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The School Prayer MythPosted Saturday, October 3, 2009, at 3:35 PM
There has been a myth running around the nation for quite some time that prayer is not allowed, even illegal, in public schools. Anyone that spent any amount of time (be it as a teacher, student, parent, substitute, staff, etc.)in a public school, knows this not to be completely true.
While school led prayers have been curtailed, most other types of prayer in the school have not. There is a real simple reason why schools are not allowed to lead prayers anymore, the First Amendment. Public schools are partly funded by the federal government, and since the First Amendment states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...", Christian prayers can not be led by school officials, but also schools cannot restrict religious prayers (whether its Christianity, Islam, Jewish, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc) performed by students. If a school or a teacher were to lead students in a Christian prayer they would be in violation of the Constitution by establishing one religion over others and prohibiting other students that are not Christian from practicing their religion.
You may ask, "What have the schools done about this? Schools now allow so-called "Prayer around the pole" before school time starts (it typically happens one to two times a month) and all are welcome to come stand around the pole and pray. Most schools also have a moment of silence at the beginning of the day after the pledge and if a student chooses that time to pray, they are not restricted from doing so.
How the myth actually started is a mystery, how it has endured, isn't so much of a mystery. The thing about myths is that once they are started and spread it is very difficult to diffuse that myth even with all the facts on the opposite side of the myth. More than likely the myth was started by an individual or group that was politically motivated and had no clue what actually was going on in a school from day to day.
It has been my experience that those that talk the most about what's wrong or missing in the public schools (but rarely offer any advice or suggestions about fixing the issues) are the ones who spend little (or no) time in a public school. So in reality the myth is actually propagated on a lie at the worst, a misunderstanding at the least, but in the end it is not based on truth.
How can I speak from experience? I am a teacher. I have spent three years teaching and before that three years training in (and about) the public schools. I know what the rules are on prayer. Both my parents teach in public institutions. I have, however spent most of my time in my mother's classrooms, first as an aid, then as a substitute. I have been around public education almost my entire life. There is prayer everyday at school, both by teachers and students (especially on test day). God has NOT been "outlawed" in public schools. There are actually many organizations (clubs, groups) dedicated to Christianity in public schools (and these groups do meet during school hours, not before or after).
There is also the myth of liberal indoctrination in public schools. It just doesn't happen. There may be pockets in the United States where liberal teachers are in the majority (mostly on the coasts) but GOOD teachers don't teach their values (don't even bring them up). The reality is, most public school teachers are moderate to slightly conservative. But even that stat changes when you look at individual departments within a school. At the school I taught last year I was one of only two liberals in the Social Sciences Department (usually the "hotbed" of liberalism at schools), there were three conservative teachers and the rest (six in total) were moderates.
In the end, however, when it comes to politics and religion, all teachers are "indoctrinated" (to use that ugly word) not to even mention either to students. The reasons are obvious. The most importsnt is that we, as teachers, are there to teach students whatever subject they are learning, we are not there to try to convince them that their beliefs are wrong. This does, however, happen from time to time. But it isn't nearly as rampant as certain organizations would have you believe.
Both sides of this issue have very compassionate people. My opinion on this issue as it goes for the adults is that adults can barely (or sometimes not at all) maintain basic civility and discourse when it comes to the debate over prayer in the school, then a teacher trying to preach his/her beliefs to students would be absolutely horrible
When it comes to public education, personal politics and religious beliefs are best kept private.
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