Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Props to P2's Vice Principal

I know I've spoke with some of you, on the phone, trying to get some guidance in this matter: so, if you were one of those people, here's the resolution.

P2 has been flying through the Golden Compass books. He really likes them. Well, last week, he was reading the Golden Compass in his language arts class. It was free reading time. One boy saw the book and flipped out. He stood infront of P2 and demanded to know if he believed in god. When P2 didn't answer, he escalated things by saying, "You're totally an atheist. Do you love Satan?" At which point, another boy started asking intrusive and silly questions. To his credit, P2 kept saying, "This isn't the time or place to talk about this."

11-12 year old boys being...well, 11 and 12 year old boys, wouldn't let it go. By the end of the week, P1 was being asked about her religious beliefs. Their silence, or begging off the question, was seen as an affirmation. P2 asked his friend how everyone knew and said friend told him that the two kids from his classroom started a HUGE rumor that we were Satanists and "God Haters".

I have to give P2 credit. He dealt with it in a very mature way. He came home and told his dad and I what was going on. After I reiterated that he doesn't have to choose any philosophy just yet, and that it was no one's business, I asked him what he wanted me to do. He asked me to get in touch with his principal and see if he could go in and talk to her. I sent her an e-mail detailing what I've said above. She called this afternoon, right after school, and said she'd talked to Jake and she was very, very sorry about the issue. She called Jake in and got his side of the story and then called the boys in. They admitted what they'd done and the vice principal schooled them on the fact that the book is in the school library, which she said meant it was a "perfectly appropriate book" and wasn't a guarantee that the reader was an atheist. The boys shared that the book had been discussed in their Sunday School. She also made sure the boys understood that what they had done was a form of bullying and she wouldn't tolerate it. She told Jake this, as well, separately. She was so apologetic and wonderful. I think she handled it well. She earned a few "respect" points from me for that one.

22 comments:

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

Sounds like the other boys parents need to be, how you say, "slapped upside the head" along with the Sunday School teacher.

Panhandle Faithless said...

Props to you as well, Possum Momma! Maybe it's because I'm not a parent myself, or maybe it's because I'm from the thickest part of the Bible Belt (pun intended), but I wouldn't have thought to contact the principal.

I'm really concerned about this pseudo-censorship of children's books. If children aren't exposed to dissenting viewpoints while young, how will they deal with them effectively when they grow up? Then again, that might be too "rationalist" of me. All you have to do is have faith! *snickers*

Atheist in a mini van. said...

I really struggled with writing a note to the vp. Because, at some level, P2 is old enough to start attempting to resolve his own issues. KWIM? But, on the other hand, when it gets to the point of school wide rumor (and complete hearsay in re: satanism), then I felt like I needed to step in.

I *do* feel a bit bad for one thing, and one thing only... I didn't ask who the kids were intentionally. Well, come to find out, one of the kids was a good friend's son adn his dad was recently diagnosed with cancer. The dad teaches at the school, too. So, I *do* feel like this kid probably didn't need one more bad thing. But, we bought a board game for the family and were going to take it down anyway. I'll just send a note with it explaining that I wasn't aware it was their son. Because, frankly, if I had known, I may have let it go or contacted them directly.

I may seem like a pro at parenting, but I'm really not. I still make mistakes (this being one). But, I was trying to let P2 handle this. Bah!

Psychodiva said...

Well done to the prinicpal and P2 & P1 for handling it.

On reflection of what you said here i don't think I would have changed anything (and you did exactly what i would have done) just because one of the boy's dad has cancer- there is no excuse for this behaviour- there are 'reasons' but no excuses.

not sure i have said that right lol- anyway- I worked for years with kids in trouble with the law and the more excuses are accepted, the more they do it- when you consider all the kids with similar problems who don't behave in this way then it puts a diffetrent light on things.

Poodles said...

I agree it was very well handled, and I think this will be a good lesson for the child who's dad has cancer to learn that you can't use bad things in life as an excuse to do bad things. He needs to know his reactions still have consequences and that his dad being sick doesn't justify him being a dick.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

I think this will be a good lesson for the child who's dad has cancer to learn that you can't use bad things in life as an excuse to do bad things.
I realize I didn't give you guys enough background info on this one kid. We've known the family for YEARS. His mom and dad have taught both P1 and P2 over the years. He is usually a really sweet boy. And, though he was spreading the rumor,... from what I hear, he was being led by this other kid. I guess I'm sympathetic for him because his dad was only very recently diagnosed and this is the first time, ever, that he's been at school without his mom and/or dad being a constant presense. It's hard enough to have your dad get sick,...it's even harder if you have no place to hide from that. For most kids, school would be a stable and reassuring place to be in this circumstance. For this kid, it's a constant reminder that his dad isn't well.

Luckily, in my e-mail, even before I knew who was involved, I asked that the kids not be disciplined, but rather that they apologize to P1 and P2 and then have the principal tell them why they were acting inappropriately.

But, you're right on one thing: I didn't feel bad when I didn't know which kid it was. So, I see where you all are coming from. :)

wineymomma said...

pmomma-

I want to commend you on the way you handled the situation. I may have missed how you found out who the rumor mongers were but IF the information came from anyone but the possums, meaning the administration, then they really should not have shared that with you.

My guess on the boy who's dad is sick is that he is in need of attention.

I am amazed when people "educate" their children about things and don't follow up with the caveat that what another person reads is none of their business.

I also have a voracious reader in my house and I really am not looking forward to the day when her reading material is questioned for it's appropriateness.

Calladus said...

I grew up in a house packed with books, and the main Houston library was easily within my reach.

My parents never EVER told me to stay away from a book - Mom knew that it would cause undue interest on my part.

As for the Atheist = Satanist comment. Where do people get this? I've had grown church ladies knocking at my door who asked me about Satanism when I said the "A" word - so it's not just kids.

fdqpink/Baal's Bum said...

Extremely well handled all round.The more I hear about your Kids the more I like them.
I am not really suprised that the kids displaying their ignorance are the ones not reading as they should have been.

Poodles said...

Ok I get that you probably would have liked to talk with friends ahead of time. But I think it was best you stayed out of it as much as you did as for knowing up front who the kids were. That way nobody could accuse you of "picking on" someone's kids.

spurge said...

I noticed that the principle said

"it was a "perfectly appropriate book" and wasn't a guarantee that the reader was an atheist."

Not that it is OK to be an Atheist.

Why is that?

"As for the Atheist = Satanist comment. Where do people get this?"

From their Parents and Preachers.

Berlzebub said...

I truly admire your empathy and concern for others, P-Momma. However, I have to agree with what some others have said here. That is an excuse, not a reason, for what your friend's son did. Even if he was just following the other's lead, what he did is still wrong and he needs to be aware of that.

However, I will add that P2's handling of this was truly exceptional. Since those two boys seem to respect authority (preachers and Sunday School), then going to the principal was a much better choice than trying to handle it himself. Even if he had tried to refute what they were saying, I doubt they would have listened. In this case, going directly over their heads was probably the only thing that would stop them from doing what they were. So, kudos to P2 for handling this in a much more civilized manner than slander was treated in the schools I went to, i.e. "Meet me in the parking lot after school!"

I do have to ask if the boys are going to have to make up for what they've done in some way. Are they going to have to apologize to P2, and P1?

All that said, I also agree with Spurge. The principal told them the book was okay, but you didn't mention anything about atheism. It might have been better if she'd said, "What others believe is none of your business." Telling them that the book is "appropriate" isn't addressing the real problem.

Beauzeaux said...

I went to school in Bakersfield -- for part of 7th grade only -- and I assure you, the administrators in my day were not nearly so professional. It sounds like everything was handled reasonably well (very well on your part). Yes, I think the kids should apologize. And they should be instructed firmly in why what they did was wrong. FSM knows, I'd hate to be held responsible for every idiotic thing I said when I was their age. In fact, I'm still saying idiotic things...but at a higher level, I hope.

Joe said...

Its good to see that in the middle of Califorina's Bible Belt that you got satisfaction from the school leadership on this matter

Lev P. said...

Oh, yes, been there, done that...

About four years ago, there was a discussion in Thing no. 1's class about who celebrates which winter holiday. Keep in mind that this is Brooklyn, NY, so there are quite a few holidays...

T1 offered Humanlight, which his teacher, not surprisingly, did not know about. So T1 explained that this is a holiday that humanists celebrate at the time of winter solstice, and the teacher said something like: "What's humanist? There is no such thing".

T1 then offered to go and ask the principal, which they did.
As in your case, principal here deserved her position. She even gave the teacher a [very] brief overview of Humanism.

I have to say, I was very proud of T1 (and grateful that our school has such principal)!
The next day I followed up with a letter to the teacher that included printouts from humanlight.org site. I'm sure she prayed for my (and T1's) salvation more than once, but I never heard anything like this again.

Classmates offered the "hate God/love Satan" lines to both T1 and T2 several times.
My suggestion to them (that they used) was this: our heritage is quite complex.
My family is Jewish, my wife's - Russian Orthodox, we both were born in Ukraine and we are all now considering ourselves secular humanists (as one can guess, bigotry is nothing new for us).

So no, we do not believe in god. Nor do we believe in Satan, Santa Claus, etc. But then, we cannot hate something we don't believe in, so we do not hate god, Christians, or Satan for that matter. And: there are a lot of people and families like us. And: if someone would like more info, just ask. End of story. Never engage in anything further (such as "parking lot meetings") under any circumstances.

AFAIK, this approach worked, and both T1 and T2 reported that their friends were happy to find out "the truth" about them and were relieved to see that it's all "legit".

As for you contacting the school, it was definitely not a mistake, for many reasons.

First of all, children have to feel that parents, like very good friends, will stand behind them if necessary. For instance, when forces aren't equal and the fight isn't fair, like in your case. This doesn't mean overprotection, just... I don't know... like in a movie "Scent of a Woman". Yes! That's the example I was looking for!
I remember I had that kind of support from my father and it felt really good.

Secondly, in case something will be going down in the future (hopefully not), the school won't be able to claim that they never heard anything.

Please relay to P1 and P2 our support. In Russian we had an expression: "Steel is forged in fire". Every life test only makes you stronger.

Lev P. said...

Of course, I meant to say: "we cannot hate something we don't believe exists".

P.S. I want "Edit" button!

Atheist in a mini van. said...

I also have a voracious reader in my house and I really am not looking forward to the day when her reading material is questioned for it's appropriateness.

This is, actually, our second speed bump when it comes to reading. I'm a firm believer that, so long as it's not gratuitous porn or promotional of violence, kids be allowed to read anything and everything. Reading helps you define who you are. The first time we had a bump was when P1 was in third grade and she was reading a Yeats anthology. The poem "The Heart of the Woman". It goes, in part,...
He bade me out into the gloom,
And my breast lies upon his breast.
O what to me my mother's care,
The house where I was safe and warm;
The shadowy blossom of my hair
Will hide us from the bitter storm.
O hiding hair and dewy eyes,
I am no more with life and death,
My heart upon his warm heart lies,
My breath is mixed into his breath.

One of the kids in her class saw the word "breast" and told his mom...and mom was pissed and called the school and demanded that the book be taken from P1 the following day. We ended up in the principal's office defending P1's right to read whatever she wanted and, frankly, that if she could see the beauty in the work of Yeats, we would do nothing to discourage that. I was stunned that the parent was so angry.

yuyay said...

One of the kids in her class saw the word "breast" and told his mom...and mom was pissed and called the school and demanded that the book be taken from P1 the following day.

I wonder what this family eats when they eat chicken?

Berlzebub said...

Yuyay reminded me...

Ever see that old TV show, Just the Ten of Us?

Father: "Thigh or breast?"

Daughter's (standin) boyfriend: "Wing."

This after saying the blessing in Latin.

The standin boyfriend was Matthew Perry, before he became so famous on Friends. A hilarious episode.

Calladus said...

Pmomma, I'm also a voracious reader, and have been since as long as I can remember.

I can remember my Dad reading "White Fang" and "Call of the Wild" to me at the age of 5. (one of my best memories) And I remember my Mom introducing me to Robert Heinlein's Sci-Fi for young people. (Starbeast is still a favorite).

Our house was filled with books, jam-packed. I couldn't get Dad to buy me an Atari, but I was allowed to purchase books of an equal value. When I joined the Air Force I had a library of almost a thousand books. Not bad for a 20 year old.

I wasn't allowed to purchase Playboy or Penthouse, but otherwise my parents had no objections about what I read. I soaked up Sci-Fi like crazy, skipping the "boring parts" (like sex). If I'd been told to NOT read about sex, I'm sure I would have sought it out on principle.

I did read Masters & Johnson's "The Joy of Sex" by the age of 14. It answered some questions for me.

I had the entire main library in Houston at my disposal on weekends, and no one (back then) cared where a kid browsed for reading material.

Today, I have somewhere between 6 and 7 hundred physical books, and another 5-6 hundred e-books. I'm more discerning about the books that I keep in my physical library. I've got about 20 books waiting to be read.

Let your kids read what they like. The rewards far out weigh what ever risks that prudes think there may be. And like my parents, you can always talk to them about what they've read.

CrypticLife said...

Terrible what happened to P2, but the vp seemed to handle it in mostly the right way (perhaps except the "it's not a guarantee the person is an atheist", which while technically accurate doesn't do anything to encourage tolerance towards atheists).

TGC isn't even an atheist book. It clearly has something very much like a deity-figure, and the ones out to kill him are not portrayed universally positively.

I don't think you should worry too much about the other boy. They were likely given a talking-to, but not severely punished.

A co-worker of mine continually refers to me as "Satanist" and "devil-worshiper". He's joking, and doesn't do it while in the office, but it's still a tad rude. I do get to listen to stories of the things people in his church cell say and think, though, and laugh uproariously. If I ever attend church, it will almost certainly be for the humor.

FanBusters said...

Sounds to me like a teachable moment in the making. Perhaps allow an atheist to come and speak to the kids about what it means to be an atheist.

I used to get questions like that all the time: "Well, do you believe in Satan?"

"Think about that for just a moment. I don't believe in God, right? Then what is Satan? It's just an inverse of God. You can't believe in one and not believe in the other. Neither exists, they're both fairy tales designed to keep the weak minded from stirring up trouble. Santa Claus for adults."