taught?

You need to determine how strongly the teacher will promote a particular value. It is good to learn about the ideas and beliefs of others. However, sometimes a teacher's opinion is taught as the proper way to think when, in fact, it is in conflict with your family's beliefs. This is when action might be taken. However, your action might be to teach your child discernment rather than remove him from having to listen to the teacher.

For example, after visiting with our daughter's health teacher, Kim and I realized the teacher would be briefly talking about abortion and we had a hunch she was pro-abortion. However, from our conversation, we also felt that the teacher would not push her values on students. We talked about this with our daughter-predicting that the topic would come up and asking her to watch for it. It became somewhat of a game for her as she came home each day to report what was said in class. Rather than shield her from the topic, we prepared her to be discerning.

3. Will the lesson last a long time?

If the subject in question is addressed only briefly, it may not be a concern to you. Find out how long your child will be exposed to it.

4. Is it having a demonstrated effect on my child?

Does your child seem upset? Has he changed what he believes about a subject that you consider a core value of your family? List actual behaviors, attitudes, or beliefs you think might be linked to a particular classroom lesson, or that you fear my arise because of a lesson that will be taught.

Is it possible that your fears of what may happen due to the program are exaggerated? Certainly, young children may be affected more by something than older, more independent children. It may be helpful to share your concerns with your spouse or a friend to see if they also see a potential problem. 

5. Can I teach my child to be discerning in this situation?

Webster's dictionary defines the word discern as meaning to perceive something hidden or obscure and to perceive differences. Depending on the topic and the age of your child, you can help him be discerning rather than simply accept what is taught in class. To teach your child discernment, you will need to teach him what to look for.

In college, I took an astronomy course that met in a planetarium because part of the course involved learning to observe the constellations. The instructor would display the stars on the ceiling and point out various constellations. Only by knowing what to look for could we see a pattern of stars emerge from the night sky filled with little dots of light. Once I knew what to look for, spotting a constellation became easier. 

Being concerned about what your child might be exposed to is natural and healthy. But overreacting isn't productive for your child's development or for your relationship with your child's teacher. You may find it helpful to use the decision grid below:

5 Key Questions Not at All Very Little Somewhat Very Much
  1. Is the activity or lesson truly that bad?
  2. How emphatically is it taught?
  3. Will the lesson last a long time?
  4. Is it having an effect on my child?
  5. Can I teach my child discernment?

 

Public School Educators Go to Mosque

Mohamed Omar, former Lebanon Valley Mosque president and former teacher's aid in the Lebanon School District, speaks to Lebanon School District staff at the Lebanon Valley Mosque on Monday, June 8, 2015. Staff members of the Lebanon School District visited the mosque to learn more about Islam. Jeremy Long -- Lebanon Daily News The Lebanon School District in Pennsylvania made news this month because during a work day fifty of its staff attended a local mosque to learn about Islam, eat Middle Eastern food, and watch local Muslims pray. (As far as I could tell, none of the educators joined in the prayer.) I understand the outrage over the double standard—as in, “Being in a religious service doesn’t violate church-state boundaries if it is a religion other than Christianity; it just promotes cultural understanding.”

I realize that it is unlikely that school officials will now designate work days for school staff to spend time at worship services in a Catholic church, a Lutheran church, a Baptist church, and the other 53 Christian denominations in Pennsylvania to promote cultural understanding.

However, rather than pile with on more of the how-dare-schools-reach-out-to-Muslims theme, I suggest we give the school district some credit for at least engaging a portion (albeit a minor, minor, minor portion) of the faith community. (In the Lebanon School District, Muslims make up 1.8% of the student population, and statewide, Muslims are 0.6% of the population.)

We can look at it as the starting point for a larger and, frankly, more important conversation. We need to help school officials around the country understand that religion can be a very positive force in students’ lives. And while they might feel more comfortable and multicultural in starting with minority religious faiths, they need to see that local churches can be tremendous allies in helping produce what school officials are measured by most: academic success.

We all want our students to be successful academically and behaviorally. Research has shown that religion has a positive effect on these goals. Religion is not some arbitrary addition to academics; it is an important part of academic growth.

Studies indicate the positive influence of religion in students’ lives. For instance, Dr. Willem Jeynes of California State University, Long Beach, in his research (involving 4,458 students) on “The Effects of Religious Commitment on the Academic Achievement of Urban and Other Children” found:

“The results indicate that religiously committed urban children performed better on most academic measures than their less religious counterparts, even with controlling for socioeconomic status, race, and gender.”

The journal, Mental Health, Religion & Culture, in 2007 published a study involving over 7,500 children. The study, entitled the “Relationship Between Family Religious Behaviors and Child Well-being Among Third-grade Children,” concluded:

“…family attendance at religious [or] spiritual programs was significantly correlated with improved child health, vocabulary, reading, math, and social skills.”

The religious orientation of students is beneficial to schools in their quest for academic success and they should not merely tolerate it; they should engage it. Unfortunately, because of educators’ misunderstanding of the “separation of church and state,” they do the exact opposite. Thinking they must make their classrooms religion-free zones, they ignore and even ban from the classroom what research shows us is an important learning asset for students – their religious faith.

In Lebanon, PA, just like almost every other school district in America, the majority of religious students in public schools are Christians. Since there is a connection between a students’ religious involvement and academic success, educators need to get much better at publicly welcoming and affirming Christian students’ religious thinking in class.  

When Johnny expresses a religious perspective about a topic in class, rather than shut him up and bark the mantra “separation of church and state,” his teacher needs to realize Johnny is, to use education jargon, connecting life to learning. When Sally says that her opinion about an issue in the news is based on her religious convictions, the teacher should welcome the fact that she is linking her culture to real-world application. And when Miguel writes about his dependence on God for facing trials, the teacher should affirm his social-emotional development. 

I don’t think the educators in Lebanon, PA, were motivated by the idea of promoting Islam, but were simply motivated by a desire to create a more welcoming, understanding, and responsive learning environment for their Muslim students. Now we just need to help them, and many of their colleagues across the country, do the same for the Christian students in their schools.

 

 

Do Students Make the Connection?

Students today love to read books and watch their movie adaptations about dystopian societies -- where oppressive, dehumanizing governments create the opposite of utopia in a misguided attempt to eradicate war, misery, conflict, and pain. While books like The Giver, Divergent, and The Hunger Games are all the rage with teens these days, I wonder if they realize the similarities between the fiction they read and some disturbing aspects of American society today. Many elementary and junior high teachers assign The Giver for their students to read. Over the years, I've received calls and emails from parents concerned about this reading assignment because of its descriptions of euthanasia and sexual awakening in the main character. The book made the American Library Association's list of most challenged or banned books between 2000 and 2009.

I like the book's conservative message against the dehumanizing dangers of government. But I think the book is not well served by having students read it when they are not emotionally or intellectually ready to appreciate the theological, moral, and social issues it raises.

The Giver (book cover)The Giver recently hit movie theaters (starring Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep). Written in 1993 by Lois Lowry, the story is set in a society in which pain and suffering have been eliminated, but at the cost of eliminating choices and strong emotions. "Sameness" is a social virtue. Jonas, the main character, is a 12-year-old boy chosen to become the Receiver of Memory. This person keeps all the memories before there was Sameness. The Receiver of Memory can help the society's leaders -- the Elders -- if they need to access his memories of struggle and pain. But, in the process of receiving memories from the Giver of Memories, Jonas begins to realize a darker side to the "perfect society." He sees that suffering is eliminated by euthanizing "unfit" infants and senior citizens (euphemistically referred to as sending them to "Elsewhere"). The plot revolves around a horrified Jonas setting out to make things right.

When teachers use The Giver with students who are too young, they do a disservice to the book's powerful examination of moral issues. For example, they read about a gruesome scene of a baby being euthanized by the state. Are teachers willing to help their students make the connection that they are actually living in a society that values the killing of innocent children because it supposedly serves the greater good of personal autonomy and alleviating potential social burdens?

Through dystopian stories like The Giver young people also read and watch how freedom of conscience is subordinated to group-think. But, do they realize that they are witnessing this very thing happening in America today when it comes to the suppression of religious freedom in the name of group-think about same sex marriage? For example, wedding photographer Elaine Huguenin declined the job of photographing a same-sex wedding because she believed that using her creative talents to memorialize the ceremony would be an act of endorsement and would, therefore, violate her religious conscience. In the dystopian world advanced by the New Mexico Supreme Court, Justice Richard Bosson declared that religious people should be “compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.” He went on to write that being forced to aid a ceremony that Elaine's religion says is against God's moral law "is the price of citizenship." The Elders in The Giver would wholeheartedly agree.

In another example of dystopia today, the California State University system Chancellor, Charles Reed, recently declared that the 23 universities in the Cal State system will no longer recognize student religious clubs if they require their leaders to adhere to the club's religion. In the twisted logic of the Chancellor, discrimination against religious students is necessary in order to prevent religious students from discriminating against others even if it means religious clubs will be led by people who don't believe in that religion! So, in the dystopian world of California universities, atheists can now lead Christian clubs and Muslims can lead Jewish clubs. Apparently, the potential pain of discrimination is just too great and must be prevented by Mr. Reed. Again, the Elders in The Giver would wholeheartedly agree.

If teachers are not willing to draw parallels between the society described in The Giver and disturbing trends in American society today, then the book is reduced from being thought-provoking education to being merely titillating entertainment.

 

 

 

 

 

Confronting Pop Culture Head-On in Class

Marc D. Hauser has written an interesting and thought-provoking article on how to teach students discernment about the music they listen to. It's posted on Education Week's website.

Don't Run Away From Teaching Pop Culture

By Marc D. Hauser

Check out the music children listen to, and you will hear rap and hip-hop songs about sex, violence, women as objects, and domination. Sometimes the questionable language is explicit and sometimes it's implicit, veiled in metaphors. Ask children if the content is appropriate or what the song is about, and you will get one of four answers: "I don't know. I just like the music." "I don't know, but it's OK because it doesn't have any swears in it." "I know it has cursing in it so I listen to the 'clean' version." "I know it's about sex and violence, but I like the beat." READ MORE...

Faith of Our Fathers (Part 4)

"Only For A Moral and Religious People" 
John AdamsLate in his life John Adams wrote about his concern that America would not maintain its moral and religious foundation. He warned Americans of his day that the Constitution could not help people who could not govern their personal conduct. Samuel Adams echoed the same concern. Here is how the two men expressed it.


"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other." -- John Adams



"Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty Samuel Adamsand happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt." -- Samuel Adams



Bible verses to read:


"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law." -- Galatians 5:22


"Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." -- Romans 1:28-32


Discussion questions:


  1. Why do we have rules at school?
  2. What would happen if everyone decided not to follow the rules?
  3. Do laws make us do good things or only punish us when we break them?
  4. How does being controlled by God's Spirit make for a better American society?
  5. What is an example of how a certain law or rule would not have to be written if people exhibited the "fruit of the Spirit?"