A friend of mine recently chose a private school for her two kids, ages 3 and 5. My friend, who is not religious, made sure to ask if there was any religious agenda in the school’s curriculum. She was told no.
So imagine her surprise when she attended her child’s school play and it was filled with (only) Christian stories and teachings. She watched as the children dressed up like Mary, Joseph and the wise men and rock baby Jesus while singing Christian songs.
My friend felt hugely uncomfortable but not because she’s uncomfortable with Christianity. She was uncomfortable because she is a strong believer in exposing her kids to everyone’s traditions and beliefs and letting them choose for themselves and be accepting of others. She was uncomfortable because she intentionally chose a secular school that indicated they were not preferential to any religion. She was uncomfortable because the only religion represented was Christianity.
So my friend wrote a letter to the school. She explained her concerns. She indicated that she has zero problem with exposing children to cultural beliefs and religions, but that as a secular school she felt that if the play was going down the religious route then all of the religions should’ve been represented.
An excerpt from her letter: “We would have been Ok if it had been a celebration of different faiths around the world, for example, including a traditional Jewish song, however only the Christian faith was represented in a school where we have sent our kids with the understanding that it is not a “Christian” school, and where there will be no undertaking of religious teachings … We want them to grow up with a respect for the right of all people to be free to practice their beliefs. Christmas songs likely seemed in good fun, and to go along with the feeling of the season, but they were a celebration of the birth of Christ, which is not what all families celebrate … They are at an age where they are forming their impressions of the world, and we just want it to be an inclusive one, where all religions, ethnic backgrounds, family structures, and gender roles (not playing on stereo types of what “boys”, and “girls” need to do) are represented fairly and with acceptance.”
Seems reasonable to me. Seems completely logical that a non-religious parent who preaches acceptance for all and who consciously chose a non-religious school would expect that said school would not show a preference for one faith over another.
A few days later, my friend received a response from the owners of the school. An excerpt: “As we planned we came across the idea, as you suggested, to include multiple songs from other faiths. Even if these faiths do not celebrate Christmas, there are many that celebrate a religious holiday during the month of December. However, here again we ran into some concerns. The class this year is made up of mostly Christians. In fact from my understanding all are Christians aside from a few which are of no particular faith like yourself. The problem we had is that we have seen children at this young age that are completely devastated when they find out that not everyone in the world believes in Christ. Because we have so many Christians and no one from another specific faith we decided it was a little early to introduce multiple religions to the young Christian children in this class.”
I personally have a few issues with this response. To begin with, nowhere on the application to the school or during the interview was it asked which faith a family follows. How the director of the school would know what religion each child practices is mind boggling to me. But my second, and biggest beef, is the notion that young children are not emotionally equipped to handle the news that some people may be different than them. To indicate that young children are “completely devastated” to learn there are different faiths in the world so they aren’t even willing to start to teach acceptance. That ignorance is what is truly completely devastating. The approach that sheltering your children is best since having to have the conversation is just too much of a burden. It’s too uncomfortable. It’s too difficult.
Last time I checked, it’s this kind of sheltering and ignorance that leads to bullying. It leads to discrimination. It leads to a seemingly innocent comment of “you’re weird!” to another young classmate at the playground which in turn leads said classmate to question their own place in the world.
My three year old is capable of empathy and understanding. My three year old can recognize differences in people and can process the lesson that different is okay. Don’t tell me that a group of kindergarteners are too young for this – it’s the perfect time to start.
If the Christian childrens’ parents wanted only Christian values taught, they could’ve chosen a Christian based school. But even if they had, Christianity teaches loves and respect for all. Christianity teaches loving thy neighbour regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. In this respect, I’m not understanding how teaching about other faiths is in any way un-Christian. It’s not contagious, people. Encouraging your child to accept his peers isn’t going to diminish his love of God. Your ignorance and hypocricy might, though. Just sayin’.
Dan Pearce, author of Single Dad Laughing, touched on this with one of his posts “I’m Christian, unless you’re gay“. and on his follow up post, he outlined some of the responses he received. Most were enlightening, tear-jerking even. They told stories of transformation, of a principal finally preaching acceptance in his school, or a mom finally contacting her gay son after years of estrangement. Some of them, though, were downright appalling. People saying that God tells us to hate sin and that calling for more love and acceptance is directly against His word. That the kind of love Dan talks about has done nothing but destroy the world.
I’m guessing the appalling comments were written by the sheltered kids. The ones whos parents refused to expose to other faiths and lifestyles for fear that it would be ‘devastating’. The worst part? These people missed the mark; completely and totally missed the point. The post had nothing to do with what you perceived to be right or wrong. It didn’t care if you were gay, straight, Christian or buddhist. It didn’t care if you condoned the behaviour or not, because it’s irrelevant. You don’t have to agree with a certain lifestyle or religion. I certainly don’t! That doesn’t change the fact that in every single major religion preaches love for everyone regardless of background. That being a true Christian means embracing and loving all mankind, regardless of your personal feelings about a particular lifestyle. Jesus lived with the sinners and a Christian’s goal is to be more like Jesus, is it not? Case closed.
So whether you are Christian, Buddhist, atheist, Jewish, gay, straight, transgendered, fat, thin, tall, short, black, white or purple I beg of you to go home and teach your kids that different is okay. That we love our peers even if they believe something a bit different than us or look a bit different than us. It will be the most valuable lesson you can pass on to your children and the single most important step in eliminating discrimination and bullying. We have all been in a situation where we have been the odd man out and made to feel like a freak because of it. How much different would your experience have been if someone had just smiled and said “that’s different and that’s awesome!”