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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Prayer and Punishment in Public School

I stood in the alcove outside the door of my fourth grade classroom with my nose touching the cold, tile wall. My classmates could see the back of my head through the small window at the top of the closed door: I could feel their disapproving eyes. Not only was I humiliated, I was angry as well. Such punishment was usually reserved for loud-mouth boys who disrupted the classroom - not for an obedient student like me.

It was 1959, I was nine years old, and attended a public elementary school in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. I would spend two hours every school day morning, in the hall outside of Mr. D's classroom, for many weeks to come. Each morning, the Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde educator, would greet his students in a soft, friendly voice only to turn into an angry, red-faced, bellowing monster as soon as the attendance was taken. Every morning, following attendance, I left my seat and went out the door to begin my punishment in the hall.

What kind of terrible crime had I, a nine year-old little girl committed, to warrant long-term banishment? I violated Mr. D's classroom church when I refused to bow my head and pray to his God.

One morning, near the beginning of the school year, Dr. Jekyll began a lesson on phonetics. He was talking about long and short vowels in syllables when quite suddenly, he shut the book, and moved to stand behind his desk. He began to pray, quietly at first. Then, while growing increasingly louder, Mr. Hyde began to form before our terrified eyes. His face flushed crimson. His eyes glazed over and began to spiral like those of a crazed cartoon character. Pacing wildly between the portraits of of Washington and Lincoln, words thundered out of his mouth and exploded damnation over our heads like battlefield artillery. Mr. D. was fighting some kind of war and had taken we children prisoner!

He continued his biblical vociferations for a fouth grade eternity. He didn't even need a bible as he had memorized most of the tome. When he finally returned to his desk, he hunched over it like a rabid animal about to fall-upon its victim, and fist-pounded a demand that we bow our heads and pray to the Almighty!

Well, I did what I usually did when confronted with Christain prayer. I didn't. I was sitting there looking at the board when he noticed that my head was not down, my hands were not folded, and I was not repeating his passionate entreaty with the other kids. Mr. D came outta his tree! He was one wrathful, fire-breathing, brimstoney, furious evangelical! I was scared to death when he stood in front of my desk and berated me for disobeying not only himself, but God!

I had NEVER disobeyed a teacher. I told him politely, that I would not pray because I did not believe in God or Jesus, and went on to explain that I would be lying if I prayed, and it would also be disrespectful to those who did believe. The raging madman pulled me from my seat by my shoulders, marched me out the door and shoved me against the wall in the alcove. Then he leaned in close to my face to make sure that my nose was touching the tile. I was to be punished every day until I decided to pray, he hissed, and then he condemmed my family and I to the burning fires of Hell for eternity.

My mother's calls to the school had no effect on my situation. However; life did improve somewhat, during my punishment, because of intervention by several concerned teachers. One spoke up so that I got to move out of the alcove by the door and was allowed to lean against the wall in the hallway with my nose facing out! Another, moved mountains, so that after several weeks of standing for two hours each day, I was allowed to sit cross-legged on the floor AND read or do school work. Yet another, arranged for a desk that I could sit at, while doing penance. Looking back, I may have been the more fortunate one: I was outside of that room where every morning Mr. D. preyed on my captive classmates.

Eventually, Mr. D., the evangelical terrorist, was made to abandon his religious lesson plans. I strongly suspect that it was because of teacher complaints. He was LOUD and could be heard in the hall and the adjacent classrooms. In my opinion, at the time, he should have been the one standing in the hall for classroom disruption!

The fall of 1960 found most of us in the fifth grade. Our new teacher was astounded to find that all of us who had been in Mr. D's room the previous year were seriously behind in reading and English. What's more, we didn't know our multiplication tables either!

Today, I am a dedicated advocate for The Separation Of Church And State and a passionate foe of Prayer in Public School. No child should suffer what I did at the hands of a religious zealot regardless of which one of the ONLY TRUE religions is being pushed.

Don't Preach -Teach Tolerance - It leads to Peace!
................... Kitchen Window Woman................


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