Monday, January 21, 2008

Debate topic - Moment of Silence

I've been reading the news stories about Dawn Sherman. She is a fourteen year old girl opposing a "moment of silence" at school.

My position is undecided.
On one hand, I think it is an attempt to get school prayer into the school day.
On the other hand, I wonder if our right to freedom from (and of) religion makes this unconstitutional. Maybe someone who's studied this issue more can enlighten us?
Religious children do have a right to pray in school: do they not? I've seen kids in my children's' classes take advantage of this freedom to the point of interrupting the flow of the day because they need to pray to Jesus to ask that their mom put a Chocodile in their lunch box. So, having thirty seconds of silence or an allotted time to pray/wish/think/whatever might help. BUT, I do see how that seems wrong as well. Why should my kid give up 2.5 minutes a week (x40 weeks per school year is one hundred minutes a year). Wouldn't the ENTIRE CLASS be better served by having that time available for an extra math lesson or art project? I get really annoyed by all of the interruptions that pepper the school day as it is. Ninety seconds here...thirty seconds there...twenty minutes here... these little interruptions are adding up. When I was a kid, I don't recall there being so many "things" cutting into the day. We didn't have computer time taking ninety minutes a week. There was no federal mandate for forty minutes of non-core instruction time for (as in my kids' schooll) dedicated ELL (English Language Learner) education. There weren't colossal book fairs and fund raisers that required assemblies. It didn't take twenty minutes every morning to get everyone to sit down and shut up. Reading was reading and you didn't have to stop to go take an AR test (another thirty minutes a week). I just feel like we should be eliminating interruptions, not creating them. If a kid wants to pray, why can't they just do it? Why do they need the fuss of "dedicated time"? To me, it reeks of a certain population wanting ATTENTION for praying. "Look! We're so holy that we're taking time out of our day to pray in public." Whoop-dee-freakin-do. Knock yourself out. I don't need to know you're doing it. And, if you follow the Bible, you're commanded to keep that stuff on the low-down anyhow. Don't we have bigger issues to address in American education? Like, oh...I dunno'...science curriculum's and programs that create critical thinkers? I still say that if you want prayer in school, then you have the option to home school. But... like I said, I require more education on the matter.
Shall we take a minute, before we start educating each other, to thank our respective authorities?

38 comments:

John said...

I believe moments of silence are constitutional. To me the key is that when observing a moment of silence nobody is telling the kids what to think. There is no indoctrination.

Xzanron said...

When I was at school (in the UK) I had to attend chapel every morning for 15 minutes (well, every other morning, as the chapel wasn't big enough for the entire school).

I liked a lot of the songs, but the mere fact that I was forced to attend, and that all I heard from speakers and reading was so much nonsense did much to confirm my atheism.

I'd give my children the chance to opt out. It's their choice.

At my school most of the kids would have preferred spending an extra 15 minutes in bed or talking to friends than going to chapel.

fdqpink said...

As another Uk student I remember back in 65 when I started school we had prayers in the morning pre school meeting (called assembly)if xzanron had a chapel he was either at a catholic school or a posh school.
In my last couple of years assemblies were only once a week and prayer didn't happen. On occasion maybe a "moral" tale but no god and jesus. I think over the years it just fell by the wayside.

you seem to be a hell of a lot better
braise de lard
thank the baby cheeses and the wholey goat
Farmin

maxi said...

I don't see what is wrong with a couple of minutes to sit and think before classes start. But I do think that calling it the 'Prayer Act' is far too suggestive. Silent reflection would be far better.

I went to school in the UK at a large comprehensive that was very strictly secular. We often had a few minutes of silence but were never encouraged to pray.

I feel that is a big difference.

Mephitis said...

I don't really understand why prayer-time or meditation or whatever is thought to be necessary at school. Surely there's time at home for that kind of thing, or if the child wants to do it during the schoolday, they could use some of their break-time.

When I was at school (UK), we had assembly once or twice a week, which tended to have Christian elements. Non-Christians were given the opportunity to opt-out but that was alienating for those of no or different faith and also meant they were no party to the non-Christian parts of the assembly such as notices etc.

I think assembly serves a purpose in letting everyone know about events, praising good behaviour/discussing poor, building a community feel - but I don't see the need for it to be religious in nature at all.

Carlie said...

I think they should call it "Morning Meditation". Alliterative, easy to remember, and inclusive. I think it might do some of them a world of good to sit quietly for a minute to get ready for the day, especially if they were taught some breathing exercises to do for it. If any of them want to pray, fine, but defuse the importance of that by emphasizing that it's a mental calming time.

Mephitis said...

noT party to

erin said...

We have a moment of silence every morning, directly after the Pledge. It's state mandated, so it's done as entire school. It really bothered me at first, but it's only a 30 second period, during which the kids are (oddly enough) asked to stay standing. Mostly, I see a lot of shuffling feet and no one seeming to pray, but it still does bother me that we HAVE to do it. Granted, if I had a kid say he/she didn't feel comfortable, I'd let them opt out of it along with the Pledge, but I feel like it's more a discipline issue than anything else. My kids are good about it now, but for the first few weeks of school, we rarely had silence because I was constantly saying, "Don't whisper, don't walk around, KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF."

1steelcobra said...

I see no problem with just a generic moment of silence when something terribly auspicious occurs. It's not telling the kids to do anything specific, nor forcing beliefs on them.

But, at the same time, forcing them to do it every day just completely removes the point, to show respect for those affected by the event the moment of silence is for.

Jamie said...

Honestly, up until reading this, it never really bothered me. I'm up at the school during this moment of silence often. What I see is children doing what they would normally be doing minus the chit chat. I've never encountered a situation where anything is forced upon the children aside from keeping quite, which more than likely they'd be asked to do anyway.

It does seem to be a bit of a passive agressive attempt at allowing religion in to the schools, however, I think I'll pick my battles and for me, this one just isn't worth getting worked up over.

Tracey R. said...

I don't know...in high school, I always appreciated that daily 10 second moment of silence. It gave me an extra 10 seconds to cram for whatever quiz or test I had that day.

:)

wineymomma.wordpress.com said...

I like "moment of meditation". That's a good name for it!

I belong to a "spiritual program" that allows for a moment of silence. For me it is a time to remember how it feels to just breathe. It gives me a bit better focus.

Having anything to do with prayer in a public sponsored setting is just revolting!

Katie said...

I went to a public school in the heart of the bible belt my last two years of high school. Moment of Silence time meant prayer time to the theists. If you did anything else such as study for a test or scratch down a few more things on your homework they would blow their top and you would become one of their targets of bullying for not praying. (I really hated public schools)
I personally found the moment of silence a waste of time and yes there are much better uses for that waste 100 minutes a school year. Working as a teacher now I would like to see more science and critical thinking put into the classroom even at the elementary level where I work.

I get really annoyed by all of the interruptions that pepper the school day as it is. Ninety seconds here...thirty seconds there...twenty minutes here... these little interruptions are adding up.

Oh Pmomma if you think you are annoyed. I was annoyed them greatly as a kid and even more dealing with them as a teacher. I have students are who are physically bothered by the constant interruptions because they have certain behavioral or emotional instabilities.

Psychodiva said...

At school in the UK- and in Army schools when my dad was in the forces- I always sat out of these things- I was that lone person sitting outside the classroom or assembly because I had asked my mum to write me a not as I didn't want to listen to the christian drivel and definitely didn't want to pray. I think I would have preferred a moment of silence rather than school prayers becasue then i wouldn't have had to stand there (before i got myself excused) with my head held high definitely NOT praying - and being giggled and pointed at by the rest of the school and some of the teachers too.

The harder thing was being excused all the rituals throughout the year- mum had to write notes all the time to excuse me from atending the harvest festival, easter, christmas, etc etc- and this wasn't even a religious school lol

I ended up going through the same thing again with my own kids and ended up complaining to the head of the school and then the local authority because I didn't see why i should write multiple letters over and oevr at each term (semester) and for each bloody festival! - I also managed to get a name for myself when i started quoting the human rights act at them lol- but it worked :) i never had to write another note lol

Another interesting result was that the religious studies teacher was scared of me after I backed him against a wall during parents' evening making him answer loads of questions about his curriculum because my son was taking an early A level in the subject- he argues better than me with religious nuts now lol.

well- basically to get back to the question- I think its a good idea to have a moment of silence but I think it should be at the end of the day in order to relax the kids and get them ready for home, to give them a little space at the end of the day to take everything in and sort it all in their brains. I believe relaxation should be a part of every schoolchild's life :)

Brigit said...

Carlie, I really like the sound and concept of " Morning Meditation". If kids were taught general relaxation techniques, like rhythmic breathing, it could help some focus before class.
I have an anxiety disorder and I wish I was taught how to do that in grade school instead of grad school. It could have saved me from the pain and embarrassment of not being able to control my emotions properly in public.

Chris said...

katie said:
I went to a public school in the heart of the bible belt my last two years of high school. Moment of Silence time meant prayer time to the theists. If you did anything else such as study for a test or scratch down a few more things on your homework they would blow their top and you would become one of their targets of bullying for not praying. (I really hated public schools)

Bingo. I've been hearing about this moment of silence thing for a little bit now, and this is exactly what I think it'll lead to. Even if it doesn't always, it has the potential to, and that's still not right. To me, it's:

a) A sneaky way for the school to give students prayer time, which I do believe to be unconstitutional. It took a team of linguists hours to decipher this, but "Student Prayer Act" seems to hint that there was religious motivation behind it.
b) A way to alienate non-theists, or even non-christian.

If this is being done in a primarily christian region, a lot of the kids are going to be praying to jebus. I was a kid not too long ago, as well as a christian fundamentalist, so I know that they can be big on the whole peer-pressure thing, especially when it comes to religious rituals. If most are praying and some are not, those praying won't leave those not praying alone for long.

Plus, think of it this way...they'll be all fine and dandy letting kids pray to jebus, but what's the schools reaction going to be the first time somebody wants to pray to allah?

Jim said...

I went to a Catholic high school so prayer was everywhere at all times, but I think the one observation that's missing from this is...do you remember being a kid in morning?

Nothing seeped my sleep-addled brain until well after homeroom was over. I spat out the Pledge of Allegiance, as required, like a zombie and at some point in the midst of the first class of the day finally achieved some semblance of consciousness. But then I've never been a morning person, so maybe it's just me?

That said, take a look at how the US is doing education-wise and tell me if we *really* need anything other than more math and more science in our schools. When I find a high-school kid working in a fast-food restaurant who can understand that when I give him an extra nickel after the ten I already handed him to pay for the $5.05 meal, I did so because I want a five dollar bill back rather than a bunch of singles...then...then...you can get a few minutes of "meditation" or "prayer" time. Until then, start hitting the books.

Watching said...

New reader ...

Tara said...

Personally, I found the "moment of silence" to be an irritation. As a student, I was READY to start the day and here was the staff FORCING me to stop what I was doing and wait for everyone else to do what they should have done at home: pray.

As a mother I would drop off my young song then haul-ass to try to get out of the school before the dreaded moment of prayer: if I got caught, I was (socially) forced to stop and wait several minutes (for the moment of prayer, the pledge, etc.). As I had a JOB I had to get to I really didn't appreciate it. If I didn't stop moving, I was given dirty looks for being "unpatriotic" and a sinner...

Personally, parents should give their kids time to pray quietly at home if that's what they need to do. It's not for the school to provide the time for the students. Because, let's face reality here: this time is being aside not for a moment of "silence" - it's time for Christians to pray and that's all it was intended for.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

I think what bothers me is that it feels like someone sticking their foot in a door that is normally closed. What happens to the Muslim kid in a class of twenty-two Christians? What about the secular child in the room? Why should they have to have time taken out of their day to spend on a 'moment of silence' or prayer? What benefit does it give to that child? What happens when the kid starts getting teased? Isn't school difficult enough without giving a clique of students one more reason to exclude someone?

I still say that the goal of school is to educate - not cater to religion.

So, let's say this moment of silent makes it into our schools. Isn't that precedent for other religious activities on campus? "Well...we already have a prayer time before school: why can't we hold a before meal prayer gathering, or moment of silence, at lunch?"
I don't care if people want to pray where ever the urge strikes them. What I don't care for is the sanctioning of prayer by a supposed-to-be secular, government organization (which most schools are).

"I've got a bad feeling about this." - Han Solo

fsmismyhero said...

I went to a private christian school *shudder* and every morning we had to recite the same prayer. It was three pages long!

I don't think even a moment of silence is necessary in school. If the parents want their child to pray to start off their day they can make time at home before school. The moment of silence is supposed to be used when a death or a great tragedy has occurred. It is a moment of reflection and respect for the person or people we are honoring. If you have a generic moment of silence everyday, then the act becomes meaningless.

amarullis said...

I don't see anything wrong with a moment of silence, unless the kids are told what to think about by someone other than their parents. You could ask your kids to think about something specific (such as a good deed they could do) &/ or ask them what they thought about each afternoon to better bond with them.

VictorLaszlo said...

Hush.....its just a moment of silence.

Nice and Blue said...

I totally agree with many of your points, especially about eliminating interruptions in school days, and that moments of silence can call attention to those who do choose to pray.

However, I would say personally that I don't feel that it causes any real bit of harm, and I actually enjoy a minute out of the beginning of my day to stop and consider what I'm going to do that day, what I'm going to devote myself to, and why I am really in a in a school, learning.

Overall, I find no fault in moments of silence great enough to cause their removal.

Nomoxian said...

if your kids feel comfortable with the probable backlash, why not have them read? they would still be "silent" and they would get over an hour of extra reading in over the course of a year.

thankfully i grew up in a very multicultural area in a "back to basics" school. they were too buzy teaching abc's and 123's to worry about pandering to zealots demanding prayer in a public space... where's the constitution when you need it?!

fdqpink said...

I have been watching the post's and as I said earlier the christian emphasis for me anyway seemed to be slowly phased out. But what I am seeing here makes me wonder is there a little bit of an overreaction.
A couple of minutes of silence for most kids will have no effect.Some sadly will use this time to pray But if one or two can use this time to go through the day and get their shit together then sureley its worth it.There seems to be this worldwide fetish to not offend anyone, which is leading to more and more ridiculous laws that are slowly eroding our freedom.
As some christians see the "homosexual agenda" and satan around every corner are we not in danger of seeing the demon christ hiding behind every door?

Atheist in a mini van. said...

I'll openly admit to having a bit of an over-reaction. That's why I said I'm undecided. I think what troubles me about your suggestion that some kids could use that time to get themselves 'in the zone' for the day is that a lot of kids do that without an official pronouncement for a moment of silence. And, honestly, if one of my kids teachers said, "You know what class? Before we start each day, I'm going to dim the lights for two minutes and play some sort music so that we can transition into a place where we're ready to learn wonderful things." (Ok. Less cheesy, but you get my drift, right?)...I would have absolutely no problem with that. I think that would be a fantastic idea. You let the kids gear down from running around trying to get to school and socializing on the playground. You signal a change in the environment to help the kids relax and be open to learning. Where I cringe is with the fact that the Christian right wants this to be not "down time" or "Transition". They want this to be prayer time. Now, if a child wanted to take that two minutes of transition and slip in a little prayer, then more power to him/her. It might be the affirmation they need to get them ready to learn. But...if you label it prayer time, or it's understood to be prayer time, then what do you do when a child doesn't finish before times up? Are you going to have law suits from parents claiming their child's right to pray was violated? And, as well all know, for some - prayer is an emotional thing...you're thinking about your "sins" or that sick grandma you want to get better or a fight you had with your mom before you left school... is it healthy to carve out two minutes wherein they're asking God's forgiveness before a math test? I don't know the answer. And, for me, it's that they want this formally. They want to make this iron clad rule that you WILL have this moment or two. Like I said, if teachers just wanted to do it as a transition and there was no harm, no foul if, one day, she forgot or had other things that needed immediate attention, then it's cool with me. Putting in some school handbook....eh, I'm not sure that's appropriate.

Poodles said...

I dunno, I think if you are going to do religious crap in schools then you should just go for it. Morning prayer time, afternoon stoning time (because you know many of those kids are going to be insolent at some time during the day). :D

Lost in a Book said...

I volunteer at my daughter's elementary school a couple times a week. I know just how busy their day is and the teacher frequently complains about lack of time to do anything.

Their day begins with 15 of fluff - the principal yapping, then 5th graders reading some 'report' (a recap of anything the school is doing, reading the lunch menu, that kind of stuff), then the pledge, then SINGING (America the Beautiful), then silence. The pledge, singing, and silence are all done standing - there really isn't an option to do anything else. And for my child - she would never do anything else because she is so shy and scared to death to do something against the 'norm'.

I'd love to see that whole 15 min reduced significantly.

So really, even the idea of turning the lights down and playing music would annoy me (though I can see its benefits - showing a transition).

ShadesOfGrey said...

Ohhh, a Moment of Silence...I thought it was a Moment of Science (http://amos.indiana.edu/). Just kidding; trying to be punny. ;)

Perpetual Beginner said...

I'm occassionally given to wonder if my school would have changed their minds about their moment of silence if they had known what I was praying. Being that for four years, it was a fervent prayer of "Please, God. Let me die before recess." Somehow I don't think missing it would have dampered my day any.

Hannah King said...

It was probably my Mom's influence, but as soon as I left primary school and started secondary school (at the age of 11) I opted out of anything and everything even remotely religious.

By the time I was thirteen, my best friend (a Baptist) and I had taught ourselves basic sign language and we used to spend most of the obligatory weekly assembly, discussing with each other how long it would take our Deputy Head to bring the subject round to God.

(I think his quickest was five minutes, his longest fifteen - but he always did it, unfailingly, every single week.)

Mostly, this just makes me think the whole thing is pointless. Children who aren't interested will stay uninterested - as proven even by my Baptist friend.

The assemblies even had an obligatory 'prayer' moment, and while my friend participated, I was one of a very small minority who would sit there, looking around at the strangeness going on around us, occasionaly catching each other's eye and shrugging.

I'm pretty sure the school got fed up with me by the time I turned sixteen, having spent the whole time there asking annoying questions and refusing to participate in any religious activity whatsoever (going so far as to refuse to visit a temple, because I didn't want to cover my head, just because some blokes with silly clothes on told me to.. I was quite the teenager c.c)

Anyway - to get to the point. I'm against these silly silences and things, mostly on the grounds that really, they are just a way to further indoctrinate the kids.

H

Joe said...

Its just a way to shoehorn prayer into the public schools. If morning prayer was THAT important, the churches could open up early every day and the kids could stop on the way to school and jiggle the beads. And, we know how likely that is.

Mark said...

Why didn't we have cool stuff like this when I was a kid? I would have thanked the principal/dean for the free time which I happily used to silently recite Black Sabbath lyrics in reverse to myself.

Matt D. said...

I'm not one to object to every little thing...but here's my quick take:

We used to have mandatory, school-led prayer. That was challenged and removed as a violation of the First Amendment. But, voluntary private prayer has always been allowed. (How could you prevent it?)

This act suggests that we begin the school day with a mandatory moment of silence. Why? Is there a rational justification for this? Do we have evidence, even anecdotal, that this actually benefits the learning process? Why a moment of silence? Is it being used to meet the scholastic needs of the students or the spiritual needs (whatever that means)?

It seems to me that this is a way for schools to sanction prayer, without saying they're doing it. Why should schools, as an official action, set aside time in the school day to allow kids to pray, when they're already free to pray on their own? Because it gives it the scent of legitimacy.

Let's let schools worry about education - because that's where we're failing.

AlisonM said...

The fact that this is being pushed exclusively by people with a religious agenda makes it a religious issue, IMHO. A moment of silence, as 1steelcobra pointed out, is used for a purpose - to share an emotion as a communal group, to reflect on a tragedy or triumph - and without purpose, it has no reason to exist. Someone who is compelled to observe a moment of silence might well want to put it to use somehow (if he or she doesn't feel like protesting it) and the people pushing this hope that it will occur to students that prayer might be that use. Add to this the fact that many non-christians have traditions of spoken or sung prayer, prayer at specific times, or prayer accompanied by rituals, and you can see how a moment of silence promotes one particular brand of prayer - which crosses the boundary between church and state.

Yes, this is religion trying to wedge itself back into the public school through a back door, and should be protested. It needs to be nipped in the bud.

Milo Johnson said...

cent and a half: "praying" is something that can be done by any person at any time and any place, without anybody else even suspecting that there is praying going on. The only reason for an official moment of silence is to plant the seed that SOME people are doing so and that everybody SHOULD think about joining in. There is absolutely nothing that anyone can accomplish to "prepare for the day" by standing in an official, unison "moment of silence." Anyone who says there is are fools or liars, and religionists are the biggest liars in the world. This is a typical example of the pathetic and underhanded tactics they employ to achieve official, public recognition of their lunacy. If their gods were real, they wouldn't have to use this kind of repulsive bait and switch.

American Goy said...

In a perfect world it would be a perfect solution satisfying both religious folks and atheists.

In our country, it is a backdoor way for a xtian prayer to sneak into a public school.

Because I see kids pretty blatantly praying during this "silence".